Bad Seeds

“Look mommy, I drew an Indian,” Little Sister announced delightedly, thrusting a picture of a feather adorned girl in braids toward me.

“What makes that an Indian?” I asked, blood pressure rising.

A list of stereotypical characteristics ensued, all described in the past tense, clearly indicating that whatever her school prescribed vision of an “Indian” was, it was a thing of the past.

“You know Indians are people who live now,” I shared.

“Really!?” She responded eyes aglow as I’m sure images of Disney’s Pocahontas and war painted warriors began dancing in her head.

"You don't look like an Indian," 1995 John Branch

“You don’t look like an Indian,” 1995 John Branch. Used with permission.

This week preceding Thanksgiving at school has been full of the fantastic storybook renditions of a beautiful tale of peace and harmony complete with cartoonish depictions of groups of people. Little sister enthusiastically described the making of feathered headdresses for the Indians that I’m sure now decorate the school walls.

Big sister who has been raised on truth and tolerance and spared public school propaganda was privy to this conversation and quipped,

“Yeah, maybe you can draw Black People next.”

So I gathered my little people round and called up Google images of modern Native People.

The first was a young hip mom with a single pink strand in her dark hair and a nose piercing holding her baby.

The light left Little Sister’s eyes.

“That’s an Indian?” She asked through curled lips.

More images followed of a group of older women gathered round a table laughing, children playing in the park, father and son getting into a truck, and so on–you, know, people doing people stuff.

“They just look like normal people,” Little Sister said not disguising her disappointment.

Bingo.

I must admit, I’m pretty disgusted that nothing has changed in 40 years. I have memories of this very same feathered headdress project when I was their age. This project is a multi-layered tragedy that confuses children. It plants a pervasive image of a simple and single definition of “Indian” as lacking depth and life, disrespects the sacred significance, and for many Native People it’s simply inaccurate–not all Native People wore them.

The headdress project is just part of the greater myth presented as fact full of insulting stereotypes and flagrant omissions of brutal massacres that continues to predominate the classroom.

I won’t go off on all the inaccuracies because plenty of people far more knowledgeable than me have already done that, and this is what makes the continuance of this practice so inexcusable. A five second Internet search yields dozens of reputable sources for the true story, cultural sensitive lesson plans that include studying Native American history and culture beyond a single fantasized meal, and historical facts. It’s just lazy not to use them.

But this shouldn’t surprise me. Texas touts a “pro-american” history curriculum that brushes over the existence of any people on this continent prior to the European settlers and waters down or completely ignores the atrocities they committed after they got here.

With the goal of instilling patriotism, the state board of education recently voted to teach a state-defined curriculum for the Advanced Placement American History Exam rather than using the federally-defined curriculum on which the exam is based in order to avoid teaching the more negative aspects of American History.

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Circumventing federal standards is not a problem for me as I’m a big fan of independent thinking; the problem is that it also circumvents the truth. The end result, aside from the obvious perpetuation of lies, is that Texas kids will wind up in college classrooms looking like dumbasses. Yeah, that sounds like a great plan.

As I watched my children’s fantasies slip away, I tried to ascertain what exactly they had been told about Thanksgiving so I’d know where to begin the damage control. But after sharing confusing stories of videos of pilgrim girls with talking pet turkeys, adventures on the Mayflower, tepees and feathers, they shrugged their shoulders admitting that they had no idea.

For that I’m grateful. The seeds, though planted, have not taken root and it should be easy enough to unearth them. I’m not even going to talk about the colossal waste of resources that has only served to confuse my children…not now anyway. In the spirit of the holiday that for our family has always been about thankfulness and nothing to do with pilgrims and Indians, I’m going to incorporate gratitude for this reminder that I must never rely on the state to educate my children and get busy with some gardening of my own.

Winning the Sock War

“I didn’t know we were at war with socks,” he replied when I asked for title suggestions, completely unaware that beneath the cushion on which he sat, a company of crews was planning their attack.

They’re everywhere.

Little Guy leaves tiny Spider-Man footies on the kitchen table. Little Sister stuffs sparkly pink knee-highs in the couch. Big Sister brazenly drops sloth embroidered shorties in the middle of the livingroom. Firstborn and Mathwiz build competing mounds of stinking black crews in the game room. And, on more than one occasion, I’ve considered strangling Big Daddy with a dirty tube sock that he tossed on top of the clean pile of laundry in the bedroom.

They are on the trampoline, chewed up in the yard, and muddy on the front porch. I find them in cabinets, in the car, in the dog’s crate, and the kids backpacks. Last week, I found one in the freezer.

You get the picture.

These isolated uprisings don’t concern me much. It’s that organized mass of mismatched socks in the basket in the laundry room that gets me worried. There they are every day in ever increasing forces reminding me of my inadequacy every time I walk in the imageroom.

As the mother of six, I get enough reminders about what I didn’t do, from the “what have you done for me, lately” team. I’m not gonna take that crap from a bunch of inflated yarn balls that can’t hold onto their partners.

Somewhere along this journey, we instated a family tradition of giving everyone a 12-pack of socks at Christmas. Unfortunately, no tradition for disposing of last year’s 12-pack followed and the end result has been swelling ranks of woolen anarchy. At last count, Firstborn alone had more than 40 pairs. No Kidding.

Fiercely independent, these pairs are prone to separation. Plenty defect completely, disappearing without a trace.

One dark day last spring, I found myself staring despairingly at a large laundry basket overflowing with at least 100 mismatched socks when I heard the call to arms. There are 87 gazillion things in this world that I can’t control. Socks isn’t one of ’em.

Right then and there, I decided I was taking the basket back. Amidst all the challenges I may never surmount and my efforts that will fall short, socks won’t be my undoing. I devised a plan. It went something like this:

Today, in this laundry room, Victory is mine.

I did all the laundry and tackled the sorting. Surprisingly few pairs emerged from the effort and I was left with a large basket now 3/4 full of all the more condescending divorced hosiery. So I threw them away. Yep, every last one of their fuzzy little independent asses gone. It was glorious.

Sock purges have become my quick fix. I repeat this process every couple of months when their numbers surpass an undefined threshold that makes me feel threatened–I just know it when I see it–Or when disorder creeps in and I need to reestablish my authority.  It’s surprisingly empowering.

In this life full of pitfalls, mastery of these thirty square feet is sometimes just the boost I need to tackle the greater tragedies.

In the days following my great triumph, a few straggling mates always show up late. I throw them away too. I don’t need those little bastards hanging around mocking me every time I open the door. For one full week, I award myself the satisfaction of an empty laundry basket– A mission accomplished.

At some point, I have to let them start accumulating again as they sometimes  are innocently separated and can be reunited. But now that I have a plan, I can smile smugly at those little insurgents amassing in the basket because I know their days are numbered.

Her Boobs; Her Business

Raising A Free Daughter in the Bible Belt

My teenage daughter has had an awakening. Her growing insight has been both marvelous and heartbreaking to witness and she grapples with the newfound knowledge that women are still treated as second class citizens in this country.

It doesn’t help that we are submerged in a christian homeschool community where she receives frequent messages that it is her responsibility to prevent violence against herself by dressing modestly and behaving in a godly manner.

I really don’t even know what that means.

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The shirt alone in this outfit has four dress code violations–it’s too tight, the straps are less than three fingers wide, it exposes cleavage, and does not cover bra straps. The shorts are also in violation–too short.

I do know that we’ve been presented with lists of dress code requirements that always include a supplement exclusively for girls.

She has been instructed about the precise acceptable length of her skirts and shorts, directives to wear appropriate undergarments, but said undergarments should never be visible. She has been forbidden to show any cleavage or wear tight fitting clothing of any type. Under no circumstances should she ever reveal that beneath her drapings is a feminine form.

I can only assume that this is viewed as a necessary measure to prevent the boys from slipping into their primal brains and savagely raping their classmates. Because showing cleavage clearly expresses a desire to have sex and boys are mindless beasts who cannot control their urges. This is absurd and insulting to both sexes. The entire notion of “modesty” is contrived to blame the victim and excuse the perpetrator. And if they can’t handle a hint of cleavage in the classroom, how on earth do they navigate the beach without having sex all over it?

When you’re done go here. Check out this brilliant slam poetry piece by Anna Binkovitz tackling the ill conceived notion that a woman’s clothing choices are  an indication of well, anything at all.

I can testify to the ridiculousness of the idea that your attire is an expression of your desires. I have traveled through Europe and visited topless and nude beaches, yet I have never witnessed a public orgy (nor a private one for that matter.) What I did see were families and friends (yes parents with their children) enjoying time together in the sun. End of story.

Enough is Enough

The double standard has become increasingly unbearable for my thinking child and she’s angry. When I pointed out that her chosen attire for today’s classes exposed her bra straps (more the result of petite frame with narrow shoulders than rebellion, but rebellion would have been okay too) and we had just received an email from the co-op principal that further dress code violations would result in being forced to wear a uniform of a polo shirt and khaki pants, she’d had it.

“I know that every boy in the room has a penis. Ms. X even talked about their testicles the other day and I didn’t immediately demand that they fertilize me,” she lamented, pretty sure that a boy catching a glimpse of her bra wasn’t going to leave her pregnant.

Up until puberty struck earlier this year she had lived in an insulated environment. We tend to run with crunchier crowds and we have always encouraged her (and all our children) to discover their own paths–to decide what makes sense to them in every aspect of their lives from fashion to spirituality. Our message has been “Be kind, do good, be free.” The End.

This is not to say we don’t offer our own insight and guidance–I don’t want to send them out there unarmed–but ultimately the decisions are theirs. They are her boobs and what she does with them is her business.

This year, we have ventured into a new arena, she is taking several classes in conservative Christian environments, and is spending far more time with adults who do not share our views. Physical changes, awakening awareness, and being thrust into an oppressive environment have caused a psychic collision. I’m not so sure how long we can endure the blasts.

Bye Felicia

We have committed to this year and I believe there is value in spending time amongst those whose beliefs are very different than your own, but I will probably suggest we keep the visit short. The messages are too destructive.

The bombardment of warnings that she should cover her body, not entice or mislead the opposite sex by showing too much flesh, and that her very shape is shameful and should be concealed are taking a toll. She feels judged and alienated. The experience has been hurtful. But there has also been an unintended positive result.

She doesn’t live in that universe and has her parents’ blessings to disagree. And disagree she does. Freedom and the Internet have opened the world of feminist dialogue to her and she’s listening. She has discovered slam poetry and has started writing her own. She seeks out messages of self love and empowerment and she is coming into her own as a strong independent woman.

This is in direct alignment with my hopes for her. I wish for my daughter to know her own mind and act with integrity. I want her to have a healthy body image and sexuality. I want her to venture into the world with the expectation that she will be treated with respect and equality and reject any equations that produce a different yield. I want her to expect this not because she is dressed in some arbitrary standard of decency, but because she is a human being and it is her right. I want her to fight for what she believes in and never compromise her values. And in a final thought that is difficult to speak, in the event that she becomes a victim, as 25 percent of us will, I want her to know that it is not her fault.

Trauma Doesn’t Tell Time

The time has come for bifocals. There’s really nothing remarkable about this in and of itself. Most of us find ourselves here sometime during our fifth decade on the planet. But for me it’s complicated.

imageI have amblyopia–more commonly known as a lazy eye. Simply stated, my left eye does not work. This also is not, in isolation, a major deal. These days it is usually discovered in infancy and corrected by preschool –the perfect window of opportunity for training an eye that can, but inexplicably won’t see.

For me, the discovery came at the tail end of kindergarten  and the window was only left cracked. But try they must and a series of interventions were launched. Unfortunately, this process happened to directly coincide with the breakdown of my parents’ marriage.

It started with a patch over my good eye to force the bad one into action. In an instant my vision went from 20/20 to 20/200–legally blind. My mother was home less and less and nobody would tell me why.

About this time, my mother decided to cut my thick wavy hair short resulting in a perpetually disheveled look. Corrective lenses with a frosted lense and then a red colored plastic film were added to the regimin. I was told daily that I was ugly and people would stop and stare. I couldn’t see.  My parents were fighting bitterly.

My left eye began to weaken and cross under the strain and corrective surgery was scheduled. I was dropped at the hospital the night before and left alone. It was a different time when it hadn’t yet occured to the medical profession that children might recover better if they felt safe and supported. I was afraid and alone. Then I was sick and in pain.

I returned to school bandaged. I was scolded for removing the bandaging and showing my curious classmates my gorey eye. I was disgusting. I was a problem. I didn’t see my mother for days or maybe it was weeks at a time.

I removed the patch every chance I got. I wanted to see clearly.  I was considered oppositional. A strange woman moved into our house. I didn’t know where my mother was. Then my sister was gone too. Nobody would aswer my questions. I couldn’t see. I was terrified.

Then I lost it. One day in class, I had taken off my patch again and the teacher directed me to the hall for a scolding. She attempted to put a new patch on me and I blew. I fought her off with every ounce of strength my little 7-year-old body could summon. I screamed, I kicked, and I clawed. She had to call in reinforcements to control me.

I was angry, scared, and invisible. I was desperate for a modicum of control as my universe crumbled around me.

Soon after, my mother gathered her forces and absconded with me and my older brother, but not before the other woman lunged at her with a pair of scissors. Perhaps it’s fortunate that my eye was patched  and my memories of the incident are blurry.

Suffice to say the divorce proceedings were handled with something less than sensitive maturity. But this is not a blog about my parents’ divorce. Not really. Nor is it a blog about my vision.

This is a blog about trauma. This is about how it creeps into you in complicated ways and never goes away. We can bury it, integrate it, face it or try to forget it, but it’s always there. Forty years later, the thought of  visiting an eye doctor is sending me into a panic.

Forty. Fucking. Years.

Two unrelated traumatic events have become irreversibly intertwined and each a trigger for the other. Revisiting the pain has been paralyzing.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m not walking around every day under the weight of any of this…. usually. About fourth grade, my vision was declared as good as it’s gonna get (which although improved to 20/40 in my left eye it was functionally unchanged because although the eye could now see it still wouldn’t)  and further interventions were abandoned.

By then the divorce was final and both of my parents had remarried. Their rage had quieted or at least they’d gotten better about concealing it.

Other than when I caught balls with my face courtesy of my faulty depth perception or I saw a picture of myself with my left eye looking not quite right, I haven’t given much thought to my vision, the process to improve it, or my parent’s divorce until very recently.

I’ve been surprised by how powerful the pain still is and how easily It found its way to the surface as the realization set in that the over the counter cheater glasses I’ve come to depend on aren’t cutting it anymore. Trauma is a twisted bitch who jacks reasonable processing and I am again an alternatingly ugly and invisible little girl terrified of losing her mother.

As I’ve been reduced to tears on many occasions over the past few days as this post was taking shape in my mind, I’ve had cause to consider what my adopted kids are silently enduring only a couple of years out from the depths of hell.

Their traumas are fresh, tremendous, recurring, and embeded in triggers none of us recognizes. It could be the scent of a candle that was burning when they witnessed or experienced violence. It could be the television show that blared in the background when they felt fear. It could be a holiday when festivities erupted into conflict. It could be a sight, a smell, a sound. It could be anything that sends them back and makes that buried pain vital and present.

Complicated by the fact that so much of their trauma occurred pre-verbally, they may never be able to attach words to their feelings. Their demons will always lurk in the dark places of their minds waiting to catch a ride to the surface on an unsuspecting trigger. This will never look reasonable to anyone around them and they are going to have to work harder than most to be the masters of their own minds.

And I know I need to set the example. I’m going to leave this mess in the sun a little longer and bleach out some of its vigor, then I’m going to fold it up neatly and put it away. I’m going to surf the Internet in search of beautiful, mature women wearing glasses. I’m going to laugh out loud that my kids will never again get to make fun of me frantically searching for my cheaters resting a top my head. Then I’m going to make the appointment.

 

 

 

How to Decorate without Divorce

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It started with the stairs. Well, really it started with cat urine on the stairs. Seems sweet Molly, our otherwise perfect tortoiseshell, had chosen the landing of our split stair case as an alternate litter box and no amount of scrubbing or enzymes was diminishing the smell. One morning, early this year, I couldn’t stand it for another second and ripped out the carpet with no plan for what would come next.

And so it began–this journey to reclaim my home. It’s been a rough year culminating in the departure of Sailor Boy quickly followed by a sucker punch from a corrupt CPS Worker who filed false accusations against us after her own bad behavior blew up in her face. She got butt hurt after she withheld vital information about the behavior and issues of a teen that she placed with us, said issues became threats in my home, resulting in her facing corrective action. She lied and an investigation was launched. Her claims were all dismissed, but I was injured none the less. Call me crazy, but vindictive malice hurts my feelings. It had already been battling a downward slide, but that’s where I completely lost my footing.

The dark color scheme and big heavy furniture that once felt warm and homey to me, had begun to feel stale and depressing. I’d already begun the process to bring cheer back into our home with brighter colors inspired by the beautiful Mother’s Day drawing Little Guy had given me, but the mission suddenly became more desperate. We had been talking for some time about selling and starting over somewhere else, but switched gears early this year and decided to remake this home–To bloom where we were planted.

Little Guys's Mother's Day gift 2014 that inspired our new decor.

Little Guys’s Mother’s Day gift 2014 that inspired our new decor.


Not long after I tore out the carpet, we built garden boxes and a cute little picket fence. I started painting everything. I’ve been walking around with glue and paint in my hair for months. I began living on Pinterest and started to believe we could do anything, would grow closer in the process, and restore harmony to our home. What I didn’t know in the beginning is that those Pinterest bitches lie.

“Work together following these six easy steps to a flawless result to anything and you and your mate will feel so accomplished and closer as a couple that you’ll immediately retreat to the bedroom for a night of passionate lovemaking,” they imply with their smiling mouths full of perfect teeth.

Here’s how it really goes and what you need to do to save your marriage.

You’re going to scour the Internet for months until you land upon the perfect project, pair it with your own creative nuances, study the complete step by step instructions, and jump in. If you are like me and your construction experience is limited to second grade Popsicle stick picture frames, you are going have to jump back out and go find him hiding in the garage or bathroom compiling a list of reasons why this can’t be done.

It’s okay, you are persuasive and your blind confidence will balance his pessimism and you will be begin. You’ll go to Home Depot together. It will be kind of like a date because you’ll get the older kids to watch the younger kids with fast food bribes. But it’s gonna be a bad date.

You’ll know exactly what you want and need, but he will have completely different ideas and disregard your months of research. You will argue. You’ll begin to question who this man really is. You’ll leave the store without making any purchases and not speak to each other the entire ride home.

Do not lose hope. You want this and you have a secret weapon. Two words:
Power Tools.
He wants them even if he doesn’t know to use them.

You are going to go home and cool down. You are going to show him plans and pictures and you will venture out together again and come home with the needed supplies…except one. You’ll send him back for a miter box (a simple device used for cutting angles and needed for cutting baseboards and the like which can be purchased for under $20.) You are going to tell him exactly which one you want, make and model number, and location on the store shelf as you learned from the 700 YouTube tutorial videos you watched prior to commencement of this project. You are not going to get that one.

He’s going to call from the store and tell you about the power miter saw that he thinks will make this project so much easier and (here it comes) be so great for future projects. He just committed. You must agree to this purchase even if you have to take out a loan.

Now here’s where you really need to prepare. He’s going to be pretty excited about this saw. He is not going to know how to use this saw. You should send the young children away during the learning process. He will not read the instructions and there is going to be a lot of swearing. A. Lot. Of. Swearing.

Afraid this one is a do over.

Afraid this one is a do over.

There are also going to be a lot of mistakes. There may be some blood. And here my friends is where divorce proceedings do or do not begin. He’s going to be frustrated and angry because in his heart of hearts, he wants you to be happy. He knows his work is less than perfect and he’s disappointed. You have to know and share with him that it doesn’t matter. Wood filler cures a lot of ills and its kinda fun–like sandy super soft play-doh. But it doesn’t cure them all so there are going to have to be some do overs. If you were wondering how I was going to bring this back to parenting, here it is.

In the greater scheme of things, perfect baseboards are not going to change our lives, but how we handle the mistakes will have lasting consequences. With our kids, with our spouses, with everyone, it’s all the same. Empathy, forgiveness, seeking improvement not perfection are the keys. Trying again. Getting better. That’s all I want. That’s all we need. Tight square corners and flawless paint jobs would be nice as would life without struggles, but I’m really coming to appreciate the imperfections and growing from the challenges. I ultimately decided not to correct the imperfections of another project because they grew on me as exclusively our own and we’re pretty awesome. I came to see them as having character–our character.

It’s important to me that we continue working together even if the final product isn’t pin worthy. Perfection is not the goal. We must grow, build, try, fail, connect, and accomplish even if we have to throw down some expletives along the way. Ours is not an easy journey. Raising special needs kids is an arduous task ( hell, sometimes just walking this earth is an arduous task) and many a couple crumble under the pressure. We just celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversary and continue to believe the best is yet to come. We’re good. We’re marching on. We’re in this together. But I haven’t told him yet that the replacement door that he so proudly bought last week is the wrong size.

Nothing Gonna Tear Me Away From My Guy

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She put her flat hand up in front of my chest to stop me. “We’re not allowing parents on set,” the production assistant told me matter of factly. My heart immediately began racing and I felt the mama bear rousing.

image“It’s not legal to separate children from their parents,” I replied bracing for battle while not entirely sure that I was speaking the truth.

I’d heard the announcement prior to the children being escorted from the room. We had been instructed to wait here despite an earlier email promising that we would be positioned in a place where we could see the children perform. I considered, for a moment, obeying as every other parent in the room did. It’s never my desire to stir up conflict. But then I looked at my wee small boy who had turned around in the line to find me eyes smiling and curled his fingers toward his body gesturing for me to follow. “C’mon, Mom,” he said with every confidence I would. There was no other choice but to go.

The director was called to handle the problem mom that I had just become. She reiterated the policy that parents were not allowed on set and I reiterated the law. She told me I could watch through the window, went into the room with the children, and closed the door in my face.

From my position, I could only see my son from behind, but could hear him loud and clear. He was in a strange place, surrounded by strangers, a flood of foreign sensory input, not knowing what to expect, and he couldn’t see me. He was slipping into his primitive brain and I was powerless to stop the slide. He was bouncing wildly in his seat, speaking in a loud obnoxious cartoonish baby voice–trying desperately to drown out his anxiety with noise and movement– and though I couldn’t see his face I knew exactly what his crazed expression looked like.

His bouncing was obstructing the camera view and the camera operator asked for him to be moved to another seat. I don’t know what was said to my bouncing boy, but he was escorted from the room and collapsed in heaving sobs in my arms.

“We’re having problems already,” the camera operator told me. “He’s being a disruption.” camera guy explained that they had asked him to move to another seat and he refused and then camera guy disappeared back inside the room.

Certain neither camera guy nor anyone else was interested in a lesson on trauma’s effect on a developing brain, how years of chronic cortisol baths had left my sweet boy’s stress response wacked, how this wackedness caused him to perceive mildly stressful and sometimes completely benign situations as severely threatening and react accordingly. I just had to fix this quick.

He wanted this so badly–to perform as his idolized older sister does. I had put him off for so long for fear of this very situation. It seemed unfair to set him up for failure. But it evolved into seeming unfair to not let him try. He’d auditioned for and booked a role a few weeks earlier that with me by his side to help him maintain control had gone off perfectly. It hadn’t occurred to me that I wouldn’t be able to be there for him this second go round.

Little Guy having a blast on the set of his first film.

Little Guy having a blast on the set of his first film.

He just needed me to squeeze him, look him in his eye, explain why he had to be moved, and tell him what he needed to do. He needed me to ground him–To help him regulate and regain control of his body. After a couple of deep breaths, he explained that he wasn’t refusing to move, he had never heard anyone tell him to. Heart rate slowed and oxygen now flowing to his brain he returned to the room–in a new position where he could see me–and carried out the assigned tasks beautifully.

But the stigma had already been attached. He had become that kid and I that mom. Surely his behavior was a product of my overprotective and permissive parenting. I don’t really blame people for these judgements. He doesn’t wear his life history on his sleeve. No one would ever question whether we are biologically related and he has been blessed with a sharp intellect and a mostly engaging personality. I understand how this could appear to be my failing to those who don’t know. Unfortunately, we get it from those who do, as well.

At the parent teacher conference earlier this week, I was told he’s leading the class academically but “it’s just the behavior.” Discussions of my familiar friends “self-control” and “disruption” commenced and his young teacher looked completely surprised when I suggested that he be helped to calm down before he loses control rather than reacting punitively after it happens.

And this is the torture of this journey. Bright, articulate, witty, and fun, but burdened with sensory processing issues, and a broken stress response, I have to send him into a world that doesn’t understand. There is an assumption that adoption immediately cures the pains of the past –stopping the trauma makes it all better. If you can’t see the absurdity of this notion talk to a war veteran struggling with PTSD. This is not a choice he’s making. He hates it far more than anyone.

This became gut wrenchingly clear as we strolled the school halls on the way to meet the teacher. The children’s projects were posted on the walls and his class had a section dedicated to their hopes for the school year. While other children wrote about having fun and making friends, my boy’s desire was to “learn everything and not act crazy at school.”

Call me what you will, but he needs me and I’m going to deliver.

I didn’t get to be there from the beginning. I didn’t get to quickly and lovingly meet his infant needs. I didn’t get to gaze into his eyes as he drifted off to sleep full of warm milk and love. I didn’t get help him internalize that he is valued and protected and I will always be there for him. Every other kid in the room had a five-year head start on him and dammit I’m going to do whatever I can to close the gap. Because he believes I will, I must.

After the shoot had wrapped, as we walked to the car, I finally had a chance to talk to Little Guy About what had happened.

“So what was going on there at the beginning?” I asked gently, his tiny hand clasped in mine.

“I was feeling uncomfortable and anxious,” replied my precious child. I told you he is articulate.

Full of pride for this tiny brave person, I shared with him how performing often causes me anxiety too and we discussed ways to cope and stay in control of our bodies. We walked silently for a bit while he seemed to ponder this with his eyes cast downward. Then he suddenly looked up to me, determined and said,

“I’m going to do better next time, Mom.”

Letting Go…again.

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Two months ago, I said good-bye to my second born son. He would board a plane in the morning and begin a life in which most of his plans moving forward would not include me. I was no longer entitled to answers and even if I were, he didn’t have them to give me. I was told to expect a 30-second scripted call to let me know he made it safely to the Naval Recruit Training Center and nothing else.

I’d had nine months to prepare. (The irony of that time period is not lost on me.) I wasn’t ready. I would have given my eyes to make him stay. I would have given my eyes to help him fly away. It was bigger than me, than him, than anything within my control. This need to soar. I got it. Always the most independent of my children, I suppose on some level I expected it. I certainly understood it. I still hated it.

The call came at midnight. Not much more than I’m here. I’ll call in a few weeks. I love you. Goodbye. Then silence. Two and a half weeks of complete silence. I felt like I had been ripped open and had a hard time understanding how people could just go on talking to me without noticing my guts spilling out. I could only imagine the horror my precious son was enduring and for the first time in his life I felt powerless to protect him.

Raised in the electronic era, there had never been a moment when I couldn’t reach him. For the duration of his training, only a horrible tragedy would have granted me access to my own child. I was angry and afraid.

I longed to collapse into a puddle of grief, but the eight other people who depend on me couldn’t bear the sight of me liquifying. I mustered all my strength and carried on. I took the kids to the pool and hid my tears behind my sunglasses. I put one foot in front of the other. I did the laundry. I cried in the bathroom. I avoided his room. I buried myself in service. I beat myself up over the grief I was feeling when my loss was relatively small. I knew he was safe and I would see him in 8 weeks. Others had suffered so much more. At times I felt completely foolish about my inability to control my emotions. I cursed the recruiter and the orchestrated plan to lure our sons away at the peak of their bravado and cravings for independence. I questioned my sanity and I cried some more.

At last the phone rang. He sounded completely fine. He was upbeat and confident. He told me repeatedly that it was easy and he was doing great. “You don’t need to worry about me, Mom,” my man child assured me. My chest relaxed for the first time in weeks. It didn’t get easy, but it got better. Until the final week. The anticipation of seeing him coupled with the realization that despite boot camp’s completion, he was not coming home, caused me to decompose again.

Before boot camp, I’d never been separated from him for more than a few days–now I was facing the reality that he would likely never live under my roof again.

I’m still trying to figure out what to do with that.

But after a bittersweet weekend together, one thing is clear; He does not need my shelter. My worst fear when he left was that his spirit would be crushed–that my funny, charming, witty boy would grow cold and bitter. I was afraid I wouldn’t recognize him. That didn’t happen. He is very much his good humored self only more settled, standing taller. He literally grew an inch while in bootcamp. He is confident, ambitious, determined, and driven. He knows where he wants to go and how to get there. He has come into his own. He is absolutely aglow. He has made me so very proud.

image Ultimate parenting goal achieved–So what the hell is my problem?

The truth is that this is not the path I would have chosen for him. But I was never so foolish to think it was my choice to make. My motivation is completely selfish and has everything to do with fear and my own loss trauma. I would have stopped the clock years ago if I could have. I miss him. I miss him with a pain I don’t know how to express. It’s total bullshit that we are expected to pour our hearts and souls into our children for nearly 20 years then pretend to be happy watching them walk away. That model will never make sense to me. I want him here with me. Always. I want them all here with me. Always.

But alas, I know that one by one they will tear out a piece of my heart and head for the door. Clinging to the past, weeping like a fool is not serving me or him well. I really don’t want to diminish his joy or alienate him with my sorrow. His eyes are focused forward. As they should be. His light is contagious. The world awaits him. He’s gotta go.

So I’m going to try to put this all here and leave it behind. I’m going to embrace the next chapter and relish the fact that my son has arrived fine and upstanding at adulthood’s door and take credit where it’s due that my powerful love helped get him there. This is me stepping back to find our new balance. This is me letting go.

A Dark Day

All I want to do is slump over head in hands and weep–deep mournful heaving sobs from the depths of my soul. A cold front rolled in last night, the sky is grey, and my heart is hurting.

Last night as I tucked her in, Little Sister informed me that she wanted to leave our family and go back to the last family because they gave her candy filled Easter eggs. It’s that simple for her. To pick up and go to another home for the purpose of acquiring meaningless objects–never mind the fact that said family asked for her removal after four months because they recognized early what took me longer to see. I felt like I’d been kicked in the teeth. I just got up and walked out.

It had already been a bad day. She announced proudly at school pick-up, that she “only” got two behavior marks today. She’s made zero progress behaviorally at school and is in no way bothered by this. She has even informed me that she likes upsetting her teacher. We had some errands to run which gave her opportunity to flirt with strangers, wiggling her fingers in a little wave under her chin, tilting her head to the side while grinning doe-eyed and everyone who passed by. It’s a behavior that makes my blood boil and sickens her siblings.

She’s ever ready for departure. She packs emergency bags. She lines up her belongings for quick access in a sudden move. She shops for caregivers everywhere she goes. She purposely annoys others for the thrill of seeing their distress. She fancies herself the center of the universe and is disruptive or sullen when others don’t share this view. She demonstrates no attachment to our family. Most of the time, I cope without taking it personally. I’m not doing that so well lately.

I’m up to my chin in academic and behavioral assessments as we work to find a system that will help her reach her full potential. We waited six weeks to get in with a specialist for FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder) evaluation only to have her wake with a fever on the morning of the appointment and have to reschedule. We now wait another six weeks. I’ve filled out a mountain of paperwork for school assessments and go in for a third round of meetings this week.

I recently attended a webinar on Attachment Disorder where I explained her history and asked the lecturer–an expert in the field whose name is escaping me at the moment–if it were realistic to expect my child to heal. His answer:

“No.”

At every turn I am informed there isn’t much hope for this child. We’ve already been “fired” by one therapist who said she wasn’t making any progress. We have another who is supportive of me, but offers a dismal prognosis. Add FASD to RAD and we’re looking a lifetime of management of a disconnected being whose behavior is often downright hurtful, and whose judgement, and moral compass are so skewed that they will certainly lead down dangerous paths. All the markers of a more successful outcome were missed. Early diagnosis and intervention are the key and even then the future is not bright. I am afraid. I am lost. I am hopeless. I am angry.

I’m angry at her birth mother who drank during pregnancy and failed to take parental responsibility. I am angry at the system that took her from her birth family only to toss her around from placement to placement for years systematically destroying her ability to form a normal human attachment. I am angry that despite the fact that an estimated 70 percent of kids who come into foster care are affected by Fetal Alcohol Exposure, there is no system for serving them–simply finding a knowledgeable practitioner is a battle and add the need to find one who accepts medicaid and you’ve got a full on war. I’m angry that it has been a never ending uphill climb. I’m angry that I can’t get any help. Although Post Adoption Services will help fund respite care, it is up to the family to find a caregiver and then ask said caregiver to submit to FBI criminal background checks. As you can imagine, people aren’t exactly lining up to help you when you treat them like criminals. I am angry that this effort to do good has done my family so much harm. I am angry with myself for not being stronger, kinder, better. I’m angry that I’m angry.

So I asked Little Sister this morning on the way to school as she chatted cheerfully with no awareness or concern that she had hurt me, “Since you don’t want to live with us, perhaps I should find a sitter for you when we go on vacation?” “I wouldn’t want you to be stuck in the car all that time with people you don’t want to be around.”

Her eyes grew wide, suddenly aware that she may have misplayed her hand and risked acquiring some “thing,” and she quickly responded, “Now I do want to live with you.”

My dark-haired duckling

Half-way through the little kids’ dentist appointment this morning, I was feeling pretty accomplished. Little Guy has a hypersensitive mouth and a gag reflex that approaches a super power. He can even puke on cue. Suffice it say, a regular check-up is borderline torture for him and he made it through without a single tear.

The dentist was patient and followed my lead, warning him about what was about to happen and praising his efforts. This dentist and I were going to be great friends and I began to envision a future together–me and the dentist each holding Little Guy’s hands as he hopped smiling into the chair and willingly opened wide. All was right with the world.

Then it happened. Little Sister took her brother’s place in the chair and the dentist made some comment, but through her thick accent I could only understand the words “her hair.” Still aglow with the warmth of my newfound partnership, I assumed she was complimenting Little Sister. Her hair is thick and glossy and people often comment on it’s beauty. I’m always happy to hear people tell me how beautiful my children are so I asked her to repeat herself.

“Her hair is so dark, how is she sister?” Asked my no longer friend pointing a finger back and forth between Little Sister and Little Guy.

I was caught completely off-guard and probably stared at her with my mouth hanging open. The assistant looked at me awkwardly apologetic, I mumbled something about adoption and my heart sank.

I mean seriously what the fuck? This scenario which has been happening more and more lately really bugs the crap out of me for so many different reasons. First of all you have to be a complete idiot to not figure this out on your own. I am white, my husband is white, our first four chidren and our sixth child are white, and are fifth child is a dark skinned raven haired Latina, how do you think this happened? Secondly, what kind of insensitive pig asks a question like that in front of a child, and finally it’s not your business and I don’t owe you any explanations. Oh there’s more, but I’ll stop to prevent this from becoming a maniacal rant.

We had a similar experience not long ago. We were celebrating a birthday at a local Japanese restaurant when the hibachi chef who’d been very entertaining up to this point suddenly asked Little Sister, “Why you look different?” Not quite satisfied that he’d thoroughly offended us he pointed his utensil one at a time at each the kids seated around the grill saying “See, blond hair, blond hair, blond hair, blond hair, you black hair.” Yes, really, I can’t make this shit up.

I’ve been teaching the kids sarcastic retorts alternating with shocked dismay–I’ve told them to gasp, look at each in horror and ask “What happened to your hair!?”–to the persistent informants at school who like to remind them that they don’t look like each other. I’ve considered adopting four more kids of various races so I can simply respond that all of my children have different fathers and I like variety in the bedroom.

Okay jokes aside, it pisses me off and it hurts her. She is reminded at every turn that she is different. A difference she is acutely and painfully aware of. The rest of us look ridiculously alike. Even Little Guy looks like we fished him straight out of our genetic pool. Unmoved by so many compliments on her glossy black hair, she has told me many times that she wants to dye it the same color as mine. She rejects and even destroys her darker skinned dolls and barbies while doting lovingly on her white ones. She is asked day after day by everyone from classmates to strangers to explain how her very existence can be.

My journey pales in comparison to hers, but I can begin to understand how painful this need others have to draw attention to her differences is. As a child I was very blonde, fair skinned, and freckled while my older brother and younger sister had brown hair and eyes and slightly darker complexions. I endured endless jokes about being the mailman’s child. As funny as these jokes were to the adults around, they were hurtful to me. So much so that it still stings to bring those memories to the surface. Like I said, a cakewalk in comparison.

For so long we were so caught up in managing the behavioral and cognitive differences that the physical differences didn’t even register on the radar…for us. We failed her. We won’t anymore. I’ve written to her teacher asking to help her develop an adoption awareness/sensitivity program that I can help administer to Little Sister’s class and hopefully beyond. I am writing letters to the owners of restaurant and dentist office, I’m preparing for the next occasion whenever it comes (and it will) so that I won’t be left with my mouth hanging open again.

A New Holiday Story

The tree is down, lying pathetically shedding tinsel at the curb waiting for a pick-up that I’m not sure is coming. I should probably look into that. The garland has been unstrung, the new possessions assimilated and properly placed, the lights hung Christmas 2012  finally tugged from the rooftop (don’t judge, we’ve had bigger fish to fry) and we’ve quietly returned to our not so normal existence.

The kids are in bed and will return to school in the morning. I  can finally heave a sigh of relief.

I went into the holiday season braced for disaster. Last year was Little Sister’s first Christmas home and it wasn’t exactly a time of holiday cheer. We had finalized her adoption just days before–an action that flung open a  hatch sucking her  into a dark abyss. I can’t say for sure why and there probably isn’t a simple explanation—perhaps the realization that this was the last stop and she could no longer get by on superficial interactions, the disappointment that we were not the fantasy family kids in need dream of–we don’t have a pool or a horse, eat ice cream for every meal, and grant her every wish–the fear that we would abandon her as everyone had done before, the integrated belief that she was not lovable and did not deserve nice things, or all of the above and so much more. But either the finalization itself or seeing her sister by birth who wept through the process awoke the trauma she’d been keeping sedated. Little Sister set out on a mission to push us far, far away beginning Christmas morning..

She complained about her gifts then  destroyed them one by one–painted nail polish all over the new baby’s face, dumped out all her new perfume, smeared make-up all over her bedding and the bathroom,slammed her new camera around the room and picked the plastic coating off, you get the picture. When she’d destroyed all her new possessions she turned to the old ones writing all over her furniture with a marker, breaking her blinds, and pulling the curtain rod out of the wall. In the coming months she cut up her sheets, smeared gum all over the floor, climbed the rails of her day bed and wildly rocked it slamming it into the wall while screaming and raging about what a terrible family we were, and on a few occasions physically attacked me, all the while batting her eyes, smiling sweetly at, and throwing her arms around strangers.  The screaming could last for hours, but only happened when Big Sister and I were home alone with her. She would stop immediately when Dad or one of the boys walked in. It was a bad, bad time that did not improve for 6 months.

With this being Little Guy’s first Christmas home, not knowing what trauma triggers were wrapped up along with those pretty packages for him or whether the demons that haunted Little Sister were  gone or simply sleeping waiting for the holiday wake-up call, I was ready for a repeat performance.

It didn’t happen.

We put up the tree and decorated and nobody lost their mind. Over the course of a month we amassed a mountain of gifts under the tree and everyone stayed calm. We hung the stockings and there wasn’t a single meltdown. Unable to find an exact match to our existing stockings, I had to settle for a similar stocking for Little Guy and tentatively told him ready for the tears. “That’s okay, Mom,” my sweet angel replied. “I like it.”

Throughout the month, we went to several holiday festivals and parties and visited Santa five times in five different locations with nary an uncooperative moment. Christmas morning came and went full of smiles, genuine appreciation, and lots of joy. It made me a nervous wreck. I was still waiting almost wishing for the explosion for fear the longer it took to happen the worse it would be.

It didn’t happen.

When all of our warm family activities failed to ignite the fuse, I was sure their time at day camp would. After all, Little Guy had been expelled from this very camp just six months earlier after he repeatedly attacked the staff. And Little Sister always copes with new situations with regression and oppositional behavior. Too many changes, too much unpredictability, too much sugar, too little sleep, too much of all that sets off traumatized kids would surely be the final push sending them over the edge. I dropped them off and  waited for the staff to call and demand I come retrieve my little darlings.

It didn’t happen.

Here’s what did.

New Year’s Day we took down the tree. The little ones watched silently as I removed the ornaments one by one and packed them up for next year. When I took the candy cane ornament that Little Guy had made from the tree, his lip began to quiver. “That’s mine!” he demanded in a tone that always precedes his loss of control. I knew I had about one second the figure out the root of the crisis and derail it or the express to Rageville was coming through.

We stopped what we were doing and explained we were just packing it away for next year and showed him all the ornaments that the older kids had made in years gone by that we got out year after year. The one that Firstborn had made in preschool and had a picture of him around Little Guy’s age and looking so very much like him did the trick. Breathing and heart rates returned to normal, but the trauma gates were open. As he continued to talk, the roots of his anxiety became clear.

He needed evidence of our shared journey. He needed to see the past connected to a future. He needed the physical proof that he belonged here and that wasn’t going to change.

He’s too young to fully understand what adoption means, but he knows that it’s the means by which he joined the family. He doesn’t remember his first Mother, but knows it wasn’t me. They don’t call it the primal wound for nothing. For all his inability to comprehend, he knows one thing. It hurts and he wishes it were different.

With words that at once filled me with joy and anguish, he told me,

“I wish I grew in your tummy and came out and was always here.”

I’m not so vain as to think it’s about my magnificence. He only wants what we all want. To belong. To be a part of we. To feel secure that we are one and will venture into the future together. Most of us get this security through biology and a shared past that begins without trauma. It begins in a warm embrace and grows by the second with loving touch, smiling eyes, nurturing, and shared joy. For us the story began very differently and I arrived five years late–after many sad chapters had already been written.

After hugs and assurances that we would get it back out next year, he agreed to let me pack away the candy cane ornament. The day went on and all of my fears continued to not happen. Instead, the beginning of a new story did.