I have been sitting on this one for a bit so it’s likely to all come out in a big incoherent mess.
But here it is.
Life as an adoptee, or an adoptive parent at the end of the school year can be a mess of conflicting emotions.
I get it. I do.
It is hard and sloppy and somehow this is usually where I find my zen because when the kids come completely unhinged I shove aside most things and retreat to inner calm with purpose because they require it. I am not quite there yet this year, but I will eventually get there.
Here’s what’s happening.
Let me set the scene for you. The weather outside is a bit chaotic. Even as the season changes rapidly from spring to summer the days are blistering hot and then suddenly cool and nobody knows how to dress and you go from sweaty to freezing inside the same week and maybe there’s a bit of frost still thrown in. But then a super hot day followed by a thunderstorm and you think well the weather is reacting to the chaos in my life, or is it the other way around? Who knows? Who cares. What matters is that the plot of everything starts to build into this little frenzy of activity right before the end of the school year. And the weather also seems to be in on it. It is a bit Shakespearean almost when the weather starts to foretell the chaos that will unravel in the plot of this play called Adoption and End of School Year.
This time of year around here can be super dramatic as emotional chaos tries to consume my girls.
My husband and I both fight to keep things kind of consistent and calm and predictable for the kids all year because they do not do well with free time and unstructured play and then BABAM one day there’s a field trip tossed in and then kids are moved from their regular class to a different one for the day and the slippery crawl towards end of year chaos has begun and you didn’t really see it coming, despite all that weather foreshadowing and stuff.
One afternoon one child phones home from school crying and stating: “I feel unsafe.” A panic attack follows. But everyone in that one domain of their life seems to have forgotten entirely the need for calm. The techniques and accommodations are dropped or ignored.
Second child starts to get louder pretty much everywhere and she is leaky, leaking emotional outbursts here and there. And she is running too fast. Her legs and her brain. Her tongue. Talking a lot and getting stuck in certain things that are not very social. It’s hard to slow that once it starts. Relief will come in July when the pool is open, the weather is consistently hot, and she can swim to get all the sensory input and physical feedback she needs.
Then the first one, the week before a big end of year trip, when you would think she might be happy as a clam looking forward, gets stuck.
She bursts in the door from school, moody, irritable and uncharacteristically mean and she picks a fight with her sister and she hits her hard out of the blue for some extremely tiny infraction which is more likely all the many infractions of the year remembered in that one wallop.
You are suddenly a human shield pulling one off of the other while sustaining a kick to the shins. Maybe you drop a conference call in the midst of that madness and you are late. Or you miss it entirely.
Whoever said girls were sugar and spice never stood between my two during one of these bouts. An hour vanishes as you calm them both and separate and try to unravel what is happening.
The next day the older one picks a fight with you on purpose. You almost see it coming in slow motion. She is the one who surprises you sometimes the most with the quiet responsibility, intellect, creativity and huge words, followed by an explosion, and then sneaking around, avoiding, forgetting, strange eating, diminishing attention span, diminished focus, storytelling to fill in the blanks, or avoid the truth. Puberty, plus adoption, plus end of school all add up to triggers like land mines. YEAH!
Finally you find some inner calm. You have seen this before. It just looks a bit different each year. You do mental calendar math and you think OH, this is a bit early, perhaps. It is, in fact, still May and typically this comes right on target in June, but here’s what’s happening. Endings, Change, Transitions. Chaos. Anxiety.
So, you take ten minutes, and sit with her in her room, even after she flips out and has a meltdown that looks like a teenage toddler tantrum. You think. Breathe, Paula. You remember – I am the adult here. Your mantra is back and on a loopYou say some things like: “This is supposed to be a happy time. You are going on a trip without me. You are going with your friends. You waited for this all year. You wanted it. You saved some of the money for this by babysitting. Remember? So what is happening?
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t know.”
She really doesn’t.
And she is teary. Or she is totally angry at herself. And she talks in her little kid voice for a couple of days before she actually packs and gets ready to go on the trip she has been so excited to take on her own with her class.
“When I have a job Mama I am going to make a lot of money and take you on trips.”
“I’d like that,” I say. We hug.
In the grocery store, when she is acting out yet again, you are embarrassed. She is big enough to look like she knows better. She hit her little sister hard for trying to get the orange juice off of a shelf. The senior behind us is visibly confused watching this. That little angel held the door for 8 customers just five minutes ago before raging on her sister in the orange juice aisle. I think welcome to my life. Then, I think maybe next time we’ll try a different grocery store. Then, this is why I don’t take the kids to the grocery store.
Calm one down. Check that nothing is broken. (yes my kids hit hard when they hit.) Give the youngest a job, send her to find something in an aisle clear across the store. Begin to lecture the oldest and ask her again. “What is going on with you? That behaviour – hitting – is inappropriate.”
“I know. I am sorry. I don’t mean to do it.”
I am tired and the groceries take twice as long as they should. I think of the 4 more hours of work I have left tonight after I make dinner.
“Try harder, please.”
Later you remember something, at night, in her room tucking her in, as if she is much younger. This is 13, and change and growing and adoption, and going on a trip away from home. And it is anxiety too.
You say these things: “You will be safe. There are enough parents on the trip and you can call me or face time me.” She nods and breathes and asks you for a cuddle. You remember this. One time when she went on a sleepover, a fun birthday sleepover at a good friend’s house, she woke up having a bad dream and later the mom told you. She dreamt you moved away while she was there. That. Each little new step forward towards independence somehow feels unsafe. Adoption at Camp felt like this also the first time.
“Honey, we will be here when you get back. We aren’t going to move or anything. You know that, right?”
She wraps your arms around her tighter. “We aren’t going anywhere.”
Your heart in your mouth. Bite back the tears because that’s the magic bullet. You won’t cry. You won’t cry.
The feeling of safe. The feeling like it is quite possible after being removed from a birth family to come back from a trip that is supposed to be fun and potentially see that everyone you love has moved. The feeling of safe sometimes isn’t there when the landscape changes.
Buckle Up, they should tell you when you leave the happy adoption day court. Here’s your wonderful family. You are blessed. But it’s going to be a bumpy ride.