Adoption = Progress, Part 1

Our last five years in about five minutes (each).

Year One

I sit, chin in hands, watching as the tiny five year old builds a…something…out of the two disassembled captain’s chairs in the corner.

The old green dining room carpet, pilled and nubby under my feet, needs a thorough vacuum. I’m too exhausted to even consider cleaning. This undernourished creature and his sister, age seven and waif-like, have lived in our home for five days.

She does not fall asleep each until after midnight. He awakens most mornings at 3 am, screaming curses. I am working full time on fewer than three hours of sleep. I have no idea this will continue for almost a year. My oblivion is fortunate. If I knew what was coming, I might have a nervous breakdown.

We have survived three school days. Social Services insisted that we register them for school immediately. They arrived Wednesday at 4 pm. Thursday morning, we deposited them in their respective classrooms. And then Hubby stayed with the girl and I stayed with the boy. To keep them from wailing.

I’ve been at school the last three days, working with his teacher to keep him in the room. We’re asking the social worker to approve a behavioral aide. This child needs more help than he’s been getting. So far, she’s fighting me.

That’s okay. I’m stubborn. Vigilant, even. I will make sure these babies are no longer overlooked.

I gaze in wonder as he constructs some kind of bridge from the pieces of leather and wood. For a moment, it stands in precarious glory. His sister walks past and the slight floor vibration sends the creation tumbling to the carpet. He wails. I hear something else behind the frustration.

I hear a wild animal.

Scooping him up, I carry him to his room and perch on the bottom bed, trying to balance him without hitting my head on the bunk above. I can’t quite get far enough in and the mattress slides back; metal bed rails bite the back of my legs.

He screams and screams. I’ll be deaf, I’m sure. I hold him tight, attempting to soothe. He clings like a monkey, wrapped against me. Still top volume. While shushing and rocking, I say, “It will be okay. I love you.”

He rears back and looks me full in the face. “No you don’t!” he spits. He is rabid with rage. “You DON’T!” He pushes away from me. I reach, but he throws my hand away. “Don’t touch me!” He screams.

I stare at him.

Year Two

I sit, chin in hands, listening to the Principal.

“I’m not sure we can keep him here. He slammed her head into the cinder-block wall. She was just walking by, and he grabbed her. He’d been fine all morning.”

We were two weeks into the school year. He’d already been suspended off the bus; now this.

After begging, pleading, arguing and threatening, I’d managed to convince social services he needed a behavioral aide at school last year. She was approved in December and spent the second semester in his Kindergarten classroom. His self-control wasn’t fabulous but school officials conceded that, in her presence, his wild behavior was restricted enough for him to stay in school for full days. 

The aide had taken another job over the summer; we were already on replacement number two. The first hadn’t lasted a week. This time, they’d sent a young man, with the explanation that maybe he needed a additional male role model. I read between the lines: “he needs someone strong enough to restrain him if necessary.” 

I gave my boy a little card at the beginning of the week, “I love you,” printed in Sharpie marker. He was beginning to allow that maybe I did, but still never responded when I spoke the words. “You can keep the card with you as long as you behave,” I told him. “If you’re misbehaving, you have to give it up.”

He really liked the card, so for the first few days worked very hard to keep his disruptions to a minimum. I told the new aide to take the card if the boy was acting out. He was a young guy with a degree and the firm belief that I couldn’t possibly know how to handle this child—hence, his presence. He didn’t take the card.

Our guy’s behavior began to spiral out of control with the aide: screaming in the cafeteria, running around the classroom, pouring glue on his desk. Minor, compared to last year, but I was concerned about escalation. 

I bring my thoughts back to the principal’s concerned face. “Where is he now?” I ask.

“Library.” She says. “We couldn’t keep him in the classroom after that. She’ll be fine other than a bruise, but the little girl is very upset.”

I walk around the corner to the library and stop short, stunned. The boy is in the middle of the library, holding court on a special rocking chair. The “cool” one the librarian lets them use if they’ve had stellar behavior. Flipping my card through his fingers, he gazes, stone-faced, at his aide.

The aide is sitting on the floor, staring at his own shoes. A teacher, not my son’s, hovers at the edge of the library, hesitant to enter. I mutter, “Are you kidding me?” and stride past the magazine racks and colorful posters.

“HEY!” I say, standing behind the aide. My son hardly reacts; his eyes widen a fraction. The aide, though, almost falls over. “Whoa! I didn’t even see you coming. You’re like a ninja, man. Wow!”

I frown. “Don’t call me ‘man’—especially not in front of my son.” He nods, scrambling to his feet. Furious, I point to the hall and he follows me.

“Why is he in that chair? It’s a reward chair. Why does he have the card in his hands? I told you to take it if he acts up. Slamming another child’s head into a wall is definitely acting up. Why are you sitting on the floor? You are the adult. What is the problem here?” I glare at him, incensed.

Flustered, he wipes his hands on his khaki pants and says, “I don’t really know. I mean, he was sort of cranky this morning, but I got him to do about half his work, so we went to lunch and I bought him ice cream for cooperating—”

“WHAT?” I break in. “Are you KIDDING me? We’ve HAD THIS CONVERSATION. He CAN’T HAVE SUGAR. He gets crazy. You have asked me almost every day if you can take him for ice cream after school, and every day I have told you that you may not. So you bought him ice cream AT school?” I am fuming; I try not to raise my voice but am not successful.

“Well…” he stays, “in one of my classes, we learned that food can be a great reward tool, and I wanted to give it a try with him since nothing else seems to be working.”

I cut in. I’m not normally rude, but right now I can’t even think straight. “Yes, but he’s lived with me for a year, and you’ve known him for four days. I told you he can’t have it and you deliberately went against those instructions. I understand that at some level he is responsible for his own actions, but sugar puts him out of control.

As I’ve said before—if he has sugar, he’s maniacal within twenty minutes. So you thought you’d test it out AT SCHOOL. Maybe he would have slammed that girl into the wall regardless, but I’m betting not.

NOW, I have to deal with the school and a suspension and her parents—very likely because you thought you knew better than the countrified foster mama. Let me tell you something. We live in this county because we don’t want to live on top of people in the city: I’m no country bumpkin. I’ve worked with several levels of special needs children for fourteen years and I have my master’s degree. I have an undergrad in counseling. I’m not an idiot. If I make a request, you follow it. Got it?”

Like I said, I’m not usually rude, but I was P-I-double S-E-D. (Angry, not drunk, mind you. Just to be clear for my international friends.)

Incompetent aide in tow, I re-enter the library. “Let’s go. NOW.”

Meek and obedient, my son hands me the card. “You should take this,” he whispers.

As I sign him out, the principal tells me the girl’s parents have taken her to the doctor to be sure there’s no permanent damage. I grit my teeth, praying she’s fine. What we don’t need right now is a lawsuit. This year has already been Hell on Earth.

I stare out the window.

 

Continued…

 ***

Writing 101 Day 13 assignment: tell a story through a series of vignettes (short, episodic scenes or anecdotes) that together read as variations on the same theme.

About Casey

Adoption = my life. I'll give it to you straight. Success, failure, truth.

Posted on September 26, 2015, in Adoption, Blogging101, Writing101 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 40 Comments.

  1. Wow Casey
    How did you stay sane? I’ve heard the adjustment can be a nightmare and last forever but I didn’t know what it looked like. I would take a Xanax every four hours to function.
    Hugs
    M

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha ha ha I definitely WANTED to take something. I actually tried (at my doctor’s urging) sertraline for a while, but it took away the feeling of caring. (He climbed 15 feet into the trees? Whatever. He jumped off a golf cart moving at top speed and fell in front of a moving truck? Well…he’s okay, though. She is screaming at me? Meh.) I didn’t like it, so stopped taking it. I purposely did NOT drink alcohol (although on the rare occasion when I did…ohhh, the bliss…ha ha ha) because I didn’t want to become dependent. Long walks with hubby after the kids went to bed really helped. I wish I’d started the blog earlier (insert here: Hubby saying “told you so”) because it’s really given me an outlet. I’m much more relaxed when I’m writing.
      Hugs back! 🙂
      C

      Liked by 1 person

      • They were wild animals!!!! Of course I don’t have kids so all get on my nerves very quickly unless it’s a baby Buddha. I have to read from day one of blog to get better idea of their background. I’ve heard to expect anger for a long time. You and your husband will get extra blessing for the torture of your kids.
        :0
        M

        Liked by 1 person

        • The other day, our son grinned at me and said, “Wow, aren’t you glad I’m not a wild hyena anymore?” 🙂 He overheard me use the nickname once and (I was sort of upset because I didn’t want them to think we were making fun) and he started cracking up. “Yes! That is what we were EXACTLY!”) 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          • Tell them there’s no going back in time. Now there good respectful kids, they have to stay and improve. I would probably have a knife ready for my throat dealing with the issues. I know there are millions of children who need families, it takes a strong faith filled person to handle kids and stay married.
            🙂

            Like

  2. I was cheering you on as I read and thinking I sure am glad I wasn’t that Aide, once again your boy is SO LUCKY to have you! And here is the thing that just tugged my heartstrongs! He gave you the card! He KNEW he shouldn’t have the card, he understood and he also knows you still love him!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh dear…This is the first post I’ve read about your adoption journey. I’m sorry that you’re using a strategy of withdrawal of love (taking away the card that says “I love you” as punishment for undesirable behaviors) rather than unconditional love with age-appropriate consequences for undesirable behaviors. Rewarding good behaviors, as the aide was doing, works so much better. I’m saying these things not just as a pediatrician, but as the mother of a now-grown autistic son. He was expelled from preschool, kindergarten, and first grade, not to mention the school bus. He wore out two live-in nannies (I still had to go to work…did I mention I was a single parent, since he wore out his father???)

    The only thing that got us through kindergarten was a contract made between his psychologist (bless him) and the teacher, that if he sat with the rest of the class for five minutes, then her could do what HE wanted for the next fifteen minutes. That worked.

    Just don’t ever, EVER use love as a contingency for good behavior. A child needs to know that even if you hate the BEHAVIOR, you still love HIM.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As a long-time follower of Casey’s blog, I would recommend you go back and read some of her earlier posts. Casey and her husband have the most unconditional love for their children that I have ever seen. These kids suffered unbelievable trauma before coming to the Alexanders. Casey and her husband never stop telling them and showing them that they are loved, no matter what their behaviour is like. But they also set firm boundaries, spelling out the consequences when boundaries are crossed and then following through with the consequences. They have had superb support through the years, but they have been the ones “at the coalface.” And I, for one, have been blessed through their journey. Read the next few upcoming “chapters” of their lives. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    • Hi, Laura,
      Thank you so much for your thoughtful reply. I didn’t really think about how it sounded, but he knew full well that I wasn’t withdrawing love, just the card. The card happened to say “I love you” but it could have said anything. He liked the card itself (it was a plastic used gift card someone had given me; I think it had a picture of a puppy or something) and I wrote the three little words on it more or less on a whim. I didn’t do a very good job of explaining, I guess.

      We have told them from the beginning (and repeated it at least once a day, especially those first couple of years) that there is NOTHING they can do to make us stop loving them or to make them leave (as foster) or to un-adopt them once we got to that stage. Five other homes “got rid of” them because of their behavior (violent toward other children and animals, belligerent and oppositional, among other things) and we determined we would be their last stop unless either of them had to be institutionalized, which was a very real concern for many months due to their treatment of animals (.

      I eventually stopped working to focus on them. We had a regular counselor at least once a week, sometimes twice. An in-home counselor two to three afternoons a week, a behavioral aide at school, policemen stopping by to check on him of their own accord (yes, at five years old), a psychiatrist, occupational therapy…we regularly ran every single strategy past at least one of them and usually several of them before trying it.

      Taking the card was one strategy that we tried for a short time. I’m not exaggerating when I say we tried hundreds. When you have kids who’ve lost everything, nothing matters. They don’t care about “things” because they’ve already lost all the people who mattered to them. They didn’t care about negative or positive consequences. In order to communicate that they’d done something right, I literally had to get crazy-happy and jump around (“Yaaaaayyyyy! You ate dinner without throwing up on purpose!!!” or “Wow, you haven’t hurt ANY children this week!” etc.)

      I understand your concern about the withdrawal of love. Looking back, I probably should have written something else on the card, but I didn’t think about it at the time. I was writing it on everything they owned, hoping that it would sink in—or that they’d at least tolerate it. I even wrote it on their arms so they could pull up their sleeves and see it (I checked first—the ink was non-toxic). That was the first time we had a breakthrough, actually. I forgot one morning and turned to see the boy, standing behind me with his sleeve pulled up and arm stuck out. “Write.”

      We definitely didn’t do everything right, but not for lack of trying. I read every book I could get my hands on and even received a call back from a prominent writer of “raising children” books. I wrote to him because nothing in the books was working. He called me and said that this was why he didn’t recommend adoption of older children, but then conceded that if everyone followed that advice, kids wouldn’t get adopted. He was very nice and gave me a few strategies to try but didn’t hold much hope. He did give me one piece of very good advice: stop expecting strategies for un-traumatized children to work with trauma kids. Some backfire, others have no effect. It was stress-reducing advice.

      Part of our issues I blame on social services. They put the children in our home but then fought us at every turn when we tried to get help for the kids, even threatening to remove them if we “couldn’t handle” them. We requested therapeutic foster training and were denied. Later I found out that if they trained and categorized us as therapeutic foster home, they’d have to raise the stipend, and that was why that particular social worker wouldn’t comply with our request. Trust me, we did this for love—no amount of “extra” stipend would have made what we went through “worth” it. If we did it for money, we would have sent them back. People who think foster care is for earning money are out of their minds. If I’d known it was a money issue I’d have told them to keep the money and just give us the training.

      Anyway, I’m rambling. I hope that I’ve addressed your concerns, and I appreciate that you have them, because that means you’re a great mom. Bottom line—even now, in our fifth year, we are constantly reminding them that NOTHING in the world can cause us to stop loving them or get rid of them.

      Thank you very much for caring so deeply.
      Hugs,
      Casey

      P.S., I hold dear families with autism; my cousin’s son is autistic and we have several friends on the spectrum. I’d be interested in your thoughts on this one. It’s fiction, but I imagined being inside my little buddy’s head. https://caseyalexanderblog.wordpress.com/2015/05/03/his-point-of-view/

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Casey, I’m sorry I came across as judgemental. In fact, I WAS being judgemental. It’s a sore point for me, as I grew up in a household where love was something that was expressed or withdrawn on the condition that I did what the parent wanted, and taking away a card on which was written “I love you” seemed like conditional love to me, even if it was unintentional. So I apologize if I hurt your feelings! I know how completely, out-of-the-ballpark hard it is to foster and adopt a “difficult” special needs older child. Social Services is a bad joke. You’ve done an incredible job at helping these very fortunate kids. I have indeed seen “foster homes” that took in eight, ten kids, neglected and abused them, never even bought them proper food our clothes, and spent the money on drugs, as if the kids were just old furniture to be thrown out in the yard to fend for themselves. You are the OPPOSITE of that. You have made your life all about your kids, and I admire you infinitely💖

        Liked by 1 person

    • I just want to ditto everything that Little Learner said!! Casey is a AWESOME parent, I have gained wisdom from her as I raise my own kids. Yes, please read her other posts and open your eyes to the TRUE LOVE they have for their kids!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Good to be back here, Casey 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is fantastic, Casey. (Not the situation, but the telling!) You draw your readers in and then hold them there, spellbound! Everyone now is holding their breath, waiting for the next episode! You mix the telling of the story with humour really well. Thank you! On tenterhooks here! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. W…O…double W. wow, that is amazing and appalling and beautiful all at once. I love that you are a countrified foster mama but I think you have earned to add baby to the moniker. Countrified Foster Baby Mama (CFBM) for short.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You always crack me up. Actually, thanks to the Lupus, I’ll never be a BabyMama, but I’m definitely Crazy Mama. 😉 CFCM. And since we’ve now adopted them, I guess it’s CACM. Awwww…now you’ve got me trying to figure out how to make the acronym spell something…

      Like

  7. Wow! What a great read! I was right there with you! I have two special needs kids of my own, and I worked as a para with teenagers with behavior issues. One of the most frustrating things was dealing with people who would not listen to what we told them about how to handle “our kids”!

    Looking forward to the next installment!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for reading! I’d love to hear about your time with the teenagers, as we’re getting ready to enter that phase (Lord, give me strength).

      I agree—it’s super frustrating. A couple we know is considering adoption and asked us for the best piece of advice we could give, and this was it: “When it comes to the kids, don’t listen to advice from ANYone who has never fostered or adopted.” Everyone wants to tell you how to do it best. 🙂 At least it means they care. Or they’re nosy… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • Strength from the Lord is a good place to start! 🙂

        Oh, there is nothing wrong with listening to advice; you might hear something that will help. However, that doesn’t mean you have to take all the advice you hear. You will want to leave most of it.

        No two kids are alike, and thinking they are is the first mistake most people make.

        The biggest piece of advice I would give would be something that it appears you are already doing: be consistent!

        My oldest (28 now), was diagnosed with Conduct Disorder and then Bi Polar (the correct diagnosis). By that time, he was 16 and beyond anything that I remotely knew how to handle. All the “rules” that they gave us at school when I worked with “behavior disorder” kids, did not work with him. Most of the time, they didn’t work with those kids either. Then he went to the same school. He has a fairly high IQ and figured out the “game” pretty quick.

        He got into trouble with the law and stayed that way for about 10 years. Believe me there were a LOT of prayerful tears in those days. I had to make very tough decisions (like telling him when he was 18 that if he continued to break the law, he could not live in my house. Then I had to follow through on it. That meant my son was living on the streets, and I was scared to death, but I had to do what I had told him.

        For my daughter, the best thing for her was taking her out of pubic school and homeschooling her. She was not a behavior problem, per se, she just couldn’t learn how they were trying to teach her.

        Liked by 1 person

        • You’re so right–and it can be very frustrating to find the “key” for one kiddo (at least for that day) and then realize it doesn’t work for the other child with the same behavior issue.

          We have a friend going through a very similar situation to yours, and I can imagine in both cases how heartbreaking it is. I’d be interested to know if, looking back, you can see anything you feel either you or the people involved in his life could have done differently. This is for very selfish reasons; right now, our guy appears to be on the right track, but you’re the third person I’ve met with a grown adopted boy-girl sibling group in which the boy started tanking in his teen years, and all three went very badly. If there is ANYTHING you can tell me to look for (or maybe there isn’t anything, and it’s just the luck of the draw) I’d be grateful.
          I’m considering homeschool once they finish elementary school. We may actually put one in a private school and homeschool the other; one actually wants to hs and the other doesn’t…if we force the hs, I’m afraid neither will learn. I have two years to figure it out. Did you use a certain curriculum, or gather parts from many different providers?

          Liked by 1 person

          • Last year was my first year homeschooling and I kind of flew by the seat of my pants. I will tell you that I used (and still use) Life of Fred for math. She was so math phobic that I had to start at the beginning, but by the end of the year, she was ready for pre-algebra.

            This year I am using the Charlotte Mason approach.

            Yeah, hind sight is 20/20. What would I have done differently with James? I would have trusted my gut more, when he was little. I would have put my foot down with his step-father (or maybe ON him!) He was too hard on my super sensitive little boy, and it destroyed his self esteem. For some reason, he listened to the one negative voice, instead of all the positive ones!

            I would have been more consistent in the beginning. I think initially, I was just in shock at his behavior, so I didn’t react like I should have.
            Btw, don’t even get me started on the juvenile justice system.

            Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh no! So sorry to hear you are dealing with this. Best wishes to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I guess I need to put something in the post to clarify; this is where we started. We’re now on year 5. I’ll post the next part tomorrow. 🙂 Thank you so much for reading!

      Like

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