When I sat down to write my most recent blog post, I was surprised to see that I hadn’t written a post in nearly 7 months. The first excuse that came to mind was that I must have been too busy juggling my adjustment to a new teaching job with family life. But the reality is that I haven’t wanted to write down the truth….the fact that life with our son, adopted as a baby from Guatemala 10 years ago, had become so disregulated that it became necessary to send him to a residential therapeutic treatment center in rural New Mexico.
Many things stood out on out first visit, namely that the area just seemed sad.
How were we supposed to feel hope when all we saw (and felt) was sadness?
Flash forward 8 months and many intensive medical assessments later, and I am finally starting to feel better. With a diagnosis of dyslexia along with the baggage of ADHD and several other learning issues, it was no wonder that our son was angry. With the support of a loving staff, daily exercise, animal therapy, a nutritious diet, and a consistent homey environment, he is making tremendous progress.
I visited him this weekend and over hot cocoa, told him that I was thinking about sharing a brief version of his story. To my surprise, he encouraged me to do it. He says that when kids act out, most of them apologize and then do it again. He was proud to share that he is learning to “show” me when he is sorry. He admitted that before he went away, he “wasn’t making the best choices” and that he is happy that he is “learning strategies” so that he can return home and act safely. He said that his current placement has “more people there to take care of us and help us with our strong feelings” and that he benefits from the predictable schedule and set of expectations.
We lived in a constant state of anxiety and stress. I remember the days when my husband and I would take separate cars to events because one of us had to stay with him until he had finished a tantrum. And truth be told, we don’t miss these battles or the ones that we would face about his behavior at mealtimes or when we asked him to take a shower.
Our whole family struggled with guilt, sadness, and remorse that we couldn’t do more to ensure his (and our) happiness. Now, our son is learning to be a respectful person and housemate. At home, he had his own room, which was a blessing when he needed time to “cool his engine” or come down from a temper tantrum. But when we would go on vacation and share a hotel room, he was nearly unbearable – gasping, groaning and squirming as we tried to fall asleep, or simply screaming when we would not allow him to watch the prominently displayed television. But now, he shares a room with three other boys, and has to live through the disruptions that he himself used to dish out. He said that he is “learning patience” and often lies in bed quietly telling himself “a story in (his) head” to avoid getting sucked into their drama.
Durning our past three visits, he has earned the privilege of spending the night in the hotel with us…and has been a delightful companion. We are not out of the woods yet, but I am finally starting to feel hopeful. And that is more than I can say for how we felt during the past 5 years.
As our journey progresses, I will share more stories with you. Some about him, others about our visits and the meals we are eating while we are there. Please be kind and supportive – this is something a family only does when all else has failed…and we had experienced 8 years of struggle before getting to this point. The main reason that I am sharing is because we are not alone. This is simply something that parents don’t talk about…and the result is extreme loneliness and isolation. It is way too easy to assume that everyone else’s family is more functional than yours – and it takes all of the guts in the world to do something about it.
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