We’ve talked about being thankful for the bad times. This may not be easy but it is important because if we didn’t have bad times, we would be able to know the good times when they come. And of course, we must be thankful for the good times!
But I want to talk about being thankful for the good times in a different way. When we are in the midst of life with our RAD kiddos, the good times may be a day when the school doesn’t call. Or a day when there aren’t any fights (at least not big ones). If it was a day when everything goes pretty much the way it should, that’s a good day, right? I know we condition ourselves to think that way because our benchmark has gotten so small when the behaviors of these kiddos can be so extreme.
But I encourage you to be thankful for the good times by remembering the actual good times. Even in the worst of the periods with August, there were moments when we had truly joyous times. Spring break one year, I took the boys to Kentucky. We stayed in some small WPA built cabins outside the entrance to Mammoth Cave National Park. We spent the week explore the various caves, went zip-lining, went to a Cincinnati Reds baseball game. It was a perfect week.
Another time was surprisingly when I went to visit August when he was in residential treatment. I spent the weekend there and I was allowed to take him out every day. We played mini-golf, we spent time with August’s therapy dog and we took a helicopter ride! The look on August’s face when we were in the helicopter is one I will always remember. He looked for a brief time like the sweet, happy little boy he had been before the cloud of reactive attachment disorder descended over him. It was such a wonderful time for us.
I’m not saying the good times have to be just fabulous family vacations. I look at photos sometimes and remember good times that happened right at home. The year I homeschooled August we worked on muscles, ligaments and tendons. One of the ways the material suggested we study this was with a chicken leg. So we got one out in the kitchen and checked it out. We were both so grossed out we gave up! And we didn’t have chicken for dinner that night!
Definitely be thankful for the good times when there aren’t any calls from school. Or when there aren’t any big fights. Because all of those are good times. But sit down with your RAD kiddo and remember those good times. Share them together. Use them to foster a shared experience of good interactions. Remind yourself and your RAD kiddo that not everything that happens between the two of you is negative.
I have said on many occasions that I will always love August. There have been times when I haven’t liked him. And that’s a tough thing to say. But I love to remember these times. I love to remember when we were as close as we could be as mother and child.
This is the first picture I ever saw of August. It was sent by the adoption agency along with a video (which I will figure out how to get up here at some point-the technology is still a challenge). The chair was quite shocking. And that outfit. Which was the same outfit he had on when we met him in person. He’s just a little over three in this photo. An eternity away from the skinny, tattooed inmate currently sitting in a prison cell 90 minutes away from me.
But those eyes are the same. They both show the same fear. The same need for love and acceptance. The same pain behind the beautiful blue. Some things I couldn’t see at first and couldn’t help when I could. I wish I could go back and tell that sweet face just to trust me and let me help him make everything OK.
I can’t remember what birthday it was the last time August and I were together. I remember it was awful. We went to dinner, then I told August I’d take him to buy some clothes. He wanted to go to a store that closed in 10 minutes. I tried to convince him not to go but he was so stubborn. So we went. And we fought over the clothes after having fought over going and he spun even more out of control to the point where I just had to let him go away. He couldn’t understand how much he was taking advantage of me and the store. He couldn’t understand that his birthday was something I wanted to enjoy with him and how this falling apart made me sad.
I can’t go see him on his birthday. He’s still on visiting restrictions until the 29th. I will send him a note, hopefully he will call. I sent him some money to get extra supplies. This is how birthdays have gone for the last few years. Some years I have been able to visit with him.
My heart breaks for children with RAD who should be showered with love and affection on their birthdays. This disorder means that instead their need for control and unwillingness to believe the love is real or they are deserving means these celebrations many times will blow up and end in disaster like mine and August’s.
I wish August a happy 21st birthday. I love you bud.
Till next time,
When I was young there were no boys in the house, just me and my sister. So I became the boy. I could bait my own hook, played soccer, went out at night looking for night crawlers, went ice fishing. Neither my sister nor I were particularly girly (she was a swimmer), no matter how many matching dresses my grandma made. But when I grew up I just assumed I’d have girls because that’s what I knew. And when my friends started having children their first-born’s all made sense…of course! She’s a “boy-mommy”. I just KNEW I was going to be a “girl-mommy”.
Now when you adopt, the surprise is gone and when you adopt from Russia there’s even less. We knew we’d be getting a boy. It flew in the face of everything I believed about my path to motherhood. But at that point my path to motherhood had taken every twist and turn it could so I was just along for the ride. But when I saw the video…that face…he was my son. As sure as I was giving birth to him. I was a “boy-mommy”.
I’ve said this to friends before but I truly believe that August saved me and his brother. Getting pregnant with Spencer wasn’t planned and if I didn’t have August, I wouldn’t have been nearly as healthy during my pregnancy. Having August meant I stayed active, ate better and didn’t obsess about being pregnant which I’d tried for eight years to become. I am forever grateful to him for that.
All along this journey he has fought me. We have fought over bedtime, food, school, medication, therapy, clothing, haircuts, computer time, TV time, video time, girls, curfew, drinking, drugs, and so much more.
But mothers and sons. And this mother and THIS son. I know before it’s over this current conflict will have us arguing more I’m sure. And I’ll take it. And give it back. Because that’s what mothers do. And maybe I’m having to do it on a scale many of you won’t ever have to deal with and can’t possibly comprehend. I certainly hope so! That’s the point of this whole blog and my wish for you who are dealing with these precious damaged children.
Till next time,
Warning: Some of the following uses some colorful language. Apologies to those with sensitive ears/eyes.
You have a small child who has a chubby little face with a precious smile and kissable cheeks. At this stage you don’t know what the future holds and occasionally you’re getting kisses from this button mouth and he’s funny and curious and charming.
Fast forward a few years and you’re sitting in a restaurant in Hollywood, CA where you’ve paid a lot of money to go and you’re trying to have a special moment and you get this:
Much of it is normal sullen teenager but changes have started happening that are not what you expected. There is rage. There is hatred. He’s on medications that treat the symptoms but the cause lives in his body like a parasite you cannot kill.
And words come out of him sometimes like he is possessed. And you wish that he was because then you could blame the devil inside him and not the sweet boy you wish he still was who is now saying he hates you.
When August first got diagnosed I thought, “If I’d just never put him on the school bus…” He learned a lot of his colorful language there. His father and I were very careful not to curse in the house though as his RAD emerged that got harder and harder! When he would be raging and want to push our buttons he would just say, “shit, shit shit” over and over again. That’s when I learned from his psychiatrist that putting soap in a child’s mouth isn’t appropriate any more. As I have mentioned in past blogs we did as much harm as we did good early on in learning about RAD and how to parent August effectively but in that instance it was the only thing that made it stop. This was when he was maybe 10. He went on to use many more curse words but for some reason early on that was his favorite. He seemed to like the sound of it best.
As an adoptive parent you fear hearing your child say, “You’re not my real mom.” It’s like a dagger to the heart. Children have the ability to fill you with more love than you ever thought possible and also take it away in one breath. With August, for better or worse, that became one of the least horrible things he said. He talked in his middle school years about killing us, killing himself, wishing we were dead, all of which prompted his placement in the residential treatment center in Missouri. When we got ready to leave, I hoped for a tearful goodbye to show some signs of attachment and he was able to provide another kick in the gut with, “If you’re not going to take me with you then just leave.”
As a high-school age man-child he felt entitled to use all the curse words he knew. Which were plenty. “Fuck” became a punctuation mark, an adjective, a exclamation, you name it. He didn’t care that it upset me, that only made it more fun. He didn’t care about using it at school or with the police. That adorable face became unrecognizable to me whenever it spoke because it spewed hatred-filled, awful words. He manipulated and threatened and spoke with no feeling in his voice at all. But you could feel all the hurt in every word that came out of his mouth. All the pain he didn’t know how to process. All the loss and anger he feels and doesn’t know what to do with. It’s all in there trying to find an outlet and he is trying with every horrible word to control it. Not letting anyone else help him and making it worse every time he pushes someone away with the hurtful things he says.
Since he’s been in prison much of that has not changed. He’s tried some amazing cons on his father and I to get money. When we don’t fall for them the tirades are pretty amazing but at least now I can hang up the phone.
But more often there are these pleasant, calm phone calls. He asks me first what I’m doing and how I am. We talk about books and movies and my garden and my job. We talk about the family. When we visit together we talk about the past and things we used to do. He tells me about things that happened when he was living on the streets that both scare me to death and break my heart. Both of the phone calls and the in-person visits end with his saying “I love you” first. With a tone that says he means it. Hard to know for sure but I think so.
I’ll take it.
“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”
There are many different combinations of people visiting. Some are obvious; boyfriends/husbands and girlfriends/wives, parents/sons, families and fathers. It is both heartwarming and heartbreaking to see children visiting their fathers here. They have pictures on the wall obviously drawn by children who have visited and there are murals painted all around to make the place seem less sad. Nothing about the faces or demeanors of the people seem hopeless or tragic. Everyone has on their, “Everything will be OK” looks.
August finally walks in. He’s wearing a khaki jumpsuit. He’s always been skinny and other than a few more tattoos he looks basically the same. The hug feels great. We sit down and chat. It’s not really awkward because we talk all the time. But it’s slightly weird. We haven’t been in the same room in almost 1 1/2 years other than a courtroom. He’s recently gotten a tattoo on his neck-a cross in the middle with a devil on one side and an angel on the other. The angel is naked. I guess if your son is going to have an angel tattoo on his neck it’s good that she has a nice rack.
I try to talk about important things. He tries to listen. I try to get him to think about his life. He tries to say the right answers. What he thinks I want to hear. We keep things civil. I hope that these visits will propel him to want to get out and do the things he needs to do to make that happen. He has come into the visit having to go to the bathroom so the visit gets cut short because as soon as he gets up the visit is over.
We are together about an hour and a half and it is glorious. As horrible as so much of parenting him has been, I miss him every day. I miss seeing his face and his smile. I miss going to movies with him and when he liked to help me with things. They were such brief moments but they were glimpses of who he could be. I get to go every two weeks will be so helpful for me and I hope for him.
Again, not a place I ever thought I’d be. Amazing the lives we find ourselves living.