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The Next Thing


After muddling through six years of public school, advocating for services, collaborating (and occasionally arguing) with school staff, stressing out every time the school number appears on the caller ID (what happened NOW?) we’ve finally decided to Give Up.

We used every resource we could find. Brought every possible idea to the table. Suggested successful methods tried by other parents.

Although we have done everything within our power, both kids’ performance and behavior at school has continued to tank.

He doesn’t want to interact with other kids and attempts to get suspended so he can come home.

She’s failing on purpose because she “gets more attention for a failing grade than a passing grade.” (Not kidding. Parenting a kid with RAD is the equivalent of standing on your head and reading backwards. Toss out everything you know about parenting.)

Finally, we’ve reached the last straw. I am going to try the only thing left in my arsenal.

Next school year, I’m going to let Hubby sleep with the teacher. 

No, really.

Because this fall, the teacher will be me.

We give up trying to get our boy to mold his Autistic behind into a hard plastic classroom seat.

We give up cajoling our girl to perform in a classroom, when the attention she craves is ours.

We give up what we’ve held tight for so long.

We empty our hands, holding them open to grasp the next thing.

We are going to home school.

Having been home schooled myself for almost a decade, I think I have a pretty good handle on the realities of home schooling. I’m under no illusions.

Here’s how I would like to imagine our year will go:


Photo Credit: Susy Morris

But I’m fully aware that this is much more likely:


Photo Credit: Astrid Budi

It won’t be easy, and some days may not be much fun. In the long run, though, it’s what they need.

And somehow, I’m really looking forward to finding the best ways to help them learn. Researching learning resources is becoming something of an obsession.

Plus, I get to sleep with the Principal.




Adoption = Progress, Part 1

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

Year One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hear a wild animal.

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

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

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

I stare at him.

Year Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I stare out the window.




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

Adoption = Hypervigilance

Social worker to Hubby: “Your wife is hyper-vigilant. She needs to relax.”

Honestly, getting appropriate services for our foster kiddos was all I wanted…but six months from retirement, the social worker wasn’t feeling the urge to do more than minimum. She made that statement to my husband, right in front of me, as though I weren’t in the room.

As you begin the adoption process, be prepared to advocate for your child(ren). In our case, the social workers who weren’t jaded and unconcerned were overworked and overwhelmed. Even the Guardian ad Litem (GAL), an individual appointed by the court to represent the child’s best interests, didn’t seem to understand the definition of her own title.

I tried going “over” our social worker’s head by contacting the GAL prior to one of our court dates.  She agreed to come to court with me. The social worker arrived, dressed in jeans and a stained top.  I was encouraged, feeling confident in my suit. The GAL finally arrived, minutes before our scheduled time in court. I no longer felt secure.

Let’s just say that she had once been a hippie…and forgot to stop.  Stringy, badly dyed long hair, Lennon glasses, big floppy, flowy outfit. She may have spent the 60’s in a van without showers; the habit (or lack of) apparently continued to the present.  I was concerned, to say the least. Then, she walked right past my offered handshake and embraced the social worker.

Feeling betrayed (and realizing she would not rescue us), I determined to work even harder to make sure the children received every service necessary. Two months later, our social worker called me hyper-vigilant.

Six months later, we received the children’s much-requested medical records.  Mind you, Department of Social Services had been in possession of these records for several years. I read every page.

EVERY page.

Our boy had a heart defect.

Found at birth, then confirmed through  follow-ups at one month and one year, the hole did not appear to be diminishing. He had a follow-up scheduled for his 18 month checkup, but there was no page in the record showing a completed appointment. The social worker paid no attention to the missing medical paperwork.

I noticed.

I took him to the pediatrician, who couldn’t hear a murmur but suggested a follow-up visit with the original specialist.

The specialist couldn’t hear a murmur but suggested an echocardiogram, or echo, a test that creates pictures of the heart with sound waves. The echo showed a significant hole the little guy’s heart.

Our cardiologist said that if I hadn’t noticed the missing document, it’s likely our boy would have died. “This is my specialty, and I couldn’t hear it. Your pediatrician would have never found it. Good thing you are attentive.”

Attentive, indeed. I believe the scientific term is “hyper-vigilant.”

Adoption = Perseverance (Chapter 4: How to Tame a Wild Hyena)

Every once in a while, I have a vivid flashback to the screaming, angry, hurt little beings we brought into our house three years ago.

We recently switched to a play therapist for our boy, and the doc asked me for a brief rundown of his history. After reading my typed four-paged, single-spaced summary, he asked how recently we’d brought our son home. “This is all incredibly fresh; as if it happened last month.”

Yes…it sounds fresh because these memories are tattooed in my mind forever.  And let me tell you, they’re not pretty…like the grey-green Navy tats from years past: unmistakable, grisly, and very permanent.

This week, though, I have had a glimpse of “real” family life, and it’s been amazing. We took the kids to the beach, and we’ve done things I couldn’t even imagine three years ago, or even last year.

1. Biked over a mile on a bike path next to the road.  (Previously, I’d have been terrified that she would accidentally swerve out into traffic…and that he might do it purposely.)

2. Relaxed in beach chairs while they played in sand and surf. (On other beach trips, we were right beside them, holding the straps of their life jackets if they ventured near the water.)

3. Allowed them to order their own food. (They now have manners that allow them to interact with the general public.)

4. Watched as they played happily and appropriately with other children on the beach. (Until recently, they both shied away from other children, unless another child made fun of the boy…in which case, he decked the kid.)

I don’t know whether we have entered a new, more peaceful era in the adoption saga, or whether this is a quick, God-granted reprieve before the school year (and all the bad behavior therewith attached) begins. It doesn’t really matter, though.

I’m enjoying every minute of getting a few new, beautiful, bright-colored memory tattoos.

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