Dissolved: When Always Isn’t Forever. . . Part Three
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.”
As time crept by with no relief in sight, I began to see the effects the adoptees’ trauma was having on our biological boys. These were even-tempered, well-mannered boys. They were quiet by nature, polite and respectful. But increasingly, they became easily irritated, would raise their voices at each other, and did not want to be at home the majority of the time. Their tempers became increasingly volatile, or some would just withdraw into silence.
If I was heading out to the store, they would always ask if Jason or the twins were going; they no longer wanted any part of the drama that accompanied them. I could see our biological boys breaking before my eyes, and I was powerless to stop it.
Once I went into our family closet (we had done some remodeling to accommodate our large family, part was a large walk-in family closet), I turned on the light and walked toward the back. There, curled up in a ball on the floor, weeping, was my eleven-year-old son. This was completely out of character for him. I knelt down beside him, affectionately wiped his tears off his face, and asked him what was the matter. He looked at me, tears streaming down his weary face, and asked, “Why won’t they listen, Mom? Why can’t they obey? I don’t understand…”. He was utterly defeated. And I had no answers for his questions.
Our time spent working on school work (you’ll recall, we are a homeschool family), was a joke. I was constantly having to stop to correct or admonish one of the adoptees, and we rarely finished a full day’s work, something that never happened prior to this. I also had great difficulty trying to teach Jason and the twins. Jason would constantly act as though he hadn’t a clue what I was telling him (out of defiance, not ignorance), and the twins really did not have a clue what I was telling them. I feared their difficulty learning was more than I was qualified to handle.
Through much prayer and discussion, and quite frankly desperation, we decided to enroll them in public school (much to the disdain of our friends from Part Two – who made no secret of their disapproval of this choice). We were still willing to try anything.
There were many hoops to jump through, many forms to fill out, and documents to acquire. We had IEP (Individual Education Programs) meetings to develop a plan for their specific learning abilities. During the extensive testing for the twins, they each scored well below the average students their age and were both labeled special needs (Michael being the most severe). This is something I suspected already, but it was nice for someone outside my circle to affirm my suspicions. Though this affirmation made no difference to those outwardly critical of us.
Michael was placed in a special needs classroom, while Michelle was able to attend general education classes and transferred to the special needs class towards the end of the day. They both took speech therapy each week too. Jason went straight to general education; he did not have need of an IEP, as his issues were mostly behavioral. They started school in October.
By the end of the month, Jason’s teacher was sending notes home regarding his behavior. He was compliant at first, soaking up the attention of his new teacher. But once he realized she was an authority figure, all bets were off. The notes came home daily. He began stealing from her – even stole ice from her cup on her desk. He stole from other kids and would manipulate them to give him money to buy snacks. We packed his lunch every day.
A couple of months in, I received a bill in the mail from the school. It was for fifty dollars (not including the over twenty dollars I already had in credit on his account). When I inquired of the cafeteria employee, she informed me that Jason ate lunch from the cafeteria each day; he would also charge various cookies and snacks to the account. When I informed his teacher that I packed his lunch each and every day, she was astonished! She would ask him if he had a lunch and he would always answer no, so she gave him the ticket to eat at the school. As we investigated further, we discovered he was eating the lunch I packed for him on his way to school each day, discarding what he didn’t like (leaving it on the bus seat for the driver to clean up), eating breakfast once he arrived at school (that was free), and then getting another lunch from the cafeteria. All the while lying to everyone.
We were informed by cafeteria staff that we needed to write a letter stating that Jason was not to receive any food from the cafeteria; that he was packed a lunch every day, and they were not to serve him. This worked for a short while, until he started taking money from other kids to buy food. Once, the vice-principal noticed that he wasn’t eating lunch one day, so she inquired, and Jason told her that I had not packed him one (which was a lie). She then told the cafeteria worker to serve him, and they responded they were not authorized to do so and showed her the letter (this letter was standard practice).
This vice-principal, being the same race as Jason, and knowing who we were, was infuriated, paid for him to have lunch that day, and vowed to pay for it every day if she had too. I was livid. She had bought his lies. Who in the world did she think she was? And what on earth was she implying? Not to mention the great disservice she was doing to this child by enabling this behavior, and completely undermining us.
A later conversation with the principal stopped her from continuing, but the attitudes and opinions of some, about us, were clear. This treatment of us as ill-equipped, and not-so-borderline, racist parents continued at each of the children’s schools, throughout their time there. It came in the form of questioning our choices, or making snide comments, and sometimes (like this one), total disregard for our parenting decisions.
I was once told to come and retrieve Michael from school because he apparently had a fever. I asked if they’d taken his sweater off, as he was a hot natured child. They, of course, said they did, and demanded I come right away. I arrived and he was still wearing his sweater. I took the sweater off, loaded him in the van and drove home (approximately ten minutes away). Upon arrival home, I checked his temperature, and he was as cool as a cucumber. But from then on, I was known as the neglectful white lady who didn’t want to come and get the poor, black, sick child – who incidentally ran around and played, as usual, the rest of that day.
As the year progressed, I received a call from Jason’s teacher (not uncommon); she was telling me about yet another incident of Jason stealing, this time from another kid’s backpack. He was caught trying to sneak a bag of chips into the bathroom to eat them. When he realized he was being watched, he tried flushing them down the toilet but did not make it in time. He was now going to be suspended from school – in Kindergarten.
After this incident, his teacher consulted with the school counselor. She sent a note home asking if I’d ever heard of Reactive Attachment Disorder; she also attached an article detailing its symptoms. This was a small victory for me, believe it or not. Finally, someone outside my sphere was noticing what I had known for a very long time. I inquired further and was given the name of a lady at the county level who handles these types of cases. Unfortunately, after several attempts and no returned phone calls, it was another dead-end.
Jason’s behavior toward others became increasingly aggressive. He began hitting other children and the notes home increased even more. This behavior continued at home too, including ripping the dogs’ fur off their backs and stomping on our chickens’ heads in their coop.
The twins did fairly well in school, considering. Michelle thrived in her new environment, mainly because she was now always the center of attention and that is what she constantly desired; it was much like a narcotic for her. Her boundaries were unhealthy, so she did not know when not to ask to be held or by who. We tried to explain to her when it was ok to hug and to hold and when she needed to respect the space of others.
If I was speaking to someone else, she would get louder and louder until all were looking at her; she would even take to hitting those I was speaking to, in an effort to steal their attention away from me (note, she wasn’t seeking my attention, but the attention others were giving me).
Michael did not have aggressive behavior, but his lack of development was evident to his teacher. He did not have boundaries either, and it was at this school that he was standing at the top of the bus steps, while the teachers talked on the sidewalk. Michael leaped out of the bus without warning, and the male teacher standing there happened to see him out of the corner of his eye. He barely caught him before he hit the ground. He had no idea what cause and effect were. He had no understanding that if you jump off a ledge, you get hurt. Both the twins lacked this capacity.
One summer afternoon, while at a local water park with friends, while the older boys slid down the slides, my friend and I were keeping a close eye on the three. Michelle did not want to come in the water, but we finally convinced her to give it a try. She was not actually afraid of the water, this was just a clever way to garner the attention of those around her. As we walked beside her in the eighteen-inch deep water, her foot slipped and she went forward, face first into the water. What happened next left my friend baffled, and a little more understanding of my plight.
When Michelle’s face hit the water, she just lay there, floating. She did not try to stand, she did not kick and flail, she just lay there, floating face down in the water. It was not until my friend and I both grabbed her arms and brought her up, that she stood. This was not a strange reaction to me (I’d grown used to the uncommon), but my friend could not get over the fact that Michelle didn’t move, didn’t try to get up, nothing.
A short time later, Michael was walking around the water fountain. Both my friend and I kept a close eye on him, but we were also managing nine children between the two of us. When, after about thirty seconds, I did not see Michael, I went looking. I found him on the other side of the fountain, near the deep end.
He had just jumped into the deep water (an area we strictly forbid him to go), with no ability to swim, and no concept that something bad would happen if he jumped in. A nearby lady pulled him out just as I walked up. She looked at me disdainfully and told me to keep a better eye on him. I thanked her and we walked back to our original spot. Less than ten minutes later, this exact same thing happened AGAIN. Both my friend and I were watching, both of us like hawks, yet he somehow managed to do it again, this time being retrieved by a lifeguard.
They made us wait while they checked him out thoroughly and admonished me on my horrible parenting of this child. And then they let me go with a stern warning. As luck would have it (or not), the same lady was standing by when they pulled him out the second time. She no longer contained her disdain to a look. She began to tell those around her what a horrible parent I was, how I was neglectful and not attentive to this poor child.
She began shouting how she was going to report me to Child Protective Services. My friend was growing increasingly angry with each word she said; she could not believe a total stranger was saying such awful things to me, in front of our children, with no regard for the actual truth. Finally, we thought it best to gather the children and leave, before this lady made good on her threat. Yet another day, ruined.
School for Michael was difficult. Though his teacher worked with him very closely each and every day, by the end of the year, he still could not identify the first letter in his name. She was defeated. She tried so hard, and as a special-needs teacher, she couldn’t understand why. She turned out to be a welcome ear, though. She listened to me as I shared my struggles and hardships. She was seeing firsthand what I was dealing with, and she was a good listener. I was, and still am, grateful to have known her.
But even her skill level wasn’t enough. I would later be told that at five years old, Michael was barely functioning on a two-year-old level. I tried, in vain, to explain this to virtually anyone who would listen, especially those close to us, but all rejected my observations and treated me as though I was speaking disparagingly about a poor, helpless little child.
The truth is, I was the only one willing to speak the truth about the children. I cared enough to say the hard things. But what I was saying was not aligning with the picture of adoption and adopted kids in people’s heads, so my words were immediately rejected as wrong. What a horrible injustice for the children.
At home, our biological boys were beginning to relax, at least for the few hours the others were gone. We all really wanted to be a family again. We missed each other and we missed peace. We wanted to bond and attach to the adopted children, but it seemed everything was against us. We had no support, no friends to confide in, no professionals to listen and help.
But for the brief time the kids were away at school, we enjoyed peace. This was not the way it was supposed to be. This was not the way we wanted it to be. But we were powerless to change it. Something had to give, or something was going to break. We were all nearing the boiling point. And soon everything was about to come crashing down.