Tightrope

Today, I had every foster/adoptive parent’s nightmare – getting a visit from the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, because I had been accused of child abuse. Someone called the child abuse hotline to say that there was a child in my home in handcuffs and shackles. What they didn’t explain to the child abuse hotline was that child was being escorted by two police officers to one of three waiting police cruisers. She was being escorted to a local psychiatric facility, because she was out of control. I’m not sure how the caller missed the two police officers on either side of my daughter, or the cruisers with their flashing lights, but he or she certainly didn’t provide that very valuable context to OKDHS. So, when the ladies arrived, I explained what had happened – that I’d just arrived home with my daughter. They are required by law to fully investigate complaints (for which I’m very thankful), so they proceeded with their questions. I explained my kids’ history, gave vital statistics, and showed them that my kids all had beds and that there was food in the refrigerator and pantry. Then, they interviewed my kids, which they’re required to do. I had already invited all three kids into the front room to laughingly explain what had happened, in hopes that it would transparently lighten the mood for them.  Because what was truly terrifying me about the visit was not what would happen to me, but what it would do to my children on a day when they’d already been seriously traumatized. My kids were removed from their biological parent’s home a day or two after Christmas about seven years ago. They were eventually split up into different homes, spent time in shelters, and sometimes with abusive foster children and with abusive foster parents. So, the very last thing my kids needed was the threat of being removed from me and my home. The very last thing.

The ladies were incredibly compassionate and gentle in their questions. They reassured the kids they could see the kids were well cared for, and the interviews were something they just had to do. So, all three of the kids answered very basic questions about whether they were attending school, if they had enough food, and other mundane things that I’ve honestly forgotten. I offered them coffee, apologized for my messy house, and then they were gone.

We’ve obviously had a tough day today. I’ve written several times about my middle daughter’s issues, and today’s were no different. Violent fit; police called; handcuffs and shackles; waiting for the third cruiser with the cage to arrive so she doesn’t kick out the glass in the cruiser; as soon as I’m out of her sight she calms down; arrive at hospital. What was especially frustrating about today was that there were no beds in our entire county for my daughter. I had already called the three hospitals who provide psychiatric care for juveniles, and none of them had beds. I called COPES and learned that they’re not mobile on the weekends. Eventually, I was told what psychiatric hospital was doing the “rotation,” this weekend, which means they are responsible for figuring out what to do with my daughter, whether they have a bed available or not, and we went there. While there, my daughter calmed, and she and I had a come-to-Jesus meeting, where I explained she can’t ignore her coping skills and throw fits once a week, or she’s going back to the psychiatric facility. She’s twelve and African-American. I’m terrified that if I don’t help her manage her anger now, one day she’ll have a violent rage at school or on the job, and someone who doesn’t understand what’s happening will shoot her dead. I’m hoping that our talk today is enough to help her make good choices, because I wasn’t sending her to another county an hour and forty-five minutes away, which likely would have been my only option. I didn’t complete papers to have her evaluated, because once I did, she would have been in the system, and I wouldn’t have had any control over where she went. It may have been a very poor decision, or a very good one – my parenting life is a constant tightrope. Our life is a circus without a safety net.

The tightrope that I and every other foster/adoptive parent walk is maddening, and one of the reasons I write this blog. I have friends who have been told by psychiatrists that their adoptive children cannot come home from inpatient psychiatric care, because they will be a threat to the other children in the home. But if adoptive parents relinquish rights to their adoptive kids, even in dire circumstances like those I just described, they will owe a substantial amount of child support to the State of Oklahoma until the child turns 18. What kind of option is that for a family? Last year when my oldest daughter was living in our garage (yes, our garage), I was threatened by an intake worker at a psychiatric hospital with a call to OKDHS. That was while I was trying to get help for my daughter who had just created a blaze at our house that required a couple of fire trucks to extinguish. Parents of “normal” children are likely cringing as they read this but when your kid is communicating online with strange men about all the sex acts she’s going to perform on them, and she won’t give up the stolen cell phone she’s using to stay online, then guess what – the garage is a nice alternative to being kidnapped into sexual slavery. It’s warm, dry and safe. It’s just not terribly comfortable, and it’s a pretty serious clue that your mom is going to stubbornly keep you safe from yourself and your incredibly self-defeating behavior. And, it worked ultimately. These are the kinds of creative parenting techniques that parents like me have to come up with every day, and if your world is not quite as gray or complex as mine, then that might look like abuse. Unfortunately, once someone like me has made the decision to adopt, there are very few resources, and lots of living between a rock and a hard place. Our state has a massive effort currently to recruit more foster parents for the 11,000 that are currently in care, but there are no additional resources for those parents. You’re just on your own. And, I’m ridiculously stubborn and resourceful. Consider all the foster/adoptive parents who are not.

After the kind ladies from the Oklahoma Department of Human Services left, the kids and I went to one of our favorite little breakfast places, because we were all worn out and starving. My kids ordered for themselves, then me. Then the very sweet waitress stopped writing, looked right at me, and said, “You have the most polite kids. I could wait on them all day long.” I thanked her and let her know, without sharing details, that we’d had a really tough day and that her words meant more than she knew. And then, the world’s most badass children and I proceeded to make our very own very good day.

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Tightrope

Super Woman

I get a lot of “Shelley, I just don’t know how you do it.” Here’s my secret – I don’t. I fail miserably in lots of ways. Don’t get me wrong, I do my job well, I function as a mom, and I don’t drop too many balls overall. I don’t drink excessively, explore dangerous drugs or even eat too poorly. What I do is run out of gas. Yep, over the last year, I have run out of gas at least six times. Once I did it while lecturing to my oldest child about taking responsibility for herself.  I also get speeding tickets – three in the last 4 months. Here’s what’s good about that, though, and why I’m writing about it – people are awesome.

I’ve said many, many times that it takes a village to raise my kids. Today, it took Reggie, a total stranger, who decided to bring me gas after I stalled in the left turn lane at a very busy intersection during rush hour. This is Reggie.

ImageReggie saw me in the median, directing traffic away from the left turn lane (I really didn’t want to see anyone run into my car or each other), and asked if I needed help. I told him help was on the way and thanked him. What I didn’t know was that he told himself that if when he drove back by if I was still there directing traffic, he was going to get some gas and bring it to me, which he did. This is Reggie’s car.

ImageReggie works for Pop-A-Lock. He was doing a job for them when he saw me. When he delivered my gas it was as a good samaritan. He didn’t charge me. He called me ma’am. He stepped into traffic to put the gas in the car. He was just a ridiculously nice guy doing something good. He doesn’t own the company. He didn’t know I have 1,000 Facebook friends and a decently successful blog. If you care to, you might let Pop-A-Lock know that it was cool what Reggie did.

And, can I mention Reggie is black? Considering my last blog post, I think that’s an important thing to mention. Unlike the mature white woman in a Mercedes who wouldn’t look at me while I was trying to tell her that my car was blocking the lane and that she’d have to move (because I was so clearly dressed for car jacking, in my black crepe suit and heels in 103 degree Oklahoma heat) Reggie was awesome. As were the 20 other black men who stopped to ask if I was OK, and did I need help. Honestly, with the current state of affairs, I don’t know that I’d be as nice if I were them, and I think it’s important to acknowledge them.

I’d also like to give a shout out to all the other men and women who pulled over to ask if I needed help. And, to the awesome guy who stuck his arm out his window, handed me a cold bottle of water and said “I know you’re hot, honey.” And, to the people who gave me the thumbs up and a wave when they realized why I was standing in the road waving them away.

So, I’ve solved my speeding problem by using cruise control in town on my way to work. I’m not sure how to solve my running out of gas problem. The obvious answer is to watch my gas tank, but I think my problem is a bit bigger than that. My stress is clearly manifesting itself in my lack of attention to my gas tank. And, when it gets right down to it, I appreciate the opportunity to gain some perspective about the nature of people. I love Oklahomans. People are awesome.

Super Woman

As Good As It Gets

Usually when I write, I try to come up with some kind of lesson, something I’m supposed to learn, some bigger picture reason for why things happen the way they happen. Today, though, I’m just amazingly angry.

I just left T, my 10-year-old, at inpatient psychiatric care for the second time since November. It’s her third stay – the first one was a little over a year ago. She arrived at psychiatric care via a police patrol car. The same incredibly kind police officer who showed up at our house last Tuesday (five days ago) called me after she heard our address on her radio today and said “I’m on my way. I heard dispatch give your address, and I said “I know that kid.” I’m coming over.” By the time she arrived, I was drenched in sweat, shaking, afraid I might be having a heart attack, and pushing with all the strength I had left in my legs to keep our attic door closed as T threw her weight against it from the other side, as she screamed and yelled to be let out and kicked holes in it. She hurled her tiny little 10-year-old body like a weapon against the years of abuse and neglect that she suffered and can’t escape, though she’s been safe, loved and cared for for almost four years.

That’s where I find myself more and more lately. Sweating, exhausted, terrified and praying to God that my daughter doesn’t get out of wherever I’ve been lucky enough to trap her and accidentally break her neck or throw herself into the covered pool and drown. For years she would at least stay in her room while she was raging, which provided some level of safety. But over the last few months, she leaves her room, roams the house, the yard and our neighborhood if I don’t physically restrain her, which is getting harder and harder. Last Tuesday, with both my husband and I home, she managed to throw her closet door down the stairs, nearly falling down with it, then get out the back door, narrowly miss falling into the covered pool, out the gate, and run down the street wailing hysterically and tearing off her clothes. My husband and I stood in the driveway, knowing if we chased after her it would only get worse. So, we stood, feeling hopeless, doing nothing, hoping the police arrived soon.

So, here’s where I have to ask, how in the hell is this as good as it gets for mentally ill children in this country? I read with both horror and relief  “Thinking the Unthinkable” by the Anarchist Soccer Mom where she writes “I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza’s mother,” and I thought, “yeah, that’s me. Is my kid the next one on the national news?”And I know a lot of other parents who are thinking the same thing.

My husband and I both have advanced degrees, we make what is an upper income for the state in which we live, we’re resourceful, and I’m assertive to the point that I’m sure I’ve been called a b*tch more than once. I’ve got a great supportive network, including a wonderful extended family, and I’ve read every book I can find on Reactive Attachment Disorder (her diagnosis). She has therapy weekly, takes medication, sees a good psychiatrist, and is on the waiting list for the Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) unit in our community. Though the RAD unit has a good reputation, there aren’t very many beds, and the stay there is a minimum of 6 months, so the beds don’t open up often.

There’s not much written about her diagnosis – in fact if you read attachment texts it’s generally not covered. My kids’ therapist has asked to write his doctoral thesis on our family, because both of my girls have RAD diagnoses, and in his words “are not burning down our house nor stabbing us to death in our sleep,” so we must be doing something right. So, basically, I’m the Mrs. Cleaver of the RAD set. I’m the Mrs. Cleaver, and I still can’t help my kid. I’m doing every damn thing I can think of, and I still can not help my kid.

In ten days, the psychiatric hospital will likely send T home, because she will no longer be “acute,” – no longer a danger to herself nor others. T can do 10 days in a psych ward like it’s Six Flags. She won’t show any of her defiance. She’ll be a super sweet kiddo, because she’s smart and she knows how the system works, and she wants to be in control. In foster/adoptive circles, we call this the honeymoon. If she didn’t have a RAD diagnosis, she’d be stepped down into residential care once she was no longer acute. But, because she has a RAD diagnosis, the hospital will send her home, because they know they can’t help her in the 90 days or so they could keep her and actually get paid. They know she needs the RAD unit (6 months to 2 years). So, they’ll send her home, and she’ll continue to have rages that require police intervention once a week, with no end in site, and it will traumatize my two other already traumatized children and stress my marriage and slowly but surely destroy our family. And, the best I can hope for is that she doesn’t hurt anyone else. And, this is as good as it gets.

As Good As It Gets

Shadow Mountain

For all you very kind people who have been asking about my middle kiddo, T, here’s an update:

Eight days ago, T, my 10-year-old who I have fostered, then adopted, for the last 3 1/2 years, was taken by several Tulsa Police Department officers to Shadow Mountain for inpatient psychiatric care. Many of you may wonder, “How can a sweet girl who is making As and got elected to Student Council have to be strapped to a gurney in a psychotic state and taken to a psych hospital?” The answer is Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), which both of my girls have been diagnosed with.  Basically, it occurs when a child doesn’t form healthy attachments as an infant. Combine that with all that results from years of neglect and abuse (even in foster care), and you also get PSTD. She’s also been diagnosed with ADHD (potentially caused by in utero exposure to cocaine) as well.

So, last weekend, we had a really good weekend. My mom came to visit, and we talked about Christmas lists and generally just hung out. Good weekends make my kiddos nervous, because they begin to feel close to me (attached), and their fight or flight kicks in, because they consider that attachment a threat. In addition, I accidentally uncovered a stash of food T had been hoarding (another symptom), which embarrassed her (it’s a little like being seen naked), and that combined with the good weekend triggered her into a rage. Often, she can calm herself, but on this day she took it to a new level and after throwing most of her room down the stairs , bashing her head into the wall repeatedly, and trying to make a run for it down the street while tearing off her clothes I called our local police department and my husband for help, because I couldn’t transport her alone. So, she’s been there for eight days, and I was hoping she would be transferred to the RAD unit, which is one of the few that exists, but they have no available beds. And, since she’s RAD, they know they won’t be able to help her in the short time she’d be allowed to stay in residential care (three months or so), Consequently, they’ll boot her so they can accept other kids who can actually be helped in residential care. So, she’s likely coming home this week, and then we just have to wait for a bed to open up on the RAD unit.When she goes into the RAD unit, she’ll be there for a minimum of three months, but likely more like 6 to 12 months. I’m hoping losing my kiddo for 6 to 12 months will result in her never having to be institutionalized again, but it’s not a guarantee. So, because you’re all kind and wonderful, you’ll ask what can you do. Here’s what you can do – Pay attention to who you elect and hold them accountable for funding programs that help the mentally ill, help people get job skills, and provide a functioning foster care system. If you think of these things as handouts or entitlements, consider the economic impact of my kiddo’s bio mother – only one Oklahoman who was affected by mental illness (including drug & alcohol addiction), teen pregnancy, generational poverty, and lack of job skills. She has cost the State of Oklahoma hundreds of thousands of dollars if not a million or more just in the amount of money she has been paid in social services benefits, that has been paid for her to be incarcerated, that has been paid to me and other foster/adoptive parents for caring for her kids, and for my children’s weekly therapy visits, psychiatric visits, medication, and inpatient psychiatric stays (which taxpayers pay for).

This is complicated stuff, and you can’t look at it in a simplistic way. Not funding social programs results in more money paid by all of us, and tremendous trauma for kiddos like mine. And, there are thousands of kiddos like mine in the state of Oklahoma. So, think of the impact you, your family, your place of worship, or your civic group could do by standing up for Oklahoma’s kids and ensuring that Oklahoma funds its social programs adequately. I can’t think of a better return on investment. Unless you’d like to build even more prisons to put the next few generations in, because that’s where they’re headed. End o’ diatribe.

Shadow Mountain