Thursday, January 28, 2016

Raising A Teenager Is Different.

I haven't written about Kaleb much lately.  Not because he hasn't given me some material, he's a teenager, after all. ;)  But, most of it has been just that.  He's a teenager.  And, wow, aren't they just plain irritating??  I mean, really!  He has all the answers and doesn't mind telling you. haha. And, even though, in reality, a lot of times, he is just plain wrong, he'll continue his argument with determination. 

For example!

The other day, he was defending himself against a demolished wicker table. 

Back story.  He and a few friends were hanging out in the front yard and Wilfred (the dog) was losing his mind.  When Kaleb popped in, I suggested the he take Wilfred out with him and he did.  About five minutes later, he came rushing in, complaining that Wilfred had climbed on the table, stepped on his charger, and poked a hole in the table.

I'm sorry, Mom.

 I decided not to go look because I knew it would upset me. (I love my free, found it on the neighbor's curb table.)  But, obviously, I had to go outside sometime.

And when I did, I saw a destroyed wicker table, shreds several feet away, and a crowbar on the ground a few feet away.  

Now, I'm no detective but that looks a little suspicious.

For reasons un-known, I didn't address it with Kaleb.  I think that I was trying to find an angle that would actually get him to admit something.  (There is no angle, by the way.)  For reasons even more unknown, I didn't pick up the crowbar myself.  Either way, when Brian saw it, he was upset.  And, understandably so.  He began to talk to Kaleb about respecting others' property, not destroying property, etc.  Kaleb stood unimpressed.  He admitted and apologized for randomly picking up the crowbar and leaving it in on the ground (progress!).  But, he stood by his "the dog climbed on the table" story.  And, of course, he gave the vibe that his father who didn't want crowbars thrown in the yard was the one who was out of line, haha.

Anyway, this led to some new ground rules (complete with consequences) about not touching other people's stuff.  This was a long time coming because Kaleb is famous for picking up things that aren't his and leaving them in other places.

And, it led to William confirming with a mutual friend that the dog did, in fact, climb on the table.  This didn't impress me much because I was convinced that there was still more to the story.

Later, even though, I had accepted that I would never know the truth and was focusing on making sure that it didn't happen again, Kaleb brought it up.

"Mom, Jordan and (name I can't remember) were there that day and saw Wilfred climb on the table."

Me, calmly, "That may be.  But, there's more to the story.  Come on, there was a crow bar."

"I picked it up, but I didn't use it on the table!"

"There are shreds from the wicker table several feet away.  Did Wilfred throw them?"

"I picked the table up and moved it because it was in my way."

"But, you shouldn't do that because it's not yours to pick up and move...."

Then he tried to remind me that he brought it home for me so it was his, too.  The reality is that Brian and I picked it up from a neighbor's curb on trash night because it matched the wicker chair that he had brought home for me, one day (upon my request).  Or maybe the chair came first, I don't remember.  I just know that I brought home the table._

"No, you brought home the chair, I brought home the table."

"No, Mom!  Wait! You're not going to win this one."

What?  That was when I started to be amused by the whole thing.

"I don't have to try to win!  I've already won!  I'm your mom and I'm telling you not to move my stuff."

I think, at this point, I chased him back outside where his friends were waiting.

It was a calm conversation.  It was also a ridiculous conversation.  Come on, how naïve does he think I am?  Either way, all he has to do is leave things alone and part of the problem will be solved.

I sighed with exasperation when he left and William asked what was wrong.  "Oh, your brother is frustrating."  I didn't really feel bad about saying it because William is fully aware of that fact.  haha. And, the fact is that I would say it to him directly. :) 

But, that's when it kind of hit me that things had changed.  He frustrated me and then it was over. 

I have spent a lot of time feeling guilty and not wanting to admit that my feelings for him were not actually the same as for the other three.  And, I don't know why I thought they would be.  He became my son at an age when he was going through a ton of changes.  He already had been influenced by so many people, not all good people.  It wouldn't be realistic to expect us to immediately have the same relationship as the younger three.

Nevertheless, there was idealistic Emily who thought everything would be wonderful from that point on (for the most part, I got the fact that there would be some transitions for all.). But, then I was so upset when it wasn't wonderful.  When it was hard to be around him, I felt like a failure.  When I was relieved when he didn't come along to outings, I felt like a horrible person.  Why was I relieved?  Because it's easier with just the younger three.  Not for any exact reason.  But, he's a handful.  He talks a lot and loudly, sometimes about nothing at all.  He has admitted that he doesn't like the quiet.  Guess who doesn't mind the quiet? Me. ;)

But, still I have spent 3 years punishing myself for feeling what I feel. 

But, you know, I think it's ok.  I realize now that it would be impossible to instantly feel the same way.  I had the others when they were young.  I've had the luxury of influencing them.  I'm not saying that they are perfect but we have the same value system and sometimes Kaleb's doesn't align with ours.  And, that's hard for me.  It would be crazy to suggest that there would not be a learning curve with a teenager. 

Relationships take work.  It's always going to be easier to deal with Lizzie, the little girl who wants to curl in my lap and talk about dogs. (Come to think about it, that's what Kaleb wants, too.)  It's natural and simple.  It's always going to be harder to deal with Kaleb, the loud and pushy teenager.  But, that loud and pushy teenager has a good heart and I love him.

So, it's ok if I have to work harder with him.  It doesn't make me a bad person.  Destroying my wicker table doesn't make him a bad person, either.  Although, it really stinks.  

Anyway, the other day, I had to take Kaleb to school because he overslept and missed the bus.  I might have had an excuse to be annoyed, but I overslept, too. ;)

I walked into school with him to sign him in.  I was disheveled and groggy.  As I was filling out the form, I wondered if I was allowed to hug him in the school.  I also wondered if he felt awkward about the fact that his mom was white.  I didn't ponder it that long, it's a short form, after all.  But, I did wonder.  I took a chance when I finished and went in for the hug.  I can't remember if I made him hug me or if we just hugged.  But, I do remember this.  As he hugged me, he told me he loved me.

I might never know if he deliberately hit my table, was covering for his friends who hit the table, accidently dropped the crowbar on my table (several times), or climbed on the table himself to do an Irish Jig and fell in.  All I know is that if a 16 year old can tell me he loves me in the lobby of his high school, I'm doing something right.  And so is he. :)

All the cool kids and moms take selfies. ;)

Friday, January 22, 2016

Does My Daughter Feel Different?

I read a lot about how different transracially adopted kids can feel and it always makes me worry.  I like to think that it's not that big of a deal, but I'm sure that's a bit of denial talking.  You only have to clink a link on the internet to find a story about how hard it was for someone who grew up with white parents when he/she wasn't white.  But, still my kids seem ok and I like to think that it helps that there are four of them.  How different can you feel in your home when it's really your parents who are the "odd" ones? ;) 

Even though, I like to be blasé' about it, I do recognize that it's something to take seriously and I do. 

I particularly worry about Lizzie.  She seems more aware of the difference between herself and others around her than the boys do.  Or, at least, she seems to dwell on it more.  She has a greater tendency to refer to someone by their skin color.   "The white teacher." "The black lady."   I don't know where she gets that from.  I can honestly say that we don't identify people by their color, unless it's relevant, so I don't know why she would feel compelled to.  But, I do point out when I see other transracial families or really any family that is different from the norm.  I do this with the hope that it will make her and the boys feel less different.  But, maybe that's made her more aware of the differences, instead?

Either way, I use any opportunity that I find to try to make them feel good about themselves (physically) by talking about how pretty their skin is.  Today was no exception.  However, today Lizzie reassured me that she has a positive attitude about the whole thing and isn't particularly insecure.

I was looking through my Facebook memories (I love those!) and I ran across a particularly amusing picture of Lizzie.  She was a couple of years old and was wearing a Dora The Explorer wig. 

                           She looked so different and so much older than she normally did at that age. 

I showed her the picture and she thought it was funny, too.

Then she said, "I looked like I was turning white."

I didn't really see it, but I went ahead and agreed that she looked lighter in the picture.  And when she added, "My skin is a lot darker now," I was ready to pounce on it.

I said, "You're right, it is darker and it's so pretty, don't you think?"

Lizzie casually agreed with a nod and then said, " Black is cooler than white, anyway."

Me, not knowing where she was heading with this, said, "Black is pretty cool..."

Lizzie, gesturing towards a poster of Batman on the wall, "Yeah, Batman wears black.  He's cool."

She raises a valid point.  Batman really is very cool. 

I know that it can't always be that simple, but, at least for now, I think she's ok. :)


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Understanding My Son

So, I took William to counseling, the other day.  Each time, she talks to me first so I can update her on William's progress or issues.  I often feel like I'm the one being counseled.  She has even  suggested that I come in to see her myself if I can find the time.  Would you believe that she implied that it might benefit me to have tools to deal with my stress level?  What could I be stressed about??  ;)  Anyway, I am all for it if I can find that elusive free hour.  Because after talking to her, I feel heard, really heard.  She is officially my favorite counselor that William has had and I feel optimistic that she can help him.

She's also the analogy queen.  It's like she has a Analogy Thesaurasus and she skims through it before each session.  But, I'm not making fun of her, it's brilliant.  The point of analogies is to drive a point home and they do.  One of her favorites is to say that William has a fire burning inside him and it's causing smoke.  The smoke equals the behaviors (i.e. lying, stealing, etc) but until we figure out what's going on inside (what's causing the fire), we can't really help him.  Just putting out the smoke won't stop the fire. 

We wouldn't have him in counseling if we didn't realize that there was turmoil within, but the analogy does, in fact, drive the point home.  I'm frustrated with his behaviors and I can ground him all I want, send him to bed early, or whatever else I can think of; but that won't solve the problem.  She's not suggesting that he doesn't deserve consequences for actions, she's just suggesting that we keep it in perspective.  To wear our "perspectiples."  

I have already learned so much with this intern who is wise beyond her years.  (I don't know how old she is so maybe she's appropriately wise, but, either way, she knows her stuff.)  She's made me realize how much shame and lack of worthiness that William probably already feels.  It's something common to former foster children.  When your first 5 years involved not being your mother's top priority, it's easy to assume that you're not worthy of being a priority at all.  He may feel like his mistakes are who he is and that he's not necessarily worthy of love.

So, why does he do these things when all we try to do is show him that he is and tell him that he is worthy? Why doesn't he believe us?  Why does he reward us by lying?   The answer is...I don't know. I just know that it stinks.  Can the bucket with a hole in the bottom ever be closed by super Parker super glue?  Will it ever be enough?  Again, I don't know. 

Is she right when she says that, due to his trauma, his threshold for how much love and reassurance he needs to feel secure might simply be higher than the average child?  I think she is.  I think he must need more than we have been giving because the amount that we are giving is clearly not  enough.  And, that's daunting.  Because I feel like I'm giving a lot.  I mean, I know that I fall short, sometimes.  I see those moments.  But, am I falling even shorter than I thought?  How is that possible when I thought I was standing so tall?  (Ok, now I'm getting carried away with the analogies!) 

But, the most concerning thing of all is this.  She told me that at the last session he reported that he felt like he couldn't do anything right.  That's not surprising, he has said that before.  It was the fact that he told her that we told him that.  That's simply not true.  That's a blatant lie.  I have made plenty of mistakes in how I have interacted with him in our time together, but never anything so blatant. And, Brian, the one less likely to get overly-emotional when talking to him, hasn't either.  And, of course, I told her so with a defensive tone, I'm sure. ;)  But, then I realized something as I was assuring her that we didn't say that.  (Even though, she pretty much already knew that.)  He wasn't lying.  His mind was twisting whatever we did say and internalizing it as that.  He's famous for misconstruing things that are said to him.  Which is why I often say things like "To be clear, I'm saying this...... I'm not saying this......"  It's scary to think that even with our best efforts, a kid who believes he's a failure will be convinced that others do, as well.

I don't know what the answer is.  But, I know what I need to do.  Well, I kind of know what to do cause in a lot of ways, I don't have a clue.  But, I know that I have to try a little harder, be a little more patient, be a little (or a lot) more careful about my word choices, just be a little better.  Because, even though, it seems terribly unfair that I have to put so much mental energy into one kid who quite frankly has made our life so complicated when I have 3 others who need and deserve a bunch of mental energy, is what it is.  So, I have to figure it out.  He's my son.

Last night, as my kids and husband got ready to eat their gourmet frozen pizza, I made them mute the tv for a minute.

I announced to my unimpressed children.  "You're all good people and we love you!"  I continued, "You might make mistakes, like everyone else, but that doesn't make you bad people.  It has nothing to do with your souls, what's inside.  You are good people!"

I think that I said a few more things but they probably had zoned out by then, anyway. 

Except for William.  He smiled and said, "Ok."

Baby steps. :)

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Mind Of My Troubled Son

There is no doubt that William was the one most affected by his past.  While I can give you examples of how everything affected the other the fact that Antwan's speech was about a year behind because, by all accounts, no one really talked to him for the year before we got him.  Or that Lizzie was so terrified of strangers for a long time that she would hide behind my legs.  This was especially true with black women.  (The driver to the biological visits was black and, of course, the biological parents were black.  So she equated black women with being taken away from her home and comfort zone.)  And, how she would come back from visits completely shut-down for about an hour, wouldn't smile, wouldn't play.  Or how Kaleb is so determined not to have emotions at all that he has convinced himself that he is un-phased by all of it. 

But, all things considered, they are in pretty good shape.  They are happy, confident, and healthy.  With all the drugs involved in their prenatal existence, they are healthy!  When I look at the health issues that my friends' children have (also adopted from foster care), I am amazed that mine are basically ok.

And, William seems basically ok, too.  But, not completely.  If you've been reading my blog for awhile, then you know about all the drama, last year, at school.  How he was bullied until he eventually started to bully back/defend himself.  This resulted in his impulsive decision to take a box cutter to school (I didn't even know we had a box cutter?!), get himself suspended, and assigned to an alternative school.  We decided to go the home school and counseling route, instead. 

Even though, I knew that it was the right thing to do and was totally on board with standing by my son, I wasn't thrilled with losing my me-time.  Who would be?  But, now that I home school Lizzie and Antwan, too, I can barely even remember a reality that involved me-time.  And, actually, I'm pretty ok with that. :) I am keenly aware of how quickly time goes.  And, how I'll have more me-time than I want, later. 

Anyway, what I worry about is whether he is getting any better.  I don't know that the counseling officially helped.  Particularly because there were some scheduling changes at the office and once we got comfortable with one, he would get switched to another.  And, the worst part was (yes, I said worst part) that the last one had to google what Jedis are!  How could my nerdy son connect to someone who didn't know anything about Star Wars? ;)  But, to her credit, she tried.  I don't know if it helped.  But, after taking a several month break due to: the summer, getting our new 3 kid home school routine established, and my naïve lack of awareness of how badly he needed to go back; I can say that things are not better without it. 

In the last several weeks, we've watched his behavior deteriorate.  While he was staying at my parents' house, a little over a month ago, so Brian and I could attend his father's funeral, he stole something from my mom.  Then, a few weeks later, at Thanksgiving dinner, he pocketed a lighter that my sister had sitting by a candle on the bar.   It's not because he's devious or unconcerned with his family, it's because he's impulsive.  He has always impulsively done things and then not known how to get out of them.  This is why he can't be trusted with internet access because he will look up whatever pops in his mind and it's not necessarily appropriate. This is why his lying has always been a problem.  Once a lie pops out, he sticks to it, no matter what. It doesn't matter how many "get out of jail free" cards you give him or take-back opportunities he is offered.  It doesn't matter how much you explain that he will always get in more trouble for lying, he will stick to it.   There are rare hopeful moments when he will fess up.  But, the majority of the time, he will let me make a fool of myself first.  My all-time favorite will always be going to the school to report the kids who had torn apart his shirt.  (In reality, he tore his own shirt.)  It took me a long time to get over that.  And, yeah, I'm the mom and I shouldn't hold a grudge.  But, there it was. 

And, you can imagine how successful friendships are when his friends can't trust what he says. 

The lighter incident was particularly scary because, of course, he played with it.  He played with it outside when trying to light moss on fire.  He played with it in a closed bedroom with Lizzie and Antwan.  So, so scary!

William's got a good heart.  He really, really does.  But, he's got issues.  And, it scares the heck out of us.  He's always been impulsive and, of course, that goes hand-in-hand with ADHD.  But, I guess I thought it would get better over the years, but it has just changed.  And, he knows it.  And, he doesn't know why.  When I was lecturing him about the lighter and highlighting all the things that could've have happened, he started to cry.  That's not unusual, but then he said "I think something's really wrong with me."    And, I was terrified that he was right.

So, we went back to counseling and got another new counselor.  And, she really seems to know what she is doing and, almost as importantly, haha, she watches The Flash and Arrow.  And she likes Star Wars. ;)

Hopefully, she can help him. 

Sometimes, in the midst of the worrying, you have other moments.  Last night, we were grabbing something for dinner in Walmart and he was talking about still needing to give me a Christmas present.  I hadn't really thought about it, but usually my friend takes them to The Dollar Tree to pick out presents for the family.  This year, my friend didn't have time.  So I suggested that he just make me something and he agreed.  But, at the register, he decided to get me something, anyway.  I had to look away as he swiped it at the self-checkout.  Then the cashier played along and helped him quickly bag it after she had to come over and unlock it from its security packaging. 

When we got to the van, he presented me with my very own portable phone charger that he had bought with some of his birthday money.  Since my phone famously dies all of the time, there couldn't be a more needed gift.  He picked blue for the Doctor's Tardis and was very excited to show me how to use it.  I drove home with a not-dead phone and was also presented with a handmade clay snail, not long after we got to the house.

I got me some pocket juice!

In the midst of all of the chaos that he manages to cause, it's sometimes easy to forget what a good heart he has.  In that moment, he wasn't a former foster child who impulsively lies and inexplicably steals, he was a kid who loves his mom and wanted to make her happy.

And, you know what?  He did. 

Whatever is going on in that head of his, we will figure it out.  Because that kid who loves his mom has a mom who loves the heck out of him, too.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Fighting For My Children

There's a difference between prejudice and racism.  We all have prejudices.  Right or wrong, I think we all do.  The trick is to recognize them and not to let those prejudices dictate your behavior.  Because then you are a racist.

Growing up, I had black friends.  It wasn't a big deal.  Why should it be?  But, I did go through a brief phase in middle school when I started to believe that black people were "mean."  This was due to the fact that I went through a few weeks where I was picked on and they happened to all be black.  I found myself adopting the prejudicial belief that "they" were all like that.  Black people, well, black kids, were mean.  It didn't take me long to realize what I was doing and abandon that way of thinking, especially since no one in my life thought that way.  So I can see how it happens, particularly if you are being raised in an environment that supports that way of thinking, but it's wrong.  Really, really wrong.

Obviously, I'm far away from the middle schooler who held a racial grudge for a handful of months.  I now identify more with black people than white people in a lot of ways.  And, when I go to a group event and there is a black woman, I will try to gravitate towards her.  I say try because the reality is I'm still fairly shy and group events scare the heck out of me. ;) 

So, what's my point?  I guess, basically, my point is that racism stinks.  We've come so far and we have so far to go, still.  I enjoyed my time in the land of white privilege, but now I live with more of an understanding of what it's like to be black in our world.  The other day, I sent William in to pay for my gas.  As I stood outside by the van, I could see him in line.  I realized that he had his hood up on his hoodie.   When he came out, I suggested that he take off the hood when going into stores.  I told him that it was different if he was wandering Walmart with me but when he was going to pay for something, he should take it down.  He agreed cause he's an agreeable kid.  In a way, I was perpetuating a cycle, but. more importantly, I was protecting my child.  What's more important than that?

But, it made me sad.  It makes me sad that it's even a thing.  That black kids in hoodies make us think of Trayvon Martin.  It's sad.  It's scary that I have to think about this stuff now.  Thankfully, William's small stature will make him look less threatening to the Zimmermans of the world.   But, I do worry about Kaleb.  He's a big kid, he's loud, and, although he's got a good heart, he's not always super polite.  So, I worry.  And, that's sad.

Anyway, I'm getting off-track.  I don't even know what I'm trying to say, exactly.  Except this.  I'm sad.  Brian and I have recently become estranged from a family member (on his side) due to racial issues.  That is both bizarre to me and sad.  Really, really sad.

Basically, a facebook meme was posted by a family member.  It said "Merry Christmas from The Obamas!"  And the picture was of two adult apes and a baby ape.  The baby ape had Barack Obama's face pasted on it.  I've seen a lot of anti-Obama memes, but that was the worst, in my opinion.  Because it had nothing to do with politics, it was pure racism.  Is the color of his skin the reason that he is a bad President (in his opinion)?  No, of course not. 

Obviously, as parents of black children, we were offended and hurt.  Particularly, since it was from a family member.  In separate comments, Brian and I each politely asked him to remove it.  I explained that we were focusing on the racism of the meme, not the political opinion.  He reacted with hostility and invitations to unfriend him.  I was accused of bringing everything back to race and politics (this was the first time that I had commented on any of his posts) and being the one to bring my kids into it, not him.  When I explained that it was not about politics and that my kids were relevant to this, I was unfriended. 

I am floored.  In part, I regret engaging in the dialogue, because it may have blown over if I had kept my mouth shut.  But, on the other hand, I was defending my children's honor.  Because when you attack someone based on their race, you are attacking their race and all others of that race.  You just are.  As Brian said, our kids will have enough to deal with, without having to encounter racism in their family, so maybe it's better for them that, for now, ties have been cut off with that person. 

I don't know.  I just can't wrap my mind around the idea that an adult could be so hateful towards another human being.  And, it's not about the President, my kids, or the token black police officer or sidekick in a lot of the recent CW shows.  It's about the fact that who they are is about the content of their character not the color of their skin.  (Yeah, I'm stealing from MLK Jr.)  If you think that the President sucks, fine.  But, it's not because he is black.  If you think my kids are wonderful ;), yay, but it's not because "they are some of the good ones,"  And if you think Joe from The Flash is hot, like I do, it's not because he is black...well, it is a little bit because of his appearance, haha, but the point is, he's not a good actor because he's black, it's just because he's super talented. ;)

So, racism stinks.  It's not ok.  It will never be ok.  It's not ok that there were angry hashtags because one of the leads in the new Star Wars movie is black.  It's not ok that someone made the Obama/ape meme in the first place. It's not ok.  But, thankfully, as the days go by, things get better and better.  And, those who post rude memes, angry hashtags, or just think horrible thoughts in their head are becoming the minority.

But, we're not out of the racial woods yet.  As Brian put it, last night..."White people have freedom.  Black people view freedom as something that they are still fighting for." 

Now, I don't know if it that is a Brian original, he is pretty clever, after all, or if he was quoting someone.  But, I like it.  And, it's pretty accurate.  I can't think of a better reason to fight than my children.  So, as a mother to black children, I will keep fighting.  I will fight against racism and I will fight for my children.  It's great that the government protects them and other races/groups of people.  But, they also deserve respect from their friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc.  (They especially deserve it from family.)   

We raise our kids to show respect to those around them, they deserve the same.