Sunday, November 13, 2016

Interview of an 8 year old adoptee and his mom

For national adoption awareness I decided to interview junior.  We talked about what this would mean and that I would be sharing this on my blog.  I showed him that I don’t use his name or pictures on my blog and read him some of the blog posts.   He agreed to being interviewed if he could ask me questions as well.  

During the interview I asked him a question, then he asked me a question.  For the blog I have separated the interviews.  His answers to my questions are first followed by my answers to his questions.

What does it mean to be adopted?
Somebody takes care of you and you live with them forever.
It means a lot.   You can’t breathe, it’s super cool, it’s like the best thing that ever happens.   It’s super special.  One day you’re with a foster family and you open your eyes and you’re with another family that loves you very much.  

What are the 5 best things about you?
I’ve got a family that loves me very much.
I learn quickly.
I have good grades in class sometimes.
My teacher likes me.
Mom and dad care about me more than anything else. 

Why are some kids adopted?
So they can have their own family. 

How does it feel to be adopted?
Tiring.   You have to move from family to family and it’s sad.  It feels good but not exactly the way you want it to be.   I can’t see previous families.   It’s sad that I can’t see them. 

Why did we adopt you?
Because you guys wanted a son. 
You wanted the type of sun that keeps you warm on earth. (In case you didn't know he is learning the fine art of sarcasm and humor) 

How did you feel on your adoption day?
Happy.  Scared because I didn’t know if I really wanted to be adopted.  

What do you want to do when you grow up?
I want to start a company that helps kids that are in foster care. 

Do you ever think about your other families?
Sometimes.  But I mostly think about beer. 

Who’s your hero?
Police men, doctors and firemen.

Favorite thing about being part of this family?
Having people come over to our house getting to know your friends, having parties or spending time with family at Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

According to Dave it’s because we all chose one another. 

What’s the hardest thing about being a kid?
That I don’t get my way.   Life is hard. 

Junior’s interview of me

What was it like to be adopted
I wasn’t adopted.  I can tell you what it was like for me to adopt you.  It was one of the happiest days of my life.   I was so happy you chose us and wanted to be a part of our family.  I was also worried about what your future would be like.   I will always worry about you.

What was it like to have me with you.
We were scared at first since we had never been parents before and didn’t know much about you.   But we do the best we can and we learn from our mistakes.

What is it like to have me as a son.
Every day is an adventure.  I never know what you’re going to do or what you’re going to say.   You amaze me in some way every day.   Some days you amaze me in good ways and some days you amaze in bad ways.    I love watching you learn and grow.

What’s it like to have more family, I wasn’t part of your family in the beginning.
It was an adjustment but we wanted a son and are figuring it out.  

Would you adopt a teenager
No we wanted to adopt a boy between the ages of 3 and 8.  
Jr:  But I’m 8 now, so it’s time for me to leave.   I’ll go pack my suitcase and grab some beer.  

How did you like to be teased by Tag (Tag was a cat I had 5 years ago, junior never knew him)
Tag didn’t tease me.  He liked me.

What was it like when Tag ran away – Was it painful were you happy.  You probably weren’t happy but Paddy and Koda were.
I was sad and worried.  We tried to catch him a number of times but he didn’t want to live with us anymore.

How hard was it to adopt me?
It was hard, we had to go to a lot of classes and talk to a lot of people before we could adopt you.   Even though it was hard I wouldn’t change it.


Sunday, October 30, 2016

An unexpected gift

It's strange when you don't don't know your child's history.   You don't know what his first words were, when he learned to walk or ride a bike or anything.  There are more questions than answers about his first six years.  Add to that we don't know his medical history or ancestry.  For the latter we can explore testing through 23 and me or some similar company.  For the former we have to accept that there are gaps in his past and do the best we can with the unknown.  

Over the summer we received a package in the mail from junior's previous foster family.     In the package were some photographs of him with his first foster family.  We had previously had no pictures from the time he spent with this family, so this was huge.  I then looked at the envelope the photos were in and saw a name.   Previously we had only known the family's first names not their last name.

I did a little sleuthing online and realized I could reach out and see if I could begin talking with them. Dave and I discussed it with junior's counselor to get her thoughts.   We all agreed it couldn't hurt to send an email.  The worst that could happen is they wouldn't respond.   If they did respond we could gain some valuable information that we thought was lost.  

I thought long and hard about what to write in the email, and after I sent it I worried about whether I would receive a response.   I didn't have to wait long, less than an hour after I sent the email I had a response!   We've traded a few emails and we've received a few more photos.  I wasn't surprised to learn when junior left this foster family they sent a photo album with pictures of him.  For kids in foster care, it is all too common for personal items to be misplaced, lost, or left behind during a move. Being able to have access to pictures and information is such an amazing gift for us and junior.  

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Happy Traumaverssary

The first week of October is junior's birthday.   For most kids there is lots of excitement leading up to a birthday.  But junior isn't like most kids.  His birthday is a reminder of everything he has lost over the years and  we brace ourselves for lots of BIG feelings.

Two years ago junior moved in with us the day before his birthday. Three years ago around his birthday was the last time he saw his birth mother.  Needless to say his birthday triggers lots of memories of loss and people who are no longer a part of his life.  This would be difficult for some adults to handle, for a child it can be next to impossible.

While he may not be aware of it or verbalize it, his behaviors show us that his body remembers. This week little things turn into big issues.  Tasks he is normally able to complete without any problems are much harder.    Monday was a rough day at school for him, when the director told me about his day my first response was "Oh yeah, this is going to be a tough week for him."  I know this and I should have given the school a heads up but the month of October crept up on me quickly.

Even with all of this. he seems to be looking forward to his birthday and party.  He loves being able to choose what he gets to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

For dinner he chose to go to Wendy's.  Why?  Because they help kids in foster care find families.  Last month we went to Wendy's.  When we got there I saw a bunch of signs for the Dave Thomas Foundation and took the opportunity to talk to junior about it.  I tell him one of the reasons I like Wendy's is that they give a lot of money to help kids in foster care find families.    He says nothing, but the woman ahead of us in line turns around and says "That's a very good reason to come here."

Junior and I go back to talking about I have no idea what and about a minute later he goes "But mom I was already adopted."   "Yes, I remember.  I was there too."   The woman once again turns around "I adopted my son from foster care many years ago, too."   It was then her turn to order so our conversation stopped.  Junior  whispers to me "Mom, can we invite her to eat lunch with us?"   How could I say no?  

He timidly asked the woman if she would like to join us and she readily agrees.   We place our order and join her for lunch.  Junior shared information about himself and his foster families with her.   She shared information about her son who is now in his 20s.   At one point she asked a rhetorical question of why some kids in foster care are moved around so many times.  Junior immediately tells us he knows why:  "Because they aren't with the right family.  When they finally find the right family they stop moving and are adopted."   I'm surprised I made it through lunch without crying.  I am forever thankful to this stranger who took the time to share personal information about herself that enabled junior to open up.

Even though he is struggling this week and dealing with these BIG feelings, he wants to take time on his special day to help others like him.  To me this is a sign of healing.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Being the mom of THAT child

There's an article that is a few years old from a teacher addressing what she wishes she could share with parents about "THAT child."   I've seen it multiple times and it always strikes a chord with me.  Partially in understanding of what teacher's know and have to deal with on a daily basis, but mostly because I am a mom of "THAT child."

I am constantly worried about how my son's behavior can impact those around him.   We have to constantly keep an eye on him to ensure his safety and the safety of others.   At the same time we want him to have normal childhood experiences.  This isn't always possible for THAT child.   He wants to have friends, be invited to birthday parties, and have play dates.   I want that for him as well.

Last year we had a horrible school year.  Starting with his teacher quitting within the first week of school and it went downhill from there.  I can't explain the dread I would feel every time I saw the school's name show up on caller ID.   The pit that would form in the bottom of my stomach as I would be told of our son's latest escapade at school.   To go from his kindergarten year where he was regulated the majority of the time to having him out of control the majority of the time was a challenge and heartbreaking.   

I could see him physically change as we walked into school.  Getting tense and going on high alert.   I had to stay with him through breakfast, morning recess and walk him to his class in an attempt to ward off any problems first thing in the morning.   

The problem when your child is identified as THAT child, is classmates pick up on this and learn how to push his buttons.   I witnessed many occasions where a classmate would say something mean, push or in some other way provoke junior.   The minute he said something back, the students would yell his name to get the teacher's attention.   Junior was then reprimanded for his actions, and sometimes I was told I had to watch him closer.  Instead of being asked what had transpired all blame was immediately placed on junior.    I never felt like I had a voice to share information about the situation, I was viewed as not being able to control my kid.  

We work at home and in counseling on strategies he can use to stay in control.  We repeatedly tell him to walk away, tell a teacher, or ignore behaviors of others.   This is not something he is easily able to do.   He's made progress with this but he still is quick to act when he feels he has been slighted. 

Last year we came very close to pulling junior out of school and home schooling him as he wasn't able to stay safe at school.  The school worked with us to try and come up with a plan that would work, but nothing did.   In the end they gave up, letting him do what he wanted as long as he wasn't disturbing others.   

For his safety and the safety of those at school we chose to take a big risk and enroll junior in a private school that was in its first year.  Much smaller class sizes, more chances for independence and staff that was willing to meet kids where they are and see them grow.   

One month in and I have already noticed a huge difference, even though once again we are dealing with a situation where the teacher left after the first week of school.   Junior is upset when he has to stay home from school because he is sick or it is a weekend.   He talks about how much he likes school and that he feels safe there.   He told me today that he is able to ask questions and learn because he feels safe there.  

Every day I ask junior one thing he learned and his responses this year have included: 
  • I can be a positive role model for others. 
  • Sometimes it is better to do work on your own and sometimes it is better to work together. 
  • I can ask for help if I need it. 
All of the responses have been about social aspects and his interactions with others which is not at all what I was expecting.  By no means do I think that we are in the clear, but seeing the difference between last year and this year is massive.

He still is and may always be THAT child and I will constantly worry about that.   

Thursday, July 21, 2016

A Tough Decision

Junior has had a lot of moves in his short life.  He had numerous foster families before we found each other.  He had three different schools between kindergarten and 1st grade. We've moved twice in the last year as a family.  We were looking forward to him finally having continuity for the first time.   We bought a house to be closer to his school.

The school year was not easy for Junior.  We had an IEP that worked in Colorado.  Seattle was unable to provide the same supports he had there.We saw a great deal of regression in his behavior at school and some pretty severe PTSD episodes.  At home and in karate he was a different person.  I dreaded answering the phone whenever I saw the school was calling.

 Unfortunately after a lot of soul searching we admitted we needed to find a new school. We made the difficult decision to enroll Junior in a Montessori based private school.  It has much smaller class sizes, allows kids to work at their pace on topics that interest them and incorporates frequent movement breaks.

I never thought I would send my kids to private school;  Dave & I both went to public schools, our parents were teachers, I was a teacher.  If Junior had been able to get the supports he needed we wouldn't be making this change.  There are no guarantees he will do better here, but we can't have another school year like last year and this gives us a chance for success. Fingers crossed we have made the right decision.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Milestones Met

As  I sat down to write this Dave politely pointed out that I haven't written a blog post in 4 months and 8 days.   Yes, I know and I apologize.   I'm not here to apologize though, I'm here to share some major developments that occurred this week.

Junior's school hosts an annual multi-cultural night where all the kids are encouraged to create posters to be displayed about their family's culture.   The student population is very diverse and this is a way for the the students to share information about their heritage.   When this assignment came home it caused a little bit of anxiety in me.   We don't know junior's genealogy and I was worried that this was going to be a trigger for him.   I talked to the teacher and she said he could talk about his neighborhood, family, whatever he wanted which was a relief.

When we sat down to work on  the poster I gave him a couple of options and he chose to create a poster on our family.   We went through a bunch of photos that have been taken over the past 18 months and he picked out a bunch.   I paused when he picked out a picture from his adoption day.

The following conversation ensued:

Me:  Do you know what is written on the chalkboard?
Jr:  Yes.  It says that I was adopted.
Me: Are you sure you want to include this in the poster that will be hanging at your school for everybody to see?
Jr: Yes
Me:  None of your friends at school know you are adopted.
Jr:  They will now.

He had obviously decided he was using this forum to start talking about it.   He picked some photos of him with his birth mom to include as well.

He was so proud of his poster.  And I was proud of him for deciding to talk about his adoption.   In counseling we talked about how he would answer questions people may have and he didn't have answers to that.   We decided  would go into his classroom and talk about adoption and be there with him to answer questions.

His teacher liked the idea and put a plan together to talk about families.  On Tuesday morning I went and read a story to his class about adoption.   At the end I asked the class a few questions the final one being " Does any of you know somebody that was adopted."  A few students raised their hands.   I then asked everybody to raise their hands and the kids all looked around and Jr announced "I was adopted."

We then answered some questions that his classmates had.  I was happy with how things went and I think junior was relieved to have shared this big secret.   I was looking forward to attending the multi-cultural night tonight but unfortunately that didn't happen. Junior came home from school yesterday with a fever that steadily climbed to over 104.   This meant our first trip to the Emergency Department at the local hospital with junior, it only took 18 months for this to milestone to be met.   He is doing much better now, but the fever meant we had to miss the multi-cultural  night at school, but hopefully he is better for his first visit to Wrigley field next week.

Friday, January 1, 2016

2015 Highlights

We are trying to teach junior no matter how bad a day it was to always find the positives in a day.   Each night at bedtime  I ask him what his favorite part of the day was.   Some days I even remembered to write it down and put it in a large mason jar.   I wasn't very good at this last part as there were only 70 items in the jar.   Maybe this year I will do better.    

Last night we emptied the jar and reviewed the items.   Here are some of the themes and some of my favorites. 
  1. Family & friends.   Many of his favorite moments revolved around family.  Spending time with Dave and I, and our extended family and friends.  Meeting his cousins and aunts and uncles when we went home in January for my grandfather's funeral was a highlight for him.  While it was a sad time he saw the positive in that he got to meet some of his new family.    Being separated from Dave while we moved from Denver to Seattle was not easy.  One of junior's favorites was seeing Dad in Seattle after we had been apart for a couple of weeks.  And it's not just the humans in the family that are memorable the animals were mentioned a number of times.   One of my favorites was "Having Koda lick my face"  I mean who doesn't love kitty kisses.   
  2. Food.  Junior's love of food is apparent.  Many favorite memories revolved around food - eating sushi, eating enchiladas, and having BBQs in the backyard.  Getting his own set of knives and being able to make his own food also made appearances.    Dave and I think he may naturally become a vegetarian later in life as he seems like fruits and vegetables more than meat, but the boy does love his food. 
  3. Sports.  Whether it is watching games on tv, in person, or playing in them - junior loves sports.  Football, baseball and soccer are at the tops of his list.   Seeing the Sounders, Seahawks/Steelers and Cubbies made the list.   Scoring touchdowns and goals of his own are also tops.   Junior seems to have a natural talent for sports - he throws a much better spiral than either Dave or I  
  4. Travel.   While he enjoys travel and going places like two different Legolands, he loves coming home after a trip.   
  5. School.  We have had some challenges at school this last year but junior is doing much better.   Having a few memories be related to having a great day at school makes my heart happy.   Hopefully the school year continues to improve and we have more positive memories about this next year.   
  6. Humor.   Junior has a wonderful sense of humor.   Other kids are constantly telling me how funny he is and that comes through in his favorites.  One of his favorite memories of the year and one that got a lot of laughs when we reviewed them yesterday was "Not getting hit by lightening."  I don't recall what this referred to but I love it.   
Sometimes it is hard to see the positive side of things and for children with a trauma background it can be even harder.  A day doesn't have to spectacular to be a good day sometimes the simple things like spending time with friends and family, eating sushi, or not being hit by lightening is all it takes to be happy.