Do not “Play” with adoption

The First Guy has been abandoned by four “mothers” and he has yet to reach his 11th birthday. And the last woman is the one who promised to “love and hold” him forever. You know that term – a “Forever Family” – that’s what adoptive families are supposed to be.

When The First Guy was nine months old, he was placed with his paternal aunt as his mother was running from the drug gangs. She decided after three months that she couldn’t care for an active toddler given her medical conditions and her own children. He came to our house where he fell in love with my sister – the woman he bonded with – the woman he came to believe was his mother. And yet, that’s not how the “system” works. He was returned to his biological mother for a few months until he came back into care with us at age 3 and with his 18-month old sister. Once again, his mother seemed to stabilize so he was sent home until at age 5 he was “too much to handle” and was admitted to the mental health ward. After a crazy couple weeks, the judge ruled he needed to be in a “therapeutic foster” home rather than with the woman he considered to be his mother. He lived in this new foster home, was adopted by the family, and last week was abandoned to a group home.

He’s ten. His aunt gave up on him. His biological mother couldn’t handle him. From his perspective, my sister left him (against every bone in her body but by court order) and then his forever family visited him in the group home and told him, “I’m not taking you out of here.”

You do not play with adoption. Adoption is a choice. Adoption is a commitment to a child. Adoption is a responsibility. Adoption is a heart-ache and a joy. A loss and renewal. It is messy and difficult sometimes.

But adoption matters

To the child.

Did you know that about 5 percent of adoptive parents change their mind and “rehome” the child? It’s referred to as a “disruption” (I get them all day long… “Mommy, can I have…?” “Mom, where is my…?”) It is more common with children adopted from foreign countries or at older ages. It is a combination of families not being prepared enough before adoption and not having enough support services when trouble arises after adoption. And there’s a disturbing underground aspect to it as well as investigated by Reuters.

Let me tell you – there have been some hard days since my first adoption. That moment in the court room when I pledged to love and hold this child as my own – “as if he was my biological offspring” – was an incredibly solemn moment. It sunk into my heart. I held it in my hands. Tears streamed from my eyes as I looked into the face of Super Tall Guy and said, “Yes, I promise.”

I promise to hold you when the world gets too big and the emotions rage against the confines of your body. I promise to kiss away the bloody knees and put you back on the bike. I promise to clean up after you, make you dinner, nag you until the homework is done. I promise to forgive you when you hurt, to grant justice and mercy, to mete out consequences as needed and follow all with the reminder of my love.

When I whisper “always and forever and no matter what” every night with a kiss, I mean it. My promise is sealed within my soul.

Plaque I nailed to Super Tall Guy's wooden rocking horse.

Plaque I nailed to Super Tall Guy’s wooden rocking horse.

You do not play with adoption. Treat it with respect. Children actually are not as resilient as we’d like to pretend. We only say that to make ourselves feel better. To erase our own guilt. To comfort ourselves that they will be okay – they’ll “get over” being abandoned.

Adopt because the child needs you and you need him. Take the solemn vow. Hold it in your heart. Seek help and resources when you need it. I will not judge. I know there are situations more complicated than my own and that children with Reactive Attachment Disorder are so difficult to parent and to love. But I also know that we have witnessed the damage of breaking a child’s attachment and of moving them around. We have cried and we have held on to hope. We know the focus needs to be “what is best for the child?”

The First Guy started to visit my sister this weekend. He may once again become part of our family – this time forever. We are definitely open for prayers and wisdom. This would be a whole new journey.

Always, forever and no matter what.

 

Advertisements

“Legally Free For Adoption”

Her name is Jaleah. Her video on the PA Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network Facebook post caught my eye last week. I stared at her profile late into the night. She’s 15 years old, a beautiful girl, and is “legally free for adoption!” With the exclamation point! The phrase bothers me. It’s not like she’s a dog in a shelter (though she could very well be living in a shelter).

 

She’s a girl in the process of becoming a woman. She’s a dreamer envisioning her future. She’s a child craving a family, wishing for someone to sit in the audience to clap and scream her name as she bounces through her cheerleading routine. She’s a fragile, vulnerable teen looking for a family.

I’ve heard teens are hard. I’ve heard that teen girls can have so much “attitude” as they push and strain and yearn for independence. I’ve joked that I’m happy to have boys so that I won’t go through the teen girl “drama” phase.

And yet, it seems to me that this is such a crucial time in a child’s life. As they push and shove and strive for independence, they still cling to the comfort of knowing they are loved and that someone will always be there for them….no matter what they do.

But what about Jaleah?

Her profile weighed upon my heart this week. Jaleah and all the teens who are waiting for a family (almost 21,000 teens across the states in 2013). Maybe they pushed too far for independence and crossed the line they didn’t intend to and find themselves without that family they thought would always be there for them. Maybe they made a bad choice which led to another and then to another and before they knew it they were in over their heads and yet fighting the consequences so hard they couldn’t see the shovel digging deeper. Maybe it had nothing to do with them and their family imploded or fractured and they found themselves drifting in the hull of the “system” coasting further and further from the world they once knew.

Do you know that if no one steps up and says “I will” in front of a judge in a courtroom and becomes her Forever Family, Jaleah will never have someone cheering her along? She will stop her gymnastics and cheer activities without someone to drop her off and pick her up. She will walk onto the stage to receive her diploma and throw her mortar board into the air with lackluster enthusiasm. She will struggle with college applications and give up when it’s becomes daunting. She will walk down an aisle in white without a man in black beside her to bless her new union. She will welcome a new baby into the world and dream of what it would be like to have a beaming grandmother cradle her newborn. She will sit with her loneliness and think of what might have been. “Aging Out” of the foster care system without a home is too costly when these children have lower rates of high school graduation, higher rates of homelessness and unemployment, and greater engagement in the judicial system.

Without a family, Jaleah might wilt. Or she might beat the odds and chart a completely different course.

But it just seems that life would be a little bit nicer if she had a family.

She wouldn’t mind having younger siblings (or a dog) it says in her profile. She’d like to continue her activities, it says. She’s going to have tough days like everyone else. I read the profile over and over and I sit. I have a set of three who might enjoy a big sister. But my house is so full. My heart is so stretched. My hands are so laden. My schedule is so packed. My boys are so demanding.  What am I to do?

What I can do is pray for a family for Jaleah. And what I can do is continue to tell everyone I meet about the children who are waiting. (Click here!)

The children who are “legally free.” The children who desperately want something that seems so simple. Their commitment and parenting needs would be costly, but their gratefulness would be huge.

They need someone who loves.

Think about it.

Untreated ADHD is Just Exhausting

That was my conclusion last week. The effort that it takes to get the 8-year-old ready for school in the morning is more than my 8-hour work day. The decibel level of some of the spontaneous explosive noises in the car is worthy of heavy metal concerts. The number of “re-directs” I utter in those first two hours makes me comparable to a drill sergeant with new recruits.

That’s it. That’s what I decided last week. It’s exhausting.

And it might be feeling more so because I have this carrot dangling in front of me of finding the “right treatment” – the magic pill that’s going to help his brain focus better and control impulses more. I’m so eager to find that control, because let me tell you – tonight’s lack of impulse control escalated from putting the car window up and down, to swatting his brother, to throwing his pencil at the dashboard, to repeatedly hitting my shoulder with his flip-flop. It ended with me tackling him to the floor and holding him tightly until the fight left and his 101 pounds sat on my lap on the kitchen floor while I hugged him. “Bear hugs and kisses” my friend says – “bear hugs” to hold them until the anger leaves and “kisses” of love….because I love him.

But it’s exhausting.

Given the extreme reaction to his first medication, we decided to trial the intermediate acting one, hoping to get better sleep. And given his reaction of five hours of pressured speech, we decided to start at the lowest dose. So for a week, Super Tall Guy swallowed 10 mg of metadate sprinkled on apple sauce (much easier than swallowing a pill!). After a week of no observed change in behavior, I increased it to 20 mg. Still nothing…except for staying up later at night just a little bit each night so that by the weekend, when I increased it to 30 mg, we had a blow-out fight (see above!). I couldn’t figure out whether to attribute this explosion to the medication increase or the fact that for almost two weeks he had gradually gotten more and more sleep deprived – a sure trigger for explosive behavior.

Either way, it’s exhausting.

Tonight as I tucked him in, I asked him to review what went wrong while in the car earlier. He played with his toy truck as I listed some of his behaviors, you know, to prompt him. “You played with the window when I asked you to stop. You were hitting The Little Guy. You threw your pencil. You are a dog. You ate a cow.”

“I ate what?”

“Never mind.”

It’s too exhausting.

(I have a new prescription in hand….waiting for the weekend to watch for side effects.)

You just keep doing it

A little bit of brutal honesty here – this parenting stuff is not easy. Sometimes I don’t know how I got here or why I’m doing it.

Here’s what happens. You spend your life putting one foot in front of the other, taking it one day at a time, when suddenly you’re driving down the road with a carful of chatter and realize you’re mindlessly agreeing with the 6-year-old that yep, it is a “green light day” (for the traffic lights), praising the 3-year-old for his song (which was lousy but you just said “good job singing” anyway without thinking), and wishing the 8-year-old would stop screeching randomly.

You realize you’re in a whole new universe that you never imagined. Somehow you’re parenting three little kids who have no biological tie to you and who arrived suddenly in your house with no more than 2 hours to prepare. And somehow you’ve missed a lot of those stages of planning – like the wedding bells, the “what do you think, honey, should we start a family?,” the baby shower, the maternity leave….oh, how I missed out on the maternity leave!

There’s no planning here. There’s a “hello….yes….I’ll come pick him up” and you walk through the hospital doors, up the stairs, turn left to find the nursery, wash your hands and sit down beside the bassinet of your new son. Hello. Click. You’re parenting.

And now you’re spending two hours a night trying to cajole obstinate little ones to close their eyes and sleep, wiping poop off walls, scheduling repair men to replace glass windows, and orchestrating more social events for the kids than for yourself.

It’s not like this was all a big decision or a well-thought-out plan.

It was a moment. The moment when you signed up as “foster parent.” The first step. One foot in front of the other. But there was no understanding of the delirium that comes from sleepless nights. No knowing the pain of watching your boy wheeled off to the operating room. No way to comprehend the depths to which you become depleted and exhausted and stand in the shower and say, “Lord, I just can’t keep doing this” and yet you do.

You keep doing it.

Because you are their mother. Their only mother. The one they call mother. The one they know as mother. And they torture you and tell you how they hate you. And spit in your face. And defy you almost every single chance they can.

And yet, you keep doing it.

For they did not choose this life either. They arrived one day into a whole new universe and bounced around from arm to arm until they landed in yours.

So you keep doing it. Each and every day, you choose to love and you choose to be there and you choose to sacrifice what might have been, what could have been, for what is.

Three beautiful boys, sleeping soundly, because they have a mother.

One foot in front of the other.

NewYorkCity