**Four years ago to the week, this was my first post on Hypervigilant. Ah, memories…
Ever notice the words “adoption” and “insanity” have the same number of letters?
Coincidence? I think not.
It’s been almost three years since the Wednesday they arrived, dropped off by another foster parent. At the time, we didn’t know that a Social Worker was supposed to be present to “facilitate” the situation. The kids had no idea what was happening. Neither did we. Married ten years, with approximately 20 years of “kid experience” between us, we thought we could handle it. The kiddos, then 5 and newly-turned-7, had met us and seemed to like us. Surely, this would be a breeze. They were so teeny and adorable..like baby jackals.
Surely you’ve heard the phrase, “Wednesday’s child is full of woe.” That Wednesday evening foreshadowed the next two years of our lives with fair accuracy. We took them to a church spaghetti dinner. During the course of the meal, they ate pasta and sauce with their hands (unwilling to use apparently foreign utensils), spilled six (count ’em, six) cups of pink lemonade – including a huge trip-fall-splatter that involved about a third of the floor space, and the five year old ate a napkin. Ate a napkin.
Well, ate might be exaggeration. He stuffed the napkin in his mouth, and despite (or because of) our exhortations of “Oh, honey, don’t…don’t do that.” “No, that’s not food. Take it out.” “Spit that out right now.” “SPIT. IT. OUT.” he continued to chew the paper with a “make me” glint in his sweet blue eyes. Finally, Hubby said, “Fine. Swallow it. It’ll probably stop you up and you won’t poop for a week.” The game was no longer fun. He swiftly deposited the mass of wet fibers onto the floor.
We arrived home past bedtime, exhausted, but bathing could not be skipped, as the kids were literally covered in sauce. Imagine all the cute photos of your friends’ infants eating pasta for the first time. Super cute, that tomato-basted babe. Fast forward five or seven years. No longer super cute.
We wanted to get them into bed quickly, so I started the shower, made sure it was warm, then helped the 7 year old remove her saucy outfit and step into the tub. She gave me a little smile. Then…she collapsed, screaming, on the floor of the tub. In my panic to find the problem, I left the shower running. “Are you hurt? Did you slip? Are you okay? What’s wrong?” She continued to scream. Hubby, who had been entertaining the five year old, opened the door slightly. “What in the world is happening in there? What did you do?” More screaming. What did I do? Clearly, I lost my mind and brought an insanely scary spirit-possessed child into the house.
Finally, as the decibels reached somewhere between ear-piercing and drum-bleeding, I regained my conscious mind and turned off the shower. Screaming stopped, immediately. No explanation. “Are you okay?” Nod. “Are you hurt?” Shake. “Did the shower scare you?” Another negative shake. “You have to get clean; will you take a bath?” Nod. The child then washed the remnants of dinner from her hair, calmly and apparently in her right mind.
We didn’t attempt another shower for the next year. Then, the younger one spontaneously decided he’d rather shower. Not to be outdone by her little brother, our girl braved the shower the next night, with no complications. Oh, how I love sibling rivalry.
Approximately six hundred showers later, she said casually. “Hey, remember that time I was screaming like a crazy person in the shower, on our first night here?” “Oh…um, I think I remember.” Yes, I remember. My eardrums spontaneously tremor at the thought. “Yeah, Mama…I was just freaked out about being in a new house. Sorry about that.” Freaked out, indeed. “Oh, sweetie, don’t even worry about it. That was a long time ago. I barely even remember it.” Liar, liar, pants on fire…
My mom says she doesn’t remember the hours of childbirth because the joy of seeing the baby’s face “erased the memory.” If you’re lucky, birth happens in hours (or if you’re unlucky, days). Adoption, especially with behaviorally challenged kiddos, is a little different. Labor pains happen every day for years.
And believe me, I remember every single minute.
Good thing we like a little insanity around here.
When your mom borned you, she took one look and threw you in the trash.
The classmate who delivered this charming nugget to my son probably had no idea how close he was to the truth. No concept of how deep his words would wound.
Afterward, we had a long talk about how it’s okay to want to punch someone but it’s not okay to actually put hands on someone. I am proud that even in the face of such soul-searing spite, our boy did not retaliate.
I suggested that he find a constructive way to deal with the painful feelings. Punch a pillow. Draw a picture. Write your feelings.
Tonight, I take my own advice.
Our son’s teacher vacillates between understanding and intolerant.
She is personally offended by his need to draw while she talks and doesn’t understand his Aspie idiosyncrasies.
But after Dad died, she gave our boy a lot of grace as he worked through the grief in the way all the articles predicted: a nosedive in school behavior and performance.
My emotions conflict often when dealing with her.
Today, I received a text.
I saw your son violently kick a student from another class. Please encourage him to behave appropriately in school.
The text bothered me.
If he “violently” kicked another child, I should have been picking him up from the principal’s office, not finding out after the fact.
This was followed by,
He didn’t eat his lunch today.
During the test today, he took a red pen and drew on his arms.
This last one, I’d already noticed, a fabulous red dragon tattoo. Although I’ve asked him not to draw on himself, I’m not that concerned about impermanent ink decorations. If he sneaks off to get a real tattoo, well, that’s a problem. No tattoos until you’re 25, when your brain has matured fully. That’s the rule.
I responded, “Yes, I saw. Did he do anything right?”
She didn’t answer.
I added, “He mentioned that his friend showed him new shoes that change color and invited him to hit them with his foot. Was this the kicking incident?”
No response, then,
He asked permission to bring a cannonball and a bullet to school. He said you will help him bring the cannonball to school. Cannonballs and bullets are not allowed in school. Please discourage him from bringing these items to school.
Good grief. A family friend gave our little history buff several artifacts collected over the years. Our guy’s first response:
“We’re learning about this in history! I bet my teacher would love to see these!”
I told him that he couldn’t take them to school but that possibly I could get special permission to bring them in so the kids could see the display. Evidently he was too excited and brought it up to her.
This is the kid who smoked me in the “Jeopardy” category World Wars and corrected his teacher (accurately) when she taught about Pearl Harbor.
He’s really thrilled about history. Instead of encouraging that passion, she’s just annoyed.
My true difficulty with the situation is this:
I get it.
I understand fully that he requires ten times more direction than any other kid in class. He needs someone to help him see the connection between his actions and consequences (good or bad). He is frequently distracted by a buzzing light, a whispered word, a tapping foot or a bug doodling around the room. He doesn’t think through actions or words before he does or speaks.
I want to be on her side. I want to be a team.
Maybe the last two years (with fabulous teachers who recognized the diamond shine under the inches of behavioral coal dust) have spoiled me. We worked together to find solutions and they’ve offered advice for his current teacher. Those two years weren’t perfect and there’s no way to dream they were, no matter how flexible your imagination. But we worked together and tried each others’ ideas.
She discards ideas faster than I can suggest them.
Seriously, I just want us to work together to point this kid to success; the success I KNOW he can have. In a recent IEP meeting, his caseworker shook her head and said, “even with all his focusing struggles, he’s still keeping his grades up. I can’t believe it.”
I CAN believe it.
He’s brilliant. When he barely studies, he still passes (sometimes with 100s). With the right guidance and focus, he’ll be unstoppable.
Right now, though, she’s just telling him (and me) what he’s doing wrong. And that really gets me steamed. I have NO problem with consequences and the Assistant Principal can vouch that I lend full support to every intervention.
He responds to consistent recognition of what he’s doing right. If he knows he’ll be consistently rewarded for doing the right thing, he generally does the right thing. I say generally, because he’s far from perfect (aren’t we all) and it doesn’t always work, but 8 out of 10 times, it does.
She says, “it’s too hard” to catch him doing well. She thinks it’s ridiculous to give him a “good” point for eating lunch (which the psychologist suggested as at least one guaranteed good point for the day). She argued against most of the interventions that everyone else (school counselor, head psychologist, principal, case worker, mother) agreed upon. She has 20+ other kids and doesn’t have time to devote to my kid. Just “thank God” when he’s quiet and ignore him.
I get it.
But this constant “tattling” (because that’s what the texts above felt like) is just wearing me out. Tomorrow I’m taking the conversation to show the principal, then asking what can be done.
The last time I asked, every other class was maxed out and there’s no possibility of moving him to another class.
Maybe there’s no solution other than,
“Hang in there.”
We’re in school for about four and a half more months. Almost an eternity, yet I know the time will dissipate like clouds puffing past a skydiver.
Fifth grade is not the end of the world. No one wants to know, “How were your marks in elementary school?” No one asks, “Were you ever sent to the principal’s office before middle school?” Maybe we just need to make it through.
In the meantime, though, Hubby takes me for walks and I write.
Tonight, as we trudged down the moon-drenched driveway, I said,
“I want to punch her in the face.”
This is not entirely accurate; I don’t actually want to punch her because then I’d have to deal with legal action (this is the forethought I hope to instill in our boy). However, I want to write about it, and thereby feel better. And so, with a tip of my hat to the best rhymer ever, I write.
I must not punch her in the face
Though maybe just a spray of mace
Just a smidge, only a sample
No, I must be an example
Must not, must not kick her knee
Shall not, will not put a bee
In her coffee piping hot
Flick her? No.—NO! I cannot.
When I am so mad…I’ll write!
Get some extra sleep tonight.
Go for long walks down the drive.
In her car hide a beehive.
Oh, wait, that last one is wrong;
Instead I’ll sing out a song
Whisper a soft little prayer
That she will lose all her hair.
Oh, no, there I go again.
Paying vengeance is a sin
I must let it go, be done
Show forgiveness for my son
That boy’s always watching me
And I so want him to see:
Great achievement’s possible
Mercy is unstoppable
Even on the hardest day
Grace and faith will make a way.
There. I feel better.
And bonus, I’m not going to jail for punching a teacher. So, there’s that.
When life just isn’t fair, how do you deal with it?
Once again, Wendy’s and the super-fabulous Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption are raising money to help kids stuck in foster care.
Grab a drink, show some heart (with your hand!) and post a pic tagged with #share4adoption. Wendy’s will donate five bucks every time. SWEET.
So, I bought a huge box of chalk and let the kids loose on the concrete.
She created hopscotch and flowers.
Here’s his enchanting contribution to our parking area:
I noticed an arrow which led to his masterpiece. I followed it around the nose of my vehicle to the passenger side. There I found a note in chalk.
“This is what your boy does when no one is watching.”
He probably just meant, “I draw pictures,” but paired with the thing under my tire…we might hold out on that driver’s license….
Tell us your creepy kid story!
Five years ago today was also a Wednesday.
I remember that Wednesday, sharp and clear as a photograph.
I remember the warm, golden sunlight of a late Autumn afternoon streaming through the leaves, pulling them from the branches.
I remember the soft, caressing breeze teasing through my hair, wrapping through and past our little group.
I remember the strong hug as my friend, also a foster mom, dropped the kids at our back door.
I remember her fierce whisper. “You’re going to be a GREAT mom.”
I remember the tears stinging my eyes and the concerned little faces gazing up at me.
“Why are you crying?”
“Are you sad?”
It was their first introduction to what we call “happy tears.”
I remember the incessant chatter, the celebration of having “my own room in my favorite color” and the wonder of suddenly being “the four of us.”
My memories are colored by everything I knew in my heart to be true. From the moment we met, they belonged to us. I harbored no doubt.
Funny, how shared memories of the same instant can be so different.
In their perception, we were just another foster home. The seventh, to be exact, in just over two years. To them, we were nothing more than adults who would eventually give up and request their removal. A couple of unknown aliens.
My friend provided respite care for them twice and was kind enough to let us spend time with the kids, knowing we were in process with social services. The children were unaware but every time they saw us before our placement, they begged us to come let them live with us, especially after visiting our home. Looking back, I see all the signs of attachment deficiency. At the time, we thought it was a sign.
Meant to be.
In reality, they were desperate to find somewhere, anywhere other than their current foster home with the ten-year-old monster who threatened to kill them in their sleep.
Their attachment was so disrupted, they’d have willingly followed anyone who offered them cupcakes or soda.
Today, on the way to an appointment (car rides are the best discussion times), we reminisced. The children remembered the terror. The confusion. The adaptation to an unknown environment and new adult caregivers.
“I kept screaming because everything was new and it all hurt. Even taking a shower. That’s why I liked baths. I’m used to the shower now.” My daughter stated this with nonchalance. Old news, the months of screaming.
I cringed and gritted my teeth, thanking God we never have to endure that again.
“I don’t know why he screamed all the time,” she said, with a preteen eye-roll she’s beginning to perfect. “I only screamed when I didn’t want to do something. He just screamed for hours. For no reason.”
Her description was accurate.
I waited for his verbal retaliation. None came. I wished for the millionth time that science fiction memory-wipes were real. That we could erase the trauma.
“Can we go ride roller coasters again next summer?” His incongruous question signaled he’d had enough.
She wasn’t done.
“We had a lot of bad people before we came to you. I think today is something to celebrate.”
I agreed, and at the mention of celebrating, he rejoined the conversation.
“Can we get pizza?”
If you like, read a more detailed description of our first day, written two years ago. The napkin bit is sort of gross…sorry.
This week I started a new job, had hour-long meetings with each of their teachers and the IEP case manager, still managed to get them to all activities and appointments on time, studied like mad for 5th grade science, social studies and spelling tests (first week of school, let’s dive right in, shall we? ) and agreed to restore a house-worth of old shutters.
Starting to think I need my head examined.
Or I need a Tardis, so I can keep going back to week’s beginning until I’m caught up. Preferably with a Dr. Who to drive for me…reading the Tardis Operating Manual might send me over the edge.
Share your crazy week and make me feel normal. 🙂
At some point, we’ve all searched for parenting or adoption or mental health resources.
I’m compiling a list…please forward me links, book titles, etc.
If everyone sends 2, we’ll have
over 1000 resources
on our list!
(I’m assuming there will be some overlap.)
People need help. Let’s be the community where they find hope, healing and health.
Add info in the comments or email me: Casey@hypervigilant.org
*Commentary on the resource is helpful but not required (e.g., “great guide to first-year parenting,” or, “this agency provides post-adoption support in Cambridge, UK”).