The Other Side

Photo courtesy of graur codrin /

Photo courtesy of graur codrin /

Oftentimes, I find myself writing a blog post in my head (for the blog I do not have), just trying to make sense of this messy life that we are leading. My brain does not ever seem to stop turning over the little puzzle pieces to make them fit.

“What does it all mean?” “Will we survive?” “Will she heal?” “Will she ever have a friend in the world, other than me?”

How it happened

But I’m getting ahead of myself, per usual. How did we get here, you ask? Well, we threw ourselves into this foster parenting deal with the goal of adopting a sibling set of “older” kids—originally with the intent to stick with teens. Without biological children, we felt like we might be able to step out in faith and take the hard road.

Experienced trauma parents, cue your eye-rolling: I do it now too. I hate the word “goal” when it is used in conjunction with “adoption” and “hurting kids.” In general, I’m extremely negative in my view of the “thinking” of pre-adoptive parents—because they are all trauma kids. You don’t know what you don’t know, and we definitely didn’t.

I read just about every book available, and I was arrogant and naïve—not to the challenge that laid ahead of us—but to how desperately hard (emotionally) it would all be. This, despite all of the preparation and planning (and forewarnings that so many gave us!) Eventually, after many bumps and scrapes, we ended up being placed with our sassy tween whom I’ll call Jennifer.

The Honeymoon

Jennifer entered our home like out of a dream. She was vivacious and beautiful and exceedingly charming (read: manipulative). The first week she was here, after bedtime, my husband and I jumped around the living room like two kids in a candy store: “It’s finally happened after such a long and sad wait, and this is so F-U-N!” (This is only mildly humiliating to admit.) Six weeks in, however, the honeymoon came to a screeching halt. True, there had been a few blips on the radar (a meltdown over a homework assignment, opposition to a request for heading to bed, frustration when we didn’t throw a ball the way she liked—literally, that happened), but suddenly we were deeply entrenched in the danger zone. And let me tell you, when you get there, it will be 5:01pm, and the social workers will not take your call, and it’s on you. You don’t even know this stranger living in your home, and you are in charge? There are lots of things I cannot share, due to confidentiality, but suffice it to say things were just wear-you-down-to-the-bone hard.

The Survival Game

I will describe the next few months of parenting her as traumatic. Blood sucking.

We cried at the drop of a hat.

We were paranoid.

We burdened everyone around us with our deep despair, and our questions of, “How did we get it so wrong?”

Friends and family could say nothing but, “I’m sorry.” We knew folks were thinking, “I told you so” and they were right. Jennifer’s start to life before joining this family was pretty awful. Imagine how you would get by if every single day of your life you were in a car wreck—the kind that people then congratulated you and wanted you to celebrate that you were “lucky to have made it out alive.” That’s kind of what early life trauma does to a child, and how we then, in turn, expect them to feel “lucky” to be loved. Jennifer was just surviving day to day. She was (and is) still in survival mode. I cannot explain what this looks like to parents of healthy biological children. It’s scary. It’s maddening. It’s awful.

I laugh when people ask if we are “settled” because we are now seemingly “making it,” and we are coming up on a year of doing it. (By the way, “making it” entails something along the lines of both of us managing to work without losing our jobs, and getting Jennifer to spend most days in a school building. Haha! I laugh at the use of the word “most” there.) But “settled” doesn’t describe it. It just isn’t like that. There is no easy button and there is no autopilot. It’s go-mode, all the time. While we aren’t so deeply entrenched anymore, we are hyper-vigilant every single moment to the trauma she experienced and how that clouds her every interaction. For instance, a conversation about homework isn’t just about homework—it’s about her feelings of worthlessness. The shame she feels and the deep self-hatred run like a little cord tying the pieces of her life together in knots. She gets in the car and spews hatred towards the other kids in her class (Negative Nelly!), and the teacher reports that she can barely focus on learning, as she’s watching to see if a kid might be whispering about her or stewing about that the kid that accidentally kicked her desk. She doesn’t understand social dynamics at all, and I’m completely unable to coach her on it without shutdown mode. Deep-seeded rage and anger bubble to the surface at a moment’s notice before she knows it. Usually, I’m the target of that anger because I’m the only one allowed close enough to be so lucky (cue laugh track!).

The Other Side

On the best of days, I feel like Peter. I’ve said this so many times before. I’m just trying to be Peter, stepping out of the boat, and I know that I’m going to start drowning, and my only option will be to say, “Lord! Save me!” I felt deep in my soul that it was going to be hard, and scary, and heartbreaking. It’s one thing to know it, and it’s another thing to live it. So, while I was hoping for Peter, I’m oftentimes more like Virginia Woolf, filling my coat pockets with rocks and walking out into the river, because this kind of a life isn’t for the faint of heart.

I wish I could wrap this up with some sunshine and rainbows. For me, those few-and-far-between moments have been in the continual turning of my plans over to the Creator that made me. He’s weaving a story out of this deal, it’s just not necessarily the one I had in mind (shocker!) He is there in the waters when they are too deep (and as a trauma momma, they are everyday.) He’s let me outstretch my hand until it’s bent backwards. In fact, some days, I think it will literally break. Loving a child this way hurts deeply. It’s causing ME wounds and scars that will probably never heal this side of heaven. I’m grateful to be part of her redemption story, but it’s ugly and it doesn’t feel good most days.

Inner Monologue

So, here is my inner monologue that is getting me through to the other side—even though I can’t yet see the “other side” on the horizon.

LOVE BIG with no strings attached.

BE BRAVE but temper it with a healthy dose of reality.

STAND STRONG because there is opposition at every turn.

HOLD CLOSE the ones that you love dear, and ask them to journey with you, because this is a lonely road.

SET LOOSE the chains that bind you and your child with open eyes and an outstretched hand.

LET GO that your child or your life will ever be normal—this is your new normal.

DREAM BIG that you won’t be the same person when you get there, and that you’ll be grateful for every tear and every sleep-deprived night, or at least most of them.

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