When Rain Hurts by Mary Evelyn Greene

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.

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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.

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.

July 2, 2010

July 2, 2010

Painting in the Sun (June 2010)

July 2, 2010.  So much for spending lazy summer mornings in our pajamas.  The LoBruttos are rising an hour earlier than the regular school year schedule because Sophie’s on the summer swim team.  We are at the town pool, which is unheated, by 7:15 am, five mornings a week.  The lows for the last several mornings hovered in the low 50s.  Brrr!  More than once Sophie has emerged with blue lips and fingertips.  By today she may be frozen solid.  Peter starts summer school next week, a program initially denied to him by the school under the theory that he is doing so well he doesn’t need it.  Luckily our filing for hearing prevents them from implementing such an ill-conceived directive.  His 6-week program begins Tuesday.  This week has been difficult for him, as it has been for me.  Sophie is busy with her activities and friends and Peter has little to do, despite my trying to put him on some sort of recognizable, organizing schedule.  Right now he’s downstairs working with Lindy, who will try her best to undo the cumulative damage of several days with no routine.  He’s filling his Pullups with so much urine that last night the crotch of his diaper protruded down one leg of his shorts, causing him to walk like an old man with an acute prostate problem.  And still he looked me in the eye, insisting he was dry.  I’m sending him to use the bathroom approximately every 20-30 minutes, which is no picnic for either of us, but still the problem persists.  “I don’t pee in there, Mom,” he announces gaily.  “Sometimes, but mostly I play.”  The very idea of trying to toilet train an almost 9-year old while preparing madly for our endless Due Process Hearing, instigated because the school has lost its collective mind and continues to adhere stubbornly to the fiction that Peter is educable in a large classroom setting, offers many layers of irony.  But its 4th of July weekend and I don’t want to go there.  Not right now, anyway.  This afternoon we’re going to the pool and then tonight we’re heading to the Fairgrounds to watch a rodeo and after that, the fireworks.  I hope the evening is as full of old-fashioned, small town fun as I’m envisioning it will be.  All I ever wanted to do was help our son, but when reason, hard evidence and sugar produced no results, I’ve had no choice but to put on my boxing gloves and get tough.  In the process I’m afraid I unwittingly may have created the persona of a crazed mother on a jihad, but there’s very little other choice.  If I keep shouting our story from the highest ridge, my voice ringing through the dips and crevices of the valleys below, my plea for our son just might reach the heart and mind of someone, somewhere, who’s in a position to intervene, who can and wants to stop this madness.  But this weekend I want to set these worries, this mission, aside.  This weekend I just want to be Mom.  I want to have fun with my kids and my husband.  I want to shield Sophie’s eyes from any scary parts of the rodeo and run back to the car with Peter in tow if the booming fireworks are more than he can handle.  I want to put the kids to bed early one night and coax Pat into a relaxing, romantic evening where we can escape our problems, if only for a few, stolen hours.  Most importantly, I need to remind myself that what Pat and I are doing right now is not a sustainable, much less desirable, life pursuit.  It’s temporary, and it will pass.  We will have a life beyond fighting for Peter’s rights and his future.  But in the meantime, we’ll have to settle for stealing snatches of normalcy when we can, like this weekend, for instance.  I smile just thinking of Sophie singing You’re a Grand Old Flag in the backseat on the way to the lake.  Such a small little dream, but I sure hope it comes true.

May 9, 2010

October 2, 2007 Journal Entry and Chapter 21

Tweetsie Railroad (Blowing Rock, NC, Summer 2005)

October 2, 2007.  Dr. Federici, the neuropsychologist who evaluated and diagnosed Peter in May 2006, wants us to send our son to the Scar Residential Psychiatric Treatment Program in Jasper Mountain, Oregon.  An enticing opening salvo on the Scar website states “Achieving Success with Impossible Children”.  One fact-finding phone call and I’m convinced the people at Scar have seen children like Peter before.  In fact, there are so many “Peters” in the United States, children adopted mostly from Eastern European countries who are “scarred” beyond the realm of what even extraordinary rehabilitative efforts can address, that an entire (and expensive) medical, psychosocial, and educational system has evolved to support them.  Until recently, Pat and I never had considered the possible need for residential treatment, but the idea has crept into our consciousness like a slow but steady cancer.  Peter at some point may well require residential treatment and if so, then it becomes a question of when, how, and whether we’ll be able to afford it.  The thought of existing, indefinitely, on a rollercoaster ride would fill any normal person with dread.  But imagine the rollercoaster was designed and operated by a person with frontal lobe damage, a person who can’t remember the peril he put his passengers in yesterday so is destined to repeat the same misstep today that he’ll in turn repeat tomorrow.  This is life with Peter.  I can cry and hug and hold and reassure until I’m more tired and drained than I ever imagined possible, and little changes.  I still believe Peter is reachable in those moments, but I’ve come to realize, and begrudgingly accept, that sustained emotional growth must be measured in miniscule increments, and over long periods of time.  His brain lacks storage capacity for the kind of complex, emotional learning that even newborn babies are equipped to internalize.  The old behaviors return the next day, or the next hour, not because Peter is defiant or merely shedding crocodile tears, but because the moment is gone.  Vanished.  His mind is more permeable than Swiss cheese but much less malleable, at least when it comes to shaping healthy concepts of love, family, and respect.  Sometimes I worry that we’ve missed our opportunity, if there ever was one, to leave our imprint inside the echoing, dark caverns that form the mystery of Peter’s brain.  I’m not sure how residential treatment would alleviate this problem.  I imagine, rather shamefully, that the mollifying aspect of a place like Scar accrues not so much to the children themselves but rather to the benefit of parents, like us, who have reached the zenith of their capacities.  At some point, if ever we need to set this course in motion, we’ll have to acknowledge a painful paradigm shift: the welfare of Pat, Sophie and me may become inconsistent with and need to take precedence over the welfare of our son.  Our beautiful but damaged son.  The very thought of sending Peter away, even temporarily, is anathema and yet sometimes I feel myself yielding, all the same, to the slow caress of temptation.

Chapter 21:  Attachment 101

One of the first things Sue made clear was that attachment work was serious, all-encompassing business.  Because Peter was institutionalized from the age of 5 months until he was almost 3 ½, he was deprived of certain crucial developmental steps that permanently affect his psychological and social functioning.  Children attach to a caregiver when their needs are met on a continuous and predictable basis.  A baby cries when he’s wet and he gets a clean diaper.  The same holds true for hunger, thirst, temperature control, tiredness and boredom.  At birth, any baby will seek comfort from any person as a matter of survival but as early as two months, all normally developing babies start to discriminate, relying on familiar caretakers to meet their immediate needs and provide a sense of security.

Most of us take this cause and effect relationship for granted because someone, a mother, father, grandmother, aunt or foster parent, routinely responded to our cries and subtle signals when we were infants.  Our primary caregiver’s consistent, loving, and nurturing responses provided the essential sustenance our brains required to develop normal, healthy abilities to process and cope with feelings, thoughts and complex relationships.  These interactions are as essential to normal brain development as nutrition, sleep and physical safety.  Children deprived of early attachments risk lasting neurological impacts that interrupt not only their abilities to relate socially and emotionally, but also their cognitive capacities.

Sophie kissing her new baby cousin (Blowing Rock, NC, Nov. 2006)

During WWII, babies and young children were sent away in droves from London to avoid the bombings.  When they returned, sometimes years later, parents were shocked to discover their formerly happy, well-adjusted youngsters had regressed, both socially and intellectually.  The disruptions in attachments were responsible.  In the 1960s, researchers studied a group of babies and toddlers ranging in age from 7 to 36 months who were moved from an orphanage to an institution for retarded adults because of overcrowded conditions.  The retarded people cared for, played with and loved the youngsters on a consistent and regular basis.  When these same children were returned to the orphanage several months later, their IQs had improved 27.5 points on average.  The children who remained in the orphanage during the trial period however, continued to lose IQ points.

There are plenty of other studies as well.  One of the most heart wrenching took place by a researcher named Harry Harlow from the late 1950s through the early 1960s.  Taking day-old monkeys away from their mothers, he put them in separate cages where they could see other monkeys but had no physical contact.  He then placed these monkeys in a room with man-made “mother” dolls.  One was made of wire but offered milk through a bottle secured between the slats.  The other was furry and warm, but offered no nourishment.  The newborn monkeys without fail chose the security of the “living” doll over the nourishment offered by the wire doll.  The monkeys permitted to receive comfort from the warm, furry doll, though feeding occurred elsewhere and antiseptically, fared far better than their counterparts, in terms of both cognitive and psychosocial development.  Those monkeys exposed only to the wire doll and who had no physical contact with other monkeys became highly disturbed and incapable of rehabilitation.  Though controversial for a number of reasons, including the ethics of animal research, these studies were responsible in part for the birth of the foster care system and the demise of orphanages throughout the United States, Canada, and Western Europe.  It seems the profound damage in these monkeys caused by the lack of physical touch and maternal bond simply could not be ignored.

This was weighty stuff to consider in a cozy office in upstate New York as we watched our disorganized, hyperactive child bounce from corner to corner making quick work of destroying the room.  I hated to think our son, and maybe even to some extent Sophie, had been treated like one of those horribly deprived monkeys in the black and white films.

“Peter,” Sue said.  “Come here.”  He looked up from whatever he was pulling apart and obediently walked over.  “Now look at me.”  He wouldn’t.  With eyes diverted toward his shoes, he simply smiled and grunted as she attempted to grab him lightly by the wrist.  Once he shook free, he quickly returned to his corner and his purposeless activity.

Timeout (Spring 2005)

I found Peter’s reaction to Sue very curious because usually when he met someone new he happily ran to them, often plopping himself backwards into their laps.  He would kiss and hug and say “Hi, I Peter” to countless strangers’ delight.  In fact, he was much more social and affectionate to people he didn’t know, or at least didn’t know well, then he ever was with us.  But with Sue, it was as though he sensed something different about her.  His body language was pensive, his eyes wary.  He seemed to understand, somehow, that this benign looking woman knew what he was all about.  Pat felt the same way.  I realize we were assigning a lot of credit to a very damaged, trouble little boy, but it’s the feeling we had all the same.

I remember watching with fascination as Sue attentively followed our son’s every odd move, his back to her almost the entire time.  After a few minutes she pulled out a bin of Lincoln Logs and asked whether he would help build a house.  “Peter no build.  No thank you,” he mumbled, returning to the puppet he was manhandling.  Sophie, of course, immediately dropped what she was doing and joined the activity.  When Sue finally coaxed him into joining them, Pat and I realized he had no idea how to follow her lead.  She’d put one piece down, show him where the next went, and then ask him to follow suit.  But he wouldn’t.  Or couldn’t.  At the time we could never be sure, it’s a paradox with which we still struggle today.  He didn’t know how to interact with her, or Sophie, and he certainly didn’t know how to play – at all.  Left to his own devices he began throwing one Lincoln Log at a time into the air, watching with awe and horror as each came crashing back toward the floor.

He repeated the pattern over and over as Sue mostly ignored the behavior and spoke directly to Pat and me.  She didn’t seem to mind that Peter was fixated on throwing toys into the ceiling, though she did at one point redirect him toward the softer stuffed animals.  “This is what you need to do,” she said.  “You have to start from scratch.  I’ve seen this over and over with internationally adopted kids.  He doesn’t know how to play, think, organize or take direction.  He’s confused and scared and completely inside himself.  He’s missing a lot.  He doesn’t trust.  It’s not your fault but you’re the ones who’ve got to deal with it.”

She sent us home that first week with instructions to nurture and treat Peter like a baby.  The idea was that he needed to experience the developmental stages he missed so that his brain might make new connections and fill in the gaps.  I was to cradle him several times a day, rock him before bed, sing lullabies, devise tricks to engage eye contact, even give him warm milk with a bottle while I held him in my arms.  We were never to look him directly in the eye when we were correcting his behavior or if we lost our cool; eye contact from this point forward was reserved solely for bonding and making up for three years of lost parenting.

We were also instructed not to let him jump into other people’s arms or otherwise monopolize their attention.  “You just need to explain ahead of time,” Sue said.  “Or when it happens, just politely remove him and tell the person that hugs and snuggles are for parents only right now.”  Easier said than done, certainly.  Some people understood but others would look at us like we had Medusa heads as we bent down and removed our soon to be screaming son from the joyful contentment of their laps.

But other than committing social suicide in public places near and far, the approach seemed to be working, at least somewhat.   If Peter could receive physical comfort only from us, then he would have no choice but to allow us to meet his needs, both physical and emotional.  We played Peek-a-Boo (still Koo-Koo in our house) to encourage eye contact.  After dinner we sang and softly drummed our hands on the table to a song we dubbed Abu De Abu Da, which was something of a rhythmic chant.  Peter couldn’t sing, he can’t to this day, because he can’t process the words and the music at the same time.  We didn’t know that then, not specifically, but we did realize he garbled the words and sounds of the simplest children’s songs but was able, with practice, to manage the four sounds in our LoBrutto after dinner mantra.

St. Pete, FL (Spring 2005)

In the ensuing weeks and months, I dutifully drove Peter the 60 miles to Albany and back once a week to see Sue.  Sometimes I took Sophie, occasionally we went as a family, but mostly Pat took a half day off each week from his business to stay home with Sophie.  During our sessions, Sue would interact with Peter, trying to engage him in purposeful play while she and I rehashed the previous week’s progress, or in some instances, regression.  I found her incredibly helpful and understanding when it came to expressing my worries and frustrations, as well as celebrating our small but significant strides forward.  She understood what Pat and I were going through in a way I hadn’t previously experienced, and it was tremendously comforting to let my pent-up concerns pour out without fear of judgment.

By this point into our adoption journey, I was having thoughts not unlike the single mother from Tennessee who’s been in the news lately.  Although I can’t pretend to know the facts, the media reported the woman was so distraught over her 7-year-old Russian adopted son, who had been “home” only 6 months, that she sent him on a one-way United flight back to Russia.  He had nothing with him other than his book bag and a note directing a prearranged driver to take him back to his orphanage.  I’m neither qualified nor inclined to pass judgment on this woman, but I will say I can understand the sheer terror and frustration that might lead to such an ill-conceived solution.  By six months into our adoption journey, I was a deer in the headlights, working on autopilot, doing my best to survive Peter’s inexplicable behaviors one day at time.  But unlike the Tennessee woman, at least I had an incredibly loving, supportive, though equally perplexed partner on whose shoulder I could lean.  We also, within the year, had Sue.

After our very first meeting she suggested it would take about 6 to 9 months of intensive work both at home and in her office for Peter to become more securely attached to us, and for us to notice measurable change.  A lofty goal, for sure, and one I dreamed longingly about as the endless days continued.  During the times Sophie was with us, she’d leap around Sue’s office like a Kangaroo on speed, often refusing to take direction or calm down.  I could see the unspoken worry in Sue’s eyes, but because she always returned to me once her blitzes had run their course, I felt we were okay, that we were bonded.  In short, that Sophie’s problems were fixable.  It turns out I was a little naïve in this regard too, but at least not entirely off the mark.  But I couldn’t say the same about Peter, not even remotely.  I believed in the work Sue was doing with our son, and maybe more significantly, I needed to believe in it, but secretly I struggled to see an end in sight.

“That’s okay,” Sue would laugh, whenever I confessed my reservations, usually when Peter was taking one of his lengthy bathroom breaks.  “As long as you keep doing what we talk about.”   So every week I would leave recharged, ready to give the bottle another try, which never did work, and stay committed to practicing our other assignments, which did seem to produce some improvement.  For whatever reason, Peter could not tolerate either Pat or me trying to give him milk (including chocolate milk) from a bottle.  He would squirm and giggle maniacally.  Any milk that made it into his mouth would come out in a bubbling, spurting mess that would then invoke another wave of hysterical laughter.  He simply couldn’t handle physical contact, and certainly not the intimacy.

One thing I realized early on though, was that Peter would look at me using the rearview mirror from his car seat.  At first I thought it merely a coincidence, but then I started noticing how he’d stare at me while in the car more and more.  It was as though the mirror was a go-between, a metallic medium that made the interaction for Peter somehow less intense.  When I shared this theory with Sue she was thrilled, and not particularly surprised.  She said it wasn’t that different from sending an email to someone you’re afraid or unwilling to confront face to face.  So this was progress, I learned, though of a variety I hadn’t expected.  Just one more reminder that improvement for a child like Peter must be measured in miniscule, sometimes barely perceptible increments that nonetheless add up, slowly but surely, over the course of a month, a year, or in some cases, a lifetime.

But in other ways he wasn’t improving, at all.  Peter still smeared feces and sometimes hurt himself.   The worst injury he ever inflicted was the day before Sophie and Peter’s joint birthday party, which was our first as a family.  Sophie turned 3 on July 22, 2005 and Peter turned 4 two weeks later, on August 4th.  He had been screaming and stamping his feet about something, and Pat and I had sent him to his room.  When he began swinging the door open and closed with such ferocity that we were afraid he would hurt himself or pull the door from its hinges, Pat closed it, which sent Peter into some kind of frenzy.  As best we can tell, he leapt from the bed directly at the door, the left side of his face making impact with the doorknob.

Pat was still upstairs when the screams began and by the time I turned the corner to peer up the stairs to the landing, tears were streaming down my gentle husband’s face.  “I did it to him,” he sobbed.  “It’s my fault.  I closed the door.  This is no good.  I just can’t do this.  I can’t,” he continued.

The blood pooling beneath Peter’s skin and along his cheekbone and brow formed an exact replica of the doorknob, including the push lock.  By morning, his face looked monstrous.  Pat had deep circles etched beneath his eyes from sorrow and regret on a day that should have been filled with happiness and celebration.  It was no fun explaining to the other parents what happened as they watched Peter flit from present to present with obsessive, bug-eyed interest.  I remember some of the other parents nervously laughing, doing their best to reassure me that all kids do that kind of thing on occasion.  I couldn’t help but wonder whether they were referring to the doorknob impression on my son’s face or his compulsive interest in the birthday presents to the exclusion of everything else that was occurring around him.

Peter's Doorknob Injury (4th Birthday, 2005)

Although another incident that severe never reoccurred, he was still banging his head, throwing his body against doors and walls, and occasionally hitting himself several months into our therapy.  We also weren’t making much headway with the attachment parenting except for the small gains regarding eye contact.  Peter routinely cringed whenever I tried to hold him.  He became so stiff that his joints locked.  My feeble attempts at reenacting his lost infancy felt more like snuggling with a tire iron than a child.  But I kept trying.  And so did Pat.

First Birthday Party Home (late July 2005)

During our rare times alone we would discuss how things were progressing with Peter, sometimes fooling ourselves, sometimes not.  By then I had taken a post as a Visiting Professor at Bard College, teaching environmental law and policy to graduate and law students who were mostly in their early to mid twenties.  It was an exciting and terribly welcome change to be able to channel at least a portion of my nervous “Peter” energy into an intellectually stimulating pursuit.  The only problem, which any first year teacher knows, is that my course load was more time-consuming than I anticipated.  I was a part-time faculty member, earning a part-time salary, but easily working 50 or more hours per week.  Each 2½ hour lecture had to be prepared from scratch, using a textbook and other materials with which I was wholly unfamiliar.  I also found myself often covering for our program’s director, who is a dear and important person in my life, but whose substantial expertise in international environmental policy was far beyond the realm of my more modest federal environmental law background.

So in short, I was busy, very busy.  I often graded papers and worked on upcoming lectures starting at 7 pm when we put the children to bed and continuing until 1 or 2 am.  I did this so that I was able to spend every minute with our children that they weren’t in preschool.  This was especially important for Peter, but Sophie needed me too.  Pat and I didn’t travel half way around the world on two separate occasions to turn our children over to someone else.  It just wasn’t going to happen.  My only concession, which was unavoidable, was that on the two afternoons a week that I was physically teaching, the kids stayed for both the morning and afternoon preschool sessions.

But despite my fatigue and the welcome distraction that teaching provided, I was never able to shake the feeling that our situation with Peter wasn’t really improving.  He was still unengaged with us, he still didn’t interact with other children, and he could alternate between screaming over the simplest injury, such as a slightly torn fingernail, to not reacting at all upon being stung by a wasp.  He laughed when others hurt themselves, and sat down like a wooden puppet, refusing to move, whenever he became irritated or angry.  And most alarmingly of all, he began directing more and more of his hostility toward Sophie.

After a while Sue began suggesting that we double our sessions, which we did.  She and I would do our best to engage Peter in meaningful, organized play, but to little avail.  She also had me read to him in her office, cuddled on a couch and wrapped cozily in a blanket.  They were always books that addressed attachment, whether directly or indirectly, such as Llama Llama Red Pajama or Twitchy.  Although Peter still struggles to read, he’s always been drawn to books, a characteristic very much in his favor and one that certainly endears him to his book-loving Mom and Dad.  At the time, books were one of the few and easy inroads into our son’s troubled and heavily cloaked heart.

But not all our sessions were about books, snuggling and play.  Often Peter was very angry in Sue’s office, he didn’t like what she was doing and let us know loud and clear.  He would throw toys and stuffed animals across the room and dig his nails into the walls.  Sometimes when I was trying to cradle or otherwise physically comfort him, he’d bite me.

When he wouldn’t calm down in her office after one or two verbal warnings, Sue made him practice “strong sitting”, a technique we still use with Peter and on occasion, even Sophie.  It entails having a child sit cross-legged (something Peter physically cannot do so we relax this requirement) with hands on lap, back straight and head held high.  The psychological point of the exercise is to allow the child to regain the strength and self-control that was obviously lost as a result of the outburst.  “You need to get strong again,” Sue would whisper softly but with authority.  Peter would face a wall and practice his strong sitting until she thought he had regained his composure enough to rejoin us.  In the meantime, she and I would talk as though he weren’t present.

Although Sue hinted about the possibility that Peter was alcohol-exposed, and definitely thought he exhibited attachment problems, she never addressed the concern head-on.  But she did acknowledge he had trouble with impulse control, distractibility, organization, problem-solving, and self-regulation, all telltale signs of executive dysfunction.  Not a good thing.  The executive function center of the brain, which is located in the frontal lobe, is responsible for working memory, cognitive flexibility, abstract thinking, rule acquisition, initiating appropriate actions (and inhibiting inappropriate actions), and selecting relevant sensory information.  In short, although Sue was a social worker and not a diagnostician, she sensed that for Peter, the wiring in the area of the brain that makes us uniquely human was riddled with short-circuits, missing links, and faulty pathways.

A Joyful Moment (Spring 2005)

“He can’t organize his play,” she commented one afternoon.  “He moves around so quickly from one thing to the next.  And he never chooses people to play with.  Only things.  He won’t let me in.  It’s as though we’re not even in the room with him.”  I hadn’t heard this level of frustration in the six or so months we’d been coming to see her so my ears, as well as my heartbeat, naturally perked up.  “Mary,” she paused, her hands dropping heavily in her lap.  “I would have hoped to have made more progress by now.”

So there it was.  Pat and I weren’t the only ones at our wit’s ends.  The “Adoption Whisperer” was frustrated too.  “I’m thinking you and Pat should consider a short-term round of medication, Sue offered.  “Just to see whether there’s something that might help lower his resistance a bit.”  I hadn’t thought of medication, Peter was only 4, and the very idea terrified me.  Pat didn’t receive the suggestion any better than I; in fact, he was even more opposed to the idea.

But then another month or two elapsed, the conversations continued, and Peter’s behavior and development was at best stagnating and at worst deteriorating, despite our constant efforts and our weekly double sessions with Sue.  Pat and I were also becoming more and more exhausted.  Any unsuspecting babysitters we cajoled into our home fled so quickly upon our return, puzzlement and fear evident in their eyes, that their otherwise bouncy ponytails remained suspended by the sheer loft created by their hasty escapes.  The only young woman whoever came back more than once was the 20-year old daughter of our friend and house cleaner.  She worked as an aide at the Children’s Annex, an area school for autistic children, so we thought she might have the training and stamina to handle our kids, especially Peter.  But we later found out she would call her mom several times during the three hours we were out for tips, survival advice, and general encouragement.  We couldn’t keep doing this to either our friend or her daughter, especially knowing they were basically having to conduct a sort of spiritual séance over the telephone wires just to make it through the evening.

Finally the proverbial shit hit the fan.  When Pat went out of state for one of his writer’s conferences later that winter, which are absolutely necessary to maintain business and attract new clients, the director of my teaching program also happened to leave for China at the same time.  It was a double whammy that left me with twice the teaching responsibilities and no help at home.  Although I’m not the type to fall apart when my husband leaves town, I have to say this particular trip was a cathartic experience.  Peter never does well with change, and certainly didn’t then, but what happened over those three or four days cemented my decision to medicate our son.  The strangest part is that I can’t even tease from my mind a single event.  I do recall, however, that I endured a constant onslaught of unrelenting attacks, tantrums, and waves of nonsensical laughter that caused chills to run up and down my arms.

As I came gradually upon the little love notes that Pat leaves me when he travels – an “I love you” in the medicine cabinet, or an “I can’t wait to be back in our bed” on my nightstand – I tried to survive being bitten, spit on, kicked, hissed at, and vomited upon by Peter.  Sophie was so overwhelmed by his behavior, as well as the anxiety, no doubt, oozing from my pores, that she began putting forks in her eyes and jamming crayons in her ears.  Despite my efforts otherwise, I found myself sobbing on the phone almost every time Pat called, which I knew was a horrible thing to do to him.  And I don’t know what’s worse: being in the middle of a blitz or knowing the one you love is fighting for her life and there’s nothing you can do.

We were both miserable, and we knew it.  As hard as it is to admit, we decided then and there to medicate Peter, if not for him, then for us.  Within two weeks we obtained a prescription of the anti-psychotic drug Risperdal, prescribed by a psychiatric nurse practitioner with whom Sue worked.  That night we gave him the tiny terra cotta colored pill and kissed both our children goodnight.  We had been warned that the drug would need to be in his system for a few days before we could hope to notice any changes.  That night Pat and I stayed up watching dopey horror movies, neither of us able to sleep.  The decision had seemed so huge, and it weighed heavily on our hearts and consciences.

But at some point I obviously did fall asleep because I woke to the familiar plop of a small body at the foot of the bed.  I opened my eyes expecting to see Sophie, who loved to burrow under the covers and snuggle in the morning.  But instead I saw Peter, who had never, not even once, come into our room to say good morning or seek comfort because of a nightmare or thunderstorm.  “I love you, Mama!” he announced, his eyes shy, his voice monotone, and the smallest of smiles creeping across his face.

March 2005

“I love you too,” I cried.  Within seconds the tears gushed unchecked down my face and neck and onto my silly, flannel nightgown.  I opened my arms to receive him but he couldn’t move any closer, and that was okay.  “I love you, too, my darling Peter.”  I could barely choke out the words.  I had waited more than a year to hear that phrase from my son and it was the most melodic, beautiful, and divine declaration I’m likely ever to have the privilege to hear.

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February 16, 2010

September 16, 2007 Journal Entry and Chapter 16

September 2007

September 16, 2007.  Peter is so difficult on the way home from school Friday that I ask Sophie to go inside so he and I can have a private discussion, right there in the car, inside the garage.  No distractions, no getting out of his car seat until he at least hears me out.  Peter can’t or won’t answer “why” questions and so instead I offer several suggestions to open him up, hoping something finds purchase.  When I finally ask whether he thinks I love Sophie more than him, the usual parroting stops and he answers “yes”.  My heart sinks.  We’ve covered this territory before but Peter doesn’t understand cause and effect.  He doesn’t understand his behavior affects how people treat and feel about him at any given point in time.  For instance, he shouldn’t expect to be showered with affection on the heels of throwing Sophie’s presents in the garbage bin, but he does.  I try explaining again, a wrenchingly sad task because Peter also doesn’t accept or trust the permanence of love, but then I stop.  What he does next takes my breath away.  My emotionally blunted son, the boy who hurts himself and tells me I smell, crawls over the seat into my lap, takes a tissue and gently dries my teary eyes.  I suddenly ache with a pang of love so big that it catches me off guard.  I can’t stop crying now and so he comforts me, “I know, Mom, I know,” he says.  “I’m sorry, Mommy.”  I tell Pat that night and cry again all over.  But the same volatile, moody boy wakes us the next morning; the talk has had no effect and my renewed hope wilts.  The opportunity arises again later in the day, and the talk begins anew, as though Friday’s discussion never occurred.  This time Pat is with us.  Twenty minutes later, we arrive at the same emotional, cathartic end point that we reached in the garage the day before.  And again, Peter is wiping my eyes, gently following the path of my tears with his fingers.  He’s not faking or manufacturing a moment.  It was as real to him last night as it was Friday after school, and so it is real for me too.  I have no choice but to sway in time to Peter’s rhythms, no matter how inconsonant.  This morning he runs into our room and tells me he loves me.  The second talk, it seems, has taken hold.  Sophie and Pat go downstairs to start breakfast and we play a game where I hug all his parts.  I hug his feet, and his knees, his thumbs and even his hair, careful not to tickle or squeeze too hard.   This moment feels so good, so natural.  Peter feels it too.  He smiles easily at me and my heart soars.  A moment later I feel his body tense, slightly, and he kicks me; not so hard it hurts, but it’s not friendly.  He turns his face away and swings back, anger flashing, revealing, if only briefly, the aggression that lurks beneath the surface.  He doesn’t know why this happens.  I ask and he says he doesn’t know.  He is sorry.  I’m sure he is.  He can’t seem to hold a mood.  He tries but something dark inside grabs hold, snuffing his will away.  The spell can be broken, though I’m not sure by him.  Someone else has to intercede, and usually it’s me.  I’ve become chief guardian of Peter’s happy moments and easy mood, all the while staying vigilant against the undulating lability of his mind.   The boy I love traces my tears with his fingers while his own drip shamelessly down his face.  That boy deserves protecting.  That boy deserves to know, deep in his bones, that I love him with every fiber of my being; that my love, though imperfect, is complete, whole and inalterable, just as my love for Sophie and Pat.

Chapter 16:  We’re Home!

Before we adopted, most of my career was spent working as an enforcement attorney for the United States Environmental Protection Agency.  Eight years in Atlanta and almost four in New York City.  Pat playfully still refers to two of the attorneys in my division, Carl Garvey and Tom Lieber, as my “office husbands”.   Carl was a fellow staff attorney and Tom was our supervisor.  Both are exceptionally kind and generous people, and kidding aside, they and their families are among our most cherished friends.

When we finally made it through customs at JFK, where a bewildered Sophie and Peter were welcomed as U.S. citizens for the first time, Tom and Carl were waiting for us, happily waving a stuffed horse for Peter and a blue elephant for Sophie.  They had picked up our car, which had been left at the Lieber’s in Oyster Bay, and driven it to the airport during rush hour so that we could leave directly for upstate.  I was so happy to see my office husbands, with their goofy grins and bouncy steps, I audibly gasped with relief.  We had gone through so much, our new family of four, in such a short time, and the finish line was within sight.  Exhausted, scared, disoriented, and excited, we were in one piece, and thanks to our friends, would be home for good in just a couple more hours.

I don’t know how Pat managed to drive the 100 miles or so in his near comatose condition, but we arrived home in one piece.  It was about 8 p.m. in New York and we decided to put the children to bed in their new rooms without fuss or fanfare.  There would be plenty of time for exploration in the days and weeks to come.  Sleep was priority number one.  We changed them into pajamas and Pullups, brushed their teeth, and tucked them gently into their new beds.  I remember them staring up at us, confused and disoriented but too exhausted to complain.  Bending down to kiss the downy soft skin of their foreheads, I forever marked the memory of this occasion in the quiet refuge of my heart.

Peter's room, just waiting (Nov. 2004)

Peter's room (Nov. 2004)

I was shocked to wake up that next morning and find the children still sleeping.  I had listened for the better part of the night to the hushed sounds of the house, napping in brief snatches in case Sophie or Peter woke.  I had every right to be dead on my feet but instead I felt exhilarated, ready to plunge into the life and role I’d been longing for since Pat and I first met.  I’m not sure what I expected – pouncing, screaming, general chaos certainly, but what I found that early morning was a stillness that belied my newfound status.  With Pat still sleeping too, I decided to tiptoe downstairs and survey our depleted breakfast stocks.  It felt strange being in the house without our dog Scout, whom we would board for another two weeks.  Normally she shadowed my every move.  Though the size of our family had doubled, I felt oddly alone as I rummaged through the pantry, finding nothing to eat accept cereal with Parmalot milk and instant oatmeal.  In the stillness of the kitchen, I noticed the sky blue boosters already strapped onto our kitchen chairs, standing empty but ready for action.   Like the car seats, we had installed and tested them before leaving for Russia.  I smiled a little nervously with the knowledge that our quiet home was about to come alive with the noisy throng of children.

Before we bought in early 2002, a 93-year-old spinster, the last of her line, had been born, raised and died in our old stone house.  Her death ended 250 years of continual residency by one or more members of the same Dutch farming family.  How many decades, I wondered, had it been since the old plank floors shook with the patter of little feet, the high-pitched squeals of laughing children reverberating off the thick plastered walls?  Too long, I guessed.

But change was coming.  There was no misinterpreting the sound of heavy thumping I soon heard upstairs.  Merely 26 pounds, Peter nonetheless walked as heavily as a lumberjack, an undeniable fact Pat and I recognized almost immediately upon meeting him.  ThudThud. My son was up.  Our life as a family was beginning in earnest.

My sister Patty was due to arrive from Atlanta in four hours.  Since our own mother had died a few years earlier, she would be filling the expanded role of mother, sister, friend and all-important crutch.  Sophie and Peter adore Patty because of the way she treats and loves them, but also because children are programmed to intuit from their parents who is good, who is dangerous, who will protect, or who is trustworthy.  Patty exudes goodness and quiet confidence, and when I was little I wanted to be just like her.  Although some might say we’re more different than similar, I do believe we bring out the best in each other, and I’m certain Peter and Sophie sense our closeness.  When we’re together, we have this way of filling the spaces around us with laughter, happily retreating into the center of our shared, occasionally secret, and always silly experiences.  I desperately wanted her to meet Sophie, and to watch and study Peter, without the benefit of Pat’s and my concerns or preconceptions.  I suppose I was looking for her reassurance that our fledgling family would be okay; whole, healthy and in possession of all of the ingredients needed to grow and thrive.

By the time I ran upstairs to check on Peter, the whole house was awake.  Pat was wrestling into sweats, greedy for a cup of non-instant, fresh ground coffee.  I gave him a quick kiss and hug, and then followed the noise across the hall.  I found Peter in Sophie’s room, touching her new possessions one by one with wide-eyed wonderment.  Stroking her pink and yellow quilt with one hand as she clutched the blue elephant given to her by Carl and Tom in the other, I watched as she studied, mouth agape, Peter’s near reverent explorations from the quiet command post of her new bed.  Furniture, rugs, rocking chair, wallpaper, books, closets, clothes, stuffed animals, drawers, and hampers: items commonly found in children’s bedrooms around the world but notably absent from Russian institutions for orphaned babies and toddlers.

Sophie's room (Nov. 2004)

After having them use the potty, Pat and I tried carrying the children downstairs but both insisted on walking.  Sophie was particularly unsteady on her feet and was already covered in bruises from the collective effect of her newfound freedom.  She didn’t want me to hold her hand on the stairs but I insisted.  I counted one two three as we slowly stepped down, Peter’s footsteps pounding heavily behind us.

“Gera, Gera, Gera . . .” he repeated.

“Peter-Gera,” Pat suggested.

Since Peter had not stopped repeating his name, Pat cleverly decided to use this preoccupation to introduce the American name we had chosen for him.  After the adoptions we began calling them “Gera-Peter” and “Katya-Sophie” but once home, we reversed the order in an effort to gradually drop the Russian familiar.  At the time, I was convinced of the correctness of our decision to change their names, especially since German LoBrutto and Ekaterina LoBrutto don’t roll easily off the tongue, but now I’m not so sure.  In the name of rescue and family, we stripped our children of every ounce of their former, tenuous identities.  There’s no doubt they are forever Peter and Sophie now, their names imbued with our love to the same extent as would have occurred if we’d named them at birth.  But still, it may have been an unwise choice.  Their Russian names were the one part of their former lives we could have left intact.

Pat managed to make pancakes for breakfast thanks to a squirreled away box of Bisquick, and the children gobbled up every bite.  I remember Pat staring at the two of them, happily belted into their new boosters at our breakfast bar, and noticing that the bags under his eyes were deeper than they should have been.

Sophie enjoying breakfast (Nov. 2004)

He was so tired.  At 56, he was no longer a young man, and we had committed to an incredible, life-altering undertaking.  Sophie and Peter were needy, not necessarily healthy, and undoubtedly carrying emotional and developmental scars that had yet to reveal themselves.  They were also virtual strangers.  I could see the self-doubt in his face but there was nothing to be done, at least not then.  This was Sophie and Peter’s first morning home, and they needed us.

I needed them too.  I was desperate to interact with Peter and excited to strengthen the fledgling bond I was cultivating with Sophie.  Because we had read so many books about adoption and attended Dr. Aronson’s adoptive parenting classes, we were careful not to overload the children’s sensory systems with too many new toys.  So I took out the same few Duplo blocks from Peter’s backpack and the doll and kitchen toys from Sophie’s, and placed them on the floor in front of the fireplace.  Then I patted the rug to entice them to come toward me.  My efforts were interrupted, though, because the kitchen door swung open and I found myself staring at my brother Mark, who was standing impishly in the doorway with a small duffle bag in hand.

“Facial,” he beamed, addressing me by one of several inexplicable nicknames he’s devised over the years.  “Are these the kids?”  I nearly broke down in tears when I saw him.  Not only was Patty on her way, but Mark was there too.  The older brother who terrorized me daily throughout my childhood was at that moment, and in my eyes, the sweetest, most welcome sight in the world.  While we were still in Moscow, he figured out a way to finagle his impossibly busy trial schedule so that he could spend 32 hours with the kids and us.  Grabbing Pat and I brusquely by the shoulders, he pulled us to him like a quarterback preparing to huddle.

“So what are we doing today?” he laughed.  Peter and Sophie hadn’t moved a muscle since their new uncle appeared but they knew enough to stare, transfixed.  In the way that big men can be surprisingly gentle, Mark untangled himself from us and made his way toward the children, bending down to their level and then ever so carefully lifting first Peter, then Sophie, into his arms.  Any faint doubts I had concerning whether my family would be able to fully embrace our Russian children disappeared in that instant.  The tears I’d been holding back flowed freely and with quivering voice I managed to yell shut-up to both Pat and Mark as they began teasing me about the waterworks.

Mark and Peter (Nov. 2004)

Although I admit I’ve been known to sob without warning over the milk carton children, these tears were fully justified, and personal.  I was tired and running on nothing but nervous energy.  Pat was near shock too and showing signs of becoming seriously overwhelmed. Even though I always believed my southern siblings would hop on a plane at a moment’s notice if ever I truly needed them, the theory had never been tested.  The surprise of watching my brother walk through our door made me realize how wonderfully important it is to be loved, truly loved, to be part of a family or circle of friends larger and stronger than yourself. Mark was standing in our kitchen, grinning like a kid at Christmas, and Patty was on her way.  Pat and I could have survived those first few days on our own, but it was a great relief knowing we weren’t alone.  Pat and I may have made a mistake changing our children’s names, but the gift of family is one I hope Peter and Sophie will always cherish and appreciate.

Patty, Mark and me (St. Pete, FL, 1968?)

Patty pulled into the driveway in a Ford rental a few hours later, ushering in a second wave of energy and a necessary call to action.  She was the only one in the house who had more than a week’s worth of bona fide mothering experience, and so she naturally assumed a commanding role.  Groceries had to be bought, clothes and shoes that actually fit needed to be secured, and for some reason, the four of us decided that Sophie and Peter needed to have tricycles, immediately.

Patty and I would shop later that afternoon, once Sophie and Peter were napping.  I remember being so proud of my children as I watched them interact with my sister and brother.  Despite the complete upheaval they’d been made to endure, their resilience, with some notable exceptions, shined through in those first days and weeks at home.  Sophie examined every square inch of Patty, looking in her mouth, her ears, her nose, even pulling apart strands of hair to study her roots and scalp.  She had done the same to me in Russia and I was tickled to see the routine repeat itself on my living room couch.

Peter was indifferent toward my sister but mesmerized by Mark, whom he followed with great devotion.  I watched as they built Duplo towers together and laughed when he showed Peter how to make them crash, causing my new son to scream at the top of his lungs and wag an angry finger in Mark’s direction.  It was the loudest noise Peter had made since that first night in Moscow and it caused all of us to stop and take stock.  It was also an early clue as to his absolute need for external order and predictability.

One of my favorite memories of those first days home happened on the same night that Patty and Mark arrived.  After putting the children to bed, which was shockingly easy as they showed no inkling of being afraid as well as no inclination to wander, we set about unpacking the large Fischer Price tricycle boxes that Patty and I had purchased at Toys-R-Us earlier that day.  We planned to spend no more than forty minutes on assembly so that we could devote the rest of the evening to talking about our trip and just enjoying each other’s company.  What we didn’t take into account was the fact that my siblings and I are lawyers and Pat is a fiction editor, which means the four of us are largely devoid of everyday, useful skills.  It didn’t help that the directions were the size of a hymnal and each box came with six bags of plastic nuts, bolts, and other integral yet mysterious parts.  Not even the pedals came preassembled.

Patty and Mark, assembling the trikes (Nov. 2004)

In no time at all, forty minutes became four hours and the living room was still strewn with plastic parts whose bright colors flickered ominously in the fireplace light.  For reasons that remain unclear, I decided that smores might improve our chances of success and so I searched for the necessary ingredients and a few spare coat hangers.  I don’t know if it was the smores that did it, but eventually we finished, a few beer bottles littering the coffee table, somewhere around midnight.  We were exhausted, stiff, and punch drunk, but we stood united and humbled in the presence of our awesome, and slightly sticky, accomplishment.

I awoke smiling the next morning with the memory of the previous night’s escapades.  I’ll never know why we decided tricycles were necessary for Sophie and Peter to begin their new lives, especially since their legs were too weak to even pedal.  But the trikes were downstairs, ready and waiting to be used, and hopefully without serious defect in assemblage.  The thought of taking our children to the emergency room on our second whole day home was not one I savored.

Pat was the first to greet Peter that morning and was therefore the first on the scene.  In the months and years to come, we would grow accustomed to the ritual though never the shock.  Pat found Peter sitting squarely in the middle of his bed, wearing his pajamas and peering serenely about the room.  He had defecated on one end and urinated on the other.  At three years three months, his caregivers told us that Peter was completely potty trained, day and night.  True to their word, he had not had a single accident since becoming ours.  That morning was no exception.  Upon inspection, Pat discovered that his pajamas and underpants were dry and completely unsoiled.  The quest to unravel the mystery of our son, his mind, his motives, his fears and damaged heart, was officially underway.

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January 25, 2010

Introductory Note

Baby Home, Birobidzhan, Russia (Oct. 2004)

When Rain Hurts is the story of how our Russian adopted son Peter came into our lives, the series of events that led us there, and my successful journey toward loving him, while accepting and adjusting to the fact that I will never completely heal him. Peter suffers from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Mild Autism, Seizures, BiPolar Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Attachment Disorder and suspected Mitochondrial Disease. He is also, on most days, our beautiful and loving boy.

Through journal entries, I attempt to demonstrate how love can flourish in the most hostile environments, if nourished with compassion, humor and humility.  These journal entries, and the narrative that accompanies them, aren’t a memoir so much as an exploration of the transcendence toward peace that one can experience in life-altering situations once hope is chosen above despair, and acceptance over resignation.  This project is about the growth that occurs through the examination of grief, the adjustment of dreams, and the acknowledgement of one’s own capacity.

I hope this blog has interest and relevance to readers who have adopted or are considering adoption, as well as those who have suffered loss through illness, trauma, death or disappointment.

I begin by posting journal entries starting in the summer of 2007, when our son was turning 6.  Each journal entry is followed by a chapter, which tells the narrative story of our adoption journey.  I am also including more recent journal entries, which can be found under “pages”, on the right-hand column of this blog.  I haven’t yet determined how they’ll fit into the overall book concept; they may end up replacing the earlier entries. I hope to be finished with the entire manuscript, which is 3/4s complete, by well, who knows?  Sooner rather than later, I hope.

I undertook this project because I felt demoralized after reading the plethora of adoption- and autism-related books on the market. Most if not all portray a family who struggles with their child’s difficulty at first, but who ultimately learns to embrace the problem and become enriched because of it.  Reading these accounts made me feel inadequate, as a mother and as a human being.  I love my child, fiercely in fact, but hate the disabilities that plague his future and pepper our daily lives with genuine chaos.  I want my child to be whole but I will love him every day of my life no matter how damaged or battered he remains or becomes.  This project seeks to explore these feelings. Adoption isn’t always easy and adopting an alcohol exposed child carries with it inherent booby traps that simply cannot be overcome by love, faith, medication or any other kind of intervention.  I know because I’ve tried.  What works is blood, sweat, and tears, a healthy dose of humor, a barrel full of patience, and the wisdom to know when the zenith’s been reached; when its time to let go and let be.

Thank you in advance for taking this journey with my family and me.  I came to this occupation  of “part-time writer” out of what I felt was necessity.  By training and passion, I’m also an attorney who has spent 13 years with the USEPA enforcing environmental laws that help ensure clean water, air, and land, and more recently, I’ve begun teaching environmental law and policy at the undergraduate, graduate, and law school levels.  I’m 40-something, married to the most wonderful man on the planet, have more pets than I care to divulge, and together we do our best to raise our two children, whom we love and adore but who definitely give us a run for our money.

Mary Greene

Mills Mansion, Staatsburg, NY (Jan 2010)

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