Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Year With A Teenager.

June 28th, 2014 marked the 1 year anniversary of Kaleb coming to us permanently (although, we finalized the adoption in November.).

Brian was working that day, but he was off the next.  So, we made plans to celebrate the anniversary at breakfast, the next morning, with my parents.  But, I still wanted to make sure to recognize the official day, of course.

So, that night, I served my kids dinner and ceremoniously stood in front of them and announced that a year ago something important had happened.  I paused while William played along and guessed a couple of things.  Then I said that it was the anniversary of Kaleb's placement and I prepared to make a few mushy statements about family.  But, before I could, Kaleb started to argue with me and told me that I had the date wrong.  I tried to be lighthearted as I pointed out my evidence to the contrary, but, as he continued to insist, I just felt deflated, gave up, and sat down.  I was hurt beyond words that he was going to argue this, of all things.

Welcome to life with a teenager.

Several minutes later, he did apologize and I accepted, even though, my heart wasn't in it.  We went out the next morning for breakfast with my parents and they gave him hugs and made a few mushy statements.  I went to the store for dinner, later, and bought a pie for dessert.  I thought it would be a nice way to end the anniversary weekend.  But we didn't have it because he got invited to a party at his friend's church and I didn't see the point in asking him to stay.

All in all, not what I visualized.

I haven't written in awhile.  Hopefully, there will still be people around to read this.  But, the fact is, I have been struggling with writing one of my trademark honest, but inspirational posts.  Because I haven't felt inspired.  I've felt stressed.  I have four drafts of this blog post.  Each one is a little less of a downer, but they are downers.

The truth is, I think that I've had my own version of Postpartum Depression.  I remember struggling  a bit with transitioning to William and Antwan's arrival and I firmly believe that you don't physically have to give birth to a child for the child to have a similar response.  And, I'm struggling again. 

I don't know what I thought life would be like with a teenager.  I know that I naively thought that he would be as easy-going and cooperative as he was for the first few weeks.  I didn't think he would evolve into a child who would get annoyed by my pictures and, particularly, annoyed by my requests for smiles.  (How hard is it to smile??)  I didn't think he would evolve into a child who would seemingly disagree with 90% of my suggestions of fun or necessary activities.  Of course, he probably didn't think that I would evolve into a more moody mom with less patience than I displayed in the first few weeks.  Really, it's ridiculous to think that either one of us could keep that up, anyway.

It was probably a combination of unfulfilled expectations as we both discovered that life was not like we visualized.

Meanwhile, William's visions of the loving, supportive big brother were shattered by the teenager who has stated on more than one occasion that he doesn't like little kids copying him or wanting to be like him.  It makes me wonder if Kaleb has ever read a book or watched a movie involving a kid with younger siblings.

This doesn't mean that Kaleb never has his good big brother moments and that he doesn't make ever make efforts because he does. (And, Kaleb, if you're reading this, I have seen your efforts in the last couple of days.  Thank you for that.)  But, I am so sensitive to the not-so-good moments, and, even though, I'm told that's how big brothers are; I have to say that I expected more from him.  After living most of his life without a secure family; I didn't expect being a big brother to annoy him, so often.  It makes, the fact, that William was the pioneer in the "Let's adopt Kaleb" plan, a little ironic or sad or something.

I guess we just thought he'd be a little more grateful.  Not to us; just for the situation.  I tell them, all the time, that we should all be grateful for our family.  They should be grateful that they get to grow up together and we should be grateful that we get to be their parents, etc.  All of us lose sight of that, sometimes, and that's ok.  But, if I'm honest, I didn't think that Kaleb would sweat the small stuff like other teenagers.  I didn't think that he would get upset if he didn't get the fork that he wanted for dinner or get territorial over his basketball or xbox controller (while the other three share theirs) or (again) find family pictures to be a burden (sometimes).  I know that he's a teenager and he's a teenager with issues.  But, it's just plain not what I expected or hoped for.

Somewhere along the line, when I felt like I was constantly arguing with him about doing his homework or studying for his tests or sharing or hearing him say that he didn't want to....whatever it was; I think that I started to sabotage things myself.  I started to assume things would go wrong and react accordingly.  This way I couldn't be disappointed, right?  But, by the time that I entered the situation where I was expecting to be disappointed, I was so worked up that I had already increased the tension in the room.  So, even if he was having a good day and he does have those; I would be ready for a battle.  I would be tense when I picked him up from school, tense when I got up in the morning, and tense when I got home from work. 

You don't have to tell me that's no way to live and I can tell you the reasons that I felt that way.   But, really, it doesn't matter.  Because the fact is, I'm the grown-up.  So, I have to evolve.  I think that I lost sight of that a little. ;)  This is not to say that he shouldn't make an effort, too.  Because, darn it, he should.  (And, darn it, sometimes, he does.)  Because, wow, teenager are challenging; especially teenagers with extra issues.  But, I have to remember who I am and why I did this. 

For him and for them.

So, Postpartum-ish or not, crappy at dealing with change or not, over-thinking or not; I am the mom.

I love my children and I have to make this work.  And, I have to somehow do it without destroying us all.  Emotionally, I mean.  It's not that dire. :)

So, a few days after his anniversary, I pulled out 2 pies (I love BOGO) and had him pick one.  At this point,  I have to admit that I was mostly doing it out of obligation and because I needed space in my fridge. 

But, then, Kaleb said in his own ceremonious way,  "So, Mom, is there some special reason for this pie?" 

And, I mustered up some enthusiasm and acknowledged the date again. 

I knew that he was trying to make it up to me.  And, I let him. 

And, we enjoyed our pie.  It was really good pie.

Teenagers are challenging.  I am challenging.   Life is challenging.  Love is challenging. 

My life is definitely not what I thought it was going to be.  But, it is my life.

I've used this quote before, but, what the heck, I'm gonna use it again!  I can get away with that, right??

"They never said it would be easy, they just said it would be worth it."

Let's do this.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

National Foster Care Month Is Here Again.

Foster Care.  It's a good thing.  It's a necessary thing.  A lot of awesome people foster.  Not enough.  A lot of awesome people adopt.  (Some even write overly emotional blogs about it....)   Not enough. 

In a way, foster care is a necessary evil.  Evil is a strong word, depending on your perspective, anyway.  These kids are removed from situations that they shouldn't be in.  In our case, Kaleb and William (and their older siblings) were hungry, dirty, and living in filth.  There was also the added bonus of their caretakers being shot and thrown in jail, leaving them alone.  Because, you see, their birth mother was already in jail.

So, obviously, they shouldn't be there.  Obviously, foster care is better.  Obviously, it is a wonderful thing that our country tries to protect these children.  Obviously, the kids who can't go back to their homes should be adopted.   Obviously, they shouldn't spend their lives in foster care.  But, sometimes, they do. 

What's up with that?  The system is flawed.  Our community is flawed.  These kids are aging out of the system - flawed.  They come fully equipped with their primal wound of knowing that the people, in the beginning, who were supposed to love them forever - didn't.  For whatever reason, they didn't.  Then, although, I have no doubt that they encountered many kindnesses through the years; in the end, no one wanted them forever. 

One of my favorite lines, from "A Streetcar Named Desire"  is "I've always depended on the kindness of strangers."   Well, for me, that's foster care.   They are depending on the kindness of strangers.  Some strangers are wonderful and really do just want to give you candy and others, not so much.

I've worked in residential facilities.  These are not foster homes, per se, but they house the same type of kids and it's what I know.  I've seen the kids shown great love.  But, I've also seen employees turn the air down low because it will make the kids fall asleep faster.   And, I've seen unauthorized and clearly painful restraints.   (Yes, I reported it.).

I've listened to a little girl scream gibberish for a seemingly endless amount of time.  Because she was so traumatized by the abuse that she faced in her biological home, that she didn't cope well, to say the least, with life.  While I was still employed there, she was placed for adoption.  I was heartbroken because I missed her so, but, of course, it was a good thing.  Years later, when Brian and I were just starting the process and I was obsessively looking at pictures of available children; I found her.  I wanted to march into the AdoptUSkids' office at that moment and say "hand her over!"  But, of course, we had just started, hadn't even had a home study, and, who are we kidding, we wouldn't have been qualified to care for a 17 year old with issues and a mental disability.  I tried, after that day, to find her again, but I can't find her anywhere.  So, yeah, that haunts me.  I hope that she knows that I loved her and I hope that she's ok.

I don't know what happens in foster homes.  I know that William said that Antwan was always in his crib or play pen and he never really got to play with his brother until they came to us.  Judging by Antwan's initially sullen personality, I believe it might be partially true.  But, I also know that my friends who foster and have adopted, have opened their home to many children.  They immediately treated them like their own, as they hoped that they would be one day.  They took the best care of them that they could and I believe that whatever happens to those kids, they have benefitted from getting that love.

National Foster Care Month, for me, is an opportunity to appreciate the amazing foster parents out there.  Because, really, there are.   But, at the same time, remind us that there shouldn't need to be so many amazing foster parents out there.  Because these kids should have permanent homes. 

If they can go back to their biological families, great.  If they will step up, get off the drugs (I don't know what the statistics are, but I believe that drugs are usually involved) and put their children first, great. 

If not, these kids need to be adopted.  They need the people of our country to step up and, basically, save them. 

And, yes, if you adopt older kids, you get their issues.  My teenager's issues drive me crazy.  And, yes, I struggle with feeling overwhelmed by parenting a teenager while lacking the foundation.  It will be easier to parent my younger three when they become teenagers because we will be able to ease into it.  I will probably not make the same mistakes with them that I make with Kaleb, sometimes, on a daily basis.  But, I do make those mistakes and, all I can do is learn from them. 

Yes, he came to us with more issues than our younger children did.  But, does that mean that Kaleb who, through no fault of his own, lived in his biological home, then a foster home, then an adoptive home, then a residential facility, then a foster home, then a different foster home, then us; does that mean that he doesn't deserve to a forever home? 

My neighbor was recently telling me about a song by a Christian Rock artist.  I don't remember his name.   If he wasn't in a superhero movie, I'm kind of at a loss. ;)  But, this artist said something in a song that I really respect.  She explained that, in his song, he was having a conversation with God, I can't remember if he said he was dreaming or just straight out praying.  But, I remember this.  He was complaining that God lets these children suffer (in this context, he was referencing starving children in other countries).   Why would God do that???   And, the message that he got was --- that's why I created you.  So, you can do something about it.  So, he did.  He adopted a child from Asia. 

So, I don't know his name, but he made a good point.  We have to do something.  If we want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change.  (Yeah, I totally stole that from Michael Jackson.)

I have great respect for agencies like AdoptUSkids and the Dave Thomas Foundation For Adoption.  They are doing something.  So many people are.  So many foster parents are.  Sadly, there's more work to be done.  There is no easy fix, so we have to just keep working.

So, this month, and every month, thank you to the devoted foster parents out there in the trenches.  Thank you for taking these kids in and giving them love.  Thank you for trying to understand their issues and helping them deal.  Please, keep doing what you're doing because we need you.  I sincerely hope that we won't always need you like we do now.  I hope that next year, more kids have permanent homes.  But, in the meantime, thank you.