Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Five Years Ago

I've been thinking of how to blog about this for some time. And this week being the 5 year anniversary of the event, I guess I should just get started.

Five years ago our social worker, Amy, arrived and with the aid of my husband, packed her Explorer with my oldest son's things, handed me some papers to sign, hugged us all and then drove him forever. We haven't seen him since.

The story actually begins 7 1/2 months before when we got a message on our answering machine. It was from a social worker at the county who would be working with us on finding a match. She was calling to introduce herself and briefly mentioned that she had 2 brothers she thought would make a good match for our family. To say we were excited was an understatement. We both took off work the next morning to meet with her and there we learned of DJ and Jason. DJ was described as fun-loving, gentle, hyper but wanting to please. Jason was described as your typical 4 yo who loved to play and cuddle. Without even a picture to see, I knew in my hear that these were my sons.

Five short weeks later, Andy and I drove up to their foster home to meet them. A week later, we brought them home. Looking back, I can see all the red flags that were raising, but at the time, my eyes were too clouded with finally being a mom. Something I had wanted for so long and thought I was prepared for. I was both right and wrong.

Long before I had ever met him, someone had hurt DJ so deeply that he was unable to feel the love we were offering him. That love terrified him and the harder we tried to reach him, the harder he worked to push us away. We were in therapy within a month of his arrival. Thankfully, I had read enough to know that something was wrong and we needed help. But the rages and the threats and the violence continued. To the outside world, he was an angel. Perfect in every respect. Convincing friends, family and teachers that I was just a mean, horrible mom. It was his way to keep me away. And it was working.

In all of this initial madness, in Jason we also were dealing with a very withdrawn, shut down little boy. My "typical" 4 year old was anything but. He could speak fewer than 50 words when he came home and his longest sentence was "Pick up me!" He couldn't communicate, wasn't potty trained and had NO idea what was happening in his world. We immediately put him in a special preschool and I worked hard to help him with his grief. I wanted to figure out who the true little boy was hiding behind all that silliness. It would take years to break down those walls, but I wasn't going to stop trying.

Meanwhile, DJ continued to get worse instead of better. The rages continued to be a daily occurrence. He would often rage for hours a day over the littlest of things. He started peeing on everything. The violence and threats escalated and he had a power over Jason that was frightening. He had to be in our sight at all times. (Not in the same room, but within our eyesight.) He slept with an alarm on his door so we knew if he got up at night and we couldn't even let him outside to play with other kids.

During that fall and on into the holidays, DJ was placed in two emergency therapeutic foster homes for weekend respite, one crisis center and it culminated in a 10 day stay at a local psychiatric hospital right before Christmas. During all of this, we received many diagnoses. The most definitive being Reactive Attachment Disorder. This was the one we most feared. As he became an increasing danger to myself and Jason, the lack of conscious, cause and effect and the in ability to give or receive love was terrifying. All the therapists told us the same thing. DJ had to choose to attach to us. He had to want it. And he so clearly showed us he didn't, no matter how badly we wanted him too.

Added to this, was the issue of Jason. He wasn't safe in our home with DJ around and every therapist we have met, every evaluation we had done, clearly showed two things. DJ was a very disturbed little boy and he wasn't going to get better as long as he lived with his favorite victim, Jason.

So, we turned to our last option, an out of home placement for DJ in a treatment center. I found one in town that worked specifically on the issues we were facing and with our therapist's and social worker's okay, began making phone calls shortly after New Years. If we could get him placed there, they would work with us as a family as well as just DJ. There would be family therapy, therapy for the boys individually and for them together. It honestly seemed like the best answer for all of us.

A meeting was help on a Friday with all the necessary people; our social worker, our therapist, the treatment center staff and us. At the end of the meeting, everyone agreed that this was our best home to save our family. The big question was the county. The boys' adoption was not final yet and the county would need to approve this plan before we could proceed. Finalization was scheduled in two weeks. We were so very close. I felt a peace all weekend that things would be okay now. And they would, just not how I expected.

The call came Monday afternoon at 4:30pm. DJ was in his room raging and Jason and I were having some cuddle time. They had both been off school that day for snow. When I realized the call was from our social worker, I started a video for Jason and headed upstairs. I can still remember everything about that phone call. I was expecting great news, and instead, I was given what I perceived as the worst. The county had decided that it was in both boys best interest to remove DJ from the home permanently and place him in a therapeutic foster home. Despite our desire to try, they felt that long term the boys would be better off apart. They were disrupting the adoption of our oldest son.

The next few days are still a blur. Withdrawing him from school, making arrangements for records transfers and prescription refills and packing up everything he owned filled my free time. I stopped attachment parenting and starting to just try and have some peace in those final days. I tried to prepare both boys for what was about to happen. They had always been together and despite the problems, Jason loved his big brother a great deal.

That morning we were all up early. It had snowed so Andy and the boys went outside to shovel. The garage was full of all of DJ's things. Jason asked why DJ's toys were in the garage and DJ said because he was leaving. DJ wasn't sad. Apprehensive, maybe, but not sad. Jason was confused, Andy was numb and I was crying enough for all of us.

Finally, Amy arrived and while I filled out the paperwork terminating the adoptive placement, Andy, Jason and DJ loaded her car. Finally it was time. I helped get my son settled in the car, we all hugged him goodbye and they drove off. Jason went in the house to watch TV and I tried to not collapse from the sobs.

But the story doesn't end there.

On February 5th of 2004, we were able to finalize Jason's adoption. The previous week had been wrought with grief and worry that they would take my baby now too. Jason was finally ours. FOREVER! Something I still have to remind him of frequently, but I don't mind. We paid a high price to become the family we are.

I'd like to tell you that everyone went on to live happily ever after, but the is real life, not a fairy tale. Despite assurances to the contrary, we were not able to keep in contact with DJ. We exchanged a couple of cards and pictures after about a year, but then all contact stopped again. It became too difficult for Jason to deal with at the time and they stopped responding. Now we tell Jason if he wants to contact his brother, he needs to make the effort to write him. He hasn't, and I think it still may be years before he does.

And damage wrought in the 6 months DJ was my son, would haunt us for years to come. We lost friends, became alienated from family who couldn't understand and blamed me and ended up leaving the church we were married in. Jason would shut down again and we would have to work hard for the next few years convince him that someone wasn't going to just take him away. Even now, he acts up at this time of year. He's a grump who is quick to anger and act out and break rules just so we will ground him and keep him close. Deep down he still fears it will happen to him. Especially now that he is the same age his brother was then. But as I told him this morning, he is not his brother and despite his worries, is here to stay.

Looking back, I can see how God worked all this out. We did more for DJ in the 6 months he lived with us than his foster parents had done in the 4 years he lived there. DJ was able to get the help he needed here to get him the right placement when he left. And Jason was able to come home to a family who would fight to protect him, get him th help he needed and realize what an incredibly special little boy he is. I think had DJ stayed here, thing in our family would have been dramatically different. Knowing what I know now, I doubt I could have ever convinced DJ to attach to me. And poor Jason would have continued in the role of the victim and never come out of his protective shell. Hiding behind silliness and never showing anyone who he really is.

It was a long hard road with lessons on it that I would have preferred to learn another way, but God is good and His blessings abound even now.


FaerieMama said...

I'm so sorry for the pain you experienced. I can't imagine the pain of a forced disruption. As mom to a RAD child too, I'm so glad you had the time with him you did. He will remember that. My prayers are with you.

Lorraine said...

I know how hard this was to write. Thank you for sharing it though, it will probably help someone else dealing with similar issues.

Heidi Saxton said...

In the world of foster-adoption, so many of the "happy endings" are a bit qualified. Five years from now, I hope your story will have evolved even more so that you will see beyond a shadow of a doubt that the hardest choice you ever made ... was indeed the right one.

We had our children's older sister placed elsewhere. Today she is a beautiful young woman who was adopted by an older couple. I have no doubt that the reason she turned out the way she did was because she was NOT with us.

May the Lord bless you and give you wisdom, and soften little Jason's heart with the power of your love for him!

Come and visit us sometime at EMN. I'd love to hear how you're doing!

Heidi Saxton
Extraordinary Moms Network