When Rain Hurts by Mary Evelyn Greene

December 22, 2011

When Rain Hurts – Publication Date Sept. 2013 (Red Hen Press, LA)

November 2011 (Red Hook High football field)

Red Hen Press, a nonprofit literary press in California, is publishing When Rain Hurts, which will be released in trade paperback on September 15, 2013.

In the published book, a narrative chapter will be preceded by a journal entry and photograph.  I have many, many more journal entries than chapters so I’ve picked the ones that I think offer the most complete story.

The personal stories, support, information, and compassion you’ve shown as I struggle to become a better parent and more effective voice for FASD never ceases to amaze or humble.

If you’re new to the blog – welcome.  To read the book’s beginning chapters, please scroll to the bottom of this screen, hit “next page” on the lower left corner, and then scroll again to your screen’s bottom. That’s where you’ll find a brief Introduction & Prologue, then Chapter 1, etc.  Read “up” for each subsequent chapter.   They’re a little like diamonds in the rough – they’ve been edited and polished significantly since posting, but you’ll get the gist.  Older 2010 journal entries are filed under “Pages” on the right hand column.

Thanks – Mary

September 27, 2013

Please review book on Amazon

Dear Readers: As you know, my book, When Rain Hurts, has just been released. It would be very helpful – and appreciated, if you could leave a review on Amazon if you’re so inclined (and buy the book and read it if you haven’t already!!!). My hope (and Peter’s hope) is that this book will bring much needed attention to the travesty of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, as well as the damage that institutions such as Russian orphanages exacts on the heart, body, and mind of vulnerable infants. I need your help to spread the word – and leaving a review on Amazon would be a great start.

I can’t thank you enough for the support and encouragement you have given me – both regarding this blog and the larger book project.

Mary

PS: Here is the link: http://www.amazon.com/When-Rain-Hurts-Adoptive-Syndrome/dp/1597092622/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1380283581&sr=8-1&keywords=when+rain+hurts

September 18, 2013

The book is out!!

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August 19, 2013

August 19, 2013

Assateague Island, MD (Aug. 6, 2013)

Assateague Island, MD (Aug. 6, 2013)

August 19, 2013. We’ve been living in Maryland just shy of two months now. We moved the day after Peter was discharged from Green Chimneys. I drove the convertible with Peter, one dog, and the hamster, and Pat drove the bigger car with Sophie, one dog, one cat, and three fish. Our orange tabby escaped the house in the last throes of loading the moving trucks and, to our collective heartache, had to be left behind.  Luckily, our neighbors rallied and he was found the next day. Paying someone to drive a freaked-out cat from New York to southern Maryland was expensive, but it beat one of us having to do it. Fifty-eight days later, we are more or less comfortably installed, and I’m on the verge of coming up for air. It’s funny – no matter how thoroughly I try to prepare for transition – for the down and dirty maladaptive behaviors that are dampened but not extinguished, nothing adequately prepares for the reality of coping with kids for whom change can be a life-threatening sensation. And I get it – I really do. Especially 58 days later when most of the debris has cleared. But it wasn’t easy. In the days and weeks following the move, we changed medications, put new safety plans in place, talked about re-hospitalization, called out the National Park police (risking an outing so soon after the move was a MAJOR mistake), cried uncontrollably for most of the Fourth of July weekend (okay, that was me), and generally prayed for a way to somehow undo what we had done. But then Peter started summer school, Sophie met a little girl down the street, both kids had birthdays, I began my new job, and well, things began to settle in, almost in spite of ourselves. It seems we’ll be okay here after all, although perhaps with an asterisk (or two). Peter has three weeks off between summer and fall sessions, and we had no choice but to plunk him in a day camp. Finding camps in August is tough anyway, even more so in a new city, and I came up empty in terms of locating a special needs camp that would take a twelve-year old. So he’s in regular sports camp with Sophie and he’s overwhelmed, over-stimulated, over-everything. But Pat has to work and so do I – and Peter can’t be left unsupervised. In fact, he still needs someone to interact with him constantly or he strays, both behaviorally and in terms of intrusive thoughts. So we haven’t pulled him out, even though the strain is showing. He’s acting out – arguing and being defiant, threatening to hurt himself or us, scratching at his arms and face, actually punching his sister, sometimes in the face (a new and troubling development). He craves routine and structure and I can’t give it to him right now, except within the confines of this camp, which I imagine for Peter is somewhat like Lord of the Flies. The other kids are making fun of him, calling him “Diaper Baby” and “idiot” and chanting “Peter has special needs”. We’ve talked to the counselors until we’re blue in the face and though I think they’re trying, they also helped create the problem. To alert the rest of the counselors, one of them wrote “has special needs” at the bottom of Peter’s name tag the first day of camp. Peter didn’t notice but you can bet every other child there did. And so now he’s branded (he would have been branded to some degree anyway, but not like this). When he came home the other night, fried and angry, I did my best to explain that although he may have some special needs when it comes to learning and behavior, those boys at camp have special needs when it comes to being good people. As he finally relaxed and let me comfort him, I whispered in his ear that I’d rather have his kind of special needsany day, and I absolutely meant it. Peter would never enjoy hurting another person’s feelings. He smiled shyly with the knowledge of that truth and then we snuggled for a few more minutes. But later that night, when he was taking his medicine, he asked me two questions that took my breath away. “Mommy,” he asked, wringing his hands and standing on tip-toe, “do people still have problems in their brain when they die?” And just as I began reeling from the question, he followed, “What I mean is, uhm, Mommy, when you go to heaven, do you still have to take brain medicine?” I couldn’t answer – not even with a gesture. The questions hit me like a heavyweight’s punch. I wanted to quit my job then and there, or at least announce I had to stay home the next week and a half and risk getting fired. I wanted to make my husband keep Peter at home with him and damn the bills (and his business) if he can’t get his work done. What I wanted more than anything was a solution. But there wasn’t. There isn’t one. We can count on one hand the people we know in Maryland and none of them are willing to babysit Peter all day long. Three more days of camp and then he’s back in school, a wonderful school where he fits in, where there are teachers who understand him, who get what his needs are, and who appreciate that sometimes a little cocooning from the rest of the world is not a bad thing. I thought the folks in our new district were going to fight us on placement – this school is not inexpensive, but thankfully they didn’t. So hang in Peter, just three more days. I hear myself repeating this mantra in my head, over and over, like the lyrics to a song I just can’t shake. Hang in, hang in, hang in. I say it for him, my stoic, soon-to-be teenage son, and of course, I say it for me.August 19, 2013. We’ve been living in Maryland just shy of two months now. We moved the day after Peter was discharged from Green Chimneys. I drove the convertible with Peter, one dog, and the hamster, and Pat drove the bigger car with Sophie, one dog, one cat, and three fish. Our orange tabby escaped the house in the last throes of loading the moving trucks and, to our collective heartache, had to be left behind.  Luckily, our neighbors rallied and he was found the next day. Paying someone to drive a freaked-out cat from New York to southern Maryland was expensive, but it beat one of us having to do it. Fifty-eight days later, we are more or less comfortably installed, and I’m on the verge of coming up for air. It’s funny – no matter how thoroughly I try to prepare for transition – for the down and dirty maladaptive behaviors that are dampened but not extinguished, nothing adequately prepares for the reality of coping with kids for whom change can be a life-threatening sensation. And I get it – I really do. Especially 58 days later when most of the debris has cleared. But it wasn’t easy. In the days and weeks following the move, we changed medications, put new safety plans in place, talked about re-hospitalization, called out the National Park police (risking an outing so soon after the move was a MAJOR mistake), cried uncontrollably for most of the Fourth of July weekend (okay, that was me), and generally prayed for a way to somehow undo what we had done. But then Peter started summer school, Sophie met a little girl down the street, both kids had birthdays, I began my new job, and well, things began to settle in, almost in spite of ourselves. It seems we’ll be okay here after all, although perhaps with an asterisk (or two). Peter has three weeks off between summer and fall sessions, and we had no choice but to plunk him in a day camp. Finding camps in August is tough anyway, even more so in a new city, and I came up empty in terms of locating a special needs camp that would take a twelve-year old. So he’s in regular sports camp with Sophie and he’s overwhelmed, over-stimulated, over-everything. But Pat has to work and so do I – and Peter can’t be left unsupervised. In fact, he still needs someone to interact with him constantly or he strays, both behaviorally and in terms of intrusive thoughts. So we haven’t pulled him out, even though the strain is showing. He’s acting out – arguing and being defiant, threatening to hurt himself or us, scratching at his arms and face, actually punching his sister, sometimes in the face (a new and troubling development). He craves routine and structure and I can’t give it to him right now, except within the confines of this camp, which I imagine for Peter is somewhat like Lord of the Flies. The other kids are making fun of him, calling him “Diaper Baby” and “idiot” and chanting “Peter has special needs”. We’ve talked to the counselors until we’re blue in the face and though I think they’re trying, they also helped create the problem. To alert the rest of the counselors, one of them wrote “has special needs” at the bottom of Peter’s name tag the first day of camp. Peter didn’t notice but you can bet every other child there did. And so now he’s branded (he would have been branded to some degree anyway, but not like this). When he came home the other night, fried and angry, I did my best to explain that although he may have some special needs when it comes to learning and behavior, those boys at camp have special needs when it comes to being good people. As he finally relaxed and let me comfort him, I whispered in his ear that I’d rather have his kind of special needsany day, and I absolutely meant it. Peter would never enjoy hurting another person’s feelings. He smiled shyly with the knowledge of that truth and then we snuggled for a few more minutes. But later that night, when he was taking his medicine, he asked me two questions that took my breath away. “Mommy,” he asked, wringing his hands and standing on tip-toe, “do people still have problems in their brain when they die?” And just as I began reeling from the question, he followed, “What I mean is, uhm, Mommy, when you go to heaven, do you still have to take brain medicine?” I couldn’t answer – not even with a gesture. The questions hit me like a heavyweight’s punch. I wanted to quit my job then and there, or at least announce I had to stay home the next week and a half and risk getting fired. I wanted to make my husband keep Peter at home with him and damn the bills (and his business) if he can’t get his work done. What I wanted more than anything was a solution. But there wasn’t. There isn’t one. We can count on one hand the people we know in Maryland and none of them are willing to babysit Peter all day long. Three more days of camp and then he’s back in school, a wonderful school where he fits in, where there are teachers who understand him, who get what his needs are, and who appreciate that sometimes a little cocooning from the rest of the world is not a bad thing. I thought the folks in our new district were going to fight us on placement – this school is not inexpensive, but thankfully they didn’t. So hang in Peter, just three more days. I hear myself repeating this mantra in my head, over and over, like the lyrics to a song I just can’t shake. Hang in, hang in, hang in. I say it for him, my stoic, soon-to-be teenage son, and of course, I say it for me.

June 8, 2013

June 8, 2013

Peter's Pokemon drawing (June 7, 2013)

Peter’s Pokemon drawing (June 7, 2013)

June 8, 2013.  The saddest and most telling thing happened yesterday.  I normally make the long drive back and forth from Peter’s school on the weekends but Pat brought him home this time.  Peter was drawing a Pokemon dragon in the backseat, and then out of nowhere, began sobbing uncontrollably.  Pat had to pull the car over on the Taconic.  Having no idea what was wrong, he just held our son until he calmed.  It turns out that Peter thought he’d ruined his picture by coloring the dragon wings with a ballpoint pen.  He didn’t like how it looked.  When he walked in the house, Pat still lingering outside, I knew immediately something was wrong.  His normally happy-to-see-me-face had transformed into a portrait of childhood devastation.  Pat did his best to relay what happened, but I didn’t quite get it until I saw the drawing.  And then bam, it hit me like a ton of bricks.  It’s the best thing that Peter’s ever drawn, hands down.  It’s clear that in those few minutes, holed up in the quiet monotony of the backseat, all cylinders were firing.  What breaks my heart is that Peter knew it, too.  I know he did.  I could see it in his eyes.  He thought he had lost the moment, that opportunity to ride the wave of his own capacity until the switch of disability shut down the access.  He doesn’t have that many of these moments, perfect spurts of neurotypicality, and he’s now smart enough, and mature enough, to recognize when he does (as well as when he doesn’t).  How he must thirst for those feelings of completeness within himself.  I hate that mournful look in his eyes, the look that tells me he appreciates that he can’t always accomplish what he sets out to do.  His anguish in the car came not from frustration but from fear, the real fear that he wouldn’t be able to reproduce that drawing again if his life depended on it.  Peter’s journey is one of fits and starts, and though he’s made great progress, he has come to appreciate that it’s a rockier road than most.  I know his burgeoning self-awareness is good, developmentally important even, but I selfishly wish it were absent.  11-year olds shouldn’t have to bear the weight of their disabilities, especially ones thrust upon them not by chance but by prenatal recklessness and post-natal deprivation and neglect.  But  I can’t shield him from himself, not in the end.  So instead, Pat and I reassure him that the drawing is still superb.  I make sure and post it on Facebook so as to provide tangible proof of our parental pride.  It’s a wonderful drawing, and not with the caveat “for a kid with special needs”.   Normally his drawings are a bit nonsensical, they lack cohesion and are disjointed and difficult to interpret.  Often imposing one figure on top of another, I’m never sure whether that’s how he sees the world – a layered abstraction that has meaning only for him, or whether it’s simply a problem transferring thought to paper.  But yesterday he got it right.  Now I have to gently steer him toward a more confident belief that it wasn’t just an anomaly.  That he has many varied and wonderful abilities that he indeed is learning to access more reliably.  And perhaps more importantly, that he will succeed when he sets his mind to it and not just when the window randomly opens.  But that’s a lesson learned over time, and I didn’t want to bore him with a lecture or overdue the praise and make him even more self-conscious. So instead I kiss the top of his head (which I won’t be able to do much longer) and ask about the rest of his day.  My brave boy takes the cue and I listen carefully as events unfold before me.  

May 10, 2013

The book is now available for pre-ordering on Amazon!

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Link attached. Thanks for all your continued support! Mary

 

When Rain Hurts: An Adoptive Mother's Journey with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

When Rain Hurts: An Adoptive Mother's Journey with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Buy from Amazon

May 5, 2013

May 5, 2013

Mudge Pond, Sharon CT (May 4, 2013)

Mudge Pond, Sharon CT (May 4, 2013)

May 5, 2013.  Spring officially has arrived in the mid-Hudson Valley, but it sure has taken its time.  First came the Forsythia, then daffodils, cherry trees, and now even a few tulips.  Grass has finally transformed the barren landscape just as the spring leaves arrive. The nights are still cold, unseasonably really, but the days are warming gloriously.  I have never taken our town, our beautiful countryside, for granted, and I certainly mustn’t now.  We’re moving to Montgomery County, Maryland, a fact that leaves me feeling both excited and a little forlorn.  I love Red Hook and the Mayberry-like existence that all its residents enjoy.  Unlocked homes, unlocked cars, unlocked bikes, and a friendly smile at nearly every turn.  Given the natural splendor that surrounds us – the organic farms, the Catskill Mountains, the historic buildings, the mighty Hudson River, I don’t understand why the area isn’t overrun with transplants.  But of course, I’m glad it’s not.  We’re moving because I’ve taken a position with an environmental nonprofit in Washington, DC.  I’m going back to work full-time.  It’s a dream job for me but it wasn’t an easy decision.  Not only will it be hard leaving the home we love, it feels like we’re jumping off a cliff when it comes to Peter, and even Sophie.  We finally have both kids in wonderful schools and now we’re yanking them out.  Peter’s time at Green Chimneys has been nothing short of transformative.  He arrived there, almost two years ago, a confused, angry, out of control, and self-abusive child.  We feared for his safety and for that of our daughter.  Today he is an increasingly confident eleven-year old, a leader in his classroom and his dorm.  He’s proud of his accomplishments and so are we.  He is more centered, regulated, and connected than we ever dreamed possible. But he’s also vulnerable, and all involved in his treatment realize that he requires continued intensive support to remain successful.  In every way, his ability to cope with the outside world is as fragile as the many seedlings fighting their way through the soil toward the warm spring sun.  And so what will Maryland bring?  The good news is that Peter will be transitioning from residential treatment to a day program.  That constant feeling that something’s wrong, that our family’s not whole, that I’m missing a limb, will surely disappear.  But the staff at Green Chimneys keeps the kids busy from the moment they wake up until the exact moment the lights go off at bedtime.  It’s a key component of their success formula.  Children with self-regulatory issues don’t cope well with free time.  It’s not possible to replicate this kind of regimentation (albeit benign) in the home.  Peter is going to have to cope with less structure.  He’s going to have to learn to occupy himself, at least a little, after school and on the weekends.  He’s going to have to learn to handle change in plans and the occasional unexpected . . . whatever.  For our part – and wow, I do realize that most of his success (and thus our family’s) depends on how Pat and I handle the every single day around-the-clock challenges, we’ll need to find a way to remain patient, forever consistent, vigilant, and braced against provocation.  A tall order, especially given that all of us are facing so much change.  For me, a new career, a long commute, a relinquishing of some of the day-to-day responsibilities.  For Pat, who works from home, it means more childcare, more Peter, more errands in gridlock traffic.  For Sophie, a myriad of change conspiring to fuel new anxieties: a new school, new kids, a new “forever” home (this will be # 3), and a formerly volatile brother re-entering her daily life.  For all of us, saying goodbye to the landscape we love.  Just today we watched our neighbors sheering llamas and alpacas for the 4-H club.  I doubt we’ll be running into llamas much in Maryland.  All of these changes are stressful but well within the boundaries of what any family faces in the midst of major change.  But as always, the health and tenor of our family depends primarily on Peter’s state of mind, and so his adjustment is the wildcard.  Will a new school district fight us in terms of placement?  We and Green Chimneys feel strongly that he needs to be in a specialized, private day treatment program, and we’ve got our eye on a few. His treatment team laughed, literally, at the idea of Peter re-entering a public school program, even an imbedded self-contained one. I’m hoping the fact that he’s coming from an RTC (where he has a 1:1 aide), and that we’ve already taken a school district to hearing and won, will squash any thoughts on the new CSE’s part that they can handle Peter in district.  They can’t.  We’ll file for hearing immediately should they signal otherwise.  We won’t let another school district rip our home, our family, our stability, and our safety to shreds in an effort to save a few dollars or prove a point.  Hopefully the saber rattling won’t be necessary.  I’m doing my best not to focus on the what-ifs right now and instead attend to what’s before me.  Today it’s sorting through closets, and barbequing, watching llamas and grocery shopping, and hopefully playing cards with the kids and Grandma after dinner.  It’s late afternoon and the weather is perfect.  I drive down my road (in my convertible) and breath in the fresh scents of spring in the mid-Hudson Valley.  I’ve tried for years to come up with viable employment here but it just isn’t possible.  Mine is a city girl’s career.  And so soon we’ll be heading to the city, where energy abounds to help propel us into this next chapter of our lives.  In all likelihood, Peter will become an adult there.  Not in the insulated, blissfully frozen-in-time Town of Red Hook, but in a large metro, urban environment with lots to offer and lots to tempt.  But I’m ready for this.  I’m excited about my job and I’m glad Peter’s coming home.  I just hope everyone else is ready too.

January 23, 2013

January 23, 2013

Visting the new camels at Green Chimneys with Aunt Patty (Jan. 2013)January 23, 2013. One of the many challenges of
 raising a child like Peter is coming to terms with the unequivocal 
realization that his needs supersede all others. No matter
 what the circumstance, if he’s not in a good place – in terms of
 mood, comfort or temper, then those within the perimeter of his 
reach will suffer too. There was a time when I rebelled
 against the restraints that this conclusion imposes, but I now
 understand that resistance is pointless. I have a number of
 major decisions to make in the next few months, and their impact on 
Peter is forefront in my mind. A few years ago I wrote a
 chapter for a special needs parenting anthology devoted to how I
 finally came to terms with the fact that I had to stop pouring
 every ounce of energy, and all our dwindling finances, into 
improving our son’s fate. I had chased the elusive “cure” for
 so long – and jeopardized the rest of the family’s well-being in 
the process, but I knew it had to stop. Although I wasn’t
 giving up on Peter, I had no choice but to acknowledge that my 
frenetic quest to make him whole was tearing the rest of us 
apart. I’ve tried to honor that reality, though some days I’m
 more successful than others, and Peter continues to do just as well 
(or not) as when my days and thoughts were 100% consumed with 
healing him. I still believe what I wrote in that anthology 
(Easy to Love But
 Hard to Raise), and I think it’s a confession that 
many parents of challenging children might be relieved to hear, but 
what I’m grappling with now is different. Any decision I make
 for myself – or that impacts the rest of the family, by definition
 must 
take into account, first and foremost, its affect on Peter.
 The few people I’ve spoken to about these upcoming decisions –
including some family members, urge me to stop thinking so much
 about his needs and focus a little more on everyone
 else’s, even my own. It sounds a lot like the 
argument I posed to myself when I wrote for the anthology.
  But it’s not – in fact, it’s completely different. I will 
never have the luxury of making a decision that omits an intricate 
analysis of how my choice might impact Peter.  I’ve been very
 optimistic in recent months about our son’s progress and our 
ability to transition him back into a home-based program. I
 detest the fact that on most nights, instead of kissing his 
forehead and tucking him in, he and I are forced to say goodnight 
over the telephone. I want him home; it’s that simple.
 But intrusive thoughts are again encroaching on the landscape of
 his mind, and this resurgence of psychiatric instability is a cruel 
reminder that hopes and dreams do not always proceed in a parallel
 course with reality. Peter hurt his sister a few weeks ago
 and he’s hearing voices again, voices that are violent and scary, 
both for him and us. My gentle son, who wouldn’t normally harm
 a flea, is doing his best to fight off the demons buzzing in 
his brain, at times with deviant intent. For a few days, a
 few weeks ago, he lost that battle. Sophie is working to
 shake off the trauma and I’ve gone back to timing my bathroom 
breaks in a way that protects against an even 30-second window of
 unsupervised opportunity in case the directive of the voices are
 stronger than Peter’s ability to reject them. It was an unwelcome 
but undeniable wakeup call. Peter is not yet ready to leave 
residential school – it’s not safe. He acknowledges that the
 voices and visions are more frequent at home and he told his social
 worker that he thinks it’s because he isn’t surrounded by staff the
 way he is at school. Idleness and alone time are his mind’s
 arch enemies. For Peter, unstructured play in the family room
 while I make dinner in the kitchen – 20 feet away and within easy
 sight and sound of each other, sometimes triggers overwhelming anxiety that 
in turn can trigger aberrant, potentially dangerous thoughts.
 Constant activity coupled with constant staff presence helps to 
keep his wandering mind in check. It’s amazing that Peter can 
articulate this – that he now possesses the insight and the 
language, but it’s also profoundly sad. It means he’s not yet
 ready to come home, it reminds me that whatever decisions I need to
 make in the next few months must take this into account.
 Parents never are free to act solely in their own best interests –
its part of the bargain we honor in exchange for the great
 privilege of motherhood and fatherhood, but parents like me – of 
kids like Peter, relinquish so much more. The reality 
of these circumstances pit financial security against physical
 safety, marriage against parenthood, one child’s needs against a 
sibling’s. There’s a course to chart but its one of discrete, 
not boundless, possibilities. I accept this – it’s an 
immutable fact, but I don’t much like it. When Peter emerged 
from his psychotic rage – the first, by the way, he’s had in almost two 
years, his exhausted body convulsed with waves of horrifying 
self-reproach. “Why,” he implored, angry self-inflicted
 welts rising on his cheeks as he sobbed, “why couldn’t you stop me,
 Mommy?” If only I could have answered his anguished question. If only I could have stopped him. Maybe then we wouldn’t be in this
 position.

November 7, 2012

November 7, 2012

New Jersey (October 2012)

New Jersey (October 2012)

November 7, 2012. As temperatures fall in the mid-Hudson Valley, as late autumn breezes cajole the last stubborn leaf from its perch, I have much upon which to reflect. Superstorm Sandy somehow missed us, the conspiring, unrelenting forces of wind, rain, colliding weather fronts, and warming oceans bypassing our town with an unexpected wink of the eye. I’ve never understood why some are spared while others suffer, God’s role, if any, in the drama of our lives remaining impossibly muddled, at least to me. Another Nor’easter is on its way, though this one is predicted to bring snow, not rain, and I pray it spares the northeast from further devastation. My friend in hospice lost her battle to cancer last week, her last days racked with pain that even the strongest opiates failed to quell. I felt relief when I heard the news because no good ever comes from that brand of agony. This woman led a just and purposeful life, yet there was nothing fair about the way she suffered. Peter, whose capacity for compassion seems almost divinely instilled, also has been barraged with an unfair, overwhelming array of assaults that rob him daily of both faculty and opportunity. These kinds of juxtapositions are impossible to align yet we’re tasked with making sense of them throughout the entirety of our lives. The weekend before last, Peter’s impulses, which can be dangerous at times, prevailed over his increasing ability to control them. Though it’s tempting to blame what became a disastrous weekend on the storm barreling toward our region – along with the preceding uncertainty, stress, and change in routine, it wouldn’t be true. Peter was completely unaware of the storm until Sunday night and even then showed little appreciation for the danger it presented. But both mornings he woke up sullen and grumpy, a fail-safe forecast of how the rest of the day will unfold. On days like these he drags his feet, hunches his shoulders, whines when he walks, and pulls at his hair and glasses in response to even the most mundane request, such as to get dressed or use the toilet. The simple truth is that he labors more heavily on some days than others. The Saturday before last, I hears the unmistakable howl of an injured child and I ran outside to find Sophie trembling, her face pale as she clutched her wrist. She could barely speak but the horror in her eyes let me know that whatever happened was Peter’s doing. He threw a heavy, rock-hard plastic ball at her, with as much force as he could, from very close range. At first I was afraid her wrist was broken but after a half hour of ice and a dose of Motrin, she quieted down. Our neighbor, who is a nurse, stopped by and felt that it was a deep bruise, not a fracture. It turns out she was correct. Peter could not explain his behavior other than to say she had been bothering him. The next day, he continued his out-of-character actions by laughing hysterically while he kicked a boy who had fallen on the ground. By all accounts, this attack, which took place during his best friend’s birthday party, was unprovoked. It turns out that Peter didn’t even know this child. It’s a good thing the father was nearby because the boy he went after was twice his size and apparently ready to beat the crap out of him. And honestly, who could blame him? The father called us, thankfully, and asked that we pick Peter up immediately. I don’t know what triggered these episodes. On the way home from the party, Peter began hitting himself and pulling his hair. He screamed that he wanted to kill himself. He was embarrassed, ashamed, frustrated and perhaps most of all, confused. I’ve learned a trick or two over the course of the last eight years and was able to get him calmed down before he did any further damage to himself or anyone else. By the next day he was more or less back to normal, the incidents forgotten. He went back to school Tuesday night after the storm had moved out and we brought him home again last Friday. The next day, Peter and I were sharing a few quiet moments in our bedroom before Pat and I needed to leave for my friend’s funeral. As he watched me put on my jewelry and comb my hair, Peter told me that he was sad I had lost my friend. I assured him that I was too; but I also tried explaining that it needed to happen. She was not going to get any better and she was in pain. I told him that I was relieved that her suffering was over and that she was now with God. Almost instantly, his eyes filled and he began to sob. My son, the boy who attacked his sister and a stranger only days before, without explanation, was overcome with grief and sympathy. “I didn’t know she was in pain,” he cried. My beautiful, beautiful boy. Until then it hadn’t occurred to him that dying could be painful and that my friend may have suffered. I don’t spend much time anymore imagining what Peter would be like had he been conceived and born under different circumstances – I realized some time ago that it’s the wrong question to frame, but I couldn’t help it just then. Why this child, with astonishing ability to empathize and an emotional intelligence that is blooming with increasing depth and richness, has to endure these deficits, deficits that could have, should have been prevented, is impossible to understand. As I prepared to honor my friend’s memory that afternoon, I made a little extra room in my heart and mourned for Peter’s loss as well. For his damaged brain, for his neurological outbursts that cause him to act in ways that he can’t explain and for which he’s ashamed, and most of all, for appreciating that he now and forever understands that even the last moments of our lives can be – and often are, filled with struggle and pain.

October 25, 2012

October 25, 2012

Fall 2005

October 25, 2012.  Yesterday a friend and I drove into the city to visit another friend who is dying of cancer.  Two months ago this woman was attending the county fair, sick but committed to embracing life and envisioning health restored.  But now she’s in a hospital for the terminally ill, where countless strangers – caring, compassionate people, work to manage her pain, both physical and otherwise.  She is quickly wilting, slipping away.  It’s plain to see that death is near.  As if he’s withering too, her husband no longer seems the robust physical presence that he was only a few months earlier.  She’s on an inevitable slide, but it’s a path from which he’ll soon be made to veer.  His wife is preparing for death, which means he and their grown children, despite unshakable solidarity, are destined to re-enter the world of the living.  It’s a devastating time.  But still, as my friend and I approached her room yesterday, with a mix of fear and determination, we came upon a slew of people who had come, like us, to remind this widely adored woman that she is cherished.  Like most who visit the dying, we both offered and sought reassurance.  We had to wait our turn, though, and despite the circumstances, the thought made me smile.  Even with death looming, the way this brave woman continues to live her life draws people to her like a magnet.  I can’t imagine a more life-affirming gift – the ability to give and receive, with great appreciation, the love that resides in us all.  Reflecting last night upon our visit, a visit from which I left clearly shaken – I bumped into a pole in the parking lot and then drove 20 miles in the wrong direction, I recalled something my friend once told me.  “Imagine a more hopeful outcome,” she said, eyes bright but fierce with conviction.  “Imagine what Peter can be, not what he can’t.”  Maybe she knew it, maybe she didn’t, but in those simple words, words spoken without malice or judgment, she offered me a map toward the future, a way to envision tomorrow without the incredible fear that so often – especially in those days, held me hostage.  Eight years ago, Sophie, Peter, Pat, and I became a family.  Today is our Happy Adoption Day, and we are heading, the four of us, toward an undeniably more hopeful future.  My friend helped teach me that life is about moving forward, about seeing possibilities, dismantling roadblocks, and about looking for joy.  As her journey comes to a close – and as my family’s journey in many ways has been reborn, I thank her for the lesson.  I thank her for believing in us when I had lost faith in myself.  And mostly, I thank her for the gift of her friendship, a friendship that in many ways, and for many reasons, was still in the process of blooming.  Were she able, she might pat me on the back with her can-do attitude and in honor of today’s anniversary simply say, “well done”.   She’s not in a position to do that now, but I can return the accolade.  If anyone deserves a “well done”, it’s she. 

October 18, 2012

October 18, 2012

Fall 2005

October 18, 2012.  Peter sprained his ankle 10 days ago.  Green Chimneys has him running cross country, which is amazing – and a little unexpected, and he slipped on a rock.  He’s been inconsolable ever since.  When he was home last weekend, there was no obvious swelling or bruising, I honestly couldn’t tell there’d been any injury at all.  But Peter’s sensory system is way off.  Even the slightest assault sometimes causes exaggerated response, while at other times, serious assaults, like wasp stings, completely go unnoticed.  I have no doubt he twisted it, but I also have no doubt its something most kids would shake off.  Because its been bothering him, he wears a brace during the day and he’s not supposed to run or play sports for another week and a half.  It’s impossible to say whether these restrictions are necessary – he mostly only limps when someone reminds him of the injury, but I agree with Green Chimneys’ decision to err on the side of precaution.  Over the weekend, we took the kids to family day at the Haunted Horseman, a very popular Halloween attraction.  One Saturday each October, they transform the park from 10 to 3, making it appropriate, and enticing, for children.  There are games, face painting, pony rides, a bounce house, cotton candy, a “haunted” hayride and corn maze, and more.  The first time we brought the kids, they were 3 and 4 and my sister Patty was in town.  At the time, Peter seemed to love it.  The story of Ichabod Crane is acted out on the hayride and then the riders are dropped off at the corn maze, where they’re left to weave their way through only slightly ghoulish frights and sights.  We still joke about Sophie being afraid, when she was 3, of the person dressed as a cartoonish, kid-friendly version of Frankenstein.  When I tried explaining that there was a perfectly nice man hidden underneath, maybe even someone’s papa, she without hesitation exclaimed, “I don’t like the big papa!”  It’s been a favorite family memory ever since.  Although we couldn’t find the “Big Papa” this year, we did confront, over and over again, Peter’s ever-ballooning fears.  Amid toddlers darting around with balloons tied to their wrists, our 11-year old son had to be coaxed into participating.  He has this way of physically disappearing into himself when he’s scared or over-stimulated, which I’ve dubbed “turtling”.  He curls his back inward, dips his neck toward his chest, and strains his shoulders toward the middle.  Almost immediately upon walking through the entrance, his limp returned and he began turtling.  The costumed man greeting us – standing on stilts and brightly dressed as a pumpkin-headed scarecrow, sent him reeling.  I had no idea Peter would react so negatively to such a generally benign environment.  But we couldn’t just leave – Sophie had been looking forward to this for months and it’s only held one day during the year.  So instead, we played games like skeleton basketball and toilet paper toss, bought the kids cupcakes, and held Peter’s hand while we walked around.  After a while, he relaxed a little and I was able to talk about the need to take control of his fears and fight against letting inhospitable thoughts take over and hold him hostage.  He’s now able to listen to these discussions and tries very hard to implement any suggestions.  In the end, he made it through and I think he even had a good time.  Pat and I were proud of the effort and made sure he knew it.  We have to keep encouraging these treks into less predictable, more challenging environments, because now that he’s home every weekend, we can’t continue to keep him bubbled inside our home, which is what we were doing.  It’s not fair to Sophie and it’s not fair to us.  We don’t have and can’t afford babysitters at every turn.  Having him home every weekend is a step toward having him with us again fulltime, a kind of high-stakes litmus test for the future.  We always will need to be attuned to Peter’s needs, what he can and can’t handle, but at the same time, we can’t become slaves to them.  The challenge is finding the balance between Peter needing to live in our world and our needing to accommodate his.  Last night when I called the dorm, the young woman who answered the phone told me that he’d been crying and angry ever since school let out, and without apparent reason.  She thought maybe he was out of sorts because his ankle has sidelined him.  I didn’t want to argue with her – after all, she might be right, but Pat and I also know that our son’s moods can swing like a pendulum on a rollercoaster.  It’s one of his many challenges.  When he finally picked up the phone, I could hear him crying.  He tells me that he’s too tired to talk and is angry that I called.  This is not like our son – he depends on our nightly calls, and so its clear that he’s in a bad place.  There’s no talking to him when he’s like this, time is the only cure, and so I tell him not to worry, that I love him, and that I bet he’ll wake up in the morning feeling more like himself.  “Thank you, Mommy,” he says, and hangs up.  I’m a little surprised by the gruffness, but at the same time, I just have to smile.  Although I hate that he’s feeling so unsteady, I’m becoming increasingly confident that he’ll find his way back.  In this case, it seems that sprained ankles, lack of physical outlets, and scarecrows on stilts are just too much for one week.

September 19, 2012

September 19, 2012

September 15, 2012

September 19, 2012.  I find anger easier than sadness.  We externalize anger, we tell ourselves but for that other person or event, we’d feel more rational, calm, emotionally even.  Anger can be destructive, it can leave victims scattered far and wide, but it’s also readily dispersed.  I used to be so angry with Peter – for the harm his disabilities did to our family, our marriage, my career, my sense of who I was, and who I wanted to become.  At times, this anger gave me energy that I channeled, using it to wage war against enemies perceived and imagined, anyone who got in the way of reaching our son, of stopping the madness.  I also used it like a shield, protecting myself against the searing pain of self-reproach, allowing it to wedge distance between who I felt I was and that less certain place where doubts and regrets find harbor.  But then it went away.  The anger just went away.  Peter’s and my perilous but ultimately successful journey to intimacy snuffed it out.  With the anger gone, I was left alone to examine my role in our family’s course, good and bad, alone to ponder how to move in my life without this compass forged from ire.  There was space where none had been before.  I’ve been learning to live in that space – to even revel in it, but now a kind of sadness is taking hold.  I find it’s draping my view, the landscape of possibility, choice, and consequence, like heavy, velvet curtains.  For so long I tried to keep my son at arm’s length, the anger helping to protect me against emotions too difficult to absorb.  But I wasn’t successful, obviously, and for that I’m very grateful.  I’ll never be afraid to love my son again.  Peter and I are now as emotionally connected as conjoined twins.  It’s a thing to celebrate and I mustn’t malign what I realize is a soaring accomplishment.  But this lifeline between us is also what’s causing my sorrow.  Peter’s melancholy of late is more contagious for me than the flu.  I ache at night hearing the hurt and loneliness in his voice, a depression growing alongside his mind and body.  He’s becoming more aware of his disabilities.  He’s beginning to visualize the perimeter of his capacities.  For instance, he now confides in me that he’s terrified of the bathroom, of the hallucinations that bombard him when he’s alone.  Sometimes, especially in public restrooms, he emerges ashen, the fear evident on his features.  The other day I took the kids to Subway and I could tell he was upset when he exited the bathroom.  “Those teenage girls were making fun of me,” he explains, his head bowed and shoulders limp.  I saw the interaction – they stared at him, probably because he looked like he’d just seen a ghost, but they didn’t laugh or point or heckle.  They just took notice.  But Peter’s emerging self-awareness is also turning into self-deprecation; he’s not always happy with what he sees.  He doesn’t want the baggage he carries and is growing increasingly sad that he can’t shed the weight.  He’s starting to understand that he’s at Green Chimneys not because he learns differently – as we so carefully preach, but because his brain, complements of alcohol, isn’t assembled correctly, and this causes misfirings mostly beyond his control.  We kept him home Monday even though he had school because Pat and I realize that he’s struggling and needs our support.  My every instinct is to pull him to me, to keep him close, to lessen his pain.  This awakening – both sword and shield – is not something an 11-year old boy should be made to navigate alone, at a residential school, with no one there to hold him through this period of uncertainty and grief.  He needs us to lend perspective, encouragement, acceptance, and understanding.  It’s impossible to do over the telephone, and this too makes me profoundly sad.  Later in the day, knowing that in a few hours Pat would drive him back to school, he waits until Sophie is elsewhere and says that he’s going to miss me.  There’s no yelling or screaming or throwing of objects, just quiet tears accompanying a quiet fact.  When I go to him, when he then asks why he can’t be home with us every day, I do my best to explain that Green Chimneys is helping his brain, that what he’s learning there will help him as he gets older, as he grows up and becomes a man.  I tell him it won’t be forever.  It’s a flimsy overture and one he sees right through.  “But I don’t care when I’m grown up,” he wails, tears soaking my t-shirt as I rock his 86 lb frame.  “I want to be just a boy at home with my mommy, right now!”  He holds me so tight I feel his heartbeat rise in rhythm to his staccato cries.  “I want you with me, too,” I whisper, unable, incapable of lying any further.  We stay locked together until our emotions quell and we regain some hold on optimism and better spirits.  There is no doubt that anger is more manageable than sadness.  After dinner, I help Peter gather his things, long pants and shirts, his new spy glasses, and his weighted blanket, which he now wants in the dorm.  I kiss him goodbye and hold him tight.  I realize that both of us prepared in advance for this moment, we are braced against the flood of emotion that swept through only hours before.  What I let slip earlier is still true.  I want Peter home.  Pat later tells me that Peter draped his weighted blanket over his shoulders for the walk back to his dorm.  It’s an all too-fitting image.  The pain of separation is becoming greater than the turmoil his presence exacts.  Whether we can find the supports to have him home fulltime.  Whether we have the reserves to weather, daily, the inevitable storms.  Whether Peter now has the skills to manage less regimented family life.  Whether we can inoculate against the possibility of another horrifying psychiatric hospitalization.  These are questions I can’t answer now but that deserve real consideration.  Before he leaves the house, I whisper in my son’s ear that he’s doing everything right.  He’s quick to retort, my blossoming son, not in anger or defiance, but with quiet admission.  “It doesn’t feel that way, Mommy.”  My heart lurches.  I know what he means.  Peter and I, we’re in that space right now from where sadness comes.

September 12, 2012

September 11, 2012

Maine (Summer 2005)

September 11, 2012.  Our lives march forward, eleven years beyond that crisp, sparkling morning.  A day that for most of us will remain “that” day, that morning whose awaiting horror quickly would shroud the promise of its brilliant blue sky splendor.  In many ways this day belongs to all of us, and we to it.  I saw things that morning that I was never designed to witness.  I still change the radio station or TV channel whenever the media revisits the details.  I can think about what I saw, a few short blocks from the attacks in lower Manhattan, I can see the events in my head as precisely as I see the screen upon which I write, but then I hit a wall.  I wasn’t in the Trade Towers, I wasn’t close to anyone who died.  As merely part of the terrified, disoriented crowd scrambling to escape, I appreciate my good fortune.  But I remember noticing the glass shards swirling overhead, beautiful, like glitter in the sky, as I fought my way toward Pat’s apartment amid shouts warning of bombs in the subway, the courthouse, and countless other landmarks along my route.  I also remember watching a man and woman join hands as they chose to jump from an impossibly high floor of one of the buildings, the woman’s billowing skirts shrouding her face from death’s approach.  My mother had died in a bizarre accident only four months earlier, her injuries sustained on the day I moved from Atlanta to New York.  The events of 9/11 having mixed together like batter into this most intimate loss, my heart lurches, my eyes well, whenever my thoughts wander too far into the territory of those experiences.  And so I turn off the switch.  It’s an experience I store in a cavernous place, a precarious repository, carefully segregated from the rest of my everyday life.  Or so I think.  I realize intellectually that such an exercise is futile, that we can’t just choose to avoid examining our traumatic experiences.  In some ways I was always vulnerable – “you feel too much,” my mother would warn; even minor acts of unkindness can now invite, if I’m not careful, an over-sensitive reaction, as though my lifelong quota for temperance was fulfilled, all at once, on that horrific Tuesday morning.  That day changed me, there’s no doubt.  It shook a part of me that I thought was secure, and it reminds me of our children.  Peter’s problems may be largely organic, they’re caused by physical, measurable brain damage, yet I can’t deny that his response to the world, with all its promise and at times, predation, is colored by his pre-adoption experiences.  Abandoned by a teenage mother, left wallowing with an invalid, wheelchair bound great-grandmother, and then whisked into an orphanage where he was fed, presumably, but not spoken to, held, or ever soothed.  Sophie’s start was not much better; for all we know, it might have been worse.  My brush with profound sorrow dwarfs the trauma suffered by my children, babies whose only way of assimilating their experiences was to weave them seamlessly into the fabric that would clothe and color their every thought, feeling, decision, and reaction.  Separating that chemical fusing of abuse and neglect with infant development is more difficult than untangling a giant ball of yarn from a roomful of kittens.  It may be impossible.  It’s easy to give up on yarn – you just toss it in the garbage.  But children?  No, with children we’re tasked with trying to tease the damage away, using every possible tool in our arsenals to restore hope.  Some days are more successful than others but at least I now appreciate that we’ve found the path.  Peter’s been back-sliding at school the last few weeks, and at home too.  He’s lost many of his dorm privileges and has to go to bed early, which means our nightly bedtime calls also have been curtailed.  I don’t know whether this is deliberate consequence or just a scheduling problem but I worry that cutting off his lifeline to home is only fueling the fire.  He’ll be with us this weekend and I’ll make my own assessment then.  When he’s like this I lose patience – and sometimes hope.  It reminds me that my growing optimism that we’re equipped to have him home 24/7 again may be over-inflated.  But when he’s home this weekend, if he tantrums and slings acrimonious words, I’ll remind myself of who he is, of what he’s endured, and most importantly, from where we’ve come.  Remembering 9/11 will help.  We’ve emerged, all of us, not unscathed or innocent, but with enormous resiliency and on the part of our children, especially, with undeniable bravery.

August 18, 2012

August 18, 2012

Peter’s 11th Birthday (with new iTouch and headphones), August 4, 2012.

August 18, 2012.  I think this will be the last journal entry I write before irrevocably handing the “final” manuscript over to Red Hen Press.  It’s so hard to know what to say, or where to find conclusion.  Peter is at school and won’t be home until Friday, though he’ll be with us then until after Labor Day.  Sophie is starting a new school, a small Catholic school across the river, and I know the anticipation of new kids and routines looms heavy.  Pat and I thought seriously about rejoining the Catholic Church – after all, we’re sending our daughter to Catholic school, but in the end we decided against it.  Neither of us is ready for the suspension of certain convictions that such a move necessitates.  We both want our kids to have spirituality in their lives and the chance to have a meaningful relationship with God, but it won’t be as Catholics, at least not for now.  Pat and I met with Peter’s treatment team at Green Chimneys last week, and we’re very pleased with his progress.  “He’s definitely a kid moving toward discharge,” words from the attending psychiatrist that resonate like song in my heart.  The when and the where and the under what circumstances are yet to be determined; I continue to struggle but am working hard to resist the urge to plan for and accommodate the future beyond the next few weeks or months.  We stop by Peter’s classroom before leaving to say hello and steal a hug.  The room is naturally lit (no overhead lights), the handful of boys who occupy it quietly attending to their separate endeavors.  It’s the complete opposite of the raucous, crowded classrooms he was made to endure for so many years.  Time to process is needed even when it comes to recognizing Mom and Dad’s faces, and so we wait for him to assimilate our unexpected presence.  When he does – when that light bulb finally flicks on, his pleasure overflows immediately, filling the room with contagious energy.  He nearly bowls me over as he races to grab hold, jumping us both up and down while exclaiming, “Mommy!  Mommy!”  I never heard him call my name this happily when he was three or four or five, but hearing it now, at eleven, is more than enough.  Soon everyone is laughing and saying hello, the vibe celebratory, as when a holiday awaits.  I’ve shed so many tears over the years that moments like these – unexpected moments that cause my eyes to water with joy rather than sorrow, can never go unmarked.  On the drive home, I carefully wrap the memory like a present.  There is plenty for which to be grateful.  As I lay awake last night, somewhere between worrying about special needs trusts and our outstanding tax bill, I thought of a Tim O’Brien story that forever will stick in my mind, called The Things They Carried.  It chronicles how a soldier in the Vietnam War stripped away his memories, his hopes, his dreams, and the accompanying physical possessions he carried in his rucksack as reminders, little by little with each passing day, until he carried nothing.  At first he clung to certain keepsakes but he soon realized they added physical and emotional weight.  In the end, the soldier is left with nothing but the raw instinct to continue living, to kill or be killed.  His memories of being loved and of having loved are erased, forever, leaving the reader to ponder whether physical survival alone can ever really constitute living.  It’s a haunting story and a cautionary tale.  I’m keenly cognizant that I find myself in the opposite position these days.  I don’t want to take the analogy too far – after all, family struggle is a far cry from combat, but there was a time when I also actively engaged in the shedding of self in order to reemerge as something different, stronger, harder, more impenetrable.  But it was a mistake and I’m finished with it.  Parenting my son has made me stronger, yes, but if my heart hadn’t been open, at least cracked a little, we never would have found each other.  I never would have known that Peter’s soul is lush and rich, the opposite of what I feared in those first, unbearably difficult years.  Sophie would never have had the benefit of seeing, firsthand, that even impossible obstacles are capable of being hurdled.  And Pat and I, if we didn’t know before, now appreciate that for us, The Things They Carried – that thing or memory that keeps all of us bound to a world beyond our own existence, is each other.  Never in a million years could I have guessed that two Russian toddlers, both abandoned, neglected, and deprived, and one with significant brain injury, would ever teach me so much.

July 15, 2012

July 14, 2012

Peter tubing with his cousin Danny and daughter Amelia (Boone, NC, July 2012)

July 14, 2012.  The air quivering with heat and lake levels low from lack of rain and blistering temperatures, we greet the scorching day with folding chairs in arms, intent on staking out a shady spot amidst the dusty, burnt terrain.  Sophie, Pat and I have taken the one hour trek to Green Chimneys, where the annual family picnic is being held at a nearby sister facility.  There is an inflatable obstacle course on the lake for the kids to climb and navigate, but the water is too low and so the kids, mostly boys, stare longingly, arms folded over bare chests, at the now unattainable goal. Pat and I play volleyball with our kids and before we know it, boys of various ages and abilities have joined us on either side of the net.  Soon an energetic if not disorganized game ensures.  Sophie, no longer the epicenter of her parents’ attention, hangs her head and walks away.  Later, Pat and I enjoy a few minutes’ chat with the founder of the school, Dr. Sam Ross, an octogenarian zealously devoted to his mission and the kids he serves.  Still full of energy and verve, I can only imagine the robust force he must have been in his more youthful days.  He is a beloved leader of young minds and hearts and I watch as he surveys the picnic, the mass of healing children and parents, his rheumy eyes benevolent and triumphant, a portrait of pride derived from a lifetime of selfless work and accomplishment. Peter is glad to see us but a little grumpy from the heat and the realization that we are together today for only a few hours. The separation between child and family is unnatural, intuitively wrong, and we all do our best, in our own ways, to ignore this fact so that the reality doesn’t overwhelm and smother what is meant to be a happy day. I try to stay busy with both kids and we spend a lot of time swimming in the lake.  My family shouts playful jeers as I’m made to pass the deepwater swim test, just like the children. Peter and Sophie clap afterward as the lifeguard writes a fat “X” across my hand, memorializing my success.  Pat watches from the dock with towels in hand.  For the most part, Sophie is fine as long as it’s just Peter and us, but when I start talking to other kids or adults, she slinks off sulking, face transformed into an angry caricature of herself.  She resents these outings, the attention given to Peter that is more streamlined and less demanding than the daily routines of home. She doesn’t appreciate that our time with Peter is limited for now and that the nature of our relationship is therefore different – at least temporarily, from our relationship with her.  Though I try to reassure her, there is little I can do to alter this fact.  She has us 24/7, for better or worse, and Peter does not.  After an attempt to chase a few rubbery burgers with several cups of water, we head over to another part of the grounds where a climbable water slide has been set up.  One of the counselors sits atop the inflated climbing wall, ostensibly there to maintain order and safety, but he’s spraying the kids in line below with a hose, setting off rounds of gleeful protest.  Pat and I, seeking yet another spot of shade, strike up a conversation with a couple that recently enrolled their 6-year old as a day student.  It’s not long before we’re swapping war stories of contemptible treatment by our respective school districts.  Forever amazed by the fact that although individual circumstances differ, the overall plot remains unchanged, I listen with amusement as the mother, an educator herself, shares with us that she shoots certain individuals in her district a not so discrete bird whenever their paths cross.  So many Green Chimneys parents are combat veterans who’ve fought their districts tooth and nail to get the appropriate placement for their special needs children.  I’m glad we’ve met a few more veterans today; shared experience breeds hope and comfort and reaffirmation that the prize was worth the fight.  Earlier one of Peter’s friends eagerly approached, wanting me to meet his mother, whom he sees only rarely.  He is a sweet but troubled boy with a difficult background, always happy to lap up the extra interest and attention I try to show him whenever possible.  His mother matter-of-factly tells Pat and me that once she works through her own issues, she’ll be able to bring her son home.  The love in her eyes is apparent but there’s also a deep sadness and lack of confidence emanating from within.  She is the other face of Green Chimneys, a mother fighting just as hard for her child but for very different reasons.  When the picnic winds down, we decide to take the kids for an early dinner and ice cream.  We aren’t quite ready to say goodbye and are grateful Peter’s social worker approves the impromptu off-grounds request.  When we drop him back at school, later than we planned but earlier than I’d like, we remind Peter that he’ll be home the following weekend and that it’s only a few days away.  We kiss goodbye and hug each other tightly.  Then, as I plunk myself back into the car for the long and often quiet ride home, I turn my attention as a mother back to Sophie, one hundred percent. This unnatural shifting of familial rank and place throws her and the rest of us off.  I’ve come to appreciate that this pendulum effect is just one of the many forms that payment for the price of progress takes.


June 10, 2012

June 9, 2012

Assateague Island, MD (Memorial Day Wknd 2012)

June 9, 2012.  Peter’s home this weekend and something curious has begun.  It’s happened a few times in the past month or two but it’s taken me a while to assimilate this new chapter in our relationship.  A few weeks ago at dinner he reminisced, with more than a dollop of good humor, how he used to be such a bad eater – and misbehave so terribly at the table, that we sometimes resorted to having him eat separately in the dining room.  “But then I just dropped it all on the floor for the dogs!” he laughed.  “There was really nothing you could do.”  His grammar, word choice, and articulation are still works in progress, but this is essentially what transpired.  And then a few days ago, along the same line, he comments, “Can you believe I used to stuff the toilets till they spilled everywhere?  And then make my nose bleed all over me?”  Yes, I can believe it.  I survived those phases and to date, all the others.  The part I can’t believe is that he remembers these destructive patterns and now can laugh about them.  I had no idea he possessed that kind of self-awareness, either then or now.  On days like this I can imagine our son when he’s 22 or maybe 25, a young man with a strong, chiseled body, darkly tanned in the summer, and a mischievous smile that draws women like flies to sugar.  He is handsome, yes, but he is also kind.  He’ll struggle with memory, processing, money management, and, perhaps most worrisome, the ability to distinguish between those who wish him well and those with more predatory intentions.  But I imagine him standing on his own.  He’ll have a job – hopefully in an area that interests him, like video games or landscaping, and with any luck, he’ll be proud of his accomplishments.  I hope he’ll continue to look back on his journey with the same brand of humor he’s demonstrating now, the good-natured ability to acknowledge his past in order to help propel him toward his future.   Miraculously, he regularly proclaims that he intends always to live with his mom, or at least next door, a fact that both astonishes and comforts.  Opening my heart to this child was an intense struggle, the boy who hurt himself as much as – or even more, than he hurt me, but now the door to my affections is swung wide open, and the view grows more spectacular.  As long as I have a home, so do both our children.  The four of us spend the day together lazily, with me doing my best to pry Peter and Sophie away from their cavernous playroom toward the beautiful day outside.  When I finally succeed, I wonder whether my prediction that Peter might like landscaping is too ambitious.  He loves to help outside in the fall and early spring, but I realize now that summer is a different matter.  The insects make him swat and spin and growl with consternation.  He jumps on the trampoline and squeals, his body suddenly arched and rigid, whenever a gnat or fly swirls past.  “I want to go inside!” he howls.  And so I concede.  The presence of insects remains a major sensory problem and creates in him marked over-reactions.  Maybe the bugs – or more like the absence of bugs, are the reason I spend so much effort getting myself and the children to water during the summer, either the town pool, our favorite lake, Mudge Pond, or the ocean. Water is a weapon against the creepy crawlies, at least the kind that dominate the skies.  Plus, the kids and I are as drawn to water as beetles are to my rosebushes.  Pat would rather spend the summer hiking in the mountains, but he’s forever the good sport.  Between Peter’s bug issues, my mangled ankle, and Sophie’s inevitable cries of boredom and exhaustion (that ensue after 10 minutes on the trail), the opportunities are few and far between.  Like all parents, the two of us occasionally wonder when we’ll get to resume, on our own or as a couple, some of the activities we enjoyed pre- children.  Given the dynamics of our family, and our alarmingly increasing ages, it seems possible that “our” time might never come, but that’s okay.  We’re growing, we’re stronger, and we’re seeing progress where before we saw only disaster and hopelessness.  The kind of mountain climbing we do these days is virtual, but there’s no doubt we’ve scaled countless peaks to reach and help Peter, and there’s bound to be more ahead.  We try and will continue to do the same for Sophie, though her needs are subtler and in many ways more tricky to traverse.  But for now, with the bugs filling the airways and the sunny day to lure us along, I think I’ll pack the beach bag, load up the kids, and head to the lake.

June 4, 2012

June 4, 2012

Assateague Island, MD (May 24, 2012)

June 4, 2012.  We’re 10 days home from seeing Dr. Federici in northern Virginia for Peter’s bi-annual neuropsychological assessment.  Dr. Federici’s a significant reason why we’ve come as far with our son as we have, his evaluations providing a litmus test upon which we measure past efforts as well as an invaluable roadmap for the future.  These visits are difficult for Peter, though.  They’re demanding of his focus and attention in a way he’s not quite equipped to handle, and the information gleaned from them hasn’t always been easy for us to process.  Words and phrases like psychosis, autism, lifetime care, FAS, significant support, mood dysregulation, and cognitive deficiencies  – they’re difficult to swallow and enough to scare anyone.  But those particular descriptors didn’t loom so heavily this time.  Something has changed – something really significant, and great.  The very best part is that Pat and I knew it before Dr. Federici even told us.  Peter is better.  Not just a little bit better but about 40% better in every area of functioning (except academics where there’s been little gain).  I’ve never seen Dr. Federici look so pleased.  I couldn’t decide whether he was beaming like a proud papa or looking more like a small child ready to bust with exciting news.  Either way, we sat in his office after the testing, relaxed and full of banter, trading complements and accolades like a small band of combatants who’ve just conquered a formidable enemy.  After almost 8 years of constant effort and struggle, we may have turned the corner with the boy I once described – quite accurately, as feral.  Today Peter is happier, more centered, more trusting, showing better reasoning and problem solving skills, demonstrating improved language skills, and exercising more independence and ability to adjust to changing circumstances.  Dr. Federici credits this positive leap to two things: the cumulative effect of our efforts and our success in finally getting him placed in an appropriate therapeutic environment.  The only asterisk that looms over my otherwise warm and glowing feeling is the knowledge that Green Chimneys School is achieving what Pat and I could not.  I realize that we’ve brought Peter a great distance, and in some ways I recognize that many others might have given up where we persevered, but I still ache with the wish that this last, most victorious push could have been achieved in the intimacy of our home.  I’m thankful that Green Chimneys is achieving what we couldn’t, but the truth is, I’m also a little resentful and jealous.  Peter wants to be home, he clings to me during our visits and his eyes well up with tears on our drive back Sunday nights.  It’s hard to reconcile this Peter with the boy who used to smear feces on himself and spit on me;  but I suppose knowledge of our troubled past only makes the hopefulness of the present that much more luscious and remarkable.  The only problem is that I want to whisk my son away, back into my arms, to the love that’s grown as steady and unstoppable as the rising sun, but I know I mustn’t.  Sometimes I feel like an estranged mother contemplating parental kidnapping.  There’s a cost to progress, at least in our case, and it comes in the unwelcome form of mutual heartache and homesickness.  Peter needs the 24/7 supervision, the 1:1 staff who help keep his impulses in check, his distractibility minimized, and who constantly talk him down from his various tirades and skewed perceptions.  We can do this at home – I’ve become particularly adept at various strategies, but I can’t sustain it indefinitely.  I realize that it’s only a matter of time – 10 days, maybe 2 weeks, before Peter’s challenges begin to outwit my stamina, patience, and commitment.  I realize, with more than a little melancholy, that the reason he’s 40% better is because Green Chimneys and its plethora of strong young men and women on 8-hour shifts don’t give his mind or body an opportunity to decompensate or unravel, at least not for very long.  I should be grateful for this and in fact, I am.  It just stings a little.  A wise doctor told us almost two years ago that Peter needed a system of supports, a circle of providers that extended further and deeper than two parents could simulate or sustain.  I need to realize and believe that Green Chimneys’ victory is our victory too, that the endeavor is a collective one and that it’s not an either/or proposition.  Although my mind knows this to be true, my heart requires a little more convincing.  After the testing, we drove to Ocean City, MD for Memorial Day Weekend and spent most of the time on Assateague Island, enjoying the beach and the wild ponies.  Watching Peter navigate the cold, crashing waves, the gritty sand, the always changing conditions of the shore, without the stiff and bracing posture, his usual guarded, super-sensitized body language, truly was exhilarating.  For the first time ever, he wasn’t the boy on the beach with obvious issues and challenges.  He was just a boy on the beach, a wonderfully happy boy, who alongside his sister, was filled with the ordinary joys that we as parents all hope permeate our kids’  childhoods.  When we got home, and Peter was tucked into bed before going back to school the next morning, he hugged me fiercely and asked, “Did I have a good trip, Mommy?”  Knowing he was asking about his behavior and not whether he had a good time, I smiled into his eyes, fighting back my tears.  With as much composure as manageable, I assured him that he did.  And it’s true.  Peter, our beautiful, enigmatic, and resilient son, had a wonderful trip indeed.

May 1, 2012

May 1, 2012

Image

Shaker Village, Hancock, MA, April 28, 2012

May 1, 2012.  I struggle to keep my voice calm and cheerful as I listen to Peter on the phone, which has become our lifeline to each other as surely as it was when Pat and I dated long-distance, NYC to Atlanta, 15 years earlier.  Dropping him off at Green Chimneys last night, we shared the now familiar ache derived from having a 10-year old child separated, more days than not, from the rest of his family.  “When I’m discharged, Mom,” he asks plaintively, “can I join the Boy Scouts?”  It’s an unexpected question, Peter never having expressed any interest in Boy Scouts in the past.  “I don’t want to be bored when I go home,” he explains.  “I know I gotta stay busy.”  On occasion we carpool with another Red Hook family whose teenage daughter also attends Green Chimneys.  When we arrived back at school Sunday night, the teenager announced that she was being discharged in August and will be attending a different but less restrictive special needs all-girls boarding school next fall.  Peter didn’t catch the part about her going to another “sleep away” school, only that she was being discharged from Green Chimneys, and I didn’t have the heart to correct his thinking.  I know Sunday’s conversation is what sparked his sudden interest in discharge, which is of course the ultimate goal of all Green Chimney residential students.  Despite knowing that this has stirred up his homesickness, I’m nonetheless struck by the fact that he has developed enough self-awareness to know that he needs constant structure, that free time is one of his mind’s worst enemies.  When I speak to him on the phone, listening to his doleful voice, I long to tell him that soon he’ll be back with us on a permanent basis, that “sleep away” school one day will be a thing of the past, but I reply more carefully.  The truth is I don’t know when Peter will be coming home, he’s making great progress in so many areas – like social skills, continence, speech/language, and daily living, but at the same time he’s demonstrating little if any gains in terms of his constant, chronic need for supervision and redirection.  It’s only been 10 months but the reality is that he may always need the 24/7 external brain that Green Chimneys provides.  I fully appreciate that his improved emotional and psychiatric stability might quickly deteriorate were he back home where the level of constant intervention that Green Chimneys supplies simply cannot be replicated on a continuous basis.  It’s a harsh reality and one that I push from my mind with some frequency.  I miss Peter terribly but console myself by recognizing that I might never have felt this way, that we never might have been capable of this closeness, had I not fought for and won his love and trust.  When he’s home now, whether for just a weekend or a longer break, I have learned to relax in his presence and enjoy our relationship without the constant burden of having to teach, re-teach, redirect, or provide consequences.  For the most part, I no longer have to teeter along the precipice of enjoying my role as mother and protector while constantly aware that disaster and chaos could plunge all of us into darkness at any moment.  But Peter doesn’t understand this, he couldn’t possibly, and frankly, I hope he never does.  I don’t want our son ever to think that he’s a burden, that the effort needed to care for and protect him is more than we are equipped to handle.  And so as I speak to him on the phone, I distract him by reviewing when he’ll be home next and what our plans are for the upcoming weeks.  I acknowledge that he misses home and that I miss him too, but I do my best not to let his wistful voice tear at the fabric of the faith I have in our decision to enroll him at Green Chimneys.  In so many ways, the school is an oasis, both for students and parents.  I have to remember that it’s a place of growth, acceptance, and healing and that its existence is an extremely positive presence in our lives.  But here’s the thing: I also can’t forget that positive change, at least in our case, is not without toll.  As we say goodnight, I propose that we meet on the moon in our dreams, a game Peter and I always have played and one that makes him truly smile.  I tell him to look for a polka-dotted spaceship and he tells me that his will be blue with a big yellow star on the tip.  We agree that I’ll bring snacks and he’ll bring a soccer ball.  I tell him I love him and kiss the phone, knowing that in our dreams, we are always together.

November 17, 2011

November 11, 2011

Filed under: FAS,fetal alcohol syndrome,Green Chimney — whenrainhurts @ 3:57 pm
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The Rail Trail, Millbrook, NY (Nov. 13, 2011)

November 11, 2011.  Peter comes home for the weekend this afternoon and I can’t wait to see him.  When he was with us for Halloween, he admitted that Green Chimneys was helping his brain.  “I know its good for me, Mom,” he smiled shyly.  When he’s with us he doesn’t want to do much.  I watch as he drinks in the familiar surroundings, the scents and sights of home that he surely loves but can’t always handle.  He’s content to play with his toys or snuggle with me in front of the television with a blazing fire to keep us company.  Sophie senses that Peter and I are very close and at peace in these moments and it unsettles her.  She’s not used to Peter and I sharing that kind of intimacy and she feels threatened.  I understand, of course.  Our youngest has been terrified that Pat and I are going to send her away, too.  I try reassuring her by explaining that Peter has a problem in his brain that requires 24/7 attention, and that Green Chimneys can help him in a way that we just can’t.  It’s a hard pill to swallow.  Parents are supposed to be able to fix all their children’s problems.  Sophie deserves to be able to believe this, especially given her own traumatic past, but I’ve been put in the unenvious position of dissuading her of such notions, at least of late.  The child who constantly stated she hated her brother now waits impatiently by the window for his arrival on an every other weekend basis.  At least Green Chimneys has taught Sophie that she does indeed love Peter, an unintended consequence for which I’m grateful.  Sophie knows we’ll have a quiet weekend because we’re beginning to understand that Peter just can’t handle the noisily thronged outside world, preferring instead the newfound quiet of home.  Everybody, including educators, therapists, counselors, and us, has finally stopped trying to force, coax and cajole Peter into living a neuro-typical life despite his very obvious neuro-differences.  At night, after the children are asleep, the phone rings.  It’s Peter’s psychiatrist from Green Chimneys.  She wants to discuss Peter’s hallucinations, specifically the Grinch that he sees, hears and feels on an eerily regular basis.   I’m a little annoyed at first, it’s Friday night after all, and I was just settling into the luxurious feel of knowing that everyone I love is safe and sound and under one roof.  But she’s a busy woman, I realize that, and so I shake off the intrusive vibe and listen closely to what she says.  She’s been talking with Peter lately, as well as his teachers, aide, and dorm staff, and she’s come to the conclusion that our son is suffering from separation anxiety.  She thinks the Grinch materializes when he’s away from me.  Yes, me!  I can hardly believe my ears.  The psychiatrist explains, “He says ‘Mommy makes him go away.’” Dumbfounded, I make her repeat her theory, as well as any supportive evidence.  Could it possibly be that the boy who spit and hissed at me for our first years together is now counting on me to keep his demons away?  Could it be that I have actually become the person in the world he most trusts to keep him safe?  My heart beats so loudly I can barely hear her speaking.  I do my best to convey maternal concern but I can’t shake free of the sensation that I’ve just won the lottery.  I’m sorry that Peter struggles with these experiences, I know they scare him witless, but this worrisome news cloaks a brilliant nugget of gold.  After we hang up, my mind reaches back to that late summer day, many years past, when Peter first confided in me, telling me in a near whisper as we trudged across a puddled parking lot that the rain hurt him.  Though I knew it was a breakthrough – to our knowledge Peter had never shared even a snippet of his interior life with another human soul, I couldn’t imagine that such a tiny crack in his armor would lead to this nearly perfect moment.  After we hang up, the salty taste of my own tears takes me by surprise and I swipe at my face as I pad down the hall to kiss Sophie and then Peter one more time.  I realize with bittersweet surrender that we have reached the end of our journey to create a mother-son bond.  My quest to make Peter understand that he is loved, unconditionally and forever, has been a success.  I hate that he’s feeling, hearing, and seeing things but my heart nearly cartwheels knowing that he believes I can  stop these scary episodes.  The rub, of course, and the reason for the tears, comes in appreciating that this epiphany might never have occurred had Peter not gone into a residential school.  The dogged diligence required to keep him and the rest of us safe and at least somewhat functional was clouding the path.  It seems in our case distance between mother and child has actually bridged, rather than widened, the gap between us and perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised.  FAS is a cunning disability, and early neglect, abuse, and deprivation only serve to exasperate an already faulty mindset.  But despite the irony, the sense of loss that envelopes even the most prized epiphanies, I’m more optimistic than ever about my son’s heart, and our futures together.  Whether rain or Grinch, Peter has empowered me to shield him from the ravages of his past as well as the obstacles in his future.  There’s so much ahead, challenges I don’t even want to fathom, but for now I’m content.  I’ve given him my love, and in return, he’s shown me his trust.  I fall asleep feeling luminous and light.  Having reached for the unreachable, I now know that some dreams really do come true.

August 29, 2011

August 29, 2011

Dutchess County Fair, Aug. 26, 2011

August 29, 2011.  I’ve been a half-hearted insomniac most of my life, teetering on the edge of clinical significance, as seems the case with so many other challenges in my life!  As I lay awake at 2 a.m. watching Mystery Diagnosis in the bonus room – a show Pat claims is at least partially responsible for my insomnolence, I can’t help but giggle to myself.  Our dog Pippin, loyally snug in the crook of my arm, looks up at me, sleepy but enthused.  It seems we share synchronicity of mood, a divine pleasure I think any dog lover understands and cherishes.  I was joking with Pat the other day in the car, accusing him, at age 63, of vacillating between adolescent rage and geriatric forgetfulness.  A little erratic behind the wheel, I honestly couldn’t tell whether he was experiencing road rage, absentmindedness or some combination thereof.  He thought my description funny and the memory of that drive had me laughing in the middle of the night despite the weight of the worries keeping me awake.  But all kidding aside, I think he and I are suffering from the same symptoms, they’re just manifesting differently.  It’s been nearly ten weeks since Peter entered Green Chimneys as a residential student, but we’ve yet to reach a new equilibrium.  I’ve read the Out of Sync Child cover to cover, maybe more than once.  If only it provided guidance for the out of sync parent, which is surely what Pat and I have become.  Before Green Chimneys, we were on a tumultuous ride with our now 10-year-old son, and one that didn’t always produce desired results.  But it was a ride we nonetheless came to understand.  It was familiar.  Now things have changed for Sophie, Peter, Pat, and I.  It’s like we’ve been flung into the realm of some metamorphic process and we’re waiting with bated breath to see how we’ll emerge.  Will we all become butterflies or will some combination of us turn out less desirably, like say, a newt?  Peter came home for his first lengthy break on Friday afternoon.  He doesn’t have to go back until Labor Day.  He’s lost a little weight, seems more wistful than I remember, and is acting more than a little shy.  Despite the awkward melancholy, we picked up his meds at the Health Center, said our goodbyes to staff, and headed straight to the county fair, which was a good thing because we later learned it was closing at midnight due to the anticipation of Hurricane Irene.  Our kids look forward to the fair almost as much as Christmas or Halloween and I would have hated them to miss it.  When we finally got home, exhausted, grimy, and smelling of corndogs and fried dough, I watched as Peter brushed his fingers lightly along the kitchen island and then the kitchen table.  The excitement of the fair had pushed the melancholy aside but now it was back.  When I asked what he was doing, he responded, “It feels like a new home, Mom.”  I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard, and yet I knew exactly what he meant.  Despite the fuzziness that coats so many of his thoughts, in that moment he experienced complete clarity of mind.  I almost broke down in front of him but I fought back my emotions, bit my quivering lip, and gave him the biggest hug he could handle.  “Your home will always be where I am,” I whispered.  I’m not sure he bought the half-truth but he was gracious and stoic enough to leave it alone.  We have changed, our little family of four.  But instead of slumbering peacefully until the final transformation is complete, I remain alert and restless, pensive but also steadfast in my conviction to stay the course.  I must have faith in myself, my husband, of our decision to place Peter in a residential school, and in the strength and resilience of our two remarkable though disproportionately wounded children.  Our metamorphosis, it seems, has only just begun.  I’m hoping all four of us have the stuff from which butterflies are made.

July 3, 2011

June 30, 2011

Mudge Pond, Sharon, CT, Father's Day 2011

June 30, 2011.  “Don’t forget to bring my Pokemon cards,” Peter repeats as I tell him Lindy and I plan to visit today.  “I need ALL my stuff, Mom.”  Hearing his voice, so upbeat and focused on the here and now, his mind incapable of worrying over the future or dwelling on the past, offers both comfort and distress.  Ten days ago, Pat, Sophie, Grandma and I took Peter to Green Chimneys School, a nearby residential treatment facility, to live, grow, and hopefully heal.  It turns out I’ve been living a lie these last few years, telling myself I could handle Peter’s escalating needs, his unpredictable thoughts and warp speed impulses.  No one wants to admit her child is more than she can handle, especially an adoptive mother, and especially someone like me, who takes pride – or at least solace, in a certain stubborn resolve to march through adversity.  But his attempt a few weeks back, to catapult from a second story window in the middle of a tantrum, disabused me of that notion once and for all.  No psychiatric hospital would take him after the window incident – we were told his management needs exceeded their current staffing capabilities.  So we held our breath, crossed our fingers and said a little prayer until his admission day at Green Chimneys arrived.  We also bolted his bedroom windows shut, used an alarm on his door and kept him downstairs all day every day until bedtime.  He’s been at his new school for 10 days now, and we can visit whenever we like, though he can’t come home or leave the grounds for one month.  After this period of acclimation, we will bring him home every other weekend and for holidays and school vacations.  My hope, laced with regret but steady with resolve, is that this experience can soothe his tortured soul in a way our home, our love, our daily family life, could not.  A child like Peter has a way of consuming one’s thoughts, and it’s no different – at least not yet, now that he’s at Green Chimneys.  This renowned school was an original pioneer of animal-assisted therapy and the unfulfilled farmer in me drinks in the many sights of the lush, well-tended farm and immaculate barns and pens.  Peacocks roam the grounds freely, as do guinea hens and other birds.  The year’s crop of baby lambs, goats and cows are still small and cuddly enough to illicit involuntary sighs of joy, and there are miniature horses, ponies and standard horses at almost every turn.  Children are riding horseback while others help train a group of 4-month old Golden Retriever puppies slated to become therapy dogs.  I immediately wish I could work there, both to be closer to Peter, whom I ache for despite the obvious peace and calm his absence has brought, and to be a part of this healing community of people, livestock and pets.  Right now Peter is still uninterested in the animals, the flies, the odors, the work involved are more than he wishes to navigate.  But with time, and tremendous support, he may come to understand that there is a path, a way to live in and view the world that makes sense, where effort produces results and where good choices lead to positive outcomes.  Right now his mind, his world, his every waking minute is filled with fiery chaos, and for any number of reasons, Pat and I aren’t the ones who are going to be able to douse the flames.  It’s a difficult thing to admit, but I know its true.  We have brought him so far, but we reached a wall we simply could not scale.  He needs more.  Does he mourn the temporary tear in our family’s fabric?  Is he wondering why he’s sleeping away from home, or consider when he’ll be returning?  I don’t think so, and for Peter’s sake, I hope not.  It’s our job to shoulder those burdens, to decide what’s best for him in the context of what’s necessary for the rest of us.  So right now I assure him that I’ll do my best to locate his beloved Pokemon cards, and I look forward to taking him in my arms so I can feel his silky skin and hopefully convey – on a cellular if not conscious level, that he is cherished.  I need him to know that he is and always will be my special boy, a child who held my heart hostage for years but who with bravery and brawn has transformed us both into persons with unexpected capacity for resilience, compassion and love.  

April 12, 2011

April 11, 2011

Aunt Pattys Birthday Visit (March 2011)

April 11, 2011.  Peter is in a psychiatric hospital for the second time in eight weeks.  It’s taken me this long to put these words to paper because the concept both terrifies and repels me.  In many ways I’ve become numb of late, shut down and unfeeling, or maybe just braced against the inevitable difficulties and choices that await.  Our family’s future remains uncertain.  Pat and Sophie and I are left to huddle, hunkered down in the protective shell of our suddenly peaceful home, hoping for a resolution – or maybe even a breakthrough, that will return our almond-eye son to the bosom of our family.   Pat was out of town on business when I drove Peter the 80 miles to the hospital last Friday.  When he returned, he sat with Sophie in her room, listening as she babbled nervously about the events of the past few days.  When they were finished talking, she offered, almost as an afterthought, “I feel happy Peter’s gone.  Is that bad, Dad?”  Always bold in her convictions, Sophie’s only stating what Pat and I have been afraid to admit.  It does feel better with Peter away, there’s no denying the reality of this fact.  Pat’s anger, my desolation, Sophie’s anxiety, they’ve been doused and rendered inert, like pollen after a warm Spring rain.  But there’s also an emptiness that comes with this peculiar brand of respite.  Sophie wanders the house, looking for things to do.  No matter how strained and contentious the relationship, she misses her brother and playmate.  Another time she wanders over to the neighbor’s house, fishing for fun and a little distraction, but soon returns, disappointed.  They can’t or don’t want to play with her.   Normal kid stuff, but the sting is greater, it seems, due to the present circumstances.  Suddenly she’s an only child with no point of reference.  It’s only temporary, of course, but the gulf caused by Peter’s absence, the price we pay for a brief period of “normalcy” is high.  Our son is not well, that much is apparent.  His psychiatric issues are becoming more pronounced as he grows and we are becoming less able to corral his errant thinking and irrational – even destructive and dangerous, behaviors.  The first time we left him at the hospital I sobbed uncontrollably, grief and relief washing over me in equal measure.  But this time my eyes were dry.  I knew he needed to go and there was no place for doubt in my heart.  I knew I didn’t have the tools to handle the sudden escalation of symptoms; plus, our daughter wasn’t safe.  That same night I took Sophie to the movies.  She quickly spotted some girlfriends, leaving me to sit in solitude with my thoughts.  I sat wishing, praying, even demanding that our son recover, that he improve so that he might one day live a life connected to others through love and friendship rather than the stale, predictable, one-way connections premised on need and intervention.  I want more for him.  I can’t help it.  I’ve given up the hopes and dreams, the highest of my aspirations.  And that’s okay.  They were always about me, not him, anyway.  I have to walk along his path, wherever that takes us, and promise always to steady and fortify him along the way.  It’s all I can do and so it has to be enough.  I know that I can’t heal Peter; I can’t undo the damage in his brain or erase his genetic and institutional history.  But I can continue to work toward, and look forward to, a brighter future for our son.  Part of that is admitting that I have to let go a little, that I have to let others into the sanctuary of our lives so that Peter receives the system of supports he needs in order to keep moving forward.  And right now, he needs more than Pat and I can give.  For right now, at least, the three of us need to settle on a new equilibrium, all the while hoping and praying that the therapists and doctors at the hospital are helping Peter find his own.

February 24, 2011

February 24, 2011

Peter and Pat (Birobidzhan, Russia, Oct. 2004)


February 24, 2011.  I haven’t written in a while, though I’ve started and stopped several times.  Peter’s not well right now, he’s disconnected and confused, and very, very vulnerable.  He’s getting the help he needs, and for that Pat and I are grateful.  He’s not in physical danger and his spirits, all things considered, are good.  It’s a terribly difficult time for us, and though I may one day choose to write about the intense panoply of emotions I’m experiencing, right now I need to honor my son’s dignity, bolster his courage, and attend to the needs of my husband and daughter.

For the present, and after discussions with my agent, I think I’ll return to the task of finishing the remaining book chapters.  Our current circumstances more than ever convince me of the need to get this book finished, to get this book distributed, and to hopefully allow people a window into the lives intimately and forever affected by prenatal alcohol abuse.  The older Peter gets, the more evident it becomes that his obstacles cannot be blamed predominantly on the neglect and possible abuse experienced in his Russian orphanage.  Our son’s brain has forever been altered by the devastating presence of alcohol coursing through his birth mother’s bloodstream throughout the gestational period.  And though she may have inalterably limited his cognitive, emotional and self-regulatory capacities, her reckless behavior did nothing to muffle the gentle beauty of his heart, or the genuine kindness of his soul. He is a beautiful but damaged boy who suffers the double whammy of permanent brain damage and significant early trauma.  I hope this project, if it does nothing more, raises awareness of one of the most devastating yet preventable birth defects:  Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (also called FAS).

A few weeks ago Sophie, our third grader, related a story she heard in school, about a child whose older brother is in jail because he drove drunk, caused an accident, and killed his best friend in the process.  A horrible tragedy for both families, I wondered what Sophie was thinking.  I was about to ask when she beat me to the punch.  “Mom,” she paused.  “Why isn’t Peter’s mom in jail?”  I looked at her calmly, and asked her to explain her thoughts.  “Well, she ruined Peter’s brain by drinking alcohol when she was pregnant.  I thought people who hurt other people when they are drunk have to go to jail.”

January 23, 2011

January 23, 2011

Poet's Walk (January 22, 2011)

September 23, 2011.  My second interview with the nonprofit went well enough, at least I think, but I won’t learn the outcome for another few days.  In the meantime, I have my niece Erin’s visit to look forward to, and distract me.  A junior at Boston College, she’s been my “little cabbage” from the day she was born.  In a few more weeks, she heads to Australia for a semester abroad.  A somewhat timid little girl, she now possesses the quiet self-confidence and adventurous spirit to venture halfway around the world without knowing a single soul.  We pick her up from the train station later this afternoon, a fact that has Peter spiraling toward self-destruction.  Anticipation is one of the hardest emotions with which he copes, largely, I think, due to his inability to place himself or events in time.  To Peter, a relatively casual thing like a cousin’s visit must feel how I might feel if someone told me I was going to the moon, without benefit of training or advance notice, sometime within the next one hundred and eighty days.  In other words, he’s completely freaked.  “Coming Erin today?” he asks.  I’m so glad I’m finally able to tell him, yes, today is the day.  When they were younger, Pat and I kept exciting news from both kids until the last possible moment but we can’t do that anymore, not with Sophie’s sophisticated eight-year-old eyes and ears keeping watch for things good and bad at all times.  But even though we can attribute Peter’s recent burst of unmanageability to his cousin’s visit, the sad truth is that he seems less, not more, able to cope as he gets older, stronger, and bigger.  His tantrums and outbursts are happening more frequently, and even more alarming, they’re being triggered by events so small they almost never can be anticipated.  For instance, Peter spent twenty minutes or so building a Lego racecar in the playroom late yesterday afternoon.  We’d spent a few glorious hours snow shoeing with our puppy and everyone was tired but happy.  Peter normally can’t follow the directions or sustain his attention long enough to put together something like a Lego car, but yesterday he did, and he was mighty proud.  So were the rest of us.  It’s the first time he’s accomplished something so intricate on his own.  “I wasn’t good for doing this before, Mom,” he beamed, “but now I’m ready!”  We urged him to put it on the mantel or some other safe place, to treat it like a decoration, so it wouldn’t fall apart.  But he couldn’t resist the temptation.  A few minutes later, around dinnertime, Sophie came up from the playroom shaking her head, a mixture of frustration and pity flooding her face.  “It fell apart,” she said, biting her lower lip, “and he’s not in good shape.”  Within seconds we heard him stomping up the stairs, then the door to the basement swung open and I watched, helpless, as he burst into tears and undecipherable raging that deteriorated into his throwing his dirty diaper around and Pat having to put him in his room.  By the time he was in control enough to come down for dinner, we learned that only a single piece of the car fell off and all he would have had to do was snap it back into place.  But the disappointment, the frustration, the flood of emotions he experiences over the most trivial problem, were more than he could handle.  And because this is happening more and more frequently, often several times a day, his issues once again are holding us hostage.  In fact, after significant nudging from our family therapist, we’ve allowed a crisis team into our home, to help us sort out what can be changed and what can’t, and to help us plan for our family’s future, its safety and well-being.  The first night the two crisis intervention women came to our home, I found myself bragging somewhat about how much progress we’d made with our son, at least in terms of attachment, trust, and bonding.  But then Peter being Peter, he did the unexpected when one of the women asked him a series of questions, 95% of which he wasn’t processing.  But when she pared her words down, and asked a single pertinent question, he had his answer ready.  “If you could have one wish,” she asked, “what would it be?”  Without pause, and certainly without apology, he looked Pat and I squarely in the eyes and said “to not have a mom and dad.”

January 13, 2011

January 13, 2011

Lulu LoBrutto, 5 months (January 2011)

January 13, 2011.  Next week I go for a second interview regarding a position I nearly covet with an environmental advocacy group.  It’s a chance of a lifetime, a chance to jump back into a meaningful career, to contribute, and to turn some much needed attention to myself, to my own goals and aspirations, my own sense of accomplishment and purpose.  When I look back over our time as a family, I realize I’ve been happiest, and most sane, when I was immersed in work, teaching at Bard.  My life is still incredibly busy, but my days are filled disproportionately with managing my son’s physical and mental health, his education, and working, always working, to help him integrate more successfully into daily family life.  And it’s wearing me down.  I know I’m giving him my best, at least on most days, but I’m also getting to the point where I’m not sure sacrificing every ounce of every fiber of my being for miniscule progress is prudent, or even very beneficial.  I may have already brought him as far as he can go in terms of attachment and orientation to his world.  It’s very possible that he’s the best that he can be and the time has come to loosen the reigns and somehow expand his circle of caregivers.  When he became our son, Peter trusted no one, he was lost inside his own disordered mind, and was more alone in the world, literally and figuratively, than any child on the planet deserves to be.  Pat and I have changed those facts, substantially, and I’m proud to acknowledge that our son is now a child who knows how to give and receive love, who knows what it feels like to trust and who shows compassion toward others on a daily basis.  There are times he looks at me, shy at first, and then his eyes light up, all at once, as they meet mine.  My heart soars in these moments to heights I never dreamed possible.  They are transcendent in their beauty, and in many ways, nothing short of miraculous.  I realize that.  But I also realize that despite these achievements, Peter forever will require 24/7 care, there’s no doubt about it.  He can’t regulate his own behavior for even a nanosecond and will always need someone to model and talk him through appropriate choices and more generally, help him navigate the everyday terrain of his life.  The professionals in our lives are telling us that Peter needs an entire system of care beyond what we can provide as parents and that its time to start turning over the reigns, at least in some respects.  But even though I accept the truth in these words, I realize that I’m still thinking and behaving as though his condition can be substantially rehabilitated, that I can will our son toward a more meaningful, more complete future.  Maybe I’m not ready to let go of that dream, maybe certain dreams do help us sustain rather than delude.  Or maybe holding onto the hope that Peter will emerge higher functioning than seems practicable is the only rational course of action – after all, to admit otherwise is to give up, and I can’t and won’t do that.  So where does that leave me?  If I’m fortunate enough to be offered this position, can I in good conscience take this full-time job or will I be turning my back on our needy children, on the 24/7 demands of raising Peter, not to mention the less urgent but just as important responsibility of helping Sophie blossom and overcome her challenges?  I think the answer lies in believing in myself, and in realizing that its okay to have my own life, my own aspirations, and that career, family, children (even special needs children) don’t necessarily have to be either/or propositions.  So many women grapple with this balance, there’s nothing new here, but somehow the stakes seem higher because our children are former Russian orphans, and because Peter has overwhelming needs.  Egocentrism at it’s best perhaps.  But one thing I do know: I’m hopeful about this opportunity.  If I’m able to persuade the folks that need persuading that I can contribute substantially to their cause, then I want to find a way to make this work.  I want a chance to rediscover myself in a manner that expands my identity as Peter and Sophie’s mother to include career and colleagues.  I want to think that diving back into my professional field, coupled with my new teaching responsibilities at Marist College, may even make me a better parent.  I’m too consumed right now with the problems, the heartache, and the never-ending, drive-you-nuts redundancy of life with a brain-injured child to have any sense of perspective, or balance.  Plus, the issue of income and benefits can’t be ignored.  Peter’s problems have caused an enormous financial strain, one that Pat bears 100% right now.  The fact that he’s significantly older than I and under tremendous pressure doesn’t escape me, ever.  Our financial safety net has been chewed clear through by private therapists, evaluations, specialists, equipment, medication, relocation, and countless – sometimes foolishly desperate, interventions.  If Pat were to get sick or injured or worse, well, I’m not quite sure what I’d do to keep our family afloat.  Our lives are insecure in so many regards, a hard pill to swallow for a person who craves security and stability.  The bottom line is that I’m very excited about this opportunity and look forward to learning more about the organization and the people who work there.  At my initial interview, I noticed a dog bowl and a large bone in the building.  I wonder – if I’m fortunate enough to be offered the position, whether I’ll be able to bring our dogs (okay, maybe just one) to work!

 

January 7, 2011

January 7, 2011

An artist's eye (Dec. 2010)

January 7, 2011.  The snow outside the kitchen window falls like sprinkled baby powder, the whispery flakes fine and silent as they drift, almost apologetically, toward the ground.  Sophie and Peter are outside playing, even though it’s eight thirty in the morning, because both schools cancelled in anticipation of a storm that appears to have lost purchase.  I have so much to do today, including finishing up my syllabus for my Environmental Law class, but I hope to carve out a few hours for the children.  It’s not been a barrel of fun around here lately, and I’d like to make some progress toward turning the situation around.  The holidays have always been rough on Peter, for the usual reasons of lack of routine and schedule, but there’s something else going on too, though I can’t quite name it.  It may have to do with his medication, or maybe it’s just the fact that he’s growing and his episodes and distorted thinking are increasing right along with his physical measurements.  Regardless, it seems like every little change or provocation sets him off at a level higher, and with more frequency, than we’ve previously experienced.  Plus, the issue of his increased urine output, coupled with his occasional inclination to weaponize his pee, has me ready to scream “surrender!”.  Diaper, rubber pants, maximum doses of DDAVP, and no liquids after 6 pm have done little to curb the problem.  Though the DDAVP gave me a few weeks reprieve from washing his sheets every day, the drug no longer seems to be working.  What appears imminent, and his psychiatrist is speaking with a nephrologist today, is that we’re going to have to take him off the Lithium, which is messing with his thyroid and kidneys.  After two years on the “miracle drug” that cleared and soothed his tortured mind, Peter’s body has begun screaming in revolt.  The very thought of doing this terrifies me.  He’s not even doing well right now and I shiver to think what will happen when and if we remove the most powerful weapon in his pharmaceutical arsenal.  It’s times like this that take me to the brink of my strength, my reserves, and whatever sense of hope to which I still stubbornly cling.  Peter’s favorite phrases right now are “I won’t do it” and “You are a damn pipsqueak.”  The latter would be funny except for the venom spitting from his mouth.  And while we’re on it, Sophie’s been less than charming too.  Last night Pat took over the nighttime routine because he knew I hit my limit.  Most days I can handle Peter, but when Sophie starts spiraling at the same time, when her attachment issues flair and her anxiety symptoms skyrocket, I have a hard time coping.  This isn’t fair to her, of course.  She shouldn’t have to time her setbacks so they occur opposite of Peter’s.  But she’s been lying like a seasoned veteran, over things large and small, bringing home one poor grade after the other because she doesn’t feel anyone should tell her what to do (as in take a test), and she’s even begun abusing our animals again.  How do I put out Peter’s fires all day long when Sophie is running behind, resetting them?  It’s too much sometimes, it really is.  Sophie is the child we believed was all right, the one we thought we could truly heal; a little girl whose crooked smile and mischievous eyes hold so much light and promise.  But she is scarred too, maybe not physically, like Peter, but psychologically and emotionally.  They are both unhappy children right now, I know that, and Pat and I are unhappy parents.  But when I try to change the tone or steer us back in masse toward a more positive approach, one or both of them seem to purposely ambush the effort.  I either catch one of them at something – like Peter taking apart the electrical outlets the other day, or they fall apart and start beating on each other the second I turn my back.  It’s such a peaceful day outside, the light, steady snow blanketing the house and yard like a favorite worn quilt, and it saddens me to think that my parenting journey, the choices I’ve made and the paths I’ve taken, have lead to such a tumultuous, and at times hostile, environment inside the four corners of our home.  I love my children, both of them, for vastly different reasons and in countless different ways.  But they’re also robbing me of the best years of my life.  It’s so hard, sometimes, to see beyond the blizzard of problems, doctors’ appointments, teacher conferences, placement battles, or therapists, and think back to why and how we wound up here in the first place.  All I wanted was a family, a chance to mother children who desperately needed mothering.  It seemed a simple concept, but it’s not.  I can’t imagine anything else occurring in my lifetime that will offer a greater personal challenge than raising our two children, one impossibly damaged in utero by alcohol and the other wounded, maybe permanently, by the rigors of life itself.  What’s clear is that I’m not meeting that challenge right now, and am therefore failing our kids.  I have to get myself back on track, to a mindset where their problems and behaviors don’t feel like a personal affront, where I can make hot cocoa for Peter and Sophie and play board games and try to maneuver my feelings and thinking so that they align more naturally with the soundless beauty and tranquility that our snow day has so selflessly offered.

December 22, 2010

December 22, 2010

Waiting to See Santa (Macy's, NYC, Dec. 2010)

December 22, 2010.   The other night, while listening to the cold, slanting rain pelt against our house, I realized something extraordinary.  Sophie is beginning to keep us honest, and maybe even more noteworthy, participate in her brother’s care.  Peter was having yet another one of his becoming-too-frequent screaming fits – this time over having not earned enough points on his chart to play video games, so I looked at him, not so calmly, and suggested that he scream louder, which he did.  His face crimson and his mouth stretched wide, he let fly a primal howl loud enough to be heard from the moon.  And then he did it again and then again.  When the fit finally abated, and he went upstairs to change into his pajamas, Sophie turned to me, hands on hips, her face a little flushed, and asked, “Why’d you do that, Mom?”  Hesitating, I finally stuttered, “Sometimes its good to get the anger out.  I was trying to help.”  One look at my savvy daughter told me she wasn’t buying it.  “Well,” she huffed, “will you please not do that again?”  Accepting my reprimand with as much grace and aplomb as I could muster, which wasn’t much, I hastily agreed.  Pat’s tiny grin did not go unnoticed.  He knew as well as Sophie that I was wrong to have done that, and perhaps even more wrong to try to cover my tracks in front of our precocious daughter.  One thing I love about Pat, and I hope he’d say the same for me, is that he tries hard not to over condemn my slip-ups when it comes to coping with and teaching our children.   We often talk about each other’s mistakes later, usually while we’re watching TV at night, but we’ve taken a solemn vow of solidarity when it comes to our respective parenting slips.  I think it comes from a place of deep respect and love, and the knowledge that our relationship and commitment to each other is more important than anything else we’re doing, including raising our kids.  I’m not sure we’d have been able to stand the pressure cooker that our lives have become otherwise.  Case in point: our recent day trip into the city to see the Nutcracker.  We arrived early enough to see Santa at Macy’s beforehand and devour too much pastrami at Carnegie Deli.  Despite his recent volatility, Peter handled the day’s excitement pretty well, at least until the ballet.  Unfortunately, he felt the need to spray the walls of the Lincoln Center’s Men’s Room with urine and then offer an encore performance during intermission right in front of his seat.  A twice unlucky porter spread cat litter on the floor to sop up the mess, which I must say was embarrassing, and poor Pat had to get Peter cleaned up, for the second time in an hour.  At 9 ½, he’s really too old to take into the Ladies Room.  I thought Pat’s aorta would burst, he was that mad.  His body shaking with frustration, I watched nervously as he hauled our soaked son into the restroom.  As for me, I was more embarrassed than angry, and so I dug through our backpack in search of the “You have just experienced a child with autism . . .” cards that Lindy gave me for just such an emergency.  I swear I could feel the humiliating stares and angry eyes all around me but as it turns out, it was just my own paranoia at play.  The people around us were incredibly tolerant and understanding, as were the porter and ushers.  I don’t know whether Pat is hiding pints of whiskey in his trousers these days (I certainly wouldn’t blame him), but he emerged from the Men’s Room in relatively good shape, his anger dissipated and his temper in check.  Our eyes met briefly as we negotiated stepping over the piles of cat litter, and that’s all that was necessary to communicate that we were both okay, that this particular disaster was survivable.  Despite Peter’s behavior, born I suppose from over-stimulation and fatigue, we were able to rally as a family and enjoy the rest of the performance.  Amazing.  We’ve actually gotten to the point where our son can paint one of the most magnificent performance venues in the world with urine and still proceed with our plans.  Now all I have to decide is whether this fact represents personal triumph over extreme adversity or the inevitable decline of our already dwindling rationalities!  When the ballet ended, Sophie exclaimed that the worst thing in the world was that now she would have to wait 365 days to see it again.  She is a lesson in resiliency, our daughter, and my eyes filled with tears to watch the awe and joy in hers.  A few years ago, an episode like this would have ruined the day, but we’re learning, Pat and I, from each other and increasingly, from Sophie.  We are so careful with each other, not always 100% successfully, but we try.  Knowing that we have each other’s back, as well as appreciating that we’re the sacred guardian of each other’s heart, keeps us moving forward as individuals, as a couple, and ultimately as a family.  At 62, my husband finds himself in the middle of a situation from which most men would run, and yet he doesn’t.  He allows me to talk him down from the ledge when he’s at his breaking point and somehow, always, he comforts me when I’m at mine.  Sophie suffers from tremendous anxiety and control issues but at her core, she’s a consummate survivor.  I have to believe that the very qualities that allowed her to endure, and sometimes even thrive, in the orphanage, the ones that too often cause her trouble in school and at home, can and will be massaged toward more healthful pursuits.  Just like she reminds me when I allow Peter to influence my behavior, I need to gently help her learn to control her impulses, her survival drive, so that these traits don’t wind up controlling her.  I think we’ll get there, I really do.  It takes real pluckiness to be able to lift your legs up so a porter can spread cat litter beneath your seat while pouring through the Playbill, completely unphased, in anticipation of Act II.  Anyone who can survive what Sophie survived, and who endures what she must endure on a daily basis, will find her way in the world.  After all, she’s already taught us a trick or two.


December 12, 2010

December 12, 2010

Peter & Sophie in their Russian Christmas outfits (Blowing Rock, NC, Nov. 2010)

December 12, 2010.  Nothing I’ve done to squelch the flow or urine at night, whether purposeful on Peter’s part or involuntary, has worked.  I literally have zero idea how he’s outmaneuvering us, but I’m nonetheless giving in and raising the white flag in surrender.  At this point, I have no idea how we’ll cope with the next ten years or so of nightly bed and pajama soaking; I only pray the output doesn’t rise to the level that it overflows the mattress, leaks onto the floor and eventually splatters the living room below.  If that happens, my contingency plan is to design and install a self-cleaning waterproof bubble in which he can sleep, thereby allowing the four of us to continue cohabitating without the threat of ammonia asphyxiation.  In the meantime, I need to turn my attention to Christmas and more pleasant preoccupations.  We’re scheduled to go into the city on Tuesday to see the Nutcracker and visit Santa at Macy’s.  I made the reservations six weeks ago, before Peter’s breakdown.  His behavior, meaning his self-control and frustration tolerance, are still well below what we consider his “norm”, and his grip on reality, though not slipping any further, is nowhere near where it was before this happened.  I hope he can endure the day’s events, and accompanying excitement, so that all of us, Peter included, can enjoy the experience.  Though it’s my most recent, and fervent, Christmas wish, I must admit I’m a little apprehensive.  On the way home from Sophie’s swim meet today, Peter asked why I didn’t just jump over all the icy puddles in the road when he heard that my car had slipped earlier that morning.  “We’re Rudolph now, Mom.  You can fly!”.  Lindy gave us a Rudolph car kit for Christmas last year and though I dutifully installed the antlers on the front windows and red nose on the grill, we lost an antler the very first day.  All that’s left to adorn our vehicle is the big, red nose on the front.  “Really, Mom,” he persists after listening to me explain how tying a red-stuffed nose onto the front of the car doesn’t transform us into Rudolph. “We magic powers now.”  At this juncture, I don’t dare argue with him or even try to restate my point – he’s been very combative lately when someone challenges his fanciful ideas, and so I let the matter slide and signal Sophie to do the same.  She gets the message and stops trying to convince him of the folly of his thinking, but she resents the request and makes sure I’m looking as she roll her eyes and proffers an ominous, low growl.  To de-escalate the mounting tension, I turn on the radio, hoping for a Christmas tune.  Instead, Peter’s nemesis of a song is playing, and I find myself laughing over the sheer absurdity of what was about to unfold. “Mom,” he pipe’s up, exactly on cue. “That is not a nice song you are hearing.”  He’s talking about “I Shot the Sheriff” by Eric Clapton.  “I can see why you’d say that,” I respond, having heard this lament at least a hundred times before.  My favorite radio station plays this song often.  I’m seriously considering calling the manager and asking them to delete it from their playlist. “The sheriff would not like that,” he continues.  “Oh come on,” Sophie bellows, unable to tolerate an iota more of this Who’s on First routine.  “It’s not a REAL sheriff, Peter!  It’s just a S-O-N-G, get it?”  Despite her obnoxious tone, I can’t get mad at her.  It bugs me, too.  As in R-E-A-L-L-Y bugs me, but he can’t help it.  He’s completely black and white right now – even more than usual, and as inflexible as a flagpole in his thinking.   The other day he orchestrated the perfect storm in the playroom, throwing toys, furniture and other objects against the walls and across the room, all because Lindy wanted him to acknowledge that it doesn’t always snow at Christmastimes but every now and then it snows over the Thanksgiving holidays.  This threw a wrench in his rigid construct regarding the seasons – “the leaves fall down at Thanksgiving, the snow comes at Christmas”, and that’s all it took.  Lindy said she was about to “take him down” in one of her last resort restraints because Sophie was on the verge of getting hurt, but somehow this was avoided.  Though licensed and certified to restrain a child who is in danger of harming self or others, Lindy’s as wary as we are of CPS after the school psychologist fabricated abuse charges back in the “Pre-Due Process Victory Era”.  Despite Peter’s significant setbacks however, I’m still returning to good cheer, and I want to count my blessings.   Peter was an angel today – a polite, model citizen during Sophie’s swim meet, and he kept himself nicely together for the rest of the afternoon, until dinnertime, when he fell apart again.  It’s the best day we’ve had with him since early November.  Pat’s upstairs, showering Peter, and Sophie’s dropping chocolate chip cookies on a cookie sheet.  She’s handed her baby doll over to me to “babysit” as she works, and I can’t help but grin as I listen to her belt “Deck the house with balls of Howie”, more or less in time with the CD playing in the background.  I’ll stop writing now because she needs me to put the cookies in the oven and we have a family date to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas in front of the fireplace together.   I’ve always had a soft spot for Charlie Brown.  Maybe because he was meant to remind me, even when I was a child, of the son I’d one day have.  After all, except for the not so small matter of fetal alcohol, those two boys have a lot in common.


December 7, 2010

December 7, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — whenrainhurts @ 9:53 am

Imagination Station Holiday Art Show (Red Hook, NY, Dec. 3, 2010)

December 7, 2010.  Funny how on the heels of my semi-nervous breakdown my attention has returned, without ceremony, to addressing some of the more mundane issues that can monopolize our parenting experience.  Throughout our lives together, Peter periodically has removed his Pullup and pajamas in the night and crawled back into bed.  In the morning, he redresses, including the wet Pullup, makes his smelly, soiled bed, and comes downstairs for breakfast.  The crime scene usually is discovered later in the day, through some combination of sight, smell, and touch.  Although there must be others, our son is the only child I know who has managed successfully to weaponize urine.  He can go a year without resorting to this, but then the conduct reappears, without warning, and can last months, which is where we are presently.  We have no idea why he does this, and no response on our part ever has had a smidgeon of deterrent effect.  Rewards, charts, punishments, bribes, indifference, outrage, encouragement, discussion, shame, praise, bedwetting alarms, and medical intervention – we have used all these approaches and more, and none have modified, corrected or even impacted the behavior.  Our fifteen-week old Golden Retriever puppy will not soil her own bed, but our son will do it on purpose, and he doesn’t limit himself to just his bed, either.  He has performed this particular trick in Georgia, Florida and North Carolina, three of my favorite states, at various family members’ homes, and usually in one of his cousin’s beds, though floors aren’t off limits either.  Lately, which is typical, he’s done his best to lie about his rather obvious role in my tenfold increase in weekly laundry as well as the increasingly toxic state of his bedroom.  But dry pajamas, a moderately wet diaper, and a completely soaked, ammonia-wafting bed (including quilt, blanket, top sheet, fitted sheet, and waterproof mattress pad) don’t leave much latitude for possible alternative explanations.  A few days ago, when I asked him in a quiet moment why he was doing this, he said “I don’t like diapers,” and then, as an almost after thought, he giggled, “it makes fun for me.”  Given that I have at least a rudimentary understanding of Peter’s particular brand of thinking, I can almost understand his initial response.  He is a child driven by impulse, and if he truly doesn’t like wearing diapers, either because they don’t feel good or because he’s embarrassed, then I can accept that he would take it off to satisfy that desire without a second’s thought of the immediate consequences.  It’s the blurted out second response that takes my breath away.  He thinks its funny.  He enjoys, I suppose, watching all the laundry, all the frustration, all the attention his behavior causes.  So this is what we did: a few nights ago we duct taped his diaper around the waist (not to his skin, only to the Pullup) so he couldn’t take it off.  Then we put the vinyl toddler training pants over the diaper to catch any potentially bona fide leaks.  We’ve done this in the past, with mixed results, but this time we added a twist.  I had him tuck in his pajama top and then I duct taped that too, so he couldn’t get his clothes off if he became inclined to wrench free of the diaper.  I made sure the end pieces of the duct tape were somewhere on his backside, so that he couldn’t just peel them off.  I fully realize these are acts of desperation but that’s where we are.  Believe me.  When we were finished, we gave no fanfare to this operation saying goodnight and tucking him into bed as usual.  He told me, in his best facetious voice, that he loved the new system and thought it was a great idea.  I ignored the sarcasm and went about the rest of my evening, confident that both he and the bed would be dry in the morning.  But this only worked one night.  The second night, he figured out that he could reach up through his pant leg and pull the side of the diaper/training pant out so that when he peed it would run down his leg and onto the bed.  What in the world is going on with this boy?  Why is this Peter’s current goal in life?  If we hadn’t been dealing with this situation literally for months, I would ignore the behavior and let it run its course but I’ve tried that, several times in fact, and it hasn’t worked.  Yesterday, I ran out to Target with my mother-in-law and we bought two footy pajamas, the onesies they now make for big kids that zip up the front.  The idea was that we could cut off the feet and put them on backwards so he couldn’t take them off, eliminating the need for the duct tape, which of course was only a temporary fix, and one that didn’t work anyway.  We resorted to this tactic years ago and it worked.  So that’s what we did last night.  Pat and I suited him up in a clean Pullup, vinyl training pants, and footless footie pajamas zipped up the back.  I then fastened the PJs at the top, around the back of his neck, with a sturdy safety pin for good measure.  I went to bed confident, at last, that both he and the bed would remain urine-free.  But he outwitted us again.  I can hardly believe it!  Peter can’t think to ask for something to drink when his cup is empty but he can transform himself into Houdini in the quiet hours of the night in order to “have fun” with waste products.  I suppose he managed to pull up one of the pajama legs again sufficiently to reach up and open the floodgates.  I could try putting duct tape around the ankles tonight but he could easily just pull it off.  The only thing I can think to do at this point is put some heavy-duty stitches in the bottom of the legs so that they’re too narrow to yank up.  If that doesn’t work, I’m out of options and he wins.  I only wish I knew – God how I wish I knew, just what it was he thinks he’s winning.


December 3, 2010

December 3, 2010

Peter and his cousin Ethan, 4 (Blowing Rock, NC, Thanksgiving 2010)

December 3, 2010.  I’ve chosen not to write lately because I don’t know how or whether to put into words the events of the last few weeks.  The good news is that our lives are back to normal again, at least relatively.  The bad news is that Pat and I, and perhaps even the kids, glimpsed a reality regarding Peter’s future that we had never allowed ourselves to consider before.  To put it bluntly, Peter fell off the sanity wagon for a few days, without warning, precursor, or any other obvious explanation.  It was the scariest experience of my life, and it’s left me a little shell-shocked.  I don’t want to rehash the details, the particulars of those few days that are now branded into the consciousness of our lives, and so I won’t.  But I will describe some of how the incident has left me feeling.  Suffice it to say there was a break, a sudden, catapulting crack in the fragile chemical balance that is our son’s brain, his personality, his heart, his very identity.  Fortunately, it lasted only a few days because with the help of some pharmaceutical intervention, bam!  He was back.  A little dazed, a little more confused, but he was with us.  All of this happened the week before Thanksgiving, a time when I’m usually preparing for our annual 12-hour road trip to Blowing Rock, NC, where my family gathers for the holiday.  We weren’t sure we’d be able to go, because stabilizing Peter, and keeping him stable, was our main priority, but his recovery was faster than his descent, which is remarkable.  We aren’t quite clear about what happened – and we’re still waiting on some test results, but his psychiatrist thinks he experienced a manic episode.  I know my siblings were worried about our coming for Thanksgiving, for Peter, and for themselves.  The news that his psychiatrist cleared him for the trip – she actually thought it would be restorative for us to proceed as originally planned, was received ambivalently.  It seems that no one, not even my family, wants to insert his or herself into the maelstrom of a mental health crisis.  “What if something happens?  We want to see you, you know that, but are you sure he’s okay now?”  I deflected these and other concerns, raised over the telephone lines, with as much grace and confidence as I could manage, all the while holding my breath when it was my turn to listen so that my agitation, the hurt and growing sadness, would remain concealed.  How lonely I felt in those awkward moments as I clung to the promise and hope of family reunion while all the while defusing the doubt, maybe even dread, I was hearing on the other line.  Lately I’ve been feeling like I’m in a rowboat, drifting steadily toward the open ocean, without benefit of rudder or oar, helpless to do anything but watch the throngs of happy, oblivious beachgoers as they inevitably fade from view.  I used to be one of those carefree beachgoers, with nothing more to tow, on any given day, than the normal dose of angst and anxiety, but now I have to wrestle my way toward every lighthearted moment and orchestrate, even carefully construct, our family’s every move.  Peter’s problems, and Sophie’s too, have a way of pulling Pat and me, slowly but surely, ever further from the comfort and easy companionship of friends and family.  Our daily lives, aside from attempting to stay solvent, are filled with doctor’s appointments, therapists, psychologists, special education, strict routine, and therapeutic parenting.  While in North Carolina, I caught up on all the comings and goings of my many nieces and nephews, all of whom I cherish.  One is heading to Australia for a college semester abroad, another just got her driver’s license, and a third grew a foot since I saw him last March.  Their lives, as well as all the others, are proceeding more or less according to plan, and with great expectations for their very bright futures.  My children’s lives are proceeding too, with accomplishments that dwarf by comparison even their most accomplished cousins, but their achievements aren’t as obvious, and Pat and I have had to move mountains, always, to further even the smallest progression.  And its taken a toll, a fact never so obvious as when I’m with my siblings, who are immersed in the important and blissfully ordinary business of making sure their kids get into a good college, have nice friends, are well-traveled, and learn to navigate different kinds of social and professional circles.  Theirs is the world in which I grew up, but it’s not the world our children will occupy, nor is it a life to which I’ll ever return, and therein lies the rub.  I don’t know what our children’s futures hold – I don’t allow myself to envision an outcome beyond self-sufficiency, intact self-esteem, and the capacity to give and accept love.  Sophie is an amazing child whose talents could take her to heights she’s not yet imagined but whose skeletons may rattle her confidence and cloud her way.  Peter has a beautiful heart but a damaged brain, and he’s more vulnerable, I realize, than I ever allowed myself to believe.  I hope and pray he never loses his capacity for love; beyond that, his future is too uncertain to speculate.  Maybe the uncertainty is what drives my present melancholy, that and the growing feeling of loneliness that continues to gnaw at me.  I miss my family so much, especially my parents, now long dead, and yet I worry that there may be more than just geographical distance coming between my siblings and me.  Our lives have become so different that I wonder whether we are losing the glue that is our commonality.  Pat knows I’m struggling with this, the unacknowledged gulf that’s growing like a patient tumor due to our difficult circumstances and the isolation which it breeds, and night after night he holds me tight to let me know that he’s there, and that he always will be.  He is single-handedly nurturing my sanity these days and I cherish him for it.  He appreciates as well as I that my siblings can no more understand, for instance, the extent of the trauma we’ve endured with the school district, or why we lack the money to pay our income taxes, than I can presently fathom the freedom that their lifestyles afford.  Despite the fact that my siblings (and a few of their spouses) are high-income lawyers, no one has ever truly offered to help – monetarily or otherwise, with any of our various legal battles, crises, or just the every day challenges of raising two special needs children.  The entire week we were in North Carolina, no one even offered to watch Sophie and Peter one night so Pat and I might take two hours to ourselves and see a movie, something they know we very rarely get to do.  It’s not a message they mean to send, I’m sure of that, but nonetheless, it seems obvious that we’re alone on this journey, the four of us, and absent a catastrophic event, they won’t be assuming a more proactive role.  On the heels of Peter’s’ breakdown, I craved more than ever the companionship of my siblings.  I guess I thought they might hold me, help us plot a roadmap, or ask what they could do to help.  Something, anything, to alleviate the fear and desperation that has taken root inside me.  I was homesick in a way I haven’t felt in years.  But in North Carolina this past week, in the summer home of my childhood, where I always felt safe and supported, I was genuinely lonely.  It’s not their fault, they’ve done nothing wrong.  In truth, and maybe in part because I’m the youngest, I worship, adore, and admire each of them more than they will ever fully appreciate.   I’m just seeing reality a little more clearly these days.  As we prepared to head back home, I had the strange sensation of looking into the window of normal life, my siblings’ lives, and catching only a flickering glimpse of memories formed long ago, back when I naively believed a true heart and sound mind were the only ingredients necessary for building a fulfilling life. Though the camaraderie of shared experiences and common interests – as well as the comfort it offers, permeated the air around me, what I so yearned to grab hold of this Thanksgiving seemed impossibly past my reach, and eons beyond my current circumstances.  Our son’s challenges are not only a cross I have to bear, they’re fixtures in my life with which I clearly still need to come to terms.  I’ve made a lot of progress, but there’s more to go.  My post-Peter life will never again resemble my former life, but its rich in love and purpose all the same.  I have to remember that, and work on new ways of embracing what we have rather than dwell on what we’ve lost, or what will never be.

November 10, 2010

November 10, 2010

Hayride at Hahn's Farm (Oct. 31, 2010, Salt Point, NY)

November 10, 2010.  Pat and I are at as a loss again.  Peter’s behavior for the last few days has been the worst its been in a year, at least.  From hurling things at us in the middle of a Parcheesi game, to calling me a pig, to throwing his Halloween candy in the garbage during a rage, our son is slipping again.  After soccer Saturday, where Peter played better than he has all season, we embarked on a family project, which was to plant a Weeping Cherry tree and create a little memorial around it for our dog Scout, who died last Friday.  We were going to wait until spring, but one of Pat’s clients surprised us – and in doing so lifted our spirits immensely, by sending a tree in the mail!   I wasn’t even aware that such a thing was possible.  She’s a dog lover too, and was particularly touched when she learned that I had gotten Scout right after my father died, as she apparently did the same.  Her thoughtfulness and generosity is allowing us properly to say goodbye to Scout now, instead of next spring, while her spirit is still strong and our grief great.  The project was going well except that Peter wouldn’t, or couldn’t, help.  He’s drifted back into himself of late, relying on old, ingrained habits to occupy his mind and push those close to him away.  Constant nonsense talk, noncompliance, body flailing, behavior generally more fitting of a grumpy baby than a 9-year old boy.  While Sophie, Pat and I were working on the tree, Peter was supposed to be sweeping the garage.  But he wouldn’t do it.  He was making a bigger mess, on purpose.  So we sent him to his room to regroup.  Guess what he did?  He took his diaper off and urinated directly onto his bed.  We discovered the damp, musky presentation several hours later.  He hasn’t done that in over a year.  And I can’t figure out what’s causing him to revert to these maladaptive behaviors.  He loves his new school, and we thought he was finally settling into the new routine.  His state of continence is improving, his work is better, and he’s made a new friend.  I don’t get it.  Maybe it has something to do with Scout’s death, but Pat and I don’t think so, and neither does Lindy.  He didn’t like Scout, shows no interest in dogs, in fact, and really doesn’t grasp the concept or the implications of death.  I guess its possible this is what’s causing his angst – his lack of understanding and ability to get his mind around what happened.  I think I’ll have a talk with him today, if I can steal a quiet moment, and see if it helps.  I have to do something.  Yesterday he spit on me again for the second time in five days and when I asked him to use the bathroom, he grabbed his crotch with both hands and thrust his pelvis toward me, screaming “no!”.  The ghetto display surprised even Lindy, who watched stoically as I did my best to corral the escalating situation.  Where he learned that delightful little trick I have no idea.  Sophie had her first swim meet of the season on Sunday, and though Peter is also on the team, he sat this one out.  He’s not ready for a meet yet, but that’s okay.  We had Sophie sit out her first meet, too.  He’s trying hard and doing a great job of staying on task, at least in the pool, and we don’t want unnecessarily to discourage his efforts or embarrass him.  Sophie also continues to improve, and at times really excel, in the water.  I wish she could handle the ever-increasing demands of school as well as she handles herself in the pool.   If only school could take place in a semi-submerged setting, she’d cope with her academic responsibilities, no doubt, with grace and confidence.   Thank goodness she has a top-notch teacher who’s blessed with an even temperament, a good heart, and an “I don’t let anything faze me” approach to third grade.   She really is the perfect match for our “I’ll give you a run for your money” dynamo of daughter.  Funny how our one positive experience during Peter’s stint with Mill Road Elementary School was the semester he spent in the first grade inclusion classroom.  At the time, Sophie’s current teacher was the regular education 1st grade inclusion teacher and another capable educator, a woman who had previous experience teaching FAS kids in a residential school, taught the special education kids.  Unfortunately, the folks who make the decision weren’t keen on listening to the thoughts or advice of the only person in the school who had real experience working with our son’s constellation of disabilities.  But no matter, I’m working hard, and so is Pat, at putting those three and a half years behind us.  We still don’t know whether the district is going to appeal the Due Process Hearing decision, but I hope and pray they will decide to leave us alone.  The experience has left me feeling somewhat like a Soviet dissident, as other parents now covertly approach me with their own dismaying, hurriedly whispered, special education stories, some of which sprung to life after our hearing decision.  I had hoped the ruling might stir something within the district’s collective conscience and move them to reexamine their mindsets and practices, but that may have been wishful thinking on my part.  If what I’m hearing from other parents is true, nothing has changed, at least not yet.  But what has changed is our bargaining position and our place at the table, meaning we now have a bona fide say in what happens to our son and his future.  I am so grateful for that.  Despite our recent setbacks, it’s nothing short of hope restored.

November 3, 2010

November 3, 2010

Halloween 2010

November 3, 2010.  The other night we spoke about the mid-term elections over dinner and Peter asked whether I voted for Daddy.  Rather than embark on yet another Who’s on First dialogue, Pat instead asked, “Peter, why do grownups vote in elections?” “To vote,” he replied.  At age 9, our son still has little understanding of the world beyond himself, despite his exposure to media, family discussions, and school lessons.  Given how “normally” he presents, it’s an increasingly worrisome reality.  The other day he asked if the Civil War was at our house, casually commenting that our yard was peaceful and he liked it that way.  When asked, he couldn’t recall where he had heard about the Civil War, all he could say was, “it’s real Mom, the mens are fighting.”  I tried to explain that it took place 150 years ago, that I had relatives who fought for the South and that the war almost destroyed our fledgling country.  He then asked if my father, who died in 1994, was still fighting, and was that why he doesn’t visit often.  No matter what I said, he couldn’t grasp the idea of a distant past, not even slightly.  There are times when he can envision a future – he’ll make comments about buying his own iPod or car when he grows up, but he has no real inkling that life occurred before the scope of his own memory.  This restricted style of thinking is one of the countless reasons I agonize over Peter’s ability, one day, to navigate independently his environment: to recognize the difference between friend and predator, to make the correct snap judgment in a dangerous situation, or even to remember to eat dinner if there is no one present to model the task.  At our first CSE meeting with the new school the other day, his teacher astutely commented that Peter has difficulty orienting himself in time, which by his age, in particular, can be a major source of confusion and frustration.  She said addressing this difficulty should be a top priority.  Pat and I agreed, of course.  How refreshing that this new teacher is concerned with the same things that worry us.  She realizes that Peter needs to master the fundamentals, like where he is in time, both in the larger context and in terms of daily living, before he’s exposed, uselessly, to grade level lessons such as the scientific principles of electricity, a unit he was made to endure for weeks on end last year.  Maybe, just maybe, we’re now on the path toward real improvement, cooperation, and better spirit.  I do hope so.  Last month Peter announced he wasn’t going Trick or Treating this year.  The decorations that adorned the village neighborhoods scared him, as did many of the costumes.  I suggested he pick out a costume anyway, which he did, just in case he changed his mind, which he also did.  And I’m so glad.  We met up with friends and had a wonderful time, Peter included.  I think the kids enjoyed jumping in the countless mounds of raked leaves best of all, especially Sophie, who made a terrific mummy.  I only hope the villagers forgive the mischief as they inevitably embark on raking their yards all over again.  Dare I say it?  Things are starting almost to feel normal.  Not normal “normal”, but more relaxed, more supportive, less combative and definitely more hopeful.  I ran into a friend the other day – she later emailed to say how wonderful she thought I looked, which I found funny because I was wearing sweats and a t-shirt and I’m fairly sure I had pieces of mulch stuck in my hair.  But what she meant was the stress – she said for the first time in months, stress no longer seemed to be my most prominent feature.  What a nice compliment, and reminder, of what matters, what I must strive for, and what I must never forget to gauge.  The difficulties of raising two children with complex, often misunderstood needs are plenty, but at the same time, the daily joys, the occasional soaring triumphs, the quiet moments – these are the things worth carrying.

October 28, 2010

October 28, 2010

Scout, Peter and Sophie (Spring 2005)

October 28, 2010.  Tomorrow we’re putting our nearly 16-year-old Jack Russell Terrier to sleep, at 11:00 am to be precise.  We’ve already changed our minds numerous times and even cancelled one scheduled appointment.  But we can’t put it off any longer, there’s no denying what has to be done and I need to believe that this will be in fact the last act of love we’ll ever give her.  I remember picking Scout out of a litter of 9 as vividly as if it was yesterday.  The man selling the pups sized me up in about 30 seconds and warned that Jack Russells don’t make good lap dogs.  I smiled politely, thanked him for the information, and went about deciding on the puppy I intended to name Scout, the one with the diamond marking on her forehead.  Having buried my father only three weeks earlier, Scout has been a tremendous comfort and loyal companion from the start, and this despite all her typical Jack Russell characteristics.  Although weighing only 13 ounces, she nonetheless had the gumption, at just 8 weeks of age, to growl at me the first time I took her food away.  Even so, only a few days of convincing were needed to transform her into a snuggly, if tenacious, lap dog.  The first time Pat flew from NYC to visit me in Atlanta, when we were just beginning to see each other, he walked in my home, immediately reaching to pick up Scout before I had a chance to warn him that she can be nippy with strangers.  I had visions of his hands being sewn up in the Emergency Room and our fledgling relationship ending before it really ever began.  But she surprised me.  Or maybe it was Pat who did the surprising.  At any rate, they became fast and furious friends, meaning tomorrow’s appointment will be as hard on him as it will be for me.  She’s been every bit his dog too for the last dozen years.  As for the children, we’ve decided to lie, and I hope it’s the right decision.  Sophie especially was traumatized after being graphically exposed to the process of euthanasia by watching Marley and Me, a PG-rated movie whose advertising as a “family holiday” film still infuriates me.  Neither of us feels she’s of the mindset to handle being told we put Scout to sleep.  When they get home from school tomorrow, Sophie and Peter will be told she died at home, peacefully.  We began preparing them weeks ago for the inevitable and I hope they handle the news.  Of course, having Lulu, our new puppy, will help.  As I sit here contemplating the most difficult task of dog ownership, I can’t help reflect on how effortless my relationships with animals, especially dogs, always has been.  I seem to earn their trust and affection almost instantly, a feat I’ve not quite achieved with our two Russian-born children.  I know they aren’t comparable, children and dogs, but still, this journey with our kids has shaken the belief I had, and relied upon, regarding my ability to reach and keep the hearts of those I love.  I’ve earned Peter’s love and trust, something for which I’m immensely grateful, but it took five years and enough sweat and tears to fill a lake.  Only recently have Pat and I realized we’ve been fooling ourselves regarding both the solidity and nature of Sophie’s attachment to us.  This child I love more deeply than I imagined possible, it turns out, has very complex and troubled feelings toward us and the very concept of family, what it means, and requires, to be part of a family.  In the midst of Peter’s endless tornado, I allowed myself the fiction of believing that Sophie was secure, that she was ours and we were hers, in the most usual and heavenly ways.  But it wasn’t entirely true.  She was playing a part, acting a role, and now that Peter has emerged substantially from the storm of his early trauma, she’s adrift and unmoored, unsure of her place in the family and rejecting the fundamental tenet that parents’ love for their children is not an either/or proposition.  She’s angry, seething, boiling mad.  I have to find a way to reach her, show her that I love her as completely as I always have even though in her eyes, I now love Peter in the same “outward” way.  Despite our efforts to talk these issues through, she is young, and emotionally much younger than her age, and to her, our tough love approach with Peter seemed, I think, like the absence of love.  Also, for years, Peter wouldn’t allow us to hug, kiss, or snuggle him.  But now that we no longer feel like sandpaper against his skin, I take full advantage whenever the opportunities arise to make up for all the intimacy he missed, and of course, deserved.  But Sophie doesn’t see it this way.  To her it’s a threat, that much is clear.  What’s not clear is how we address it, how we help her heal wounds that have been festering, it turns out, like a bubbling low grade infection the entire time Peter’s more urgent injuries were being triaged.  But we must, and we will.  In many ways it’s going to be harder than what we went through with Peter.  As Pat sagely pointed out, Peter’s thought processes are simple, his trauma finding purchase in the way his brain and body reacted to demands and stimuli.  We had to break these patterns, to be gruff about it, much the same way one goes about breaking a horse.  But Sophie’s mind is complex, terribly complex.  Her injuries are emotional and psychological and because in large part we missed them, or more aptly, were unwilling to see them, they’ve been brewing and multiplying for years within the interior of a very capable, clever brain.  There’s no doubt Sophie is the Jack Russell of our family, or as Pat likes to say, the Jack Velociraptor.  As I prepare to say goodbye to my oldest and best canine friend, I hope and pray I have the strength to convince my daughter of the completeness and unassailability of my love for and devotion to her.  To be honest, not many people love Scout.  She’s bitchy and ornery and generally ill-tempered.  But I love her and so does Pat.  I hope tomorrow that our old girl senses we’re there to help her and that she accepts our love this one last time.  It’s all I want for our daughter, too.  That she be able, in the privacy of her own thoughts, to acknowledge that we love her, no matter what, for who she is and who she’s not, for what she’s done or might never do, because we are her parents and we love her, forever, without condition, judgment, or pretense.

October 26, 2010

October 25, 2010

Pumpkin Picking (October 17, 2010)

October 25, 2010.  Happy Adoption Day to us!  Six years ago today, we vowed in a Russian court of law to love and cherish two orphans now and forever known as Sophia Katherine and Peter Thomas.  I think we’ve done a pretty good job honoring that pledge, if I do say so myself.  I’ve read so much about adopted kids’ struggles with identity, grief, and loss, how they so often wind up thinking they weren’t wanted by their birth parents and were merely a consolation prize, of sorts, for their adoptive parents, couples who, like us, may have dealt with infertility.  How my heart aches for these children, and how I hope ours are able to work through those doubts and realize just how much they are prized.  Sophie and Peter are my heart and soul, the reason I fight battles with impassioned zeal, when necessary, and celebrate our triumphs, big and small, with fervent enthusiasm.  They are why I constantly practice becoming the mother and role model they so fervently deserve, and why I crash, sometimes hard, from the exhaustion the effort so often produces.  But despite the hardships that litter the course, theirs are the only faces I see whenever in a quiet moment I escape into the private recesses of my own thoughts and envision a more traditional means of forming a family.  If they had been ours from conception, I like to believe life would be easier for them, and also for Pat and me, but then maybe that’s nothing more than lousy fiction and fanciful thinking.  Our children are who they are because of the myriad influences in their lives, both pre- and postnatal.  Their pasts are as fixed and unalterable as the color of their eyes and yet still we fight to help them shed the heavy cloak of their early experiences.  And that’s okay, I suppose, and certainly our obligation.  But today we celebrate not who our children were but who they are and might become, who we are together as a family, and how fortunate we are that technology, an increasingly global community, and timeless desire have brought the four of us together in a chaotically wonderful union that sustains itself through hope, determination, humor, and humility.  No one is perfect in our family, least of all me, but we are improving, individually and as a unit.  One of the great gifts that the kids – especially Peter, have given Pat and me is the desire to stretch the limits of our patience, to deepen our capacity for kindness, and to strengthen our collective will to succeed, allowing us to overcome obstacles that once seemed too formidable realistically to even broach.  Six years ago, Peter constantly screamed at me, whenever I came near or even risked establishing eye contact; otherwise, he preoccupied himself with repeating the same bit of jibberish over and over, like a scratched vinyl record.  This time four years ago, Peter was spitting on me, stealing my most cherished possessions, vomiting purposely at the dinner table, injuring himself and Sophie, sometimes without any provocation, and had no inkling how to approach or interact with other children.  Two years ago, he still didn’t trust us, his speech was nearly indecipherable, his muscles ached so badly there were days he couldn’t walk, and he was kicked out of Irish step dance, karate, tennis, and swim lessons due to behavioral concerns.  Now, at age 9, Peter is a polite and mostly happy child, he looks to us, especially me, for support and guidance, he’s healthy as a horse, finally in an appropriate school setting, has an amazing best friend, and plays soccer and participates on the swim team.  On our Adoption Day six years ago in Birobidzhan, I dreamed so many dreams for Peter, but then subsequently, as reality set in over the weeks and months that followed, I watched these dreams for my son fade into the obscure darkness of terrifying diagnoses and my own wild imagination.  How remarkable, then, to see them resurrected, not perfectly envisioned the way only dreams can be, but played out on the real stage of our lives, accomplishments fought for and won, affections systematically sought and acquired, skills always, always, a work in progress but now with a predictable, reassuring, forward momentum.  Don’t get me wrong.  There’s nothing perfect about our household, not even close.  Even Our Happy Adoption Days are difficult, especially for Sophie, a fact I used to allow myself to discount as mere coincidence.  Thanks again to Dr. Federici, I now more clearly understand that she struggles deeply with profound issues of preverbal trauma and that she misbehaves, actually sabotages this particular family celebration, not so much out of spite or ugliness, but out of fear, confusion and insecurity.  Today’s intended celebration is no exception, but given how far we’ve come with Peter, I know we can help her too.  In fact, Peter intervened directly today to protect against my growing melancholy over Sophie’s reaction to the marking of this milestone.  As she was fussing over this and that and everything in between, Peter took the time to write me a note.  It read as follows:  “Sary mommy I hope y fele beter”.  And then he drew a heart with a smiley face below the writing.  He may not know it, but my precious little boy gave me the best Happy Adoption Day gift I could ever hope to receive.

October 15, 2010

October 15, 2010

Pat (Fall 2009)

October 15, 2010.   It’s only mid-October but we’ve already experienced two Nor’easters.  The torrential, prolonged downpours are terrific for the water table but toxic to the autumnal leaves for which our Hudson Valley is so famous.  Still, the scenery is beautiful, the temperature drops further each night, and pumpkins dot the lawns and doorsteps of Red Hook in exponentially increasing numbers.  My husband wishes fall would last as long as summer or winter, but not me.  In my view, the hues of autumn, the reds, oranges, and burnt yellows, are treasured exactly because of their brevity on the palate of our landscape.  Peter’s school driver drops him off this afternoon and though elderly, asks with an almost boyish quality whether we plan to enjoy the outdoors and spectacular views this weekend.  Indeed we do.  This week has been tough for Peter, he likes his new school, I think, but everything has changed, and he’s had to say goodbye to old friends and familiar faces.  After swim practice tonight, we’re picking up his best buddy and taking the kids to their favorite restaurant for dinner.  As much as I want to keep this friendship going, I worry whether Peter can handle the excitement right now.  The idea of taking a friend to dinner wouldn’t overwhelm most 9-year-olds, but to Peter, its like winning a trip to the moon.  The instant I told him, his adrenalin shot up, his body began gyrating, and all kinds of nonsense spewed from his mouth as though a wire had been tripped inside his tangled brain.  Lindy is doing her best to organize his body and mind so that he can attend to the rest of his day, but we’re well aware that he’s experiencing a significant transition, and that to a large extent, its an adjustment we may just have to ride out.  The good news, at least for Pat, is that he won’t be present for tonight’s adventures.  He’s in New Jersey visiting his daughter and granddaughter, a beautiful duo the children and I rarely get a chance to see.  Pat’s daughter struggles with this chapter of her father’s life, which means she struggles with Sophie and Peter and me and all that goes with us.  I do understand, I can only imagine the complex set of emotions I’d feel if my father had embarked on another try at parenthood, but still, I wish things were different.  I wish compartmentalization were not necessary for such a kind, generous, and loving man as Pat.  I wish his daughter could understand that Pat has love enough for all of us, and appreciate, just a little, how difficult, and tragic, his primary shot at fatherhood became.  Our life is so much more complicated because of where we live – financially, educationally, in terms of career, and support, and the sole reason we live here is because of Pat’s unwillingness to be too far from his adult daughter.  He’s already said goodbye to his two sons from his first marriage and he can’t bear even the thought of serious geographical separation from his last surviving biological child.  What I don’t get is why she doesn’t see it, why she doesn’t feel, sense, and breath the unassailable love and affection Pat has for her, and now for his toddling granddaughter.  It’s beautiful really, and something that should give rise to joy and celebration rather than constant work and struggle.  But he’s doing it, he’s putting forth the effort with patience and kindness, and I’m proud of him.  Truly, he’s a beautiful man and one that deserves at least some modicum of peace in his life.  By the time he gets home tonight, I hope to have the kids tuckered out and in bed and little Lulu, our newest addition, installed in her cozy box that fits under my bedside table.  No rest for the weary on our home front either, I’m afraid, but I do look forward to Pat’s return.  Family is a more complicated word today than when I was young and undoubtedly requires significantly more creativity, purpose, and determination than perhaps it once required.  I am 45 years old, my husband is 62, we have two adopted children who were born in Russia and he has two long deceased sons, a married daughter, and an almost 2-year-old granddaughter.  How’s that for complicated?  A born and bred New Yorker, he loves opera, books, theater and museums, and though I share all those passions except opera, I’m a southern girl who loves my Gator football games and the kind of barbeque you simply can’t get your hands on anywhere north of southern Virginia.  We work, Pat and I, because of and despite our differences and similarities, and for that I pledge always to be grateful.  This weekend we’ll lug our two rambunctious, hyper children to various venues designed to enjoy the great outdoors, taking photos of the leaves, and occasionally each other, as we scatter among them.  If fall is a brilliant snapshot, then life is a flowing river of endless rolling film.  I hope and pray the documentary of our lives is happy, or at least filled with happy moments, and that when the time comes, and I look back at the thousands of snapshots I’ve taken, the various shades of progress, compromise, resolve, love, and determination, for each other and our children, will shine as brilliantly as tomorrow’s glittering leaves, when the rain clears and the sun rises high above the trees.

 

October 14, 2010

October 14, 2010

Lulu's 1st Apple Picking Excursion (October 10, 2010)

October 14, 2010.  Pat’s 85-year-old mother watched the kids last night so we could go to dinner, solo, for our anniversary.  How divine!  Never mind we had to eat at 5:30 in an empty French bistro (though it was bustling by the time we left) in order to ensure the kids were in bed by the appointed hour.  For our anniversary, Pat gave me a pendant of the scales of justice.  The perfect gift, he suggested I wear it any time I enter the school – after all, Sophie still attends, or have to meet with any of our former accusers.  We laughed and talked, shared our meals, drank a little red wine, something we rarely do, and enjoyed delicious, seasonal tarts.  When we picked the kids up from his mother’s house a few hours later, she showed us a letter she received from AIG, the insurance company from whom she purchased an annuity.  Basically, the letter was written to ascertain whether she was still alive – no kidding.  It stated that if she didn’t provide proof of her “still living” status within 20 days – and such proof necessitates procuring notarized documents, AIG had the right to terminate her annuity.  My mother-in-law being the sport she is, the three of us laughed so hard I swear I spritzed a little in my panties.  But really, the entire concept is about the most preposterous thing I’ve ever encountered.  And that’s saying something, given the fact that I’m still reeling from the recent school battle.  Death certificates are public records and a company like AIG would have little difficulty obtaining them to weed out the occasional surviving relative fraud.  This letter was nothing more than an ill–conceived attempt to steal from the infirm and aged who are no longer capable of handling their own affairs.  Having become adept at the art of nasti-gram, I offered to draw up a written response.  With chin held high and eyes gleaming like a hawk’s, she replied in a soft, ominous tone, “I’ll be writing that letter myself, thank you.”  There’s little doubt she’ll get the job done, and then some.  On the drive home, I ask Peter again about his second day in his new TEACCH class (dubbed PEACCE in New York), which has 1 teacher, 2 teacher assistants and 6 kids, including Peter.  “It’s stupid,” he says.  “I have homework and not too much recess and my teachers, all they does is make me do work.”  It’s music to my ears.  Peter will grow and learn in this program, even if he’s not yet feeling the joy.  He’s had an extended summer vacation of sorts and it would be tough for anyone to be thrown back into the fray, especially a highly structured one with new faces, new routines, and new expectations.  Hopefully his grumpiness, and the backsliding of behavior, will be short-lived.  Pat and I are praying the school has decided to loosen its grip on our family, allowing Peter, several years late, to begin learning in a way that will build his potential by addressing his deficits, the legacies he inherited and forever will carry as a result of his Russian birthmother’s drinking habits.  Honestly, I don’t understand what’s happened to us as a society, as communities and neighbors, when little old ladies get letters saying they have to prove they’re alive in order to keep receiving their monthly incomes or where little boys with brain damage can’t get the interventions they need because the systems in place protect the process, and sometimes the careers, the pensions and the stock options, but not the individuals whom they’re entrusted to serve.  Luckily, my mood was high yesterday and I smiled broadly as I watched Sophie race from the car into the house to greet our newest family member, Lulu.  Even when bureaucrats and corporations corrupt, cajole, and exploit, there are individuals – friends, relatives, some times even strangers – who buoy our spirits and brighten our souls.  Pat and I need a new puppy in the house about as much as we need bats in the attic, but the offer was so generous, and came at such a precipitous moment, that we felt fate actually may have been nudging.  I really can’t say, but I do know the puppy is gorgeous, sweet as a peach, and full of mischief and demand.  We haven’t slept since Thursday night, when the kids and I picked her up, and I don’t envision sleeping again any time soon.  But that’s okay.  It’s all part of the journey.  I thought our old Jack Russell would have been gone by now, our plan was to say goodbye to her last weekend, but bringing the puppy home has caused her to rally.  Like all things in this world, she’ll let us know when the time is right.

 

October 6, 2010

October 6, 2010

Scout Swimming Next to our Canoe (Summer 2003)

October 6, 2010.  Two days ago I received an email from the school district’s attorney, with a copy of the Hearing Officer’s decision attached.  We won.  Across the board, on all counts, and on all points.  Even though we shouldn’t need the outside verification, its rather satisfying to read, all the same, that we aren’t nuts, or crazed parents, or unrealistically looking to our public school to provide Peter with a designer, top-of-the-line, private school caliber program.  We were looking for the district to adhere to the requirements of state and federal law, and to respect our rights under the same, as parents.  I can’t say the last three years of sparring with the school have been worth it, the manufactured abuse charges, the lies and cover-ups, the damage to our son’s fragile mind and bewildered heart, as well as the substantial collateral damage to our daughter, which we’re only now beginning fully to realize, but winning certainly helps.  Regardless of whether the school district appeals, for us, its over.  The day after tomorrow, Peter will start his new school, a program that will provide him one on one learning and life skills training within an intensive, neurocognitive rehabilitative framework.  It’s a day that’s long overdue, but hopefully not too late.  Lindy asked him yesterday whether he was excited about starting the new school. “I don’t want to go,” he replied.  The next part is what made me heart skip and my eyes well.  When she asks why not, his response was simple and matter-of-fact.  “Cuz I want to stay home with Mommy.”  Wow!  How very far we’ve come, the two of us.  Last night I looked back through my journal and reread some of the entries I wrote just a little over two years ago.  Though I haven’t forgotten the all-encompassing sense of hopelessness, rage, and absolute chaos that daily life with Peter entailed, those worries no longer hold me captive.  Never could I have imagined then that our son could ever feel, much less absorb, the love for him that I’ve fought so hard to first find and then instill.  My words feel awkward today, I know, but I think its because my heart’s so full.  Peter’s courage, his vivacity and plucky determination, have touched so many lives, and of course, transformed my own. Yesterday I received a call from a woman who lives about an hour south of us.  She raises golden retrievers, has an autistic child, and has been following our story.  Her dogs, which sell for about $1200, are bred specifically with mellow temperament and family companionship in mind.  This complete stranger, out of the goodness of her heart, wants to give Peter one of her female pups.  To top it off, the call came on the same day that I spoke to our vet about whether the time has come to say goodbye to our crotchety but cherished Jack Russell Terrier, Scout.  At 15 ½, she’s deaf, incontinent, uncomfortable, and very disoriented.  Her quality of life is diminishing quickly and I worry that we may be keeping her alive for selfish reasons.  I don’t know when we’re going to bring her in – though it’ll likely be soon, and its something Pat and I are dreading.  I also don’t know whether we’ll be able to bring the new pup into our home, despite how eerily fated, and connected, this chain of events feels.  For me, the love and companionship that our pets provide outweighs, several times over, the undeniable labor involved.  I’m a true animal lover, and though it may sound silly, or perhaps even juvenile, the very presence of our pets shores me up, helps me feel less homesick when those moments come, less alone, more needed, and yes, more unconditionally loved.  But I don’t think Pat feels the same, and I can’t much fault him.  We have so much on our plates, and for him a puppy means work (which it is), added stress, and everything else that goes with the territory.  But still, even if we end up declining this incredibly generous, almost fortuitous offer, I’m grateful beyond description.  The fact that Peter, and his story, have touched so many lives gives me hope, real hope, that we’ll be able to heal the hurt that’s been hidden so deep inside Sophie, a hurt that’s only now beginning to surface, and one we only barely understand.  Our cherished little girl has the tenacity, stubbornness, and the agile mind of a Jack Russell Terrier.  In fact, Pat and I often joke that she and Scout must be biologically related.  She has all the right stuff, and so I have to believe in my heart that she can overcome these troubles.  As I quietly relish our victory over the school, all the while preparing for Scout’s farewell, Peter’s new school experience, and Sophie’s worrisome struggles, I reflect on how far we’ve come, as individuals and as a family.  I hope love continues to blossom in our home, despite setbacks and emerging issues, or the inevitable loss, now and then, of one of our much-loved furry friends.

 

September 28, 2010

September 28, 2010

Sophie's 3rd birthday (July 2005)

September 28, 2010.  Peter keeps asking why my face and eyes are red and I do my best to convince him that I’m having an allergy attack.  He and I are closer than ever now that he’s been home from school on doctor’s orders – at least for the next few days, and he’s very attuned to my feelings.  I hope he forgives the small lie.  The decision regarding our Due Process Hearing is expected September 30, two days from now, but I can’t presently afford to dwell on the possible outcomes.  Every fiber of my being is churning with despair over the latest news we’ve received from Dr. Federici, and this time Peter was not the focus.  Yes, it’s true.  We took Sophie to see him, too, a few weeks ago, because her behavior, as well as her school performance, has been gnawing at us like a festering wound.  The results of his testing are not good.  Our precious little girl – who is bright and capable in so many ways, is battling her own set of demons, psychological debris that is robbing her of the right to experience properly the simple beauty and gift of childhood.  What’s clear from neuropsychological testing is that she suffered significant trauma, though we’ll never know the forms it took, during the first 2.3 years of her life, prior to the adoption.  What’s also unavoidably clear is that the level of family stress and turmoil that she’s experienced in our home, byproducts of our efforts to redeem Peter’s heart, soul, and mind, has exacerbated the problem beyond our wildest prediction.  Our quest to reach the most obviously affected child – in our case, the one who screamed and kicked the loudest, has been more than Sophie’s fragile ego could handle.  According to Dr. Federici, she is lost, unanchored, severely depressed, melancholic, dissociative, unhappy, without empathy, and consumed with thoughts of death and dying.  A walking anxiety attack with blonde hair, brown eyes and a trumped-up bravado that belies her profound insecurities, our daughter is not the picture of psychological health.  What happened to our mischievous, precocious, funny, engaging, and emotionally connected little girl that we so often brag about?  I feel like Pat and I have been deluding ourselves into thinking she was healthy, maybe because we’ve been so overwhelmed with Peter’s crises that we had no capacity to think otherwise.  God, I could kick myself.  How could we have messed this up so profoundly?  I love Sophie with absolutely every fiber of my person.  She is an amazing child with more spunk than any one person by right should have.  When I daydream about pregnancy and birth, Sophie and Peter are the newborns I imagine delivering and cradling in my arms.  Always.  So why does it have to be so hard?  Why isn’t love enough?  I’ve had to claw and scratch to get Peter the help he needs, and still my efforts fall short.  And he has brain damage.  Measurable, quantifiable, undeniable brain damage.  I never imagined it’d be such an uphill, at times acrimonious, battle to address such unambiguous needs.  Sophie’s issues, on the other hand, are emotional and undoubtedly much more difficult to trace or treat.  It’s also a good bet we caused a fair percentage of them.  I recall those early years, when Peter would scream for hours, biting me, spitting on me, saying I smelled as he ripped wallpaper or ran his nails across leather furniture.  The days when he used to vomit at the dinner table or pull his pants down and pee on the floor on the rare occasion we had company.  Our reactions – my reactions, weren’t always textbook, they weren’t always calm, and hardly ever did they qualify for an outstanding parenting award.  Pat too has been less than perfect throughout this journey.  Already a grandfather at 62, and having suffered the deaths of his two biological sons, his stamina and optimism could use replenishing.  Sophie is a beloved it not easy child, and it seems she’s suffered the consequences of our fallibilities.  Her fragile sense of self, and the extreme insecurity caused by her uncertain but dark past deserved a Leave it to Beaver fresh start.  But we weren’t able to deliver that.  We’re not June and Ward material, and Peter in no way resembles Wally, the even-tempered big brother of the 1950s.  We’re two people who love each other and our children, who mess up all the time, lose our tempers, as well as our senses of humor and perspective, and then do our best to pick up the pieces and resume our forward quest and our commitments to each other.  I hope we have what it takes to reach her, to help our daughter heal as we’ve done with Peter.  She deserves so much, they both do.  I worry that I’m losing myself in the process, though.  I have so little that’s my own in terms of accomplishment or things for which to look forward.  I’ve given up my career, I’ve moved away from family and my closest, oldest friends, and we’ve largely become pariahs in our town because we’ve called into question the integrity and judgment of the local – and only, public school district.  This would all be okay, or at least more tolerable, if what we were doing was building our children’s characters, healing their hearts and improving their minds.  But now I’m not so sure.  Sophie, I now realize, is not secure in our home despite what I know in my heart has been my very best effort.  I guess my latest challenge, one from which I hope to gain a renewed sense of purpose, is to find that extra something inside myself so that I can improve the way I parent, and in doing so, help heal my child.  I have to admit, I never dreamed parenting would be this difficult.  I also never appreciated, despite voracious reading on the topic, how much damage a couple years in a Russian orphanage can exact on an innocent child.  What a lousy, lousy day it’s been.  As I reflect on this dreary, rainy day, a day filled with self-doubt and accusation, I recall how we finished watching Annie, as a family, just last night.  When I was eleven, I had no greater aspiration than to one day play the leading role on stage.  I begged my mother to buy me a red wig and drive me around to regional auditions in her station wagon.  Though I never realized that goal, I still cling tightly to the belief in dreams.  And so as I say goodnight to our children, both troubled, significantly, in their own ways, I kiss them and hug them tight.  I turn off their lights, one by one, and tell myself, with barely held back tears, that I do so hope the sun will come out tomorrow.

September 22, 2010

September 21, 2010

Go Gators! (Sept. 2005)

September 21, 2010.  “Annie’s not real?” Peter asks.  I don’t quite know how to explain, my previous 1,000 attempts haven’t done the job.  “No Honey, she’s acting.  It’s pretend.  Like when Sophie was in her play over the summer.  She was pretending, right?”  We watched the first part of Annie last night and Miss Flanagan’s rendition of “Little Girls” gave Peter nightmares.  “So Annie’s a robot?” he continues, undeterred.  The inflexibility of his thinking frustrates me and I struggle to remain patient as I think of ways to help him understand.  Peter at 9 still is unclear about the distinction between fantasy and reality, fiction and fact, film versus life.  If someone on TV, or even on stage, is a real, live human being, rather than a cartoon character or puppet, he stolidly clings to his belief that they are “real”, and therefore in many instances, an immediate trigger for his countless fears.  Carol Burnett’s rendition of Miss Flanagan might have hit too close to home for Peter’s fragile sensibilities to assimilate.  We don’t really know what our children consciously remember of orphanage life, if anything, but the preverbal memories are undoubtedly there, lurking in the corners, ready to spring at the slightest provocation.  Peter later tells me, on the way to the public library, that he wants to watch the rest of the movie tonight, if there’s time, and that he’s not afraid anymore.  “Why not?” I ask.  “Because that bad lady only gets mean to girls,” he answers.  It’s a valid point and I tell him so.  “Plus,” he adds, looking at me over the top of his glasses like a mini-version of his father, “she don’t talk Russian.”  That’s when I realize I’m not reading too much into our son’s distress.  He really did make the connection between his past and the movie.  Despite Annie being my favorite Broadway show when I was eleven, perhaps it isn’t the best choice for our family right now.  On the way home I distract him with chit-chat about which of his newly borrowed books we’re going to read first.  He’s dead set on reading a Magic Tree House book that’s well beyond his ability so we agree to read it out loud, together.  I don’t hold much hope for making it through the book – Peter’s not one to read (or listen) to a chapter or two a night and then continue the next day where he left off, but we’ll give it a try nonetheless.  Pat’s in the city today and I want to make sure I have a quiet, snuggly evening with the kids.  Sophie’s been out of sorts about Peter staying home from school and getting my attention all day and she could use some reassuring.  On the way home from the library this afternoon, Peter comments how Pippin, our little terrier mutt, loves to sit on my lap while I drive, preferably with my left arm draped around him.  Then he exclaims, “Mommy, I wish I was Pippin’s size!”  When I ask him why, he says because then he’d be little enough to sit on my lap all the time and be carried around.  “Wouldn’t that be nice, Mom?”  I’m so struck with the pronouncement that I have to fight back tears as my eyes meet his through the rearview mirror.  Not so many years ago, that mirror was the only medium through which Peter could tolerate eye contact.  I used to catch him staring at me in the car, his head whipping around, his gaze growing vacant, the instant our eyes met.  Then slowly, slowly, and with the mirror to cut the intensity, he began risking a brief moment of eye to eye contact.  Today, nearly 6 years our son, Peter not only looks at us directly, without the crutch of a mirror, he pines for those intimate moments -particularly with me, he either never had or was never able to tolerate.  There was a time I pined for them too, but not anymore.  Today I look at Peter and see my son, a loving, beautiful boy who greets the world with an easy smile and ready heart.  I never allowed myself to even dream that he would get to this point, that he and I would make the progress, as mother and son, that we’ve made.  So it’s true.  I’m through mourning the loss of the infant I was never able to hold, nourish, and protect.  That child is gone.  The boy in the car, the one wishing to be small again, that boy is my son, my Peter.  So tonight I plan to hold him tight, for as long as he can bear, so that together with his sister, he’ll know that intimacy, protection, and a mother’s embrace isn’t just for baby boys and furry friends.  They’re for Peter too.

September 20, 2010

September 19, 2010

Storm King (Sept. 18, 2010)

September 19, 2010. Pat’s mom spent the night for the first time in weeks and we were chatting about recipes when the largest spider I’ve ever seen tiptoed across the kitchen floor.  Without the slightest interruption in conversation, she stands up, walks toward the meaty beast, and smushes it with her slipper.  Eighty-five years old and physically not much bigger than Peter, my mother-in-law is one impressive lady.  After she leaves, I spend the rest of the morning baking quiches and making fruit salad for our brunch guests, who have been unfailing supporters of our efforts to help Peter.  Sitting in the back of the room, through endless hours of testimony during the Due Process Hearing, I can still see my friend’s features fluctuate between outrage, incredulity, even bemusement, as the facts of our case unfolded.  As tempting, however, as it can be to rehash history, today is about friendship and family, and so we steer clear of the elephant in the living room and simply enjoy each other’s company.  Later, when the storytelling winds down and there’s nothing but syrupy goo left in the peach pie dish, I sit at the kitchen table and enjoy the late afternoon sun pouring lazily across my lap.  I love this time of year.  The leaves have begun to change, the nights are now inevitably cool no matter how warm the day, and the light of late afternoon transforms the landscape into a golden hue of mellow, dappled beauty that never fails to astonish me.  Our brunch guests have left and I find myself listening to the dishwasher churn away all evidence of our earlier soirée as Peter and his best buddy play Wii.  I feel calm in this moment but at the same time terribly depressed and tired.  I rarely admit this to anybody, not even myself, but its true.  I can’t sleep – I haven’t anyway, in weeks, maybe months, and I’m well beyond mere simple fatigue.  I’m terrified of what will become of our family.  Peter’s not in school and the decision from the Hearing Officer isn’t expected before September 30th.  I fully expect to lose but that’s not really the point, nor is it what keeps me awake at night.  Our only real chance, in terms of the legal system, awaits us in federal court.  The Due Process Hearing, and the appeal to the State Department of Education that follows, are preliminary steps we must take before knocking on the door of justice.  What I can’t stomach is the idea that in the meantime, we either have to send Peter to a school that both destroys his brain and our home life as surely and predictably as the most heinously-conceived computer virus, or I home school him so that he and our family can remain protected and intact.  Home schooling wouldn’t be such an unpalatable option if Peter still didn’t struggle with significant attachment issues, if he didn’t have a plethora of special education needs, and if I didn’t mind, once and for all, closing the door on the opportunity to resume my legal and teaching career.  It’s clear our local school understands this, as they hold all the cards, and they are counting on us to wave the white flag in surrender.  But what I don’t understand, when I peel away all the layers of acrimony, is why they would choose to force us down this road when there are better options for our son, options that don’t cost the taxpayer a dime but that afford Peter the chance to improve his cognitive functioning and work on life skills, such as toileting.  Why are they continuing to withhold that opportunity?  Don’t these people want us out of their lives as much as we want out of theirs?  I realize they hate us now, particularly me, but they consistently defend their fondness for our son and their commitment to his well-being and growth.  Forget for a moment the debate over academic stagnation and cognitive regression.  What I can’t reconcile is the fact that they would rather try to force us to send him back to their school, knowing we feel we’ve been lied to, accused of child abuse, and been the victim of poorly disguised entrapment attempts, than set him free of their hold.  Why has one child, one fight, become all-consuming to individuals charged with the public trust, including our tax dollars and our children’s futures?  Peter doesn’t understand why he’s not in school and we haven’t done a stellar job explaining it to him, mostly because we don’t understand ourselves.  The Red Hook Central School District will survive this blip in its history, of that I have no doubt.  I wish I could say the same for our family, and our son.  I hear him laughing with his friend, happy for the moment and content.  Pat and I moved mountains to gain the privilege of hearing the song of Peter’s childhood and I have no intention of letting anyone, ever again, turn off the music that is our son’s heart and soul.  Outside the light wanes and the trees rustle in the wind.  If I listen carefully, I can almost hear the first crackles of the leaves, another symphony of sight and sound that in a few weeks will reach its apex, all in preparation for winter.  The certainty of the seasons loosens the leaves from their branches so the breeze can implore them away, once and for all, but always with the promise of new glory come spring.  As autumn creeps toward the Hudson Valley, I hope and pray that the school has the wisdom to loosen its grip on our family.  If they could only let us go, they would realize that new, more productive challenges await them.

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