The Point of No Return

I vowed some time ago to be an honest voice in this sometimes dark world of foster care. I’m deflated and my focus is weak. Sometimes this journey hurts like hell. But these things need to be said and they need to be said now while they are real and raw.  Maybe I’ll delete them later.

Yesterday, a path came to end. Many lives forever traveling in a different direction. We’ve spent many years saying “yes” after many before us said “no.” We are not afraid of the tougher cases. The raging. The aggressive. The disconnected. The system savvy. The long time travelers. The children in which all others have lost faith. Until we are.

Just when it seemed we’d broken through, we got a horrifying glimpse of what lay on the other side. For safety’s sake we threw up the flag and turned away.

I am heartbroken. I am a bit more jaded. I will get back up again–I always do–but right now I’m just going to sit here for awhile.

At the point of no return just cross the line in the sand, I watch a lost child disappear into the dark, dark night. We were sunk before we sailed. Nobody really expected us to succeed–we were repeatedly given permission to fail. The wounds were too deep, the time too long, the wall too thick, the path too dangerous.

We spent seven months teetering between fear and hope, reassessing, digging deeper, employing new tools, searching beneath the fury for the hurting child…believing. Until the scales tipped on the side of danger and it was instantly clear that he was beyond our reach.
In this moment, the relief of restored safety is dulled by the weight of the grief. Grief for the knowledge of where his path now leads, grief for never having found the right tools, grief for giving up, grief that I live in a world where such a very small child can dwell in such a dark place. Grief that I couldn’t save him. Grief that my grief will not be understood or even recognized.
Tonight I’m going to collapse beneath it because tomorrow I have to throw it off and carry on. Before I’d even signed the final line, the call came with the next desperate plea.

A Whiney Self Indulgent Puke Post

It’s been a suckass week beginning with six hours of violent vomiting Sunday, rising to a mid-week farewell to my Sailor Boy, and culminating with Little Guy’s fist in my stomach Friday afternoon.

My illness triggered the avalanche, my slow recovery and Sailor Boy and his precious Love’s departure AGAIN, kept the boulders tumbling. My adopted kids do not cope well with me being anything short of vivacious. For them, any show of weakness is a warning that I may just disappear completely. The slide into their primal brains where they know only flight or fight is quick and easy and I wasn’t able to throw out any rescue lines from my nauseated puddle on the bathroom floor.

Little Guy has been aggressive and uncooperative at school and Little Sister has been honing her thievery and demolition skills while not sleeping EVER and resultingly becoming increasingly irritable. Throw in lingering nausea, malaise, and a teething baby and welcome to my week. Did I mention that it sucked ass?

I thought things peaked the morning Little Sister decided to chew up her fish oil capsule and spit it all over me–nothing like the smell of fish oil mixed with someone else’s saliva  in your hair to soothe an upset stomach–herself, and the kitchen then throw a fit in an effort to avoid going to school and facing the music for getting caught stealing the day before.

I was wrong.

Earlier this week, Little Guy had his Nintendo DS privileges revoked for being aggressive at school. He was told he could earn it back with three days of good behavior. The third day came and he reported all was well. In fact, his teacher had taken the time to write “Great Day” on his behavior log. I returned the DS, went to check the log and the festivities began.

Turns out he had failed to mention a physical altercation with a classmate the day before. I confiscated the DS and he attacked. He came at me with closed fists and seething rage. He screamed for half an hour. I haven’t seen him act like this in almost two years. It shook me. It hurt my feelings and left me wallowing in self pity.

It’s dark in this place at times, but I’m not supposed to talk about that. At a recent training with our Foster care agency, I was asked to comment on working with children diagnosed under the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, but was quickly shut down when I mentioned the static nature of these kids’ issues and the need to change the environment rather than trying to change the child (because in most cases of FASD it is not possible.) That doesn’t fit into the sugary sweet rescue model and heaven knows we wouldn’t want to frighten the new families with, well, the truth.

I’ve attended trainings focused on the need for respite and assistance to prevent secondary trauma and compassion fatigue to caregivers of special needs children.

Lovely sentiment, but these services do not exist.

I can’t even find an occasional babysitter for my infant foster daughter and in 2.5 years, I have never been able to find respite for my 8-year-old with FAS. My attempts always yield responses, but said responders slink back into the night when I begin to talk about the issues.

The neurologist is sympathetic and validates my woes as I let down my guard and weep in his office, sharing that his other parents of children with an FASD describe all the same behaviors, he pats my shoulder tells me that I’m doing a good job, and writes out prescriptions that we both know will likely do no good.

I subscribe to a Facebook support group for families parenting children with an FASD. Our stories are all the same. We are in chronic crises. We are exhausted. Our other children are suffering. Some of us are being physically abused by our children. There is no solution and outsiders often undermine our efforts. Just this week, my daughter had a teacher lie to cover for her after she stole school supplies from another teacher. The second teacher claimed to have given them to my daughter even though my daughter confessed to having stolen them. The teacher who was the victim of her theft failed to require my daughter to make amends with a service or chore, as I directed, for reasons I cannot explain. She hasn’t responded to my requests for a team meeting so that we can all revisit her IEP and make sure it’s being followed–as required by law.

It is a never ending battle on every front. Usually I’m a mighty warrior, often even enjoying the quest for victory, but this week when my internal forces came under attack, as well, I was defenseless and threw up the flag along with my guts.

I’ve cried. A. Lot. I’ve been unforgiving. I’ve been angry. I’ve confronted my family about their failings. I’ve asked “why me?” I’ve cursed every aspect of this process that has often left me lonely, afraid, powerless, and at the receiving end of blows from a child who I would give my eyes to save. I’ve been pissed off at their birth parents, their workers, a system that runs on deception, a lack of services, a lack of understanding, uneducated educators, inept practitioners, and the fucking rain. I allowed myself a long overdue meltdown.

I’m done now. My appetite returned on Friday relieving the weakness I had felt all week. By Saturday I was able to resume exercising. After a meltdown of his own, Little Guy was overcome with remorse and eager to regain my favor. I’ve never been able to resist his charms long and we are good again. We forgot to set the bedroom alarm last night, and Little Sister raided my purse in the night to which I responded unemotionally accepting this is a product of her disability and not a personal attack.

It stopped raining.

Nothing Gonna Tear Me Away From My Guy

Image

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.”

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.”

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.