Category Archives: Adoption

Once Upon a Birthmother

Have you ever noticed how many movies involve children without parents, kids in foster care and adopted children? Before our kids came to us, I noticed.

The themes made me yearn for a time when we’d have our own adopted littles.

Spawned fond ideas of happy endings, possibly after a short time of adjustment.

Let’s take a moment and smile at the memory of my innocence. 

Okay, moment of silence over. The dissonance between my dreams and my reality isn’t our topic today.

Since we’ve had the kids, both Hubby and I started noticing the plethora of movies centered around loss and adoption.

Take a minute and make a list of the movies—especially children’s movies—that do NOT have at least one missing parent.

How’s it going?

If you make a list of movies involving a loss, I believe you’ll have an easier time.

Disney movies in particular thrive on the “bio parent has disappeared; brand new mummy is horrid” idea. I am no activist (at least, not against Disney) but I do have concerns about the messages inherent in Mickey’s versions of the fairy tales.

Until Frozen, almost every Disney story involved a fairly young girl being rescued by an older guy, often against her guardian’s better judgement.

I understand that child marriage is not frowned upon in ALL countries, but in general, who thinks this is okay?

16 year-old girl rebels against protective (and fairly reasonable) father. She has no mother figure and seeks out a woman recognized by EVERYONE as a bad influence. This woman encourages her to use “body language” to go after a man who is old enough to hold a job governing a country (probably late 20’s, early 30’s, since his dad appears to be about 70). The girl runs away from home, ends up naked, finds the guy and moves in with his family. They know nothing about each other and marry within weeks.

We all recognize The Little Mermaid, of course. Sweet movie.

In real life, no one in his or her right mind thinks it’s okay for a 16 year old to marry a complete stranger twice her age. That’s a recipe for domestic abuse.

Disney isn’t the only storyteller utilizing the Hero’s Journey, in which the protagonist follows a path which often involves great loss (e.g., parents) and overcomes.

It’s a great story line, truly.

Real life, as we know, does not always follow the Journey path.

Our kids experienced loss.

Loss of biological family.

Loss of familiar surroundings.

Loss of stability (such as it was).

Loss of connection.

Loss of everything they’ve ever known.

And watching stories helps them learn to rewrite their own.

As I’ve mentioned previously, they became obsessed with the Despicable Me series. In case you’ve been living in the Amazon (rainforest, not corporation) with no electricity, you’re probably familiar with the storyline:

Three girls in foster care move in with a villain who has selfish reasons for the adoption. The girls win him over and he fights to protect and keep them. Later, he marries his adorable spy counterpart, giving them a mother. The Happy End. 

Some movies with adoption themes are helpful. They address points that we might not be comfortable bringing up (or show us ideas in our kids’ minds of which we may not be aware until they talk about the movie).

Despicable Me actually helped them form a more healthy view of family life.

However, we’ve learned that careful curation is important.

As you may know, neither Hubby or I are keen on allowing hours of screen time (the Electronic Nanny, as it were). Aside from the many negative aspects of screen time for “regular” kids (a soapbox I’ll be happy to mount another day), our kids easily pick up attitudes about adoption—both positive AND negative.

Recently, we’ve been a bit less guarded with our daughter. She’s now in her very early teens and we can’t force her to watch rated G movies forever (although that would be great…yes, you’re right…I should Let it Go, Let it Goooooo).

The three of us began watching Once Upon a Time. As a fairy tale lover (Grimm, not Disney), the retold stories make me grin. Most of the characters, especially Rumpelstiltskin, are fabulously rendered. Beginning with the first episode, we became a little addicted (okay, Hubby not so much…but the girl and I loved it).

And then we noticed a subtle change in our girl.

She began to lose some of her recent progress, sliding back into an attitude of…something difficult to describe. Derision. Passive-aggressive opposition.

She drew us into conversations about whether we were really related. About her roots. About the lack of a “blood” connection with us. She began expressing a concern that she really didn’t care about us that much, although she felt she should care more.

*I would like to take a moment to mention here that Hubby missed his calling as a child psychologist. He accurately diagnosed the problem: what I saw as a fun retelling of a story, our daughter was internalizing.

In Once Upon a Time, Emma Swan is an oblivious, non-magical person living in Boston until her birth son, Henry, tracks her down and brings her to Storybrooke, where he’s been adopted by none other than the Evil Queen (adversary of Snow White). Henry believes Emma is the fulfillment of a prophecy that Snow White and Prince Charming’s daughter will save all the happy endings.

Adoptive mother = Evil Queen (unrepentant, selfish and, well, Evil)

Birth mother = Savior (sorry she ever gave up her baby and determined to make it up to him by bringing happiness to an entire town)

I assume you see where this is going. 

Usually I’m a little quicker on the uptake, but this time I was blindsided. Could not figure out what in the world had happened to flip the switch in our now-generally-happy kid.

She started talking about memories of the past, about her biological parents (as if they were possibly very good people who made a mistake).

And began pushing me away.

The harder I worked to fix whatever “this” was, the further we slipped apart.

One day we had a conversation about Papa, Hubby’s father. When he passed away, we were all devastated, especially Hubby.

Our girl calmly informed me that she didn’t think she’d be that upset when Hubby and I passed on; she assumed Hubby felt the loss so much because of his blood connection. 

We discussed how people can be close with or without blood connection, but she didn’t seem to get it.

When Hubby arrived home, I was worn out. Once he found out about our conversation, the three of us sat down and he faced off with our girl.

You’ve been watching a lot of Once Upon a Time. Do you realize it’s affecting how you see Mom and me?

At first, she didn’t. Half an hour later, following discussions of the different characters and how they might relate to our situation, she voluntarily took Once Upon a Time off her viewing list. She has refused to watch it ever since, saying she didn’t like what it did to her thoughts.

I’m not suggesting we all make OUAT off-limits (it contains some great messages, actually), nor do I think we all need to trash our televisions.

Here’s what I do suggest:

  • Keep a close eye on program themes and watch to see how they affect your kids
  • Discuss problematic themes with your children
  • Don’t assume your children aren’t internalizing and relating to the content
  • Be willing to remove problematic programming if they’re not able to make that choice themselves
  • Keep open, honest discussion a priority
  • Remember: helping them draw their own conclusions works much better than simply telling them how it is

The battle for their minds is more difficult than I sometimes realize. They are bombarded on all fronts at this age—TV, radio, magazines, online media, friends and enemies…everything around them helps form their opinions and attitudes.

Jen Oshman makes a great point on her blog:

The only antidote for a mind that is tempted to believe what’s false is to renew it with what’s true.  Paul knew this and tells us, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).

Pouring positive influence into the minds and hearts of the children in our lives—especially for adopted kids, who may never completely shake the feelings of loss and abandonment—is one of our most important jobs.

Take a moment today to have a conversation with a kid in your life. Hearing a new perspective might be just what they need.


Living in 3D

Writing used to be cathartic, therapeutic.

If necessary, I’d write in the middle of the night.

For the last few months, I’ve struggled to force it. Until this week, the reluctance to record has baffled me.

I don’t easily admit, even to myself, “I have a problem.”

As you may know, the last 6.5 years have been a true roller coaster. When I scrolled through a few posts from a couple years ago, I read HOPE. I read PROGRESS. And I realized

I’ve been living the last few months in 3D.

But not the thrilling “let’s see a movie with those fun glasses” 3D.

Discouraged. Depressed. Distracted.

These three D words have ruled my life of late—and I didn’t even realize until now.


I drive Hubby a little nuts sometimes. I am the Optimist who makes everyone roll eyes at least once in our friendship.

Hitting every red light? Maybe God knows if we get to point X in ten minutes, we’d be crushed by a falling tree. He’s slowing us down on purpose. 

Traffic is at a standstill because a tree is blocking the road? Well, thank goodness it didn’t crush us. 

Cashier had a horrible attitude? Maybe she just found out her mom has cancer. 

Lost that job (this has happened to both Hubby and me)? God’s got a plan. We’ll be fine. 

I have an immune disorder? (This one took a few months to find silver lining…) Well, I guess this will force me to take better care of myself. 

Our boy is in residential treatment? This will give me the ability to focus most of my attention on helping our daughter excel in school. 

Give me your worst scenario and I can find a silver lining or a probable reason it can all turn out for good. It’s a gift and a curse, because sometimes I can come across as flippant, but I generally have this belief that God will work it all out in the end.

I’ve always applied this belief to our kids. I still believe.

But this boy is wearing me out.

He doesn’t seem to care about coming home.

I’m resigned to the knowledge that he’s not coming home anytime soon. And that even if/when he does come home, it’s likely many of our dreams for him will never happen.

All that is okay, but without even realizing, I’ve become discouraged.


The discouragement has pressed down on my soul for weeks. They say expectations are the death of everything. Our lives would be better without the word “should” in our vocabulary.

Unmet expectations destroy relationships. Bring destruction to the best-laid plans. Decimate optimism.

Underneath it all, here’s the narrative my heart wrote when we brought these two kids into our home:

Siblings experience trauma and too many re-homing disruptions until they are 5 and 7. At that time, they find stability with a loving couple who provide them with everything they need. Although the first year is terrible, subsequent years grow easier and within three years, they are well-adjusted, happy, bright, inquisitive children in love with learning about the world around them. The entire family enjoys traveling, playing together and finding ways to help others. When the kids turn 10 and 12, the family travels to Peru on a missions trip, where the children are thrilled to bring love to others who may have had an even tougher early life than the one they experienced. 

I have recently confronted this narrative I didn’t even know was lurking under the surface of my thoughts.

This is not our story.

Right now, our girl is flourishing, although she periodically reminds me (usually when I praise her for progress) that “it’s all still in there, in my head. It might come back.” And it might, but we’re prepared.

Our son has been in residential treatment since October 1 and shows no sign of wanting to come home. Although I do understand that trauma played its ugly part, on some level he’s choosing this.

In recent conversations, he’s informed us that he wants to stay at the center because they “let us watch lots of TV and you don’t” and he likes to play basketball. Ironically, when they have gym time, he usually plays in a corner by himself—something he can easily do at home with our hoop. (His TV complaint…totally valid. Not going to change.)

He also informed us that he sees the situation in the following light:

You’re putting in a lot of effort, and I’m not putting in any effort.

At least he’s honest.

The death of my narrative has depressed me more than I was able to acknowledge until now.


Discouragement and depression are not my usual modus operandi. I’ve felt a dissonant fracture within…and been unwilling to address it.

Giving me relief for a short time: Once Upon a Time, a series about happy endings.

I’m a sucker for fairy tales rewritten, as well as pirates in leather and guyliner. Win-win.

The show is true Brain Candy; almost a soap opera with fairies. And SOOOOOOO distracting.

As I watched Emma Swan learn to BELIEVE, there was no room for discouragement or depression.

As Regina the Evil Queen became my favorite character (the reason for her Evilness was underlying trauma and heartache), I forgot my own heartache.

Finally realized I had a problem.

Hubby went on a business trip and I watched the series until 3 am.

Used the Netflix app to watch in my spare moments.

And I didn’t really want anyone else to know, which was my first clue I needed to quit.

The second clue? Realizing I’d burned through hours of the show, time I could have used for…ANYthing else.

Sometimes I’m a little slow, but when I finally get it, I get it.

This week, I faced my 3D life.

I listened to an audio version of the Bible to fight the Discouragement ( is fabulous—and no, they don’t pay me to say it).

I admitted to Hubby that I’ve been dealing with Depression lately. He’s incredibly supportive, giving lots of hugs (my favorite) and a package of amazing cupcakes (my less healthy favorite).

My Distracting Netflix app went the way of Candy Crush (an earlier addiction I needed to delete from my phone).

And now, I’m ready to go


Discouragement, Depression and Distraction will always be with me, but I’m also


I’m sure the 3 D-words will sneak up on me from time to time, but I’m Determined to stand my ground.

Letting go of “my” narrative will likely be a battle I fight for the rest of my life. Remaining vigilant and keeping myself focused won’t be easy.

Admitting my flaws and weaknesses is always frightening, but one of the great lessons in Once Upon a Time is this: your flaws hurt you when you try to hide them. Out in the open, they simply make you human.

Our son described us to his counselor as “The Grizzly and the Pit Bull.” Hubby is the Grizzly Bear, fiercely protective of our family. I’m the Pit Bull, ferociously hanging on to keep us together and make sure the kids get whatever services they need.

Pit Bull.


This week, I live in 4D.

Ephesians 6:13

New International Reader’s Version (NIRV)

So put on all of God’s armor. Evil days will come. But you will be able to stand up to anything. And after you have done everything you can, you will still be standing.

*Verse from


I’m sitting next to a family.

Two parents with three most-likely-bio sons. I watch the oldest roll his eyes as the youngest runs around the cafe, repeating with gusto,

“I spy with my little eye…”

The middle boy colors quietly by himself.

I don’t know the names of the older boys.

The youngest is definitely named Liam.

Father and mother halfheartedly chase the towheaded toddler in turns, calling his name.

He expertly ignores, then evades them.

It is a blissful scene of family togetherness, childhood glee and parental exasperation.

Sometimes I watch other people with their children, heart aching.



I am not the woman who gave my children life.

Every so often, I wonder whether things would be different if I’d held them in my arms from birth.


a few days ago

I saw a lady watching as my daughter and I walked through the store

arms wrapped around each others’ shoulders

being our goofy selves

and laughing.

The woman’s eyes sparkled with tears.

I wondered about her story.

And it hit me.

We all watch each other.


Grieving our personal losses.

Assuming others have a better, happier life.

She has no idea of the depths of hell from which my girl and I have fought our way back to be mother and daughter.

She can’t imagine the years of despairing whether we’d ever have a relationship.

I reconsider some of my wishing.

Maybe Liam’s family lets him have run of the place because he’s recently had his third round of chemo and they don’t know if it will work. Maybe they seem happy together because it might be the last time.

None of us has any idea what the others’ lives are like, and yet, we wish.

A few weeks ago, I talked with a friend I’ve always seen as the epitome of happy and positive. We lost touch after college for over fifteen years. Three minutes into the phone call, our friendship was all caught up. She’s the same sunny girl.

Five minutes in, we’d spilled our guts.

Our adoption journey. Their many miscarriages.

Everyone has a difficult patch in life to overcome.

We all have our own battles, and none of us really knows what others endure.

I’m a born advocate; when I read Isaiah 1:17, Proverbs 31:8 and and Isaiah 58:6-11, I feel they were written to me personally.

Isaiah 1:17 New International Version (NIV)

17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
    plead the case of the widow.

Proverbs 31:8 New International Reader’s Version (NIRV)

Speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves.
    Speak up for the rights of all those who are poor.


I can fight for what others (e.g., my kids) need all day long. But if I’m honest, miscarriages would utterly destroy me. God knew what I could handle.

God knew beforehand this was going to be my life, so I’m fully prepped to fight, love and pray my way through the hard times.

Maybe I just need to focus a little more on being thankful I’m equipped for this life, instead of wishing for someone else’s battle.



Isaiah 58:6-11, NIRV

Set free those who are held by chains without any reason.
    Untie the ropes that hold people as slaves.
Set free those who are crushed.
    Break every evil chain.

Share your food with hungry people.
    Provide homeless people with a place to stay.
Give naked people clothes to wear.
    Provide for the needs of your own family.

Then the light of my blessing will shine on you like the rising sun.
    I will heal you quickly.
I will march out ahead of you.
    And my glory will follow behind you and guard you.
    That’s because I always do what is right.

You will call out to me for help.
    And I will answer you.
You will cry out.
    And I will say, ‘Here I am.’

 Get rid of the chains you use to hold others down.
    Stop pointing your finger at others as if they had done something wrong.
    Stop saying harmful things about them.

Work hard to feed hungry people.
    Satisfy the needs of those who are crushed.
Then my blessing will light up your darkness.
    And the night of your suffering will become as bright as the noonday sun.

 I will always guide you.
    I will satisfy your needs in a land baked by the sun.
    I will make you stronger.
You will be like a garden that has plenty of water.
    You will be like a spring whose water never runs dry.




Homeschooling is Fabulous

I’ve been trying to catch up on writing about the craziness in our life. Let’s not leave out the good craziness. 

The kids started begging me to homeschool them almost as soon as they came to live with us. They spent some time in a foster home with homeschoolers, which prompted the begging.

That particular household embraced the philosophy that many of the minutes during a public school day are wasted.

I agree with the logic.

Kids in private school also deal with transitions and lost moments, but in a large public system, the problem is exponentially larger. Time is wasted in transitions, in moving between classrooms, waiting for everyone to get a drink of water at the fountain, waiting for everyone to finish toileting, waiting for everyone to finish lunch, waiting, waiting…

And waiting for at least 80 percent of the class to catch on to ideas.

Kids who “get it” more quickly must wait, bored…and even worse, the child who might understand with some one-on-one attention is left further and further behind.

At least in the U.S., I don’t see a viable solution within the public school system (especially for the child who misses the first step and struggles to climb the second step as his classmates sprint up steps four, five and six).

It’s not a “bad” system for most kids. It’s the best possible education for a grand spectrum of children, targeting the widest possible swath of average kids.

I agree that one-on-one attention can be better, but I didn’t particularly agree with the homeschooling philosophy of the family with whom they stayed.

The mother informed me that her kids (spanning elementary, middle and high school grades) were almost always finished with school in two hours per day. I imagine this could be possible for the lower grades, but homeschool done well in upper grades can’t be finished in a couple hours per day.

I’m no inexperienced snob…our family was one of the first in our area to school children at home (although each of us spent at least two years in either public or private school as well). At that time, the choice to homeschool was unpopular with the school system, county officials and even our church. My mom ensured our education was stellar—and it definitely took more than two hours per day.

All that in a nutshell: Public school wastes tons of time and leaves slower children behind. Homeschool can be a great alternative IF—and only if—done properly.

Sorry, I’m soapboxing. I digress.

Because of their need to learn how to integrate with society, we agreed with counselors and school administration that public school was the best beginning solution for our two.

However, Hubby and I promised them we’d consider home school when they successfully completed elementary school.

Fifth grade finished last year. We decided to take the plunge.

The school had me convinced that our girl required special needs support in math and reading. I had mild concerns about my ability to give her what she needs, but reasoned that I could learn anything necessary to help her.

We purchased the 5th grade math curriculum and completed it over the summer. The ease with which she moved through the program surprised me, but we weren’t studying other subjects.

When we began grade 6 in September, I expected she’d struggle. In some ways, this was true; if she considered a concept difficult, she gave up easily. We worked together and she began to realize that difficult math problems became easier once she learned the strategy. As long as she followed the strategy we put in place, she had almost no trouble.

Finally, I convinced her that the size of the number wasn’t an issue as long as she followed the math strategy (by requiring her to complete a long division problem involving a ten-digit number).

She stopped hating math.

Her handwriting improved.

She slowed her reading, decoding instead of skipping unknown words.

Quoting The Help, I informed Hubby that he is smart, kind and important.

Grinning wildly, she corrected my grammar.

She loves finding facts I don’t already know.

She is bright. She is talented. She is fabulous.

Although we wish he didn’t have to be at the treatment center, our son’s absence has allowed me to spend twice as much time with our daughter, helping her finally catch up academically (due in part to their time in foster care, she’s two years behind).

In December, we completed the core subjects for grade 6. We started grade 7 in January. As long as we stay on task, we should be able to complete 7th by June.

School is cool.



Continued from Desolate

When the kids first came to live with us, I clocked three to four hours of sleep a night. The girl wailed until after midnight; the boy woke screaming around in the wee hours.

Every. Single. Day.

The initial sleep deprivation lasted about six months; four months for social services (still the legal guardian) to approve meds and two more months for the doctor to find the correct dose.

I still remember the relief I felt the first morning after we found the right combination, waking around 6 instead of 4 am.

I’d forgotten how it felt. September brought it all rushing back.

This time, I think, was worse.

Digressing a bit: I’ve had a recent epiphany that I experienced almost no change in stamina from the time I was seventeen. Until now.

Sometime this year, I looked in the mirror and realized I am no longer twenty-seven. Or thirty-seven, for that matter. Am I too old for a ponytail? 

Apparently, up to this point my brain has been convinced I’m a decade younger, and the shock of realizing I am OH NO middle-aged was a bit too much.

This time, sleep deprivation almost killed me.

Ok, that’s hyperbole.

But I was beyond exhausted. By the end of September, I started telling Hubby I might like a weekend in the acute center, if they actually had white padded rooms available. 48 hours sleeping in a soundproof room…sounds like heaven.

Unfortunately, checking myself in at one of those places wasn’t an actual option. Hubby took over on weekends and let me nap as much as possible while he was home.

Finally, after weeks of phone calls and meetings and waiting, we got the approval call from the treatment center.

Because we were concerned about what our son might do if we informed him ahead of time, I packed him a suitcase during the night. I crept into his room and slipped his stuffed dog from under his arm. The next day, as we drove to the treatment facility, we explained.

  1. We are not counselors or psychiatrists; we have researched and prepared as much as possible, but we are not trained to provide the care you need.

  2. We care very much about you and want to give you the best chance to succeed in life. The people at this facility have the qualifications to help you.

  3. We are NOT giving you up, letting you go, abandoning you or sending you away.

Our son responded with little emotion.

Like I said before, you’ve tried everything. We might as well try this.

His absolute lack of reaction still stymies me.

The experience at this treatment center was a complete change from the acute center. We met the director, head nurse and several staff. While the nurse completed the intake with our son, we toured the facility.

The staff explained to our son that the initial stay would be thirty days; he perked up and I watched determination firm his jaw.

At the time, we didn’t realize this would become a problem.

He thought if he could “act good” for thirty days, they’d release him. And he decided to make it happen. 

He hugged us goodbye without a tear, then walked through the metal door with a staff member. It closed behind him with a heavy thud.

We walked to the car.

I expected to feel guilt at leaving him with strangers.

I expected to feel great sadness at leaving him behind. For almost seven years, we’d been four. Now, at least temporarily, we were three.

I expected to feel lonely, to feel his absence, to experience a boy-shaped hole in my existence.

I expected to feel that I was a failure as a mother, having not been enough to help him.

But here I must admit: I felt nothing but relief.

I truly believed the people in that building would be able to help him in a way Hubby and I could not. I knew we weren’t leaving him permanently; we would, soon enough, once again be four. I understood that I’d exhausted every possibility available, turned over every proverbial stone.

As for missing him—maybe this sounds awful, but…I didn’t.

My only source of guilt: the relief at being able to relax.

No checking every thirty seconds. No worrying whether he’d wake before I did. No concern about destruction or harm to property or living creature (including his sister) if my visit to the loo lasted an extra minute.

The first three days after drop off, I slept like the dead.

A week later, Hubby looked ten years younger.

And the nurse called to tell me our son was the best behaved child in the center.

He is so polite. He is kind to everyone. I wish they were all just like your son.

I was gobsmacked. Flabbergasted. Shocked.

How could this be the same child?

Until now, I’d never realized how determined he could be.

Guess how long that dogged kid kept it up.



Photo credit: Dustin Spengler

Continued from Excruciating Ride, Part 2

If you asked for a one-word description of my internal landscape during early fall, I would use the word desolate.

Desolate, synonyms: miserable, despondent, depressed, disconsolate, devastated, despairing, inconsolable, broken-hearted, grief-stricken, crushed, bereft

Dark storms on the horizon and a long, lonely road ahead.

His six-day stint in acute psychiatric care only seemed to magnify his behaviors. He literally came home worse than when he left. Although he fed us lies about some aspects, we observed serious lack of supervision in the acute facility. He came home with a softball-sized bruise on his arm from playing a “punching game.” Roll the dice, the other kids punch you. Granted, there’s a good chance he willingly participated, but there’s no reasonable explanation for kids getting away with that kind of assault under true supervision.

He hid his shoes in the gym and blamed another child (we found out after); they still hadn’t found the shoes when we came to pick him up, so they led him outside in stocking feet. The nurse couldn’t fathom why we were upset. It never occurred to anyone that perhaps a pair of flip-flops (or a call home so we could bring shoes) might be necessary.

Peripheral concerns like these made us more concerned about the true level of care and supervision at the center. We began to hear stories from other families whose children had bad experiences and became determined to keep him safe at home until we could find a better solution.

I slept about 4 hours a night, making sure he was sound asleep before I went to bed and waking before he stirred. Thankfully, Hubby made it possible for me to stay home starting mid-summer (as we were planning to homeschool). I don’t know how I’d have survived trying to work as well as fully supervise the boy.

We instructed the girl to stay out of his way as much as possible. It was now early September, so each day included school work; he generally complied with the intent of “beating” his sister. Normally I discourage competition, but in this case it kept him focused so I didn’t fight it. Surviving the day was my only goal.

After schoolwork completion and some time in the yard to run around (and outside the fifteen hours of time per week with the in-home counselor, psychiatrist and office-visit counselor), I allowed him to play with Legos or let the two kids watch movies (a complete anomaly; our normal TV schedule included almost no screen time other than a Friday night movie). The only time I could guarantee no violence were the minutes his eyes were glued to the “bug light.”

Meanwhile, I spent hours on the phone with our insurance company, the social workers, a county government team and his in-home counselor. I called and researched longer-term psychiatric facilities within 6 hours of our home. Most wouldn’t take him as they were not considered locked facilities. They couldn’t protect other children from him, and they couldn’t prevent him from running away or hurting himself.

I prayed we could find a place for him; Hubby and I were completely exhausted. He took over much of the supervision in the evening so I could get a shower and make dinner, which meant he was basically working two jobs.

Finally, I found a facility within reasonable driving distance. As I researched further, I found that the original trauma counselor who saw our family in the beginning of our journey wrote the program for the facility and continued to consult with them. They utilized Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, something we’d been advised to pursue.

Every conversation gave us more certainty this would be our best option.



Excruciating Ride, Part 2

Continued from Excruciating Ride

Photo Credit: Benjamin Wong

I often search Flickr for just the right photo, but I don’t always find what I want. In this case, the picture is worth about a million words.  

The roller coaster we’re riding with our son right now isn’t any fun.

As I walked into the hall, my son whipped the pencil away from his chest.

“What are you doing?” Reaching for the pencil, I leaned over to see whether he’d progressed through his school work. I used the pencil to point, summoning as much nonchalance as I could.

“You need to fill in these blanks in pencil, please.” I handed the pencil back, adding, “Pencils are for paper; pencils are not for poking people.”

He nodded and took it.

After he finished his school work, I gave him a journal assignment. He wrote about suicide by a pencil stab.

An hour later, he growled in frustration when I wouldn’t believe an obvious lie. He left the house and headed down the driveway. The timing worked well, because we needed to head to an appointment, so I pretended to think he was going to get in the car.

Unlocking the vehicle, I called, “Hey, thanks for getting out of the house so quickly so we can be on time! Do you want me to meet you at the end of the driveway?”

He froze, then turned slowly and shuffled back to the car, muttering, “wearing the wrong shoes, anyway.”

His sister gave him a sharp look. “Were you trying to run away?”

“Yeah, but I need my other shoes.”

She shook her head. “Running away is stupid. What are you going to eat?”

In a cool, flat tone that gave me chills, he said, “Dead squirrels, probably.”

By late August, I was spending an average of seven hours per day closely monitoring our son. Completing tasks became almost impossible; he didn’t want to move, so he began a sabotage campaign. When we put the house on the market, we asked the kids to try to keep things neat for the showings. He thought buyers would refuse to purchase the house if he worked against us. He trashed his room, wrote on the walls in permanent marker, decimated a large planter…every time he wasn’t by my side, I looked for the next bit of destruction.

He did the opposite of whatever we asked and began doing things he’d never done in the past, like climbing out of his window to leave the house. Hubby and I did our best, but…have you ever tried to keep an 11 year-old in sight at all times? It’s even harder than it sounds.

Cameras and a newly-installed alarm system helped, but we still couldn’t supervise 100% of his day. Showers became especially problematic, because he’s really too old for one of us to stand there. He plugged the drain with toys and toilet paper, defecated in the tub and filled the curtain with water, letting it go when it became too heavy (all over the bathroom floor).

Because he is diagnosed as “on the edge” of the Autism spectrum, the in-home counselor suggested we apply for ABA therapy for help with behavior modification. Good ABA therapists have successfully helped non-verbal, low-functioning children learn to communicate and to perform self-care tasks. If his apparent inability to follow directions stemmed from the autism, the therapists would be able to help. And maybe, once he had a habit of doing the right things, he would feel better about himself.

While I sat outside with the supervisor, outlining the challenges of the last several months, another staff member sat with our son to evaluate him. I explained to the supervisor that he’s great one-on-one with an adult, so I expected the other therapist to find nothing. Sure enough, when she joined us, I saw The Look.

The Look, n., facial expression indicating the parent must be out of her mind, as this child is brimming with intelligence and compliance. 

Thankful for backup from the in-home counselor, the supervisor and I explained there is more to this kid than becomes obvious in one meeting. We were approved for services, but staffing shortages meant ABA wouldn’t start for several weeks.

A week later, the threats of suicide came almost daily, sometimes several times a day. His moods swung between anger and depression. I couldn’t leave him alone with his sister for even a minute because he started lashing out at her.

ABA wasn’t going to be enough.

We began looking for residential treatment, this time for a program that lasted more than a few days.







Excruciating Ride

Continued from Roller Coaster, Part 2

Angela Duckworth, author of Grit, believes we reach “expert” level by practicing our craft for at least 10,000 hours; K. Anders Ericksson specifies those hours are spent in “deliberate practice.”

Therefore, I would like to announce that

I am an expert.

For at least thirty years, I have deliberately practiced…procrastination.

Don’t even have to try anymore; Hubby agrees my practical level of procrastination is unbelievable—even mind blowing.

Blog procrastination happens when I know it’s time to write but I’d rather pretend nothing is happening.

Writing about the last six months is painful, terrifying, discouraging.

I’ve been procrastinating.

As I mentioned earlier, the roller coaster with our girl has morphed into a super-fun ride most days. (And yes, I know that super-fun is technically not a word.)

The roller coaster ride with our boy…not so much.

Right now, his roller coaster is excruciating.

When we began our journey, people supported us in the best ways they knew. However, few had the experience to understand, so we stopped trying to share our angst, because conversations went something like this:

Me: “Our foster son won’t stop screaming. Anything sets him off. He won’t let me touch him until he’s out of his mind—then, still screaming, he clings to me like the earth is falling away and I’m the last thing standing. Sometimes it lasts for hours; I don’t know what to do.”  

Friends my age: “Yeah, my kid does that, too. I just turn on the TV and he settles down,” or “Put him in his room, tell him he can come out when he’s done, and shut the door.”

Friend my mom’s age: “Tell him if he doesn’t stop crying, you’ll GIVE him something to cry about.” 

Friend my grandmother’s age: “He probably has gas. Have you taken him to the doctor?”

Social worker: “If he’s too much for you, we’ll find another placement.” 

The above suggestions didn’t help.

But those kinds of conversations prompted me to start this blog, because Hubby and I agreed no one should feel as alone as we did.

Have a troubled kid? You are not alone.

Terrified of the future? Wondering whether your child will have the ability to function in society? “Cautious optimism” is your motto?

You’ve come to the right place.

Everyone’s story line is a little different, but the internal conflict connects across all boundaries: parents want beautiful life to happen for their kids, but we don’t always know how to best assist.

We want them to thrive, be mentally healthy and happy, be successful, have a great future.

Three months ago, the main life plan for our eleven year-old son was

stay alive.

His roller coaster almost went off the tracks in August. The happy boy who lived with us during the summer of 2016 was long gone. He used his intelligence to charm and manipulate adults but could not stand his peers. Aggressive behavior caused his expulsion from two summer camps.

Several life alterations (loss of Hubby’s dad, job changes, selling our home, moving) or hormones may have something to do with the downward spiral that held a tenacious grip on his personality; we don’t really know the cause. Hindsight sometimes holds clues and answers, but in this case, we can’t find any triggers.

I once read that talking about suicide is “just” a cry for attention unless the person has a plan. (We can discuss “just” another time…if a person is reaching out, there’s a reason.)

Our son had a plan.

Several plans, actually.

When he was upset, I often sent him to write in his journal; after he finished, he allowed me to read it and we took time to discuss his thought processes. As he found that I would not give him a consequence for anything he wrote (he tested this with a list of swear words), his writing became darker and included plans to run away or harm himself.

His list of ways to die included throwing himself in front of a vehicle, drowning himself in the pond or stabbing himself in the heart with a pencil.

Because of his extreme behaviors and inability to function appropriately in most settings, he had an in-home counselor ten hours a week. She became an invaluable presence in our family, mostly for me. (I no longer had to wonder whether I might be overreacting.)

We monitored him closely, working with the in-home counselor with the goal of keeping him with us.

We were, in a word, Hypervigilant.

We installed an alarm on the house to alert us if he tried to leave in the middle of the night, and cameras so I could keep an eye on him when I had to be in another room. Most of the time, I slept only when he slept, woke before he did and kept him in my physical sight almost all day. If I needed to use the restroom, I took the monitor, and only took showers when another adult was in the house. Hubby took over when he got home from work so I could get a little rest.

We were exhausted but determined to do everything we could to prevent residential care.

We believed our love could be enough.

Our in-home counselor agreed he needed immediate and urgent help after he acted out a detailed suicide scene in front of a camera in our home. We aren’t sure whether he chose the setting intending a manipulation, since he knew the camera was there. Regardless, the underlying issue remains the same: his thoughts were focused on ending his life.

As I explained that we might need to seek help from a facility outside our home, he shrugged.

“You’ve done all you can. You’ve tried everything else. We might as well try this.” 

We checked him into an acute care psychiatric facility that afternoon. We visited every chance possible and each time he fed us lies (people hurting him, taking his shoes, trying to fight him). After a visit on day 5, Hubby and I resigned ourselves to the knowledge he’d be there a while as his mindset was obviously not changing.

Less than 24 hours later, a nurse called and told me they planned discharge that day. I was shocked.

“He told the doctor he’s not thinking about suicide anymore, so he can come home now,” she chirped.

I asked to speak to the managing director, who told me they could only keep the child if the child continued to want to hurt himself or someone else. Since our boy knew the right words, he had to come home.

The next day, as I painted a closet, I glanced at the monitor to see him trying to shove a pencil through his ribs.


Roller Coaster, Part 2


Photo credit: Frank Goseberg

Continued from Roller Coaster

Finally surrendering to the truth that we might not have the expertise to help our girl, we began to consider residential treatment. We researched facilities, finding nothing available near our home.

The few programs we found were far away and insurance would cover only partial (if any) cost of the treatment available for Reactive Attachment Disorder. Actual hours with a counselor could be covered, but therapeutic activities, room and board, etc., were not considered billable. Out-of-pocket costs ranged from $10,000 to $30,000 per month (sometimes higher).

Discouraged and exhausted, we began to wonder whether our only recourse would be to simply “hang in there” until she reaches age 18, then invite her to remove herself from our home.

We’ve explained to both kids that they’re welcome to stay past 18 with the stipulation that they must do two things:

  1. participate in furthering their education
  2. contribute to the household and follow house rules

…but current behavior indicated the second stipulation might be unlikely to happen.

Then, a friend told us about a non-profit, RAD-focused program supported by donors. The price for accepted children would be reasonable. The parameters for acceptance were fairly strict, including a requirement that the child attend voluntarily. I called for information.

Causing our only hesitation was location; long distance and high airfare costs would keep us from visiting her more than a few times per year.

After hours of discussion and tears, we decided to try something new: full transparency.

We explained the program and asked her opinion.

Showing her the website, we scrolled through pictures and descriptions of the program. We explained that we felt she needed more help than we could give her, so we were looking at the I could tell she didn’t think we were serious.

In a moment we couldn’t have planned if we tried, the director called.

As I discussed the possibility of our girl attending the program, Hubby asked her, “Do you know who Mama is talking with right now? He’s in charge of the place you might need to live.”

We watched realization drain her face of color.

Once the phone conversation finished, we talked with her again. This time, she was sobbing.

“I don’t want to leave you!”

And in that moment, on that evening in late November, something shifted.

The change took months, but with the help of an in-home counselor, our girl worked through her anger and fear. Her biggest fear, it turns out, was of being happy. As long as she decided not to be happy, she had control. As long as she didn’t feel happiness, it could never be taken.

Once she said this out loud, admitted she was afraid to feel joy because it might once again be stolen, she took the power of the fear back into her own hands. It gave her the control she craved.

I won’t lie; the change took months. The roller coaster continued to rise and fall. We had bad days and good days. Each month, more and more good days. And almost a year later to the moment, I can count the bad days this month on one hand. Honestly, on one finger.

A year ago, if someone told me she’d be one of my favorite people, hilarious and smart, funny as heck and loads of fun, I might have smirked at the perceived impossibility. But that’s exactly who she is. Hubby and I are enjoying every moment with this kid in the present, putting aside the fear of what might come next.

She’s not perfect, and she’s recently become a teenager, so I’m aware we could be in for some sharp climbs, rolls and drops ahead.

But lately, riding this roller coaster is fabulous fun. When it rolls into the station, we’re riding again. No question.



*If you haven’t already, take a second look at the “roller coaster” in the photo. It’s the Tiger & Turtle from Magic Mountain in Germany. Some roller coasters are not what they appear. 

Roller Coaster

Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson

Riding a roller coaster with my brother is one of my favorite childhood memories. Whenever we could, we stayed late at the amusement park; as long as no one waited in the queue for our seat, the coaster operator allowed us to ride again. We rode so many times we lost count. Once, we even rode in the rain, drops pricking our skin like thousands of tiny needles.

Thanks to amazing guts of steel, we never puked. (I consider this a point of personal pride.)

Hubby and I choose to ride a different kind of roller coaster. Again and again. Every. Single. Day.

Sometimes the coaster is fabulous; other times, the ride makes us queasy, but we opt to stay on.

The summer of 2016 included a few twists and surprise dips but generally kept us smiling and laughing with hands in the air. We thought we’d turned a corner; both the girl and the boy seemed happy and well-adjusted. Together, we camped, traveled, sang along in church (what we lacked in pitch, we made up in enthusiasm) and did everything “regular” families do.

The kids weren’t perfect—and neither were we—but most of the time, we just enjoyed being together. Hubby and I finally exhaled and let go of the “this can’t last” feeling.

I often joke with Hubby that “normal” is just a setting on the dryer, but I won’t lie…it was nice to feel normal for a while.

After so many steep climbs and drops, riding our coaster around gentle curves was a welcome change.

Then the summer ended.

Dark storm clouds gathered. The coaster dive was sharp, deep and straight through a painful downpour.

We aren’t sure of the triggers, but every October for the last six years—right after Halloween—negative behaviors spiked sharply in both kids. In 2016, they didn’t wait for October. As soon as school started, they both had an immediate personality flip. By November, we had plumbed our expertise and found ourselves hitting bottom. They didn’t respond to any consequence, positive or negative.

His behavior at school spiraled out of control.

Her Reactive Attachment exploded into full bloom at home.

The roller coaster fell into a series of spirals and drops, and life flipped from “normal” to “triage” without warning.


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