Last fall, we admitted our son to a residential facility, expecting a 30- to 60-day stay. Just to get his head straight.
From then through early spring, his behavior spiraled so far out of control that he didn’t have an off-campus pass until mid-spring. He earned a 6-hour off-site pass…and promptly spiraled again. He didn’t even wait 24 hours. His next off-site was three months later.
In the last two months, we’ve seen steady progress. He has yet to identify the catalyst, although we and the therapists are trying to find it. If we’re able to find the prompt, we can help him find his way to us again if he slides back into the dark.
No major crises or incidents in the last two months.
Last week, during free play, a basketball hit him in the face hard enough to leave a mark. In January, he would have tried to punch the face of whomever last touched the ball.
This time, he walked away and got an ice pack. Feels like a miracle.
I’m not relaxing yet; he has a lot of motivating factors at the moment and we’ve seen temporary success when he’s motivated, although this is the first time he’s managed past 30 days.
But we’re celebrating each good day.
It’s a long road; if you have a child in crisis, know you’re not alone. Whether you are able to manage in-home or whether your child requires more assistance than you’re able to provide, we’ve experienced both. Remember that finding the services your child requires makes you a GOOD parent.
People outside the experience may not understand why you “sent them away” or “can’t parent” them at home. I’ve learned to accept support and encouragement from anyone and everyone, but only accept concerns from those who’ve lived this. They may have the best intentions, but they have no clue. Smile and nod and thank them for the time they spent thinking about your situation…and then move on. (Unless they have a great idea; in which case, by all means, try it.)
You can do this. WE can do this. I promise.
We met with a neurologist a few weeks ago. She ordered an MRI for our boy, to rule out any physical brain issues. The appointment is tomorrow.
I assume we won’t have any answers for several weeks, but at least we are finally getting some traction.
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.
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.
Pre-Note: Something I learned from a counselor this week: if a child experiences trauma, it typically takes twice as long for the child to recover. If a child was abused for three years, expect six years of recovery; five years of abuse equals ten years necessary to heal. As she explained this, she said, “so, you can expect improvement, but total recovery is unlikely until your daughter is about age…huh. Well, right when she hits adolescence. Good luck with that.”
Our little guy gets sick with a horrible, croupy-barky, goose-honky cough every fall and spring.
This year, I thought we’d escaped the scourge, but it turns out things just happened later. Last year, he started with a minor cough in the morning, and by the time I managed to get a work-in appointment with his pediatrician in the afternoon, he could barely breathe. After oral steroids and starting a third nebulizer treatment to open airways, the doctor said, “if this doesn’t work, we’re sending you to the ER.” Not the words I wanted to hear. Thankfully, he was able to breathe by the end of the treatment and they sent us home to several weeks of breathing treatments and a follow-up to check on asthma.
This year, I didn’t wait; he started sounding like a waterfowl around 8 am. The pediatrician didn’t have a work-in until late afternoon, so we went to an urgent-care facility. The doctor was matter-of-fact. “Son, you are much too old to have croup. How did you manage this?” My boy just shook his head, coughing.
She gave him an oral steroid and a saline-only nebulizer treatment, explaining that he’s not asthmatic; the noise isn’t bronchial–it’s from a swollen trachea. I was happy he wouldn’t have the albuterol jitters. He was happy to have a doctor’s note to stay home. Two days into the steroids, his cough simmered down. He was sad to go back to school; I was actually a little sad to send him.
I picked up the kids from school and noticed that he seemed a bit listless. He rested his head on the table during homework and dinner, then asked if he could go to bed around 7:30. I noticed his light was on and assumed he was reading a scientific journal (okay, actually thought it would be “Captain Underpants”). Walking into his room, I focused on stepping over Lego pieces and Kinex shrapnel strewn across his floor (“at least make a path from the bed to the door, dude,”). I didn’t look at him right away, as I scraped a walkway in the toys with the side of my foot. “You reading?” No answer. I glanced up to see tears streaming down his face. “What’s wrong, buddy? Are you feeling sick again?” I reached for his forehead. Clammy and cool. He looked pitiful, terrified and desperate.
“I just remembered it all, Mama. I remember the day they separated me from my other family.”
I barely made it to the bed in time; he dove into my lap, wailing. His sister came flying down the hall. “Is he okay? Is he hurt? Is he sick again?” Hubby was working late, and I knew I couldn’t handle both of them melting down at the same time, so I fibbed a little. Well, fibbed a lot. “He’s fine. Fine. He just needs a minute. Go ahead back to your room and play; I’ll be there in a bit.” I heard her slowly move back down the hall, then begin talking to her stuffed animals. Thank goodness.
He sobbed for almost an hour, angry and devastated. This was the first time he’d ever mentioned memories of the day they were removed; he was not even three. “Why did they take us? What made social services do it? How could they do this to me? I want to go baaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!” I had no answers, so I just held him and tried to think of all the answers I learned in class. Suddenly, the “unused” counseling degree became abundantly more relevant. “It must really hurt your feelings. I know this is hard for you. Can you tell me more about what you’re feeling?”
Spent, exhausted, he finally calmed down. He lay back on his pillows, almost lethargic, face turned toward the wall.
“Is there anything I can do to help make this better?” I asked. He closed his eyes and shook his head, the movement almost imperceptible. I held his little hand, hoping he’d squeeze it the way he usually does, but…nothing. He was so deflated, it scared me. I looked around the room, hoping for something to distract him, break him out of his malaise. “Hey, look. Pumpkin is checking on you.” His funny little hamster was indeed plastered against the side of the cage, eyeing him. My boy rolled over, away from the hamster and me.
I was getting desperate. “Would you like me to read you a book?”
He rolled back toward me. “About adoption?” I couldn’t read his tone. Did he want a book about adoption, or was he just expecting me to try to use it as a bandage? I stalled, flipping through his bookshelf. I found one we hadn’t read yet. “How about this one, about a mama and her son? It’s not about adoption, though.” He rolled closer. “Okay.”
The book begins as a mother holds her newborn son. “I wish I could have been there the day you were born,” I said, trying to forestall another hurricane of bio-mom memories. “Me too,” he answered, sitting up. Each page showed the son growing up and the mother growing older, “but as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be,” the mother tells the son.
The book actually gets a little weird, showing the mother crawling across the bedroom floor to hold her teenage son in his sleep. The book mentions that her son bought a house nearby. Later, she drives across town with a ladder, climbing through her grown son’s window to rock him in her lap while he slumbers, unaware. Yep, creepy.
Finally, the mother is old, and asks her son to visit. She is too old and frail to hold him, so he rocks her. By this time, my little guy was almost in my lap again. He looked up at me, interested. “When you’re old, will you look like that?” Laughing, I said, “I sure hope I’m prettier, because that lady, well…” “She’s kinda ugly,” he finished my thought, smiling at me. The next page showed the young man walking up the stairs of his own home, then singing to his own baby. I looked down at him. “Someday you’ll probably have a baby, and I’ll be very proud of you. No matter how old you get, you’ll always be my baby boy.”
He threw his arms around my neck and then we both had tears running down our cheeks.
“I love you so much.” “Me, too.”
“I know you are sad about the people you lost, but I’m so glad you’re part of my family.” “Me, too.”
After a few minutes, he sat back. “Mama?” He looked at my face and wiped my cheeks with his little hands. “Yes?” He thought for a moment. “Let’s never read that book again, okay?” I laughed. “No problem. Anyway, the mama crawling across the room sort of creeped me out.” He started laughing. “Yeah, me too.” I started to stand up, but he grabbed my hand, squeezing tight. “Mama, when I grow up, I’m going to buy a house next door to you, okay?”
Sounds perfect to me.