Friday, April 30, 2010

Why you do the things you do? (very, very long...)

I’ve heard it called many things—Crusader Complex, Bleeding Heart, Sucker, Stupid, Trying to Save The World, A Wonderful Thing, a Blessing, Crazy.

And they are all true. All of those describe what people have said to me about my family, and our adoption and fostering. “It takes special people.” Oh yes, very special. “I could never do what you’re doing.” Yes you could. You’ve just chosen a different path. Hope it works for you. “You are such a blessing.” Maybe, but mostly, I feel cursed. “You must be so patient.” You have noooooo idea, babe. “Is it hard?” So many metaphors, so little time. “What do your real children think?” Um, since I gave up Glen, my pretend friend, in third grade, I haven’t really dealt with not-real people.

I’ve been following with interest the traffic jam that has become the life and times of the wonderful moms at Navigating the Maze: Adoptive Parenting and Life for about two weeks now. They are on a path very similar to mine, and are having many of the same problems we have had and are continuing to have. The day-to-day trudge that is the life of a RADmom is one that so few people can understand and relate to, that I felt both relieved and guilty that I was glad to find so much kinship among bloggers with horrible kids.

I say horrible kids, and some of you out there might think less of me. Oh well. I really don’t care. You probably haven’t walked the path we have in the last nine years. And unless you have, you can’t judge us.

My husband and I have horrible kids. Our first one is Leigh.

Leigh has been psychiatrically hospitalized three times. The first time in kindergarten, the second time in first grade, and the third time at the end of 8th grade. We’ve been trying unsuccessfully to have her admitted long term for a year now. If she isn’t actively suicidal or homicidal, no one will admit her because of the cost of long term psychiatric treatment. And that’s with TWO complete coverage plans. In the past nine years, we have:

1. Been bitten, spit on, puked on (intentionally and repeatedly), had things thrown at us, and had our hair pulled out.

2. We’ve been every horrible thing you can think of from a bad prison gang—all from a very cute little girl.

3. She ripped the chair rails out of her wall when she was 6 and tore out drywall down to the studs.

4. We had to board up her windows—she tried to punch through the windows after we bolted them shut.

5. For about three years, it took both my husband and me to hold her while she freaked out and raged.

6. We had to board up her closet—she kept climbing up onto the top shelf and attempting to dismantle the light fixtures, and throwing things at us.

7. After we boarded up her closet, we had to un-board it several times to get the shit out of it that she crammed under the door.

8. We had to rip the carpet up and throw it out. Use your imagination. Yes. And that too.

9. We had to reverse the door knob so she couldn’t lock us out.

10. We had to take down and pack away up most of our antiques and family pictures after she started systematically breaking and destroying them.

11. She has destroyed EVERYTHING we have ever bought her (toys, furniture, bedding, clothing, bicycles, books, school supplies, etc)… except her ipod. That she loves. Headphones, however, are fair game.

12. She ruins new clothes intentionally. And wears dirty stuff continuously because she refuses to wash her clothes.

13. She’s been a cutter since she was six, and is on probation for having blades at school and showing another kid how to cut himself.

14. She has run away on three different occasions, and that doesn’t count the times she has just disappeared to attempt to hang out with people in the neighborhood, or gotten off the bus and taken off for a few hours.

15. She steals from everyone in the family, including her sisters, parents and grandparents.

16. In the past two years, she has had SIX xrays on her right hand because she punches wall so hard her knuckles swell up, turn purple, and look horrible. And because I hate how people look at me when I don’t take her to the doctor for the obvious answer, “No, it’s not broken, and you really shouldn’t punch walls” I take her for xrays.

17. She once tried to set the house on fire… toilet paper and matches on the bathroom floor.

18. If she gets a bug bite, it turns into an infected, oozing mess because she refuses to wash and continuously picks at it.

That mom from Tennessee who sent her adoptive son back to Russia? I don’t approve of her methods, but I have stood at that breaking point and asked myself if being a mom is really worth it. The longest, hardest conversation my husband and I ever had was about whether or not we were going back to the hospital to pick up our daughter and bring her back home. There but for the grace of GodAllahBuddha….

We did go back and get her. Twice. And honestly, it was not because of a deep emotional attachment, or an unbreakable mother-daughter bond. It was because a very nice social worker convinced us that if we didn’t, Leigh didn’t have any more chances.

I’m not sharing this for sympathy-- I’ve learned that sympathy is for wimps. It is completely useless. It does nothing but make the offerers feel better about their own lives, and the receivers feel worse about their own.

You want to help a RADmom? Offer to babysit—knowing that the kid is crazy, no matter how cute and harmless she looks. She'll probably be really nice to you.

Offer to order pizza one night for that mom who, after working AND dealing with the horrible child, is just too freaking tired to cook.

Offer a non-judgmental hug.

Offer to come sit at her house with her and put up with the bullshit going on there because in reality, raising kids is not forever. The kid will eventually leave or get locked up, and the parents will be left to look around the trailer park and wonder where the tornado went. And at that moment, they will need friends more than they ever had before.

I’m not sharing this to earn cool points, either. I gave up on being cool a LONG time ago. Right about the time I had to apologize to another parent for Leigh's treatment of her child. Right about the time I called the police on my 7 year-old daughter for stealing from us. Right about the time I had to teach my middle school aged kids how to use condoms because they were already having sex. Right about the time I had to apologize to my mom, a week after her hysterectomy, after Leigh head-butted her abdomen. (And yes, she knew about the surgery, mom had shown her the stitches.)  To my mom's credit, Leigh is not dead.

What Eema and Abba are going through is part of what a silent majority of adoptive parents experience, but we don’t tend to go public with our battles. Maybe we should. Maybe people need to know what our lives are like behind the closed doors and drawn blinds. But we don’t talk about how hard it is. How exhausting and draining, and how much it strains the relationships we have with people we care about.

In my case, I haven’t gone public for lots of reasons. I never wanted Leigh to be able to say we hadn’t done everything in our power to help her “get better.” I never wanted people to look at her any weirder than they already do. I have always held on to a sliver of hope that one day, Leigh will wake up and be “normal.” And honestly, I hadn’t NEEDED to go public until recently. And for now, my little anonymous blog is all the public I’ll go.

I’m sharing this peephole-glimpse into ONE of my daughters because Fosterabba is right—Love ISNT enough for these kids. And after adopting three, I am almost convinced that NOTHING will ever be enough for them.

Think about what follows here, and bear with my very blunt assessment. These kids come from crap. Absolutely the lowest crap on the crap scale. Abuse. Neglect. Drugs. Alcohol. Violence. Lack of supervision. Untreated mental illness. Generations of poverty and ignorance and incest.

Most people don’t know exactly what it takes to have a child taken away from their birth family permanently. It’s a lot. Abuse like the parent has been pimping out the child in exchange for drugs. Abuse like letting your kids drink and do drugs because it conks them out so you can party. Or punishing them with hot water, cigarette burns, being locked in small spaces (closets or bathrooms) for hours. Or days. Or being locked outside over night in their underwear. Neglect like a baby who hasn’t been bathed in two weeks, or bottles that have never seen hot, soapy water. Or toddlers left in a crib all day while the mama goes out to party. (all true stories, btw, from my kids, or those of other adoptive parents I know.)

And for the kids, this is normal. That is the way everyone lives because IT IS ALL THEY HAVE SEEN.

Then suddenly, they’re taken by people with good intentions who make them live with other people with good intentions, who don’t do any of the things that they think are normal. So they think the new people are the weirdos. Not them.

My husband asked me a few weeks ago which of our kids was MOST likely to take care of us in our old age. That gave me a very long, very depressing pause, and gave me even more motivation to work our debt snowball and save like crazy. My answer was that I didn’t have one. I can’t see any of our kids either caring enough about us to care for us in our dotage, or being able to, financially or physically.

So the question becomes, why? Why do seemingly ordinary people go to such extraordinary measures to become parents? To keep their crazy children?

For me, I’ve never wanted anything more than I wanted to be a mom. When I couldn’t get pregnant, I really and truly wished I were dead. Or would be stricken with some horrible disease that would either kill me, or be bad enough that I could blame infertility on it, and not on my own rotten plumbing and genetics. We stopped infertility treatments before surgery and meds because we came this conclusion: Did we really want to work so hard to pass along our completely screwed up genetics? Seemed kind of mean when we looked at it like that.

I have never quit anything in my life, or let something I wanted to achieve pass by because it was too hard. I have sort of put parenting my children in that same category. I haven’t given up because I just don’t do that. However, hubby and I have begun a countdown and a to-do list for when the last crazy child leaves the house. It’s helped keep us sane lately.

I tell people all the time that I don’t regret anything about how our family has turned out. But if I’m really honest, in that dark little corner of my heart, I know I’m lying.

I regret that my career has been tanked by Leigh and Dawn. I regret not having been able to get my doctorate because I couldn’t leave our teenagers at home alone for a few hours once a week. I regret all the money we’ve wasted on therapy that hasn’t worked and replacing clothing and furniture and bedding. (For Leigh, we have purchased an average of two new mattresses a year since we got her. Again, use your imagination. Yes, that. And that. I know. Gross.)

So I’m writing this tonight, and wiping the tears off my face, wishing I could hug Abba and Eema because they are so much more honest with themselves and other people than I am. And I know how they feel about Danielle, because I feel the same way about Leigh and Dawn.


  1. Thank you, ever so much, for your kind words of support. Rather than hijack your blog, I've written my response to your post here.

  2. Here from the Maze; I'm sorry people insist on judging you when they don't know anything about how you live. I'm not religious, but whatever happened to "judge not lest ye be judged"?

  3. Abba-- You are VERY welcome! I stumbled upon your blog at a time when I really needed to know that I was not alone, that I was not (completely) crazy, and that somewhere out there were people who knew how very lonely this life could be. Knowing that other people have opted not to give up, but in some way recognize the futility of their efforts is oddly comforting. So yes, you rock. So does Eema. Mutual Admiration Society anyone?

    Corinn-- I know the feeling, and have come to the conclusion that on some level, we all judge people, whether they are intentionally doing so or not. I think maybe the difference lies in where our judgements land and what we choose to do about them.
    What's the Maze?

  4. damn you. you always take off my rose-colored glasses, hold up the mirror, and make me look. very well written. big loves to you and hope we can get together in the next few months!

  5. The Maze = FosterAbba and Eema's blog. Sorry, I use abbreviations far too much even IRL. ;-)

  6. You are not alone. With tons of treatment, my kids are "better," but I have definitely been where you are (police, holes in the wall, holes in other's skin or their own, running away, stealing, body waste where it's not supposed to be...). We have been amazingly lucky, but no matter how you look at it, RAD SUCKS! and very few people "get it." I'm looking forward to getting to know you through your blog.

    Mary in TX
    Mom to biokids Ponito(11) and his sister Bob(13)
    Sibling pair adoptive placement from NE foster care 11/06
    Finally finalized on Kitty(15) on 3/08 - 2 weeks before her 13th birthday!
    RAD, C-PTSD, Bipolar Disorder, ODD?, ADHD, learning disorders, cerebral dysrhythmia
    Finalized on her brother Bear(16) 7/08. He turned 15 the next day.
    RAD, C-PTSD, Bipolar Disorder, ADD, cerebral dysrhythmia, traits of personality disorders

    " Life isn't about how to survive the storm, but how to dance in the rain."

    Mary in TX


If you are an adoptive parent or have one in your family somewhere, talk to me. I could use some insanity that does NOT call me mom!!