Sunday, September 23, 2012


This blog has been silent for the past few weeks because I've been recovering from pneumonia. And let me tell you friends, pneumonia sucks. I am now three weeks out from my initial diagnosis and I still feel deeply, deeply exhausted.

The best way to recover from pneumonia is complete bedrest, for 1-3 weeks. HA! That's hilarious. My three extremely active children laugh at your "bedrest"! Bedrest is for LOSERS. The two year old especially gets irate if I try to lie down on the sofa--he says "Mommy! No mommy, no!" and tugs and pulls at my arms and legs until I sit up. He cares not for television, so there is no respite bought by a simpering Thomas the Tank Engine DVD (believe me, I tried. Oh how I tried.)

The funny thing about having a serious illness is that your house does not automatically clean itself when you are unable to do so! The dogs do not stop shedding; in fact, one of them (coincidentally the one with the biggest bladder!) may become so anxious about your new state of lethargy that she decides to pee on the hallway rug. Over and over. The dishes continue to be used, and as such continue to pile themselves in the sink. Little droplets of milk left in sippy cups quickly transform into reeking sludge. And you watch all of this from behind the shackles of your infected lungs, because you lack the strength to even push a freaking vaccuum cleaner.

All food tastes revolting. If you are lucky, you can force down half a can of soup once a day. Gone out the window are your lofty nutrition standards. No more baby kale and fresh berry smoothies for breakfast, no locally sourced roast chicken with sweet potato hash for dinner, no poached eggs quivering atop a bed of brown rice. Nope. The antibiotics you are forced to swallow once a day make the act of eating repulsive. But in order to protect your gut from the evil medicine you *have* to eat, so you try to do so quickly, with absolutely no joy.

At nighttime you crawl exhausted into your bed. You are freezing, so you pile on the blankets and lean against a towering mountain of pillows. You spend the first hour in bed coughing every two minutes. You try to cough into a pillow, so you don't wake the two year old slumbering nearby. Eventually your body gives up and you sleep fitfully until morning. You wake up sore from coughing--it feels like a metal band is wrapped across your ribs and upper back.  You can't ever get a deep enough breath.

You feel terrible for your poor spouse, who has to pick up your slack on the homefront. You haven't had a meaningful interaction with your kids for days. You expend all your energy just trying to stay conscious--nothing extra.

And while this all transpires, while you are at your weakest, the world around you slowly explodes. One of your children is profoundly bored at school and is not able to work to reach his/her full-potential. You try to make it work. You meet with the child's teacher, hacking and sweating your way through an hour long discussion about differentiated learners in a typical classroom. You come to the realization that your beloved neighborhood school is no longer the best fit for your child--your child who needs to work at his/her own pace, to go deeper. You scramble and hustle to find an alternative. You put a call out to the universe and the universe responds with an amazing opportunity--an amazingly *expensive* opportunity. You take a deep breath and push forward--you can make it work. You *have* to make it work. You feel relief at the solution for your brilliant child and deep regret at the loss of your neighborhood school.

Somebody close to you takes it upon him/herself to help you through the illness. You are unable to connect with this person to discuss what "help" means to both of you, and the person arrives on the scene unable to contribute in a way that would make a difference for your daily struggles. There is conflict. A lot of conflict. A lot of extra draining, extra not-helpful conflict. You are angry that this person can't just actually "help" in the ways you need him/her to help, but at the same time cognizant of his/her limitations. You won't ever have the help you need and you need to get over it. You are angry at the other people involved, the people who won't stand up for you in the conflict, who refuse to take sides. At this time more than any other in your whole life you really just need to feel like someone has your back. Your achy, tired, weakened back.

At the same time someone else close to you steps up to the plate in a most unexpected and delightful way. This person has his/her own struggles, yet he/she drops everything to come to your aid. This person does not accept your pitiful attempts to refuse his/her help; he/she shows up on your doorstep and takes all three kids to the park. Even the toddler goes happily with this person, cheerfully blowing you kisses from the backseat of the car as it pulls out of the driveway. Your gratitude to this person knows no bounds.

Most of all you are angry at yourself for still being sick. You hate feeling weakened by illness. You cry with frustration at the things you can't do, things that are necessary for your family's health and happiness. You feel betrayed by your body. What was the point of eating well, exercising 5 days a week, nurturing your mind/soul--what was the point of all that self-care if you were going to be felled by a secondary infection anyway? You might as well have been stuffing your face with peanut m&m's and watching "Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo" all day long.

You wait it out. You have to; there is no other option. Slowly you will regain your strength. Slowly you will pick up the pieces of the broken relationships around you, of the frightening transitions in schooling, of the neglected pets and dirty house.

You will get better. You have to.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Some truth: Three Months post-placement

There is a recent blog post that is quickly making the rounds of adoptive parents:
Jen Hatmaker: The Truth About Adoption One Year Later

Jen Hatmaker is a wonderful writer, and the words of this piece in particular resonate with many of my friends in the adoption community. Several of these friends are singing the praises of this post because it says out loud what some of us are afraid to admit is happening in our own homes. It is comforting to see that other families are also struggling, that our childrens' reactions and behaviors are not unique--especially when there are so many other adoption blogs that document a seemingly flawless transition to family life. That with time our family lives will return to something close to 'normal'.

It is a relief to read the post and identify which stage your child is currently in; are we still in "Spaz out?" Could we be in "Triage?" You nod your head in sweet agreement when you find the description that matches your reality.

And I get that, and I appreciate that.

But, as Ms. Hatmaker herself writes in the start of her post, the "One Year Later" timeframe is specific to HER family, and HER experience. For many children the truth about adoption one year out is that the challenges are *just* beginning. Some children, like my child, have irreversible brain trauma that may manifest in behaviors that *never* go away. Other children are so overwhelmed by stress that they can't self-regulate. For some families the first-year post-adoption is a whirlwind of doctors appointments; urgent medical needs masking the equally-urgent emotional needs beneath the surface.

So while seeing a list of stages with specific time-lines attached can provide relief for some families, for  others it can only lead to frustration and feelings of failure. What if at five months post-placement your family is nowhere *near* triage? What if your child's grief-fueled rages get stronger with each week that passes? How does the family with a child recently diagnosed with PTSD feel when they look at that post?

Of course this is all part of the bigger issue, right? Just as the "happily ever after" adoption blogs don't tell the one true story, nor do the posts like Ms. Hatmaker's--the ones that are supposed to speak to the rest of us. The truth is that there is no *one* true story. The truth is that the story shifts and changes for each child, for each family.

The truth is that while your your family may identify with Ms. Hatmaker's post today, tomorrow could bring you to your knees in unexpected ways.

****             ****

In our home we are barely able to speak to the truth about adoption *three months* out.

YH and I walk the big kids to school each morning. We wander back home together and do chores, or wait for our Early Childhood Intervention Specialist to come over, or go to tumbling class. Starting next week we will spend Tuesday and Thursday mornings in YH's preschool class.

In the afternoons we pick up the big kids and go to a park, or out for ice cream. We play until Sean comes home from teaching high-school math and we eat dinner together. YH takes a bath and then goes to bed while the big kids finish their homework or clean their rooms. The big kids are asleep by 8:30pm and Sean and I have some time to ourselves. We could  use this time to cleaup, or play cards, or make-out but mostly we sit on the couch and watch "Breaking Bad". It could be worse, we think. At least we're not meth dealers. It could be much worse.

And from the outside it all looks lovely--like a "happily ever after" post.

But inside the house, inside my heart, it is hard.

I love this child so much more than I ever thought I could at three months post-placement. Before we took custody I had prepared myself for the fact that we might need to "fake it until we make it". That we may need to demonstrate love to YH, without actually feeling love (this is not uncommon for families joined by adoption).

But from the beginning the love was there. I LOVE him. I do.

And he loves me back--at least a little. We are at the point now where I am his preferred care-giver. He does not reject Sean, but if he has the choice between the two of us he will choose me. He gives both of us hugs and kisses--sometimes without us asking. He follows directions for both of us--with the occasional two year old tantrum/protest.

When it is just the two of us he needs to be aware of my presence every minute. "Mom? Mom? Mommy?" I cannot be outside of his line of vision. If we are in the same room he needs to be touching me. Meals are consumed at the dining room table, sitting on my lap. If he is playing with his toys he will stop every few minutes and come over to me, needing a hug or a pat on the back. We hold hands when we are walking next to one another. YH will sometimes get out a sling or baby carrier and bring it to me, asking me to wear him while we walk around the neighborhood.

Sean and I try to make sure that we alternate which one of us puts YH down for bedtime and naptime. During the week this means that Sean usually covers the bedtime routine. He tells me that when he leads YH back to "his" room (in reality a part of the master suite) YH happily drinks his milk while Sean reads him his books, then he lies down and pulls his blanket up tight under his armpits. He smiles as Sean leaves the room, sometimes blowing him a good night kiss.

 When I put YH down for bed/naptime the routine is different. We read stories, yes, but YH insists that I climb into his toddler bed with him. I sing lullabies to him and he pats my face. We rub noses and whisper things to one another. Sometimes we just whisper words: "car" "truck" "bird" "airplane". Sometimes we whisper the names of all the people who love YH: "Miss A" "Sweet Bubs" "Daddy" "Appa" "Nuna" "Umma" "Halmoni"...and so on.

YH pulls my arm across his body. He wants the weight of it on his stomach as he tries to fall asleep. When I kiss his cheek and say "Sweet Dreams" in advance of leaving, he cries. He pats the mattress over and over. "Stay. Please. Stay."

I give in and stay for five more minutes. I am in desperate need of some time to myself; time when NO ONE is touching me. But I stay--how can I leave?

By the end of the day I am fried. The sensory overload of having somebody touch you all day long is intense. I am an extrovert and yet despite this I am still depleted by meeting this child's needs all day long, every day.

I do not feel like myself--ever. My skin feels like it doesn't fit quite right. I bristle and chafe every time someone other than YH touches me. His little hand grounds me at the same time that it saps me dry. I feel like my only purpose is to lift him up.

I go to a boxing class, or a hip-hop dance class, at my gym three or four times/week. It sounds like a lot of time when I type it out like that, but those hour-long blocks of time are often the only chance I get to start to reclaim my body as my own. My mind as my own, my heart as my own.

Parenting YH is a lot like parenting an infant. I remember feeling similarly depleted when my big kids were three months old--and in terms of tenure in our family, YH *is* only an infant. He has the physical prowess of a toddler, but the dependent heart and soul of a baby. We need to prove to him that we are worthy of his love and trust, just as you do with an infant. When an infant cries you pick him up--and I do the same with my 30-month old "newborn".

The challenge is that lifting a 10lb newborn takes a fraction of the energy that it takes to "lift up" a 31lb newborn. I should have been in training for this months and months ago.

There is more. There are self-soothing behaviors that YH exhibits that worry me. I know they are behaviors that he exhibited when living with his foster family too, but that doesn't make my heart stop clenching when I see them resurface. I know they are driven by anxiety. I know they are an external expression of the turmoil in his wee heart. I know they help him cope.

But man, I wish I could take them away.

(I can't. I know this too.)

All I can do is softly clasp his hands, stroke his cheek and say "Please be gentle with my YH." All I can do is try to provide alternate stimuli for him: deep pressure back rubs, stroking his arms, rubbing his scalp--all in hopes that his reliance on these behaviors will lessen each day.

I watch and wait. I wonder what tomorrow will bring. I take stock of my arsenal each night and prepare to fight for him anew each morning.