10 Year Olds and their Superpowers

10 year old superheros

Stupendous Man

I’ve noticed lately that their Union is engaged in fight with management over how often they are required to bathe. I think that they think that stench is one of their new superpowers. I’ve heard many tales of this phenomenon over the years, but like most Moms, I secretly thought, ”Oh, that won’t happen to me.” But it did. It is. It’s starting to happen to me and my nose.

I remember a friend once telling me about having to check her teenage sons packing efforts before he went away for camp one time. She found out that he had packed one pair of underwear…for seven days. She was thrilled to discover this before he left. For me, that would be the moment in the conversation where I would stiffen all the fingers of my left hand and strike a light blow dead center of their forehead. It’s a little like a love tap with intention, reminding them where their head is…you know, in case at some point they want to use it.

As a matter of independence now, the 10 year olds are trying to establish their right to smell. WTF? How does bathing cut into your busy schedule of computer games, TV watching and trying to avoid helping around the house? (which sounds an awful lot like my busy schedule sometimes, so I guess the apple doesn’t really fall far from the tree after all).

And weirdly, when they finally can be prevailed upon to bathe, the project goes on for up to and hour or more if you don’t intervene. It’s like they think that they can stock up on enough clean to keep them going for the next 10 days. They will also use 10 days worth of soap if they are not controlled.

The things is, and I try, with considerable desperation, to make them understand that their problem is only going to get worse when the hormones come on in earnest. The idea of three teenagers at once just makes my eyes cross, and the other boy won’t be far behind them. But they seem blithely unconcerned with this.

Add to this their complete lack of concern for brushing their hair and their tendency to wear pants that would suit them just right for the next flood and I’ll tell you, I don’t know how they get invited over to people’s houses. I really thought, as a family, that we would look better than this, but in the end, that wasn’t a battle I chose to fight. I regret that on some levels, but they should have given me more time in between children to establish certain standards.

For now, I’m resting all my faith in the moment they notice the opposite sex…

A Christmas Carol of My Very Own…

RbP - Ghosts of Christmas Past

I’m not sure I have something illustrative to say about the season this year, but I do hope to have produced something along those lines by the end of this post.  It was messy, like this post is going to be and I’ve been a bit stuck. But part of learning about the experience of this blog is that I’m going to have to post through these moments, when my thoughts are less than perfect and I can’t seem to get the salient points nailed down…Here’s my less than perfect post. It matches my less than perfect life ☺

The way the season went it turns out I didn’t have to read Dickens this year. I was visited by all the ghosts of Christmas anyway. So let’s hope that, like Scrooge, it will finally help put some things into perspective and release me to move forward.


This year was flavored with more memories of the past than usual, which didn’t thrill me. It felt entwined with spiritual reminders of my teenage Christmases, where I felt very much on the outside looking in, and as a result I just couldn’t seem to get into Christmas this time around. The financial terror at the beginning of the month seemed to just consume all my energy. Then having the older 3 kids gone for the week leading up to it was sort of the coup de grace. And as I drifted, without plan or energy, I was easy prey for a visit from the ghosts of the past, days where Christmas routinely felt like it belonged to everyone but me. For a very long while, light years from where I stand today, it was the loneliest time I ever knew. But for 11 years now, the warmth of all these little bodies and souls has driven those feelings far, far away for the most part. (do I really need to insert the kind of words of gratitude here that I feel? There aren’t enough.)

And so, it was no wonder that I felt removed from it all even while I tried to have Christmas for the little ones. I was only marginally successful I feel, but I don’t think they noticed it too much. Not enough anyway, that it can’t be recovered with a better effort next year.

With that as the goal, what’s the take away from all this? I’m still not living the life I envision for myself. Not really. I think the answer lies in what keeps me from completely inhabiting my own life? Who am I still trying to please and what choices and steps do I need to take so that by next year I am writing a post about how we found our own way through Christmas…and how much better it was.


Which brings us to…The ghost of Christmas Present. He came wearing a chauffeurs hat again, as this season found us once more driving the freeways of SoCal trying to make sure everyone was seen by everybody who needed to see them. 6 kids, 4 different houses, numerous relatives, 48 hours. Hard to believe the suicide rate jumps during the holidays, right? You know, if the parents and families of all my children decide to check in someday, I could find myself trying to negotiate 4 fathers, 2 mothers, and an absolutely endless number of other relatives. Hard to believe the suicide rate jumps during the holidays. Oh, wait…I mentioned that already.

I can see things could get even further out of hand and it is too much, for sure. But, to tell you the truth, I’m not really sure how I can possibly edit it. I wonder if the trick won’t be more about crafting the days leading up to the 24th so that we feel we have a greater ownership of our holidays. And then I wonder how many other people talk about having “ownership” of their holidays…is this common do you think?

We opened a “Box of Grandma” again this Christmas, and I found that with it, I opened a big box of resentment I didn’t realize I had been carrying around – ever since “The Phone Call”.   These boxes come at least twice a year and they are huge. I mean H-U-G-E.  As in, “How much guilt can you pack in a box?” and they come for one child. That sounds mean, I know, but so have all her phone calls to me – all 2 of them in the last year. It is certainly their prerogative to send their gifts to only one child, I see a lot of this and it is nails on a chalkboard to me. I admit that I bristle at any attempts to draw lines through my children, and although I will likely never be able to avoid the carving up of my family completely, don’t ever expect me to be ok with it. And so, by all means, you don’t have to concern yourself with my children, but if nothing else, she has a brother who is biologically hers . Not so much as a matchbox car for him. Wow. I mean, WoW. Oh, and also, if you could stop packing that stuff in those Styrofoam packing peanuts? Cause that shit gets all over my living room.

So never mind her brother, or that the other families who have been enmeshed in this through no fault of their own managed to include the other children, or that you are sending items to a child with hoarding instincts, resource hyper-vigilance and material goods issues, just keep serving your own feelings and making yourselves feel a bit better. I wish my guilt at the uncharitable feeling I have towards you could be bought off as easily…but hey, I haven’t tried yet, so perhaps they can! (kthxI’mdone – dusts hands)

But, to get away from all of that (and it’s best we try), this Christmas also brought an opportunity to give hope to someone else. The opportunity to tell the father of my youngest daughter that there is still every reason to believe that he can have a successful relationship with his daughter in the future, despite my move to adopt her. More will be revealed on that front in the future, I’m sure, but even if it never happens, I felt it was of great worth to be able to tell him that he could walk toward a future that would include her as long as it included healthy decisions. Santa likes it when you can reach out and give hope, so I’m trying to build on that moment in hopes that the “Box of Grandma” will get smaller, both physically and metaphorically.  And so, this brings us to…


Am I the only one who feels so out of control of their holiday season? Is that more the norm than the exception? I don’t know, but I don’t think I want to spend another holiday feeling like this. I keep coming back to the same word: SIMPLIFY. The fact that our finances dictated a leaner Christmas for us this year is something that I’m hoping to springboard off of in the future. I’ve long been feeling harassed by the uber-commercialism that has become Christmas, as have so many of our friends. I don’t feel that the kids are getting what I want for them out of the season and that we can do much better about discovering the true meaning of the Season.






So, come November 1st 2011, my job is to have a plan in place to make the holidays more organized, affordable and enjoyable…but mostly, to make it far more full of the kind of meaning I always wanted the kids to think about.

What do you think? If you have any ideas about things I’ve missed or that might help, throw them out there. I’d love to see them.


Ski Trips and Voodoo Curses…Part Deux

Just Say No to Family Trips

TRIP #2  Big Bear Ca., 2 Adults, 3 Six Year Olds, 1 Three Year Old

I wasn’t present for most of this trip because of work commitments.  Yes, I know it was a blessing.  I left the day of their birthday with the baby to drive up and meet them for dinner. I think I had their birthday cake in the car with me.

The drive up the switchbacks to Big Bear was largely uneventful, except for the fact that I was running late and fielding phone calls from my 6 daughter who was in a state of extreme panic and existential angst because her father had told her over dinner that when you die there’s just nothing after that. Predictably, you would think, her response was stark fear and terror. Nice job, Jackwagon.  I spent the middle part of the trip negotiating dangerous road conditions and talking her down off the ledge, “Well ask Daddy how he knows that?  Where ever you end up going is exactly where I will be going.” “But he said that there was just NOTHING!” “Ask Daddy to prove it!” and in final desperation, “Well, Daddy doesn’t know what he’s talking about, OK!”

By the time I reached Big Bear, it was dark and even more unfamiliar. I was harried and late for my children’s birthday dinner and I am now caught in the cross-hairs of an uncontrollable situation. I was a woman who’s sense of direction measures a -10 on any scale being given directions by a man who’s ability to communicate information is even lower than that.

It’s dark, I’ve never been here, nothing is clear and at one point his exasperated, impatient directions included this gem, “The restaurant looks kind of like a log cabin. You can’t miss it.”  Ever been to Big Bear?  Want to guess how much of the architecture up there is designed to look like a log cabin?  Oh, and the baby has started to get seriously over it by now too.

It took about 40 minutes to find the place and by the time I arrived there, it was the family friend at dinner with my kids who actually took the time to wait downstairs at the restaurant to help me with the baby and their birthday stuff.  But I made it!  Now, I could relax in a restaurant with 4 small children. The waiter came and asked me if I wanted a drink. I think I hate Big Bear by now.

I’m pretty sure at least one of the kids threw up, but I no longer remember who it was, oh and the Baby got his hand closed in the automatic sliding door of the minivan.

Time spent skiing with my kids: 3 Hours

Failure to Dock With the Mothership…

RAD Mantra...

I think it is no secret that I have been stressed of late.  If we know each other on Facebook, then it is really no secret, since I made my Facebook timeline submit to forcible support the other day while I crawled through a series of pride-swallowing phone calls and other things that must be done when the safety-net suddenly gets cut out from underneath you. Sometimes, that’s the only way to keep your balance…by sharing and hoping someone out there will throw you a rope.  Someone did…and by making a series of positive statements I was able to affirm for myself that I was indeed making it across the rickety bridge.  There are a few more to be crossed, but I think I can lead the children through it, even though they don’t know they’re being led.  Leadership always involves more knowledge than you can share.

But, in the midst of it all, the thing I forgot to factor in was my 5 year old, my daughter, the one with Reactive Attachment Disorder. The one that cannot be parented in the normal way. Traumatized children cannot be parented in the same way as the ones without trauma. In fairness to me, it’s not always easy to constantly straddle and attune simultaneously to the world they exist in and the one that the five other children live in.  Sometimes, when they seem to be doing ok, you can lose focus on the fact that their attachment to you isn’t like that of the other children and the next thing you know, you’ve fallen out of your ‘Therapeutic Parenting’ role. You slipped and just let you be you…and that’s always when they hand you the bill.

Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) comes in two general flavors: Inhibited and Disinhibited.  Those are the starting points. From there, they can zig-zag all over the list symptoms and ways this disorder presents itself.  But generally speaking, they will start in one camp or the other.  Our daughter is in the ‘Disinhibited’ camp.  She comes to the world like Alexander, where everything is Be Conquered or Go Home. Whatever the type they happen to be however, the battle (and it will be a battle, make no mistake) is to successfully affix a normal attachment between them and one caregiver. After that has been achieved, if it is, then from there they will hopefully have a blueprint to successfully model all future attachments.

We have made progress over the past 3 years, but never as much as I’d like to believe. I have had to learn how to become that “Therapeutic Parent” that she needs, and I am still very much learning. In the normal course of things, when we come to parent our kids, we rarely come to it so clinically. But for RAD kids, they will be saved no other way.  One person has to be willing to go and stand in the storm with them and lead them out. And that storm around them and within them is a howling of the gods.

In an ideal world, that one person has a very good support system, because it’s a relentless job. Most of the time that child is focused on you like a laser,  24/7. They are inexhaustible in their energies and strategies, because they remain in a constant, vigilant state of hyper-alertness. For them, they are engaged in a battle for nothing less than their very survival. This has been hardwired into the brain trauma they have experienced at the most crucial developmental stages of their early childhood.  At times you can well end up feeling as if you have attachment disorder yourself.  And all this effort can be frustratingly empty at times, when they will, with a gesture or a word, show you once more that you are still discardable.

So, yes, I’ve been stressed this week. Terribly stressed. Terrified and feeling without safety. And in the midst of it, my daughter lost her way again because my focus wandered in the moment.  And these kids, RAD kids, are so hyper-aware of your state, and reactive to it that sometimes all it takes is one asteroid strike on the mothership, and like a badly wired escape pod, they will pull the emergency cord and  just detach, floating free into space again, determined that they can survive without you. They have no idea that they are wrong.

And in that moment, all you want to say is…eff it. Because no matter what else you’re trying to do, all crises management has to stop and you have to go after that detached escape pod. You have to put everything and everyone else aside and bring them back into the docking procedure.

I can relate a recent moment that might illustrate the reality. My 5 year old daughter, the child who has been with me, with the exception of a few short months, for over 3 years as a part of our family. She has called me Mom from almost the beginning, zeroed in on my stress, which reads to her as instability of her environment, and said “Mom, you really only have 4 children, cause we’re only living with you for a little while.” That’s a survival statement that says she’s ready to go if things get dicey. Notice that it doesn’t occur to her that staying with her family or her adults is the safest place to be.

Hearing that statement you have to struggle with the knowledge that the most intense efforts of your life as a parent have achieved such incrementally small successes at times. And you have to lock down the feelings of unfairness that you aren’t even allowed to be stressed, even when it is so justified. And you have to pull out the much worn script of the Therapeutic Parent and begin it all again.  For the RAD kid, you have to be “On” 24/7 . There are no carefree moments, no moments of casual parenting. Everything you do can seem weighted down with the most impossibly heavy layers of context.

And then, you do it anyway. Because it’s your child. Because you cannot afford to lose even one pod. Because despite your exhaustion you will never quit on any of your children. Because they are lost, alone out there in the void and failure is not an option. No one gets left behind.

Attachment Disorder – as it appears in our house:

Control issues. Most children with reactive attachment disorder go to great lengths to prevent feelings of helpless and remain in control. They can often be confrontational, disobedient, defiant, argumentative and manipulative

Anger problems. Anger may be expressed directly, in tantrums or acting out, or through manipulative, passive-aggressive behavior. Children with reactive attachment disorder may hide their anger in socially acceptable actions, like giving a high five that hurts or hugging someone too hard.

Difficulty showing genuine care and affection. Easily replacing caregivers, showing no marked preference for a primary caregiver.

An underdeveloped conscience. Lack of empathy. Children with reactive attachment disorder may act like they don’t have a conscience and fail to show guilt, regret, or remorse after behaving badly.

Also included are hypervigilence, sleep disorders, food issues, poor response to discipline and consequences, physical contact issues, hyperactivity and a desire to be constantly stimulated, difficulty learning cause/effect, poor planning & problem solving, pervasive shame, poor communication strategies and failure to produce interactions that facilitate demonstrate mutual enjoyment, appearing to be on guard or wary, engaging in self-soothing behavior lack of eye contact, rage, aggression, lying, stealing, hoarding food, an apparent lack of a conscience, nonstop chatter, a desire to wield control, and a desire to create chaos among others.

Lying to the Children…Again

So, do we ‘lie’ about Santa?  Sure we do. I lie to my kids all the time. I actually look for opportunities to do it.  I LOVE to do it.  In fact here’s a quick confessional: I have lied to my kids about them having born with 6 toes, I used to tell them that once they went to bed it was nothing but clowns and ice cream parties for the grown ups.  I have lied about one of them having to have belly button surgery and I have told them elaborate stories about how they were so small when they were born that we used to keep them in a shoebox on the bedside table. I lied to them about trying to teach them how to play dodge ball when they were 18 months old and that it didn’t work because they weren’t really good enough at dodging back then. Actually, that one may not have been a lie. But there have been about a thousand other such moments and I will undoubtedly try to lie to them about  6ooo more things before I die.  I think it helps to build their “truth meter”.  It also alleviates some of the extreme monotony of parenting. I lie, a lot…but not about anything important.

I stubbornly lie to them about things like Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Beagle even in the face of their certain knowledge that it is me.  I like to maintain a slight air of delusion around the house.  I believe it will cushion the blow for them when my senility kicks in next year.

Personally, I have nice memories of believing in Santa for about 2 and a half Christmases. Then my older brother happily set me straight on the matter. Because that’s what older siblings do.  And that is how it will go for our younger children too in the keeping of a family tradition. But those were a golden couple of years filled with having both parents still and watching the Charlie Brown Christmas Special every year and watching my mother put all these wonderful ornaments on the tree one by one. It’s the last time I remember loving Christmas until the kids were born.

Our current status in the Santa Lie stands with the 10 year olds now knowing that we are Santa (I’d be pretty worried if they didn’t), the seven year old I’m not sure about, I suspect the 5 year old still believes in Santa, but she knows the presents come from us, and the two year old will learn about Santa for the first time this year. And he will believe in Santa for as long as his 10-year-old sister can manage it, because she has already taken over his holiday education.

Where you stand on the Santa thing can be a real issue between parents. I remember the father of my older 3 children taking me totally by surprise by announcing to me during the pregnancy that he wouldn’t be lying to his children ever by telling them there was a Santa.  I was very upset about that at the time. These days I just think, “What a jackass!” I mean who tells that kind of thing to a woman waiting to give birth to 3 babies? “Hey I’m going to be ruining Christmas for these kids once they’re born.” (To be fair, I think all men have at least one jackass moment during the pregnancy. I had the biggest fight of my life with the 7 year olds father about the college education of a child who hadn’t even been born yet. You really want to try to time these things well with a pregnant woman)

The interesting thing is, that same man who was so determined to give his children only the brutal, unvarnished truth later  hired someone when they were 2 years old to come to their home fully dressed as Santa on Christmas day.  It’s one of a select few truly redeemable moments that I pull out of the deck when he’s completely stopped making sense to me and I’m not sure if we’ll be able to continue forward in any semblance of partnership at all. I like to believe, in the end, he looked at the faces of his children and allowed the season and their childhood overtake him.  Children will do that to you…which is why we have Christmas in the first place.

Why I Took My Daughters to the Homeless Shelter…

This is the exercise: have your children pick out their 10 most very favorite, most special things in the whole world. Have them take their time. It can be anything – ice cream, football, an adored older brother, a beloved grandparent, their father, their pet, You…Have them tell you about what they love about that thing most. Everything about how it makes their life a place that is safe and happy and complete. Now…I’m going to take 8 of those things away from them.  That is what has been done to my 5 year old daughter.


For much of those 5 years, her life has been chaotic, unpredictable and out of her control. It has been full of losses impossible to imaginable, and dependant on the decisions of other people. Often those people, while they loved her, have not been able to accurately judge or sustain even her most basic needs. They have been ill with the demons of addiction and efforts to come to terms with deeply troubled pasts of their own. At times, this has made them a danger to her.

And not knowing any other choice was available to her, she has loved them anyway…because they were the source of warmth and life and food, which you need to survive. Because you can always love someone who is dangerous to you if you aren’t taught not to. Loving in a healthy way is entirely learned behavior.

At 5, my youngest child has already had to “overcome her circumstances”. And while I have been able, with much education on my part, to help her do that, I have not been able to do the same for her mother.  At various times over the past 3 years, I have tried to be available to support them both, but in reality my job here, is to choose between the mother and the child when it becomes necessary.  My actual job is to choose the children over her.  It’s not a job anyone would willingly sign up for, but it is also not one that can be walked away from.

And so, yesterday was another step on an unchosen journey of courtrooms, visits with social workers, therapists’ appointments and supportive participation in a variety of drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs. Another one of the endless meetings seeking a course through the havoc that addiction brings to the lives of everyone around them.

Why do it at all you ask? Well, to the people who have said it is too much, and they are many, I make the point that life is often messy. No one chooses for their mate to get cancer, or their child to get sick, or for the terrible car accident that steals a life. It happens and you simply have to respond.  It happens to these children and just because their parents are sick, that does not mean that their need to have contact with those parents, where possible, doesn’t have to be managed as best as one can.

Currently, their birth mother, my niece, is the resident of one of the numerous Salvation Army shelters for drug and alcohol rehabilitation.  This is at least the second or third such place that she has lived, and there have been other out patient programs.  One statistic I heard said that is takes an addict between 7 and 8 separate attempts to get sober. It takes that long to accept that there won’t be an easy way. That either you or the vice will have to die. Many never reach that acceptance.

The story of how they came into our family is a long one. I’ll likely write it here in time, but by way of a short summary, I have guardianship of the two children who I call my youngest son and daughter. They are biologically my great niece and nephew, but that distinction is biological only at this point. They are my children, brother and sister to my other 4. But they are also still her children. And that is the balancing act that we are learning.  The journey of an unintended open adoption.

All day leading up to the visit, I watched my youngest daughter act out on her stress and excitement and mixed up feelings in a mind-spinning number of ways, as she struggled to cope with everything she was feeling. Feelings that I worked at helping her to understand and find the words for. I spent the day telling her that I would be there and make everything OK for her. That everything she was feeling was OK.  I worked to strike the right balance for her, one that would allow her to view her mother’s circumstances as something she should not accept as normal.  And I worked to impart to her that they were circumstances that were no longer hers (gone are the days when she talks about how she used to live at the “Celebration Army”). And I worked to do all this in a way that would not stigmatize her mother.

I have to admit that I didn’t think about the kind of place that we would be going to. They have visited her in treatment programs before. For a period, when she had regained custody of them briefly, and seemed to be on the road to rebuilding her life, they lived with her in another Salvation Army facility that provided recovery services and a sober living environment.  But  when I drove up to this place, 3 of my children in the car with me, and saw it’s industrial rundown location, the homeless dejection of it’s exterior and it’s occupants my stomach began to clench…

OMG,Omg,omg,omg, I’m thinking, did I do the right thing agreeing to this visit? Did I do the right thing bringing my 10-year-old daughter along as additional family security for my youngest daughter, who was about to see her mother again for the first time in months.  Was I asking too much of her to help me wrap this 5 year old in a blanket of female safety as she sees her mother in these horribly institutional circumstances? Omg, omg, omg, I’m thinking as we are walking into a place that makes me think of correctional institutions and they hand us visitor’s badges, even for the 2 year old. How can she want her kids to be here?  Why didn’t she tell me before we were on our way here that it wasn’t like the other places she had been. Places where children were an expected feature.

It is clear as we walk to the metal tables in the dining hall that the children are attracting attention, and my mind is flying, searching for the words and gestures that will normalize the entirely abnormal.  I am mostly watching my 10-year-old daughter intently, but surreptitiously for her reactions.  She is looking around. At the place, at the people, at me…and I am sending off waves of competence and authority and all of the “I have this handled” energy that I can. Literally shedding it onto her. And as we sit down and my niece is settling the children we have ended up sharing in this strange way, she leans over to me and says, “Some of the people here look…you know, kind of worn down.”  OMG, OMG, OMG.

Suddenly I am appalled even more that my niece was no longer able to judge that this wasn’t an appropriate place to have asked for the children to come. Suddenly these children, who people are working their asses off to give a safe, secure and very normal life are being introduced to homeless people and addicts, as they have become an instant novelty in this place.

I want to leave, but we’re already there and the 5 year old is engaged with her birth mother and I can’t do that to her. I have to ride it out. I remember when I worked at my first job in food service at Nevada casino that I would regularly volunteer to serve meals at the local shelter every Christmas and Thanksgiving, because it seemed like a great combination of good service and the chance to get paid double time. And I also remember being afraid and uncomfortable most of the time…but I was 6 years older than my oldest girl was now. This is not fair. Any of it.

But as moments pass, and the children are greeted politely by the other residents, I have a chance to get past the immediate shock of our unexpected circumstances. I have a chance to broaden my narrative of the event, to challenge my opinions and automatic biases.  Who are the people living here? What is their story and how did they come to be here?  Surely not all of them are drug addicts and alcoholics…surely some of them never imagined themselves living here. I mean who grows up and thinks, “I want to be homeless!”

I start to think of the most recent statistics I have seen on the homelessness of our nations Veterans. Over 100,000 from the recent wars. Some of these men are surely veterans who couldn’t get past the PTSD and other physical injuries to rejoin their lives back here.  Veterans who have resorted to self-medicating themselves as a way of coping with their memories and the lack of opportunity awaiting them upon their return from the war zone.

I looked again at my daughter and thought of all the children her age who are currently living in such circumstances because of the devastating economic setbacks America has experienced of late.  Or even the thousands of other children like her younger sister, whose parents are simply unable to win their battles against addiction.  I don’t want her here, but suddenly, it isn’t the biggest mistake I’ve ever made as a parent. And my girl, bless her heart, is taking it pretty much in stride, although she will later state in the car, “I feel really sorry for those people.” This is said without judgment and I marvel as I always do at her unadorned compassion. My girl has such a very good heart, tempered by a good and sensible head on her shoulders.

So while I am not in a place of comfort internally about taking my children into such a place, neither do I think, in the long run, that it have a negative effect.  They will know the results of drug and alcohol abuse in real terms. The next Red Ribbon Week at her school will have context for her that may teach a more valuable lesson.

More importantly still, my 5 year old drew a picture while we were there and gave it to her birth mother. In it, she drew herself, crying and told her mother matter-of-factly that in the picture “she was sad because she had lost her mother.”  She didn’t put me in the picture either. Neither of her mothers were drawn in there and so handily avoiding conflict. No, she drew the only safe figure she knew.  She drew her 10 year old sister in the picture with her.   So while it had a price, this one moment told me that taking my older daughter had done what it needed to do. It gave the 5 year old the safety she needed to get through it.  I shared this story with my oldest girl so she would know why we did what we did and how she had helped her sister.

For me, the visit left more questions than answers and it allowed me to identify another obstacle in the landscape ahead. I was troubled by the fact that her desire to see them out-weighed her ability to choose self-denial at a moment when it likely would have been the better choice for the children not to have them come there to see her.  This was made even more significant by the fact that she was going to be free to leave the treatment facility in less than 2 weeks and come to see them in an environment more comfortable to them.  For me that said that at some level, living in these circumstances has become normalized to her.  And how are we going to do this going forward, because it was anything but normal to me.

Circumcision Decision…The Debate Lives On

I was reading Lisa Belkin’s NY Times blog, the Motherlode, which recently covered the ongoing circumcision debate in this country.   Not surprisingly, there are some strong feelings on this subject on both sides of the issue, and I guess I can understand, although I must admit, I draw the line in equating what we do in this country to newborn boys and what happens in other countries to young women and it’s reasons. They are not equivalent in anyway. But that is a different, and more horrifying post. I just had to say that, because certain groups have tried to group the two things together to lend weight to their argument against.

The circumcision decision came for me over 10 years ago. And it was influenced by everything but personal preference. In our household, we have 4 boys and, well, we swing both ways (couldn’t resist the pun. It won’t be the last either, so consider yourself warned). Like so many of our destinations, the journey we mapped was anything but straightforward.

Can I start by saying that I had always just assumed that, if I had boys, they would be cut.  That was the cultural norm to me. I remembered my brother was and I was of a generation where all my personal experience took place in a heavily circumcised society.  Well, I did indeed become a first-time mother to sons. They are sons who are, how to say it…Uncut. Intact. In their natural state. In their original packaging.

This is not due to any driving need to make a political statement. It was largely a matter of circumstance and until recently, still a bit foreign to me. It has certainly led to a couple of interesting moments for us as we’ve negotiated basic bodily care, and I fully expect that there will be one or two more delicate moments before the privacy door closes on me permanently, as I expect it to during their teenage years. Physically, being the mother of sons who seek an owner’s manual to their body has been a bit of a journey into uncharted territory for me. But I bravely shouldered my Mom backpack and walked into the land of male parts.

So if it wasn’t my intention, then just how did it happen, you ask?  Preemies, that’s how.  Triplets and a high-risk pregnancy that led to my boys and their sister being born at just after 29 weeks and less than 3 pounds each.  Due to their medical issues, the very first of them came home after 6 harrowing weeks in the NICU (my other son was not stable until several weeks after that). The choice to circumcise them was not even raised until then, and in the end, my answer was no.

The reasons for my refusal are visible ones. If you ever look closely at the arms and legs of my oldest children, they still bare the faint scars of countless I.V.’s , cut-downs and several other invasive procedures that were required at a time when their lives were on the line and their successes were measured in mere grams of weight gain. When the moment came that they were medically stable enough to be circumcised, I simply couldn’t bring myself to put them through one more single, unnecessary procedure. They had already struggled through so much discomfort and risk that I said no and took my intact little males home with me.  And I rested with the decision in an uncomfortable way; even knowing I wouldn’t have done it any differently for the next few years, until gradually it became normal to me. Meaning, I looked at my sons’ physical state long enough that my own cultural norm started to change.

And then, 3 years later, I had another son. Born to a different father. A father and a whole other family to whom circumcision was the cultural norm.  And when this son was born. I said no again, and I said no in the face of, dare I say, stiff opposition (you were warned). I said no against my own personal preference. I said no because of an already existing hypersensitivity to the fact that my sons would not completely share the same DNA and in the face of that, I wanted them to share as much as possible otherwise, most especially in this most personal of appearances. I said no.

As time has rolled on, there is no doubt that several family members would rather they looked different than they do, but I believe these concerns are likely more about the fear that they would stand out somehow, be too different than their peers in the locker room perhaps. I too have worried about the reception their respective male parts would receive from future peers and girlfriends. But I’m happy to note the statistics seem to indicate that they won’t be greeted into future beds and gyms like John Merrick or Quasimodo. According to sources quoted in Belkin’s article the procedure is “on the decline in the United States (down to 56 percent, from 80 percent in the 1960s), Jewish families excepted. And I pacify myself too with the knowledge that if any of them that are so traumatized by the state of their Johnson, they can sign up for plastic surgery of the Wang.

I suppose that is the source of this discomfort.  We really fear that one day, they will look down at this universal source of male pride and feel inadequate.  But I’ve been given reason to believe that they see something entirely natural when they look down there.  You see we had one more son after this. He, unlike his brothers, is cut. His birth mother made the circumcision decision soon after he was born decidedly in favor of.  I wondered, when he joined our family if this would mark him as too different. But by then I was piecing together a family from so many different sources that all pretense of sameness had to be abandoned.  That worry soon passed anyway when I saw how loved and accepted he was by his siblings. They would be brothers irrespective of physical differences.

An incident during a diaper change was what made me relax completely about it.  One of my older sons noticed finally that he was different. It took awhile, 9 year old boys not traditionally being interested in diaper changes, but when I say noticed, I mean he pointed at the baby’s little circumcised specialness and said with great giggles and hilarity, “He’s naked! There’s nothing on his. He has no foreskin” I smiled too, amazed at this inside view of the male mind, however young, and how he viewed the issue. “Is that how you think of yours,” I asked,  “as clothes for the penis. Like a little jacket?”  Giggling with boyish delight at getting any chance to hear the word “penis,” he said, “Well, yeah.”  So obvious I guess when that’s what you’ve always known. Boys live in a very different world. It’s been interesting to walk through some of it with them.

T.G.I.F? More Like F.U.I.F…on Shared Custody.

That’s right. You read it correctly. Friday, that godsend to the rest of the working world, is my least favorite day of the week. For a long time now.

For starters, it’s traditionally the day of the week when the Golf Pro opens and as a result, he’s long gone by the time the alarm sounds to call us to the morning get ready for school routine. So that means it’s me vs. 6 kids with two school drop-offs to make. It used to be three different schools. And it used to be Hell on earth, but I have to admit, this year it got slightly easier now that we have one less school, the baby can get himself to car with everybody else and the 10 year old’s are better able to assist in the routine. But still, I have no doubt that Friday mornings have shortened my life. If I ever succumb to the family history of aneurysms, mine will have Fridays written on it.

The mornings always start the same, with me hitting the snooze button as many times as I can get away with. And in between five minute intervals, I try and rate myself on a scale of 1 to “irresponsible as hell” how bad it would be to just call everyone in sick that day.  I eventually realize I cannot do that and lurch out of bed (read – Not A Morning Person).  I wake up the 5 school-goers, gently at first, then with threats of violence and tearful pleas for help. When this behavior fails,  I bust out the trump card – I tell them they will walk if they don’t get up and help me. That always works.

The next part of the negotiation is where I stumble to the kitchen and mentally start counting up how much money is in my wallet so I can get out of the monotony of making lunches. At some point in time, while I am making my coffee and still yelling threats of missing the ride up the stairs, I will have talked myself into actually caving in and will have sent my childish, petulant, non-lunch-making self to another room in my head.

The third phase of the negotiations begins during the lunch making, breakfast, serving, traffic-directing time. This is the one where I start figuring whether I’ll be late to just one school or both.  It’s usually around this time, I usually see a glimmer of hope and realize that we are doing better than I think we are and I kick into gear…and mostly, everyone gets breakfast, to school and has a lunch or snack in their backpack. On time. Every Friday. I don’t know why I have to play this psychological game with myself, but I do. Mentally, it’s like some sort of Friday morning airbag deployment.

But all the above isn’t the real reason I hate Fridays ( although I think it’s enough of a reason).  On Fridays, my oldest children go to their fathers house for the weekend. And I hate it.  I will never, ever be used to the fact that my children have another home where they live without me. I will never be happy about the disruption to our family routine or the pressure I feel not to argue with them and end our week on a bad note right before they leave. Or the dreaded “re-entry” period when they change houses, routines and general expectations. But on the whole, they have always handled it fine, because that is what I worked so hard for. For them to feel that all this is exactly the way it is supposed to happen. And they do.

When this arrangement all started, I would breath deeply, smile and deliberately open my hands to release them with exhortations to go and have a wonderful time with their Father. At the time we were engaged in deep hostilities. The kind that involve lawyers and mediators while we negotiated what I call “The Un-Divorce”.  It was one of the lowest points of my life.

Every Friday, without fail, I would suck it up and send them away from me to the place that had been our home. Now it was only theirs and I was not welcome in it at the time.  I never once made them carry my burden of how would I live without them for even 2 days, when they had been every minute of my whole life up to that moment. I made no panicky demands that they call and I placed no such calls myself. I gave them no burdens to carry with them and behaved as if it was all perfectly normal. And to his great credit, so did their father, even though we were not on speaking terms at the time. That they never experienced any of the conflict the adults were experiencing is something I count as one of the most right things I have done.

And then, once they left, I would lay down on the couch with total numbing grief and mute from the pain of having my entire impetus ripped away from me. I would not get up again until they returned and the earth would right itself on it’s axis and begin revolving once more.  They had been the sole focus of my every minute for 3 years. Years riddled with health crises and emergencies that required a watchful eye and hyper-vigilant focus, as well as a total mental record of their rather complicated medical histories. How would I trust anyone else to guard them? When they left, they took my reason for living with them.

In those days, only one thing kept me from sliding completely into the darkness that threatened. If it hadn’t been for the Kid, who, at just 2 years old, still had those pesky needs to be fed and changed and kept from choking on things, I don’t know if I could have coped.  He kept me going until the others returned. He has always been my miracle, and on the weekends, even though we all still miss the older kids and our family is incomplete, we all still get by with each other.

Things got better between their father and I over a period of time. Being able to put their needs above everything else made that possible for both of us, although it’s still a journey. And I catch a break because of the sports.  I go to every game to see them and in that way they are not gone quite so much. But I still don’t like this day of the week any better than I ever did . So from me to you Peggy Sue…Fridays, you can Suck It.

The Jacket

Gifts and their meanings when we adopt

I love this jacket. It so suits the girly-girl who is wearing it. But I didn’t buy it for her. It came with several other absolutely lovely dresses as part of a birthday present. It was sent to her by a woman who doesn’t like me. It was sent to her by her grandmother on her father’s side.

It’s possible to count on both hands the number of times we’ve had any interaction since all this started 3 years ago. It’s also possible to count on both hands the number of times those interactions have gone badly, most often due to outside circumstances it seems to me. But to her…well, she seems to blame me.

I have twice been shocked by phone calls that have seemed extraordinarily hostile to me. She has no recollection of the first one. I expect she’ll never forget the second one.

When I looked at my daughter wearing this jacket over the weekend, the best thing I can say is that I am still processing all the feelings from the last time we talked. I am trying to operate on good faith that things can look very different in a year.  I don’t know if this will, but it can. And it might be something that will matter to my youngest daughter one day.

I can tell you that the phone call was full of accusations and a blinding hostility. It was full of emotional response and betrayal. No investigation of the facts. Just emotional reactions and snap decisions. And victimization. What it wasn’t full of were any questions about why I suddenly felt that adoption was what was in her best interest. That was the simple question that was  never asked.

It’s a beautiful jacket.

Better Late Than Never…

I was pretty unfocused this year. It took me until well after the bread pudding and pumpkin pie was served to get simple and clear about what I was thankful for. So we’re just going to keep it basic.

I’m thankful that this tiny 2lb person

turned into this ever smiling joy

and that this determined little girl

turned into this dearly loved light of my life

and that this struggle for life

turned into this struggle to keep a straight face

I’m thankful that this total surprise

has turned into the easiest smile I have all day

I’m thankful that the white noise of attachment disorder in this fierce child

is clearing away to reveal an exceptional and amazing child to love

I’m thankful that this most unexpected arrival

Has brought a mountain of joy and chaos to our home

I’m also really thankful for all the people who have been my pit crew over the years. Without them, none of the people above would be possible

…And now, time for coffee, which I’m also very thankful for.