All of a Sudden, Things Are Different

Dear Sweet Son,

After spending more than a year navigating various health issues, depression and anxiety issues, and behaviors that escalated beyond anything your dad and I knew how to handle, all of a sudden a different child has emerged.

All of a sudden, of course, does not actually mean all of a sudden. It means after countless therapy hours, a few weeks in the hospital, medication adjustment, lots of research and retraining and reconsidering our perceptions for Dad and I, learning to really listen to each other, all of us learning to confront the real issues, and a lot of prayer, blood, sweat, and tears. And yelling. There was a lot of that, too.

A different child, of course, does not actually mean a different child. Different behavior than we’ve seen in a long time. Different mood than we’ve seen in a long time. Different coping skills than we’ve seen in a long time. Yes, all those things are different than we’ve seen in recent memory, but they are all things we knew to be possible for you because we had seen them before. I’d like to think that what we are seeing now is the real you, you being comfortable in your own skin and in your own life, and that what we had been seeing recently was you trying to figure that out for yourself. There were times though when I was afraid that those memories that we had of you, the ones where you and Dad were buddies, when you were smiling, when you seemed content, that those were the ones when you were pretending. But I believe that this is the real you, and we had to stick with you long enough to dig you out of the muck you had covered yourself with.

I don’t expect life to be perfect now. I don’t believe that this means that we are done with the hard stuff. But right now, I’m going to soak in every smile, every laugh, every moment together. I’m going to pour into you as much nurturing as you will allow. I’m going to take every opportunity when we are both in a regulated state to empower you to weather the future storms and keep hauling out debris from the previous ones. I’m going to be grateful for the healing that has been taking place. And I’m going to keep adjusting to your needs to provide space for continued healing.

And next time when, all of a sudden, things are different, I’ll stick with you again, helping you dig out of the muck.

Love,

Mom

Mama Bear

Dear Teacher,

You know why my child has not been at school. You know where he has been instead. You also know that he has not had access to a computer, and that every single assignment you give has to be done on the computer.

And you have given him zero’s for every single assignment for the last 4 weeks.

That is not okay. You need to change it before I allow him to walk back into your classroom. And if you resist, I will report you to all sorts of higher-ups who will make sure that you are not allowed in your own classroom until you learn a little bit of compassion and sensitivity.

My kid has severe school anxiety to begin with, and now he’s supposed to climb his way back from a 7% in your class? Sounds like a great way to set him up for failure.

You better back down because my claws are nice and sharp.

Signed,

Mama Bear with a capital B

Home

Dear Sweet Son,

You’ve been away from home for 10 days. You have been gone longer than this when you stayed with your grandparents, but that was easier. I am looking forward for you being home tomorrow. Your bed is made. Your laundry is done. And you have a working stereo in your room again.

The last two months or so have been the hardest two months in my life. I have been worried, terrified, angry, and heartbroken. A mother trying to protect her son can be a force to be reckoned with. Sometimes that force seemed to be against you instead of working with you. Please forgive me for reacting in fear.

Home. Home with Dad and me and the dogs. That is where you belong.

We’ve talked to several experts of various sorts recently. Every one of them has given us a different opinion on the best long-term plan for us. I haven’t liked any of them. One recommended residential treatment programs that are one to two years long. One recommended military school. One recommended that I stay home with you all the time and give you my undivided attention for the next few years. The last one is my favorite, but I know that would make you crazy, and probably it would make me crazy, too. And then there have been recommendations for different things in between.

Dad and I have done research on some of those options. The idea of sending you away for a couple years, especially when I only “have” you for 9 or 10 years to begin with, is completely incomprehensible to me. It is like cutting my heart out of my body and sending it 5 hours away. I don’t want to hold on to you so tightly that I overlook what you really need. I don’t want to hold on to you so tightly that I smother you. But I want to hold on to you.

When we took the first steps toward foster care and adoption, we did so because I felt called to it. I generally distrust people’s claims that they are called to something, but I don’t have a better way to describe it. I didn’t have any idea who you were or that I would become your mom then. Recently, someone said that I wasn’t called to you, but I was called to do something for a child or children in foster care and that you are one piece of that. I’ve been thinking about that the last few weeks. But I’m not willing to accept that. I think I was called to you. I hate to say that because I hate all the things that happened to you that led to you being with me. I hate all the things that happened to me that led to you being with me. I don’t have an explanation for any of those things. But I believe that I was called to be your mom.

I know that it will be hard when you come home tomorrow. We all need to make some changes in how we deal with things so we can move forward instead of continuing in circles. I know that there will be setbacks and hard times. But it’s where you belong.

Home. Home with Dad and me and the dogs. That is where you belong.

Love,
Mom

Answers

Dear Friends,

If you ask me what’s going on in my life and I don’t answer all of your questions as fully as you would like, please do not take offense.

Some of what I am not telling you is not my story to tell. Some of what I am not telling you is in respect for another person’s privacy. Some of what I am not telling is for another person’s safety and well-being.

The rest of what I am not telling you is because I don’t want to hear you say that you know what I’m going through, or that my situation is similar to something you went through, or that you are going to tell me that everything is going to be okay.

If I say that our son is having a difficult time, do not tell me that he’s making bad choices because he chooses to be around the wrong people. Yes, yes, bad company corrupts good morals. But how many adults choose to surround themselves with people who help them become better versions of themselves? Why do you expect a teenager to do that? It’s really easy to say that he should hang out with “better” kids, but honestly, most of you have taught your own kids to stay away from kids like mine, so when he tries to reach out to your kids, he’s rejected. And that sucks, so why try? And who’s to say who is better to hang out with? Is it the ones with whom he has to pretend to be something he’s not to be accepted? Or is it the ones who always stand up for him, no matter what anyone else thinks even if they sometimes help him get into trouble?

If I say that I don’t know how to handle things with our son, do not tell me that it’s just like when you were rejected by your stepkids and they took out all their anger against their parents on you. I know that is a big problem for you. I get that. I understand that in a lot of ways myself because I am also the recipient of displaced anger. But not knowing how to handle things isn’t not knowing how to try to reach out to a kid who claims he hates me, it’s not knowing how to keep him safe. Do his comments hurt? Yes. But I’m a lot more concerned about what he’s doing to his own life. I’m more concerned that he’s making decisions that could irreparably harm him or possibly even end his life. I’m more concerned that he doesn’t think his own life is worth living than I am that he doesn’t like me.

If I say that my son is having difficulty respecting authority, don’t tell me that he needs more rules or more discipline or less privileges. Yes, he needs structure, and admittedly, this is where I need the most work, but he does not need heavy-handed tactics. You cannot beat the depression out of him. The reason he has difficulty respecting authority is because most of the “authorities” in his early life caused him harm, so he doesn’t trust authority. He will only learn that when the authority figures in his life demonstrate over and over and over and over again that they are trustworthy and demonstrate over and over and over and over again that they care about him, his thoughts, his feelings — him.

If I say that my son is having trouble in school, don’t tell me how important a good education is for his future well-being. I don’t care about his grades. I care about his heart. I care about his mind. When he is whole, he will figure those things out. Right now, they’re not very high on the priority list.

If I say that my son is doing anything that you think is “normal teen behavior,” don’t say, “Oh, all teens do that at some time.” Yes, lots of kids do. The difference is that my kid does it more often and with more intensity and for different reasons than yours. We have seen doctors and psychologists and therapists and parenting experts. Every single one of them has said that he is a complicated kid with a lot of complex issues. There is some “normal”, but it’s mixed in with a whole lot of other stuff.

For those of you who are kind and compassionate and trusted friends who respond empathetically when I do say something, also know that sometimes when you ask, I just don’t want to talk about it. A lot of times I have to repeat the same story to multiple therapists, a doctor, my husband, and a case manager. Other times I have to repeat the same story to 3 different assessors and then to a nurse and a therapist. Sometimes I just don’t want to talk about it. I want to hear about you and your life. I need to have a break from my own chaotic world. Sometimes I’m just tired.

If you care about me and you care about my family, you will not take it personally when I don’t say anything. Unless you are involved in our daily family life or are a professional providing services to us, you don’t actually need to know. If you think you still do, then you aren’t asking out of concern for me but out of your own curiosity, and I just don’t have the energy to try to meet those needs.

Basically, answers to your questions are given on a need to know basis. If you knowing doesn’t benefit me and my family, then you don’t need to know.

Sincerely,

A trauma mama

Cooperation

Dear Sweet Son, 
 
“I cooperate with you if you cooperate with me.” That’s what you said to me this afternoon.
 
Yes, generally things work best that way. Although I’m not sure you and I use the same definition of cooperation. We can agree that sometimes both of us have to give a little so we can meet in the middle.
 
Sometimes that “give” feels a little bit like “I sold my soul to the devil. I know you are not going to follow through with your end. You know that and I know that, and I just undid everything I’ve been trying to teach you.” Usually when I have that feeling, I’m unfortunately right.
 
Today that “give” might have looked to others a little bit like “I sold my soul to the devil.” But sometimes you have to give in order to show that you mean what you say, that you’ve got some skin in the game, that the end goal is important enough to sacrifice. And sometimes, you have to decide that’s a hill you’re not going to die on.
 
And today, I chose to give on something that you know is a big deal to me. I knew I was asking you to do something that was going to be really, really, really big to you. So I gave a little, and it gave you the courage to do the right thing, the hard thing, the big thing.
 
Today I’m not all the way at the top of your enemy list. I’m sure I’ll end up there again. Probably soon. But today, I gave a little, you gave a lot, and we both feel okay with it. Despite all the hard things that happened, I’ll call it a good day.
 
Love,
Mom

Enemy

Dear Sweet Son,
 
I know that you don’t want to hear from me right now. Or see me. Or talk to me. For sure right now, you don’t. You probably think you don’t ever want to again. Never ever ever.
 
I made myself your biggest enemy. I didn’t want to. I didn’t mean to. But I did.
 
Being a mama is a lot of work on a good day. Sometimes being a mama seems nearly impossible. Sometimes being a mama means making decisions that are hard, that don’t make sense, that seem like they’re designed to torture you.
 
I promise you, that’s not what I intended.
 
You think I did it because I can’t handle the responsibility of being a parent. Oh, sweet son, if I couldn’t handle the responsibility, I would make decisions that are easy. I would let you call all the shots. I would walk away.
 
But I’m not walking away. I’m walking with you. You feel like you’re all alone, but you’re not. I’m right beside you. Well, sometimes I’m a few steps ahead of you dragging you behind me. But I’m with you. 
 
I’m with you.
 
I will always be with you.
 
And right now that makes me your biggest enemy. You want to push me away. You want to reject me. And I’m not going to give you what you want.
 
You don’t really want me to leave. You only think you do. 
 
And because I’m your mama, I know what’s best.
 
Someday you’ll understand that I made hard decisions because I love you. Not now. Probably not soon. But someday.
 
And when you understand, I’ll still be here with you.
 
Love, 
Mom

Between a Mom and a Hard Place

A Mom
 
A mom whose love for her child results in unwavering commitment in the face of rejection. A mom whose commitment results in relentless advocacy for her child. A mom whose advocacy results in rabid research of development, therapies, theories. A mom whose research is sometimes discarded because of intuition, that infamous, inescapable, often unexplainable, deep-down feeling that she knows without a doubt that she knows what is best for her child.
 
A Hard Place 
 
A hard place where people were too consumed by their own chaos to love and nurture and protect a baby. A hard place where a child not old enough to take care of himself had to look after someone else. A hard place where politics and professionals decide in conference rooms and over phone calls that they know what’s best for a child they’ve barely met. A hard place where well-intended but ill-prepared family members were given the task of healing and providing a safe place for a hurting child. A hard place where “home” changed at least once a year, not just the physical location, but the people, too.
 
Between
 
A child. A charming, innocent, inquisitive child. A child with big gray eyes, seeing everything around him, taking in all the sights, the sounds, the feelings, and the chaos. A child who doesn’t understand that what’s happening to him is because of big people problems, who thinks it’s because he did something wrong, or even worse, that he is bad. A child who is unable to trust. A child who has become adept at hiding his vulnerabilities from the world and from himself. A child who has developed rough edges and thorns to keep people from getting close to him. A child who finds it easier to reject others before they can reject him. 
 
A child who is between a Mom and a Hard Place. A Mom (and a Dad, too) who will never, ever, ever give up. And a Hard Place that has taught him that eventually everybody does.