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
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.
17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.
8 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We agreed for a little girl to live with us while her parents sorted things.
Dad is in jail, mom was on drugs but is trying to get clean.
She is ten, with thick, frizzy brown hair pulled back in a low ponytail. Round, sweet face, eyes made owlish by thick glasses with dark purple frames.
She wears a purple puffy jacket, which should be my first clue it’s a dream.
Those went out of style decades ago. Then again, trends cycle. Maybe she’s ahead of the curve.
We meet at a small, family-owned restaurant with a store attached. Evidently this is where she has spent her after-school hours starting back in pre-school. Her babysitter used to work here but is long out of the picture.
“She was such a good little girl” that everyone else agreed to jointly keep an eye on her until her mother sent a ride home or wandered in to pick her up. Someone noticed she wasn’t growing much in kindergarten and they started providing after-school snacks and a hearty dinner. The undernourished waif grew into a hale and healthy ten year old.
The last few months, they’ve been giving her rides home at closing. A light was always on and she had a key, but finally the cook decided to walk her to the door and found mom sprawled on the floor in a drugged stupor.
She called the police, who called social services. Our small town had no other foster homes available. Since the cook claimed to be a distant cousin and had a clean record, they let the child stay with her for 48 hours while the social worker looked for a foster parent.
These people have been her family for six years. None of them are happy to learn I live clear across town.
“You have to bring her back to see us. Come for dinner at least once a week. On the house,” the owner cajoles.
The cook chimes in, “yes, please do,” in a tone I recognize as, “I’m asking nicely but you can expect a consequence if you don’t comply.”
The child has gone back to her small play area in the rear of the store to tidy up. I follow.
As I pack her things into a plastic green suitcase, the social worker calls my cell. Mom entered the rehab program. This may be a very temporary placement.
For their sake, I hope so, but I won’t mind if this sweet girl stays with us longer.
Suddenly I realize we never finalized sleeping arrangements. I guess we’ll put her in the guest room for now. I wonder if our two will be jealous she gets the big bed.
For that matter, how will they all get along? Will a new addition send them into a tail spin?
Should I put her in class with one of them or in one of the other 5th grade classes?
It’s getting late. I haven’t even thought about dinner. I tug her heavy case toward the door, starting to feel overwhelmed. Will she even like us?
I pause by the door, ready to call her name and realize I’ve forgotten it.
The cook gives me a piercing glare.
“What?” I say.
She replies, “nothing,” but I feel her eyes on my back as I turn.
I shake my head, stress washing over me.
What was I thinking, taking this on? I just started a new job. My kids may not respond well and I forgot to tell them about it. Hubby’s out of town for a week. Wait, who is with MY kids? I suddenly can’t remember.
The girl reappears, hugging the staff as she makes her way to me.
“I’m ready,” she tells me, pushing past through the wooden screen door to the country porch.
I follow, panic rising, and stop, face to face with a huge young buck. I eye his antlers, uneasy with the proximity, and glance around for the girl.
He snorts, demanding my attention, and stomps his hoof on the echoing porch floor boards. He touches his nose to mine, huge brown eyes glaring.
I wake, wild-eyed, stressed and panting, nose-to-wet-black-nose with my German Shepherd.
He needs to potty. He snorts and stomps his paw on the bed once more.
I shake my head and let him pull me out of bed.
Thank God, it was a dream.
Later that day, I pull up photo listings on adoptuskids.org, searching for a round, sweet face with owlish eyes.
This has been the year from heck, educationally speaking.
Thank God for our Assistant Principal. Not only is he adopted himself, he also has an incredible ability to empathize with trauma kids and understand kids with special needs.
If only the IEP team members were all so gifted.
Several times this year, I requested meetings to discuss our boy’s classroom behavior (which is unconventional but explainable when one takes the time to see through his eyes). His Autism Spectrum Disorder has begun to shine through with amazing beauty—or a vengeance, depending upon your perspective.
I requested a one-to-one behavioral aide, which he’s had in the past but never with this particular school. The aide gave him an extra layer of self-control by monitoring the situation for triggers, then reminding him to focus.
We’re lining up for lunch. Other children will be close to you and may touch you. This is okay. You’re perfectly safe.
Sitting quietly during testing is important. You’ll need to focus. No chirping, squeaking or other noises. I’ll give you a check mark for every minute you are silent.
This didn’t always work and we went through several aides before finding the right fit, but by the end of first grade we were able to phase out the aide. In fifth, he regressed. We weren’t at physical-aggression-because-I’m-angry level anymore, but his self-management went out the window by the end of September.
There is much to be said for personality match when pairing a teacher with a special needs child. We had stellar matches for him in third and fourth grade; I credit his teachers for the incredible leaps he made both in social and educational arenas.
The fifth grade teacher is a GREAT teacher. Neurotypical kids probably adore her.
But she’s not a personality match for my son, and he’s not a match for her. No one is at fault; it’s just the way things are.
Part of the struggle, I believe, is a simple lack of exposure. Maybe she’s never had a Spectrum kid in her classroom.
Thanks to trial and error, the fourth grade teacher found that putting him in a desk by himself—in the corner with fewest articles on the walls—helped him focus. He began participating more fully in spite of the separation she perceived as potentially problematic.
I suggested (and the school psychologist agreed) that the fifth grade teacher should do the same. Until then, she’d kept her classroom desks in groups of four or five. One of the daily points of contention happened when another child touched his things (inevitable at close range, because his desk tended to overflow). The teacher disagreed with the tactic but said she would comply with the group consensus.
Arriving in the classroom to drop off supplies about a week later, I found that she had placed his desk alone, as asked, but IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROOM, allowing for three-hundred-sixty degrees of incoming stimulation. Anyone with experience would never consider the middle of the room a viable spot for a kid with ASD.
Our boy is focused on the end result. Consequential forethought is rare; he almost never thinks about how his choices may affect others.
For instance: a friend told him that when he stamps his foot, his shoes light up. He neglected to provide a demonstration. Our guy thought about those lights all day. His impulse control held fast until about thirty minutes prior to pickup. He couldn’t take it anymore. The light-up-shoes called his name.
He ran up and stamped the kid’s foot.
The teacher wrote me a note, stating he had “viciously kicked” another child. Write-up, suspension.
He came home with a packet of papers to complete. He sat in a chair all day and worked (and got almost everything correct).
For this kid, suspension = joy.
He can learn and do his work with no distractions.
About two weeks later, our girl was home sick. Boy wanted to stay home as well. No fever, so off he went.
I sent a note to the teacher and left a message for the assistant principal, letting them know he may be out of sorts or pretend to be ill because he really wanted to be at home.
Thirty minutes into the school day, he pulled a chair out from under another child. He truly didn’t think about whether the child would be hurt (thankfully not); he just figured that if stamping a kid’s foot sent him home, this should also do the trick.
After a phone conference with the Assistant Principal, we agreed on after-school suspension for several days, to prevent a rash of must-find-a-way-to-get-suspended behaviors.
Again, I called a meeting, explaining (for the millionth-ish time) my request for a one-to-one behavioral aide. An aide could help him process the situation. Could see—as I often must—the potential issues and prevent a problem.
For instance, the behavioral aide would have noted he left his desk and immediately required him to sit back down. He would have never made it halfway across the room in the first place, much less had the opportunity to pull out the kid’s chair.
The aide could walk him to-and-from class, preventing the spark of hallway chaos from lighting his trigger fuse. Might recognize hyper-stimulation and ameliorate his angst before it ballooned into behaviors.
The IEP team, in spite of my pleas, turned down my request because
he’s not failing.
In fact, he’s doing quite well.
He’s “unable to focus,” he “refuses to participate” and “doesn’t follow along with the class,” yet his grades are above average.
And because we must keep him in the “least restrictive environment” for his needs, this precludes the need for a behavioral aide.
When they announced the reason, I stared in shock.
You’re telling me that he constantly distracts the class, he’s not able to focus or self-manage, he doesn’t know the material, he can’t get along with others and he’s a problem that must be solved, but you won’t allow me to procure a one-to-one aide because his grades are too good.
Yes, that’s exactly what they were saying.
I Give Up.
Not on my kid, and not on his education.
And I’m sure as heck not telling him this:
I give up stressing about his classroom behavior.
Sometimes, the only thing left to do is give it up.
you have to let go of what’s in your hands before you can pick up anything else.
And because sometimes,