Sunday, February 26, 2012


I'm going through an adjustment in my thyroid medication. (My cancer appears to be in remission, or nearly so, and the risk of recurrence is managed with a deliberate, slight overdose in replacement hormone, which takes time to achieve.) My doctor is tinkering with my dose right now, which is making me feel weird, and a little sick.

So for this reason, I was poking around on the internet and I came across a useful bit of writing. I'm basically well, with just a handful of mostly acceptable symptoms, so as I read it, T's needs, rather than my own, leapt to mind. The advice, below, struck me as very apt advice for parenting traumatized kids. Written from the patient's point-of-view, it went like this:

>Sometimes I need time alone.

>Drive me to appointments until I can drive.

>Handle phone calls, faxes, emails from family, friends. Sometimes it’s just too much. (To this, I would add my own spin for kids coming from foster care: handle letters, appointments, and information from the courts and social workers for me, because it's just too much.)

>Don’t ask if you can help, just do it. I’m having trouble making decisions right now.

>Listen while I sound off. There’s a lot happening to me and I need to verbalize without hurting someone’s feelings.

>Act normal, and don’t try to cheer me up when I’m depressed. It’s normal to be depressed when things are going badly.

>Resist the temptation to lash out in anger. I’m not angry at you, just at fate, or God, or whomever I blame for bringing illness into our lives.

>Even if I’m withdrawn, talk to me frequently. Sit nearby, read the paper, or just ‘be there.’

>Include me in family activities and decisions. I’m only sick, not mentally incompetent.

Every single thing on that list is something that we have realized and internalized, through trial and error, in the last three years of parenting T. He is recovering from a prolonged shock to his system, and figuring out what post-trauma equilibrium feels like and how to maintain it. It's a process not unlike recovery from chronic illness.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


I haven't written much lately, because I haven't needed to. Unexpectedly, the finalization of T's adoption did result in some much-needed (I realize, in retrospect) breathing room. Overnight, the visits from social workers, calls to lawyers, and endless negotiations about services stopped. A great deal of paperwork fell away, as we became his legal parents, and nearly simultaneously, he turned 18. The world knows no bureaucracy like that of foster care, but suddenly, it was over, and it left me with more time and less need to vent.

T exited foster care quietly and gracefully. It all just slipped away. We still have problems. In fact, amongst us, not much changed at all, at least in terms of how we relate. I think that alone was a surprise to T. A life spent in foster care prepared him for the milestone of legal adulthood with an undue emphasis. After all, foster care more or less ends when a kid turns 18 or graduates high school, whichever comes last. There are transitional "independent living" programs and safety nets, but in the metropolis where we live, the money and the availability of services just isn't there to back up the claims. There are also scholarships and incentives for kids who've been in extended foster care. But, at least in my experience, kids like T are not in the same place, chronologically and developmentally, as your average college-bound 18 year-old. It seems almost unjust to me to taunt them with scholarships and suggest that they pack for college when they're still working through the aftermath of a disastrous childhood. So many kids who "age out" end up on the streets, or couch-surfing, or ricocheting amongst various unstable living situations. Anyway, knowing all this, I think T was somewhat surprised that 18 came and went, and we're all still living here together, and we're still bossing him, and he still has to take out the trash and recycling if he wants to use the car. Turning 18 was not what he had been led to expect.

All this is not to say that our house is without its daily dramas. We are still navigating his substance abuse issues. He's in out-patient treatment, and underwhelmed by the quality of the program, going pretty diligently and mostly abstaining, but not making as much progress as he or we had hoped. I've decided that hope is the pretty cousin to stress and pressure, so I'm trying to set mine aside, and let him find his own way. I'll write more soon about parenting and addiction, a topic I've thought a lot about this year. But right now, I'm just enjoying a sort of mundane everyday feeling. Here's to feeling ordinary!

Thursday, February 2, 2012


T's adoption finalized earlier this week. It was both quiet and momentous. It took us three years and twelve court hearings to reach this point. Sometimes I wasn't sure it would ever happen, and sometimes I didn't really care - it seemed like, legal or no, we were actively his parents and perhaps the formalities didn't matter. But when the day finally came, I think we all found it more affecting than we imagined it would be.

We barely spoke about it beforehand - T has been pursuing adoption for more than six years, so there wasn't much need. The night before, just to make sure, I wrote him a letter and posted it on his bedroom door, reminding him what would happen the next day and telling him how, in my mind, it just formalized what we had already made true, and how much I love him and feel proud of him. He snatched it, read it, and went to bed without saying anything.

When we got to court the next day, it was clear that he was not ambivalent or moody, as I had expected. He was happy. Often, his happiness is what catches me most off guard, and it did that day. He had a beautiful shy smile all through the ceremony. This smile only appeared over the past year, and it is really a showstopper. When it came time for him to sign the adoption agreement, he fairly glowed, and signed his name with a special cursive signature including his middle name that he had been practicing. When the judge asked us if we'd like to pose for pictures with her, he didn't hesitate. He stood proudly in the center of the photo, holding his "Certificate of Family Membership" as they call it in our state. He even let me sneak in a hug and a fist bump. Afterwards, we went to IHOP to celebrate, and by midway through our meal, he was back to normal teenage behavior, absorbed in text messaging his friends and spitting wads of paper at me through his straw.

I found the process profoundly moving. The courtroom, where we have been so often to fight various battles with the bureaucracy, seemed transformed. The atmosphere was dignified and respectful. Usually, we sit off to the side, and the table at the front of the room is a mess of overstuffed files and piles of paper. This day, we sat front and center, and the table was clean and clear, with only our two-page adoption agreement at hand. At the end, after reminding us all of the legal rights and responsibilities that derive from adoption, the judge said "This case is now closed," and shut the folder on 17 years of paperwork documenting a tortuous childhood. Born into the foster care system, he was finally done with it, on the best of terms.

One of the things I have always loved about him is that he says what he's going to do, in terms of the big things in life, and he does it. He said he was going to be adopted, and he saw to it that he was. Certainly he has experienced ambivalence, doubt, frustration and feelings of estrangement along the way (as have we). But it is in his nature not to be deterred by such feelings, if he can help it, and to stubbornly stick to his goals. In his own time, and no matter how rough the road, he gets where he's going. So here he is.
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