In the beginning I just wanted to be a Mom. I thought for a long time that my path to parenthood would be as a single person who fostered or adopted. I was okay with that, I knew that it was possible and that lots of people managed to raise children on their own.
That idea shifted in 2005 when I began dating one of best friends and a 9 months later we got married. It was a whirlwind of excitement and trepidation. Even though I was not going to be a single parent adoption was still my plan A, it was how I wanted to build a family and if a baby happened too that would be awesome. At least that is how I felt then.
Like so many things in my life adopting our sons just sort of happened. We began the journey to becoming foster parents thinking that with time we would have a placement that clicked and worked and then when it came to make a decision about adopting that child we had come to love that we would. But that is not how it happened.
One day March of 2008 while we were still in the process of finishing our homestudy our worker told my husband Jack about two boys who were in a foster home but needed to move into an adoptive home because these boys, Kevin and Randall needed to know that this was the end of the foster care journey. They needed a forever family.
I initially said no when I learned that they were part of a much larger sibling group because at the time ( not knowing anything at all) I thought that sibling groups should be kept intact. But as winter turned to spring we kept hearing more and eventually there were pictures and before I knew it was May and we had agreed to adopt Kevin and Randall. We were excited, as all adoptive parents are and even though the boys had boatload of behaviour issues we were confident that we could handle them because I had been looking after kids for as long as I can remember and I was a teacher too. How hard could two boys of 6 and 8 be?
They could be and would be impossibly hard
The moved in that summer, I stopped teaching and agreed to stay home for as long as the boys needed me to be there. We hit the ground running and there was never a honeymoon. The first day he was in our home Kevin smeared feces all over the a chair when I left them along in the TV room for probably 5 minutes. They would not sleep, they were both up frequently in the night. Food was stashed in random places to rot, things were constantly missing, there were tears and tantrums everyday and not all of them were from the boys. I was not their mother and they made sure that I knew it.
I had no idea what I was doing. I tried again and again to use all the tools that had worked for me with children in the classroom, at summer camp, while nannying, but these kids were different, nothing I knew worked. I bought books, I read, I talked to my friends who had kids but everything I tried failed. I pushed through the rest of that summer and registered them for school. I did not know what a disaster that would be and looked forward to the daily time alone when I could get other things done.
It took a about week at school before the phone calls started and then Kevin got kicked off the bus. I felt like all I ever did was put fires but the coals lay there smoldering and as soon as I turned my back they found something flammable and turned back into a raging fire. It was impossibly hard.
Since I am not one to give up easily I rallied, I got them into therapy, I found better books, I became trauma informed and learned that I was not the only parent walking this path. I read and talked and read some more. I asked for help and found it places I never would of suspected.
Kevin was still impossibly hard but I learned better skills and when he raged for hours and tried to destroy everything he could get his hands on I knew what to do. I learned how to calm him and that his first calm down was not the end of the tantrum and that he would he need to blow up again before he actually calmed down. I learned that he needed to be touched and held when he was most upset, that wrapping my body around his in a giant bear hug helped and that sometime that could avert the rage that came with his intense emotions.
In the midst of trying to keep Kevin calm and safe there was Randall, always in his brothers shadow he tried to take up as little space as possible except when his brother convinced him to do something he probably shouldn't. Oh the stories about their antics that I have. Like the time that Kevin convinced Randall that getting into the dryer would be like a ride at the amusement park. Randall quickly discovered that it was not like a ride at all and that being trapped inside a moving dryer really sucked. Randall was a sweet little guy who had some serious anxiety and was very used to be controlled by Kevin and because of that it would be years before we got to know who Randall really was.
As time passed and I learned more skills things slowly seemed to get better, we lived very different lives then my friends who had kids but as long as we kept the boys world small and predictable we managed to get through the day. Days turned into weeks and before I knew it we finalized their adoption and moved into our second summer together.
Months turned into years and because we thought we had this all in hand, because we thought that we were managing we decided to adopt again. In 2012 Kate joined us, she was 6 full of beans and ready to make sure that we were on our toes. In the first few months she was with us I did things very differently then I had with her brothers. I knew all about trauma, attachment and adverse childhood experiences. I had this! I read every Dan Hughes book, and I watched Carolyn Purvis videos. I had and amazing network of Mom friends who lived the same life I did and I was confident I could do this.
I worked hard with Kate in those early days to form attachments and to teach her that this was a safe place where she would stay forever. I bottle fed her at her request, I played board games and painted nails. We blew bubbles, read stories and played dolls together. Randall saw us doing these things and joined in. He asked to be bottle fed and to cuddle with me. He asked for more time with me and wanted desperately to have the same attention Kate was getting. So I obliged and held that great big 10 year old boy in my lap and fed him a bottle and sang him songs.
Kevin never looked twice at the things I was doing with his siblings. He was not interested and did not want any part of forming a stronger attachment with me as Randall did. At the time I just thought it was because he almost 12 and those things were childish. It never occurred to me that it could be about his inability to attach to a parent, in fact to attach to anyone and so I just left it. He never asked for more time with me in the way that his siblings did and so it didn't happen. I did not want to push it on him or make my pre-teen boy feel uncomfortable so I let it go.
I wish I had pushed. I wish I tried harder for him to develop true attachments. I wish I knew then what I know now and if I had we might not be as broken as we are today.