Bubaloo returned home after 3.5 glorious weeks away at summer camp. It was the break we all needed.
I was hopeful, perhaps too hopeful, that things would be different when he got home. I had hoped that the time away for reflection and fun would in some way motivate him to make changes. I thought that he might ready and open this year to all of the good camp does for kids in terms of self-confidence, self-esteem and resilience. I wanted to see even just a tiny spark of change.
He came back taller. He came back with a deeper voice. He came back more of a teen on the verge of manhood. That’s all. He’s been home for less than 48 hours and we’re pretty much exactly where we left off.
After the last four months of the most difficult and challenging times that we’ve ever encountered in raising a child – something you could easily describe as parenting hell – I thought maybe we could enter a period of calm, peacefulness. The respite from one another has simply made the parenting less heated for now.
I haven’t written about what’s happening with our son. It’s too difficult. Too exhausting. Too personal. And frankly, too risky for any future he may hope to have. If you’ve wondered why I can barely eek out barely a photo post a week, parenting this particular teenager and a toddler who now likes to stay up to 9:30 or 10:00 pm most nights, is the reason why.
Throughout this ordeal, support has come from the oddest places.
One of those sage supports has oddly been Bubaloo’s principal. He’s a man I’ve really come to respect.
When Bubaloo started to come off the rails, we wanted to come down and come down hard. We wanted to close his entire world, to be so strict, that the kid wouldn’t be able to even breathe without our permission. If it wouldn’t have caused financial ruin, I think we would have seriously considered military school.
I don’t want to parent this way. It’s not who I am. It goes against everything that’s core to how Otto and I want to raise our children.
There’s an unimaginable amount of hurt that needs to heal in our adopted children. I’m just not sure if love, no matter how much we give, will ever be enough.
When I read this article, How Addiction Treatment Killed Cory Monteith, this morning I was struck that we could be here in the future. We’re not dealing with drugs and addiction quite yet, but we won’t be surprised if we do.
From my years working in HIV/AIDS, and now through my involvement in community health, I’m all for harm-reduction. Heck, I even sit on a Board and we’re advocating for a safe injection site in our city. I want for us to have the best approach in dealing with addictions issues in our community, and in my family, I like not to get there in the first place no matter how unrealistic my wishes may be.
What struck me about Maia Szalavitz’s article is that she just reinforced what Bubaloo’s principal has told us over and over. That the tough love approach for kids like Bubaloo, kids who Szalavitz calls sensitive, depressed, and haven’t yet dealt with early trauma, are totally counterproductive.
I have to keep on reminding myself of this.
I don’t know what the best approach is. Free reign doesn’t work for someone without a moral compass and the innate ability to feel compassion or empathy, and autocratic dictatorship ain’t going to work either. And somewhere in the middle of all that, you have to protect yourself, your marriage and your other kids.
I never thought adoption would be easy – but I never thought it would be this hard. And adoption really isn’t at the core of this. It’s the impact of poverty and neglect, and possible alcohol, have on early human development.
Tonight I received this email that I’ve pasted below from Kim Stevens who runs the Community Champions Network at the North American Council on Adoptable Children. I met her many years ago when I was doing some volunteer work with the Adoption Council of Canada on setting up peer-led post-adoption supports for parents (because surprise…there aren’t really any!)
It was a formal email from the organization, so I have no qualms about sharing it, because the story of her son Melvin who she lost to heroin addiction earlier this week is so powerful.
My worst fear through our nightmare this spring was to come home and find Bubaloo dead in our house. I worry that one day I’ll be arranging my child’s funeral. The incredible loss, mixed with relief, of all those conflicting emotions can tear a parent apart. Kim must be going through an unimaginable horror.
But it’s her call to all adoptive parents to have strength that moved me. It’s her call for unconditional hope. This is what I need to remember and thus I write it here.
“Parents – stay committed to your children no matter what. When you think you cannot do it for another minute, that is when they need you the most. Look to other parents to help you hang in there. If we can keep our kids connected to us, they always have a chance to heal from their wounds. It takes time, it is not easy, but it is the promise you made and you must keep it.”
I am thankful once again to Kim for her wisdom, energy and inspiration.
Today is a single day. I just need to hang in there long enough to make a difference.
Email from Kim Stevens
July 26, 2013
For Melvin – A Message of Love and Unconditional Commitment
It is with a very heavy heart that I write this week’s CCN news. Our youngest son, Melvin, lost his battle with heroin addiction this last Tuesday. He was only 21.
Mel came to us at 2 ½ years old with no language, no understanding of what it meant to be part of a family and no capacity for receiving affection. Every day with him was worthwhile – he challenged us, he caused us hurt and worry and he brought us such joy. Melvin’s smile, his laugh could light up the world.
As a fellow adoptive parent, I know how difficult it is to love and stay committed to a child who is unable to receive, appreciate or reciprocate that love and caring. In fact, that pain is one of the contributing factors to adoption breakdowns. We wonder if anything we have done or can do will make a difference. We wonder what will become of our children. But our children are not intending to hurt or anger us out of choice. It is their response to loss and trauma beyond their control and understanding. I firmly believe and have seen the proof that if we can just hang in there long enough, we can and do make a difference.
Many of you have heard stories of Mel over the years and listened to me talk about how much he taught his father and I. There were countless moments when he pushed us to the limit and today I can only say how grateful we are to have had the time with him we did and to know that we never stopped loving, believing in, and being there for him.
I want to share the most recent and most important lessons he taught us. Close to three years ago, Melvin overdosed for what we later found out was the second time. The doctors told us that he would not survive the traumatic brain injury and we all prepared for his death. All of us except Buddy, his dad, who knew he would survive. If you have attended a training or lecture of mine, you know that Dr. Bruce Perry later told me the constant massage and touch we gave him were what saved his life that time. I wish we could have been with him last week to hold and save him again.
As the doctors predicted, he was not the same person after his miraculous recovery. We received the greatest gift; Melvin opened himself up to love and appreciation. He came home within two months – frustrated that his basketball shot was way off, walking a bit slower, forgetful, and without any memory of what happened or his time in the hospital. Those were challenges, but were nothing compared to the positive changes. We had a whole new boy who could give and receive affection, appreciation, joy and hope.
For the last fourteen months, Melvin struggled to find and maintain sobriety. I have lost count of the number of programs he graduated from, was discharged from, or was kicked out of for all kinds of infractions. Each time, he get right back to another and continue to try. He wanted to “get right” and become a drug counselor for other young people struggling with addiction. I have been reading dozens of messages from people he touched – every one talks about how he helped them stay strong, how he inspired them or gave them hope.
To his father, his siblings, his niece and nephew, his aunts, uncles and cousins he could finally say “I love you.” Throughout these last months, there has not been a text, message, phone call or meeting with him that has not included the words “Thank you, I appreciate it,” and ended with the words “I love you.” Now that we can’t say or hear those words again, we truly understand the importance of treating each moment as if it could be the last.
Melvin wanted to do something good in the world for others and I believe that he has and will continue to do so. His big sister called me earlier today to tell me that she has finally found a job after being unemployed and unemployable for several years. She has enrolled in a local community college and will start in September. She says she was inspired by Melvin and wants to make him proud – he is the angel that will sit on her shoulder and help her along the path. His brothers have made it possible for Buddy and I to get through this horrific time. His other sister is doing all she can to stay strong and stay healthy. And his recovery community has asked to participate in his memorial so they can bring a message of recovery to other struggling young people as well.
Today and every day I am asking each of you to honor Melvin’s memory and support his desire to do something good in the world…
Parents – stay committed to your children no matter what. When you think you cannot do it for another minute, that is when they need you the most. Look to other parents to help you hang in there. If we can keep our kids connected to us, they always have a chance to heal from their wounds. It takes time, it is not easy, but it is the promise you made and you must keep it.
Child welfare workers – commit to ensuring that no child grows up and leaves care without a family. When you meet with resistance, fight it. When you get discouraged, seek hope. When you run up against a barrier, challenge it. For every child there is a family and each child and youth has a right to one. The question you can keep pushing is, “What will it take?” and then pursue that.
Community, providers, courts, and legislators – do your part. These children belong to all of us. Vow to not let stigmatization, budgetary issues, politics or indifference guide your choices. With every action, vote, decision you make, ask yourself, “How will this affect this child, all children?” If you aren’t satisfied with the answer if it were your child that would be impacted, then it is not acceptable for any child.
Finally and most importantly, youth – know that you are special, that you are worthwhile, that you have a voice you need to use, and that you are loved and valued. Ask for what you need, find allies in your peers and adults, believe that you deserve and can have a family of your own, and believe in yourself.
With love, deep sadness and hope,