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.”

Resilient Human Heart

I warned you early on that I would disappoint you….sorry for the long silence.

Life is at once full and fantastic tragic and terrifying and there is so much I want to talk about but I’m focusing tonight on my thoughts over the past 24 hours. But first let me back up a week or so.

Busy at work sewing one afternoon last week, Big Sister brought me the phone to tell me someone from the paper was calling. I assumed it was a sales call and was a little annoyed that she answered it and interrupted my work. Turns out it was a reporter who had been following my blog and wanted to interview me.

My first reaction was negative. I like to be in control of how my words are presented–accepting an interview would mean surrendering control. That scared me. Not because I feared malice on the part of the reporter but because the truth spills out whether I like it or not when I open my mouth. Without the benefit of a self edit, I would be raw and exposed. I’m still not completely comfortable with that vulnerability.

Despite my fears and desire to cancel the interview every minute before it happened David and I took the interview yesterday with a lovely young reporter who I liked instantly–she was warm and tactful and reminded me of another young lady who I adore. I am sure she will be more gracious in her story than I deserve and I am glad for having done it. You know that bravery bit I keep harping about. But a couple of her questions have been haunting me ever since.

Don’t remember the precise words, but in essence she asked about our worst experience.

In an instant every repressed horror of the past 9 years bubbled to the surface. I believe I sat silently for a long time. Maybe it wasn’t so long. I was sorting through the traumas trying to pick the worst one. Not exactly the perspective I have ever chosen to take or care to linger with too long.

There was the 4-year-old who was horrifically violent and physically harmed my daughter many times. She could rage for hours in a way that looked like what I can only imagine demonic possession must look like. We lived on constant guard against her attacks that came unexpectedly without provocation.It was unbearable.

It was the worst aggression that I’ve ever seen.

There was the baby boy who I held all night, night after night as he writhed and screamed and seemed to sweat out his own body weight as he withdrew from the meth his mother used while nursing him. I wore him in a sling around the clock for months, smelling his hair, feeling his heartbeat next to mine, falling in love. We were assured he would be ours to adopt.  From nowhere came the call that he would be going to a fictive kin placement–a family not related to him, but named by his mother.

It was the worst loss that I’ve ever known.

Perhaps the worst part of it was that it went unrecognized. No one I knew spoke a single word of condolence. Our family’s grief seemed invalid and I felt so very alone.

It was the worst sadness that I’ve ever felt.

To this day, my body won’t allow me to speak about it closing off my throat with a stinging pain when I try.

There was the 9-year-old boy who was part of a sibling group of 3 placed with us. He worked hard to improve his behavior, had a kind and gentle heart, and wanted so badly to stay with us. When his brother began acting out sexually, he had to be removed because they would not separate them. I still see his face and hear his pained words when we told him the news.

It was the worst guilt that I’ve ever experienced.

There was the little boy who within days of arrival experienced a psychic break and spent hours physically attacking me as I placed my body between him and the other children to protect them from his blows. I needed the assistance of my 6-foot sons to keep him from striking us with gardening toolS and a fire poker, and throwing everything he could get his hands on at the windows. When I frantically called my worker for help, I was told, “Just let him go.”

I called repeatedly as the raging continued and received no assistance or guidance. I finally resolved to call 911 and informed my agency. I was then told to take him to the nearest psychiatric hospital where he was admitted. I was left bruised and cut. When we refused to accept him back into our home upon discharge, my agency of many years grew cold and I was told I was having a “knee-jerk reaction.”

It was the worst insult that I’ve ever received.

And then there’s Little Sister. We are facing the cold reality that Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is likely a large part of the equation. It makes for a combination of diagnoses that has a bleak outlook. It calls for a change in expectations and acceptance of limitations. It strips away many of our hopes.

It is the worst disappointment I have ever experienced.

I’ll have to read the final story to find out how I answered this question because I had drifted off to ta dark place and was focused on climbing back into the light when I spoke– Climbing back to another answer to another question.

Why?

Why do you keep doing it? She asked. A legitimate question in the face of so much sorrow. Another question, I’m not sure whether I answered coherently or not because there is no easy answer.

But rather a half million really complicated ones–many of which I don’t know how to put into words. But because I really want to end on a positive note, I’ll try.

There is a call–an urge that doesn’t go away even when you will it to do so. Even when you run full speed in the opposite direction it catches you and assures you that it’s going to be okay. It pulls you back in in a way that makes perfect sense.

There are  small moments of connection. A quiet understanding that an impression has been made. A shift in direction. A change for good that you feel even if you never get to see.

There is faith that there is goodness in me and it needs to be shared. I believe it is an obligation to use our gifts for good, not a choice.

There is the belief that this is bigger than me, than my husband, than my family, than any of us in isolation and it only makes us better–even when we mess up royally.

There is the love of motherhood and smiling eyes, and belly laughs, and small hands, and first steps, and overcoming fears.

There is the desire to live fully, to try to be all that I might. To plow forward. To never surrender. To make my presence matter.

There is the resiliency of the human heart and its desire to know love.

Don’t Be Your Own Hail

A few nights ago I had a dream that’s been loitering in my mind and won’t go away–that’s how all my blogs start as words that keep repeating in my brain so here you go.

There was a time when I was pretty into dream interpretation, but these days I rarely remember my dreams so I hadn’t given it much thought in a while. This message was so vivid and perplexing that I went web surfing for answers. On the surface it would seem pretty obvious that “hail” is a symbol of doom–and that’s what all the dream interpretation sites confirm (that and failed ambitions, crushed dreams, and all that good stuff.) But living in a climate where any type of precipitation is celebrated and having lots of happy memories of kids catching Texas snowballs, hail is not so threatening to me. Perhaps just a gentle kindness offered by my dream brain–getting the idea across without terrifying me with a more horrific message.

The dream continued. I took my kids for a ride in an open vehicle–either a go cart or jeep. We were speeding downhill when I lost control and we went over a cliff. As we fell the kids were thrown far to one side of the vehicle and I far to the other. I watched them plunge into the water below and it was really important to me that I saw where they had gone in. This somehow made the whole disaster less ominous. As I hit the water I was sucked away from the kids by the vacuum  of the sinking vehicle.

Big Sister was terrified and screaming for me to help Little Guy who cannot swim  (in real life or the dream) and was flailing and shrieking “Mommy!” I screamed back for her to hold onto him. I knew if she could just keep hold of him, even if she could not keep him above water,  I would be able to get him to shore and resuscitate him.

As I overpowered the force pulling me down and swam toward my son, I looked for my younger daughter and found her not far from the other two kids grinning and splashing around playfully wearing an infant life preserver while holding onto a kick-board. Even in my dream this vision was painful. The rest of us were were fighting for our lives and she was safe at a pool party. I demanded to know where she got the kick- board, she replied “I don’t know” as she does to all requests for information. I turned my attention back to the other two kids and got them safely back to shore with Little Sister kicking her way happily behind us.

So dense with symbolism (as dreams always are) that I don’t know where to begin. A vehicle symbolizes your self. The fact that this vehicle was open was significant. I’ve been striving to be more open in my life. While my Facebook reads like a never-ending Disney vacation (and so much of my life is so very good) I am seeing more and more value in sharing my struggles and imperfections, as well. While that’s all cool,  it’s not so great that my self is cliff diving with my kids in tow and sinking to the bottom of the lake. Or maybe that was just letting go of the old self. The jeep sank, but I never went down–I was stronger.

Then there’s Little Sister protected in an inflatable shell, kicking and holding on to the past, happily oblivious to the crisis around her–but coming along.  Big sister more concerned for the welfare of others than her own. Little Guy screaming out for my help.  Pretty sure no interpretation is needed. And water itself is a biggie carrying themes of life, renewal, transitions, and a change in psychic state. Yeah, I got all that going on.

But here’s the message I want to hold onto. It was absolutely certain to me in the midst of the crisis was that I was going to save my kids. No doubt about it. I was stronger than any of the forces working against me and I was going to get them out of the water alive.

My waking self is not always so sure.

We’re in a good place right now, but doubts and fears are always lingering in the shadows. Experience tells us that good can go bad with no warning and it’s not easy to let your guard down.

Tentatively, we celebrate that we’ve survived the first few weeks of school with surprising successes.

Little Guy is thriving. I mean really truly thriving. He has not thrown a single punch. Only one bad behavior report in 21 days (and it wasn’t all that bad), and he loves school. He gets in the car aglow at pick-up and bubbles about his day all the way home. More and more I’m struck by how completely normal things have become for him much of the time. His transformation has been nothing short of amazing.

Little Sister is doing better at home. School has given her an outlet for he maladaptive behaviors and she’s happy to leave them there at the end of the day most of the time. Clearly not my most generous thoughts, but I’m glad to have someone share the load for awhile. I knew the behaviors would eventually emerge–I just thought it would take longer. Seems a seating relocation to right beside the teacher was in order within the first week, she has almost daily reports of disruptive behavior or refusal to do her work and she’s managed to convince the team that her abilities are far less than they actually are.

This was exactly what I feared while I wrestled with the decision of whether to put her back in public school, but for now, been a  blessing in disguise. The daily break has been good for us both. Not dealing with constant redirection and behavior management has revived my ability to pour in loving acts and seemingly her ability to accept them. For the first time ever, last week, I felt the spontaneous urge to hug her and she returned my embrace. I’ve been hugging all along, but it was scheduled because she needed it (no matter how much she resisted) not because I wanted to give it. However hard that is to hear–it is a cold hard fact of parenting a child with attachment disorder.  However fleeting, it was pure joy to at last feel a second of connection.

I’ve had more warm moments with her in the past few weeks than I have in the past year. And, hold onto your butt, last week she told me “You’re the best mom I’ve ever had.” (Damn straight I am.) Coming from a child with a basis for comparison and who for the past year has held and regularly voiced a very different opinion this is all the more meaningful.

So despite the themes of doom, my dream and waking lives are ultimately stories of survival. We are moving forward, evolving, and growing. We are fighting the good fight and winning (today, at least).

Back to School Blues

Mr. Elliot was wrong. August is the cruelest month. And this one’s been brutal. Dave’s mom died early in the month, we’ve had multiple incidents of dealing with the worst of human nature, and I’ve had to take a hard look at what the future may hold for my little guy whose angry outburst and oppositional behavior may possibly never go away. I’ve spent a long hot summer with two traumatized kids whose favorite activity is to annoy each other and me.  I’m suffering from compassion fatigue—that’s a fancy way of saying I’m burnt out.  And the thing that is going to give me relief also fills me with anxiety.

School is heavy on my mind right now. I know lots of parents count down the days until the kids go back to school. Not me. I hate it. I hate the preparation, I hate the paperwork, I hate the end of summer, I hate surrendering my children to the state, I hate watching them walk away.

My first kids were all home-schooled until at least 7th grade and Big Sister is my lone child who has never been to school and likely never will. If I were allowed one big do over, school would be it. I wouldn’t have let my boys go. All the reasons that made it make sense at the time are now outweighed by all the consequences of that decision.

This year I hate school starting for a whole new set of reasons. Boys one and two have graduated and not going back to school is a poignant reminder of a time that is gone and never coming back. In what we hoped would be a fantastic change, we moved number three son to a small charter high school with a focus on science and technology—areas in which he excels.  He started last week and the change is proving not so fantastic. School is school. All the things I hate about public education are alive and well in the charter system and I’m disappointed.

After wrestling with the idea all summer, I have decided to re-enroll  Little Sister. We withdrew her from school the day we finalized her adoption in hopes that being home would help with attachment and behavior modification. It was nothing short of disastrous. She spent five months with her heels dug firmly in the ground refusing to do anything remotely related to education, having daily screaming tantrums that could last hours, broke everything in her possession, and spit hatred at me and her sister at every opportunity.  I have no interest in going into that arena again even though I know putting her in school is going to at a minimum stall her progress and at worst set her back. This is about preserving my sanity.

She matter of factly informed her therapist last week that she won’t act like that at school it was just for Mom. Well, isn’t that lovely.

I have hopes that her teacher will read the long email that I will be writing as soon as I finish this blog, I hope she will click on the links explaining attachment disorder and developmental trauma and borrow some of my books, and I hope she will become an ally in the healing of my child. I’m hoping for the best, but expect it will go more like this:  

She will skim my email and upon meeting  my superficially charming child will decide that I am bat shit crazy, that she the teacher  is indeed a superior more compassionate human who understands my child better than I do, will ignore all my requests to employ therapeutic interventions, will buy into my child’s manipulations intensifying my child’s belief that all adults are untrustworthy idiots resulting in my child growing weary of putting on the charm and acting out in ways that disrupt class or are directly offensive to the teacher and the other kids at which point teacher will contact me asking if there is a problem at home because my little darling just hasn’t been herself lately.  Believe it, this isn’t my first rodeo.

Then there’s the little guy. It’s been a rough summer. He was kicked out of day camp and the gym childcare due to aggressive outbursts. He struggles with self regulation, sensory integration, slips into “looking for a fight” mode whenever things are not going his way, has poor boundaries, and talks incessantly. You see where this is going. At this point in the game, to school or not to school him is not my decision to make so at least I don’t have to wrestle with the guilt of the decision.

So here on the eve of my 46th birthday—you know the one that moves you closer to the 50 side of the 40-50 timeline—I am deeply anxious of what lies ahead.  I am consciously making a choice that I know may have grave consequences. I’m turning my traumatized child over to a system I don’t believe in and one that will likely undermine my efforts because I can’t do this alone anymore.  

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.