Friday, February 24, 2012
Would you do it again?
13 years ago today we met our son for the first time. It has been one wild ride ever since. I love my son, but truthfully, and this will not sit well with some people, I don't like him most of the time.
When he sat in my living room yesterday and told me that he was accused of stealing from his drug dealer, there wasn't an ounce of shock on my face. Honestly, I can't think of anything he could say or do that would shock me at this point. We have been through so much. We have appeared before every judge in our county at some point. Our county is small and does not have a juvenile justice judge. Instead it rotates every 6 weeks, so we have had cases in front of every judge.
But let me back up a little. When we first met our son, my husband and I had big rose colored glasses on. We thought with love and a stable home life, things would turn around for him. At the time we adopted him pre-adoption classes were not required and Reactive Attachment Disorder was not a word we ever heard. Don't get me wrong. I don't harbor any ill will against our adoption worker. We still communicate to this day. She did the best she could with the information she had. None of us could have predicted what would come along.
My husband and I were so excited to become parents. Our son's profile was the first one we read. I remember those days very clearly. We got the documents on Friday, and I left Saturday for a state bowling tournament out of town. I took the file with me and read it thoroughly. In my naive and excited state I thought, and these were my exact words..."He's just a regular kid cranked up a few notches." I couldn't have been more wrong. At the time we didn't fully understand the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome or pre-natal drug exposure. The internet was just really starting to become what it is today and it never crossed our minds to do further research. Like I said, we were very naive.
The five year old boy that we met had an engaging smile and could be a very sweet and loving boy. We laughed a lot in those days. As he grew and his mental health issues became more serious the anger and violence grew, along with the lack of impulse control. Stealing was a very regular issue.
The first time I heard about attachment disorder was in 2002 when we were looking at the placement of another little boy. The placing worker told us that his older brothers had RAD and they suspected he did. At that time we were far more internet savvy and we jumped online to investigate. I looked at my husband and said, "I don't know if this little boy has it or not, but the one living in our house sure does." He exhibited every symptom except harming animals. We didn't pursue it then, and we should have, but... This new little boy joined our home and three months later his baby sister came at five days old. I had my hands full.
When those two placements were terminated and our son's anger and violence escalated to a point where none of us were safe, I reached out to the social worker that had placed the two children in our home. She gave me the name of a therapist who specialized in attachment and trauma. The worker asked me to keep an open mind. From the day we walked into her office in April 2004, I knew we had found the right person. She got everything that we had been living with. She didn't fall for any manipulation at all. After 18 months of therapy she told us that she had yet to see a true emotion out of him. Everything he was did was manipulative or answers he thought he was supposed to give. It was peeling layers from an onion.
We tried psychiatric placement. He was in for nine days. Medications were adjusted and he was "stable" which is what the job of a hospital is. Stabilize the child and send him/her home. When he was discharged the psychiatrist told me not to bring him back. I was beyond floored. How could a psychiatrist not agree to treat my child? Once again, we had found someone who got it. He told me that my son knew how to play the system and say what he thought he was supposed to say. They saw a different side of him when he thought no one was looking, but they knew they were not equipped to treat him. I asked the doctor what we were supposed to do. He said, "Call the police. Whenever he gets violent, and he will, call the police and get the paper trail started. It's the only way you're going to get treatment for him."
That doctor was absolutely right. It only took three months before we had the first episode with property damage with him throwing things at us. We called, the police documented and the paper trail began. After a few calls, we were sent back to social services, who tried different interventions. The court ordered him into "shelter care" which is non-secure detention. It's like a house setting, but the kids are not locked in. We did that several times with no change before the next judge ruled that he would spend time in juvenile detention. Over the next two months, he had two different ten days stays in juvenile detention and a couple more shelter care stays. Nothing changed. This lead to the judge ordering him into residential treatment. He entered the first center in December 2005. It was the last time our son would live at home. Truthfully, he hadn't lived at home for about two months before that because he was bouncing in and out of shelter care and juvenile detention. Four residential treatment centers, seven shelter care stays, nine juvenile detention stays, and three treatment foster homes later.. he turned 18. All services were now gone.
It has been a long and very bumpy road. So, would I adopt this child again if I knew then what I know now? My honest answer is, I don't know. When he sat in my living room recounting the events of the past few months with the same tone as if he was telling me he had eaten a ham a cheese sandwich, the level of his mental illness was so apparent. However, the up side, if you can call it that, is that he knows we are his safe place to fall. We are the only people who have stuck with him for the last 13 years. No matter what he has done, we have been here. We have advocated for him and his care. We haven't liked his choices and we have allowed the court to hold him accountable, but we have always been there. I sat in ever single court hearing. Some part of him knows that because he bounces back to us when he has nowhere else to turn, or things didn't turn out the way he thought they would. And that may be our relationship for the rest of his life. I truly don't know.
I do know it will never be a "normal" parent/child relationship. I do know it will never match the dream we had when we started the adoption process. Currently he is pursuing relationships with his birth family. I know enough about the history to know it is not going to be the fantasy he is hoping for, and we will be here when he gets hurt, again. It's the best I can do right now.