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.