Adoption Flags Surface

 

One day just as we were nearing the parking lot where Yasik’s team was set to play soccer, he blurts out that he doesn’t want to play. I don’t ask why.  Appearing responsible is my default mode, so my blunt response was:  “You have to.”  Yasik came back with, “I don’t have to listen to you.  You are not my mother.” Likely my eyes bulged a bit, but on the surface of things, I acknowledged his point, coolly countering that legally and in terms of his care, yes I was.  We went to the game. Years later he told me he would never make his kids go to soccer.  What was I not understanding? Was there a problem with soccer that I was missing? Or was this the first display of those ‘adoption issues’ adopters hear about? He was ten then.  Nothing else surfaced for several years, at least that we were aware of.  Then along comes a cold, wet night in March of 2007. Yasik was 14. Was this the night those deep seated issues of attachment determined to surface again, this time strong enough not to back down? Or was it just blinding, untested but quite normal teenage testosterone obliterating reason?

As a student with learning challenges struggling against parents who believed nothing, and I mean nothing, was more important than a solid education, fighting about doing homework was a nightly ritual by now.   Yasik probably had more homework than most students, certainly more than he ever wanted.  That made this night no different than usual; it started out as just another night with a flare up over getting homework done.  Of course there is always more than just the tired, after work, homework conflict at stake.   We were in the midst of another threat of flooding. TV weather reports had us uptight about the North Allouette pouring down the road instead of flowing sensibly under the too narrow bridge at 224 St. and 232nd Ave.  If Yasik was angry, we were tense too; none of our tempers would have been at Calm on the emotional dial.

My journal entry of the night does not detail the fight we engaged in but does note that Yasik is arguing to go paintballing or skiing and we are countering with a negotiation of homework first.  The fight escalates. Yasik, who deeply though sometimes selectively believed (you might read ‘stubbornly’ here) in justice, isn’t giving in.  He leaves the house.  Does he grab a coat? Does he slam the cheaply made front door? The journal doesn’t say, but it is likely on that cold, wet night threatening a flood, he is jacketless.

The first time your kid does that, you stop a moment.  And I guess going outside into a night that does not warmly embrace his anger gives him a slow down as well because apparently he goes only as far as the front patio.  A probation officer once noted that most runaways opt for warm summer nights.

Dave clicks in first, pulling a jacket on and going out after him, thinking Yasik is running off somewhere more in line with a great teen drama of fiction than merely hiding out under the eaves.  I guess when it is your first move into rebellion you don’t always work out a detailed plan.  Yasik lets his dad go off on a goose chase, slipping back in the house while Dave is out blindly checking up and down a rainy street boasting one lone streetlight on the corner.

Those of you who have a Bible-infused background may remember the verse in the gospel of Luke (my version) that goes, “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” referring to the unusual activities of her firstborn, Jesus. This was the piece of the evening I continued to ponder in my heart for a long time after: when Yasik comes back into the house it is not with more fighting or cold slamming of doors. Instead Yasik comes into our bedroom; I reach out to him and hold him.  While we stand there mute, me crying and shaken, Yasik says, “I always wanted to do that.”

If, Then

You know how our brains work.  One little dendrite developed by some circumstance in our individual lives reaches out to connect with another in our unique lives.  The connection I made the other day is going to seem odd but it comes out of the neuronal activity developed through my life circumstances in my particular brain.  I was reading the April 2018 copy of The Atlantic.  I too was surprised how dated it was but it was hardcopy from the library if that is an explanation.  The article is titled “The Last Temptation” and is by a thorough going Evangelical, Michael Gerson.  He was raised evangelical and seems to be a spokesperson of respect.   In this article he is trying to explain why evangelicals have supported the American president (in case there is someone out there who is uncertain), DJ Trump, suggesting that in doing so they have lost their way.  On page 48,he argues that evangelicals “lack an organizing theory of social action….”  In comparison, Catholics, whether they always follow through or not, have a needed theory.  This theory “…acts as an ‘if, then’ requirement….” He then goes on to explain.  If Catholics say they are “pro-life on abortion, then [they] have to oppose the dehumanization of migrants [as well].”  If their theory of social action is to be pro-life, it must be pro-life across the board.

And what has this to do with parenting an adoptee, you ask?

Remember how individual neuronal development is.  My neurons are a rather thick mass when it comes to things having to do with my son.  One of the struggles I have had with how things are going with Yasik has to do with how we handled his rebellion.  Were we too soft? Were we wishy washy? Were we too harsh? Were we inflexible?  The phrase ‘if, then’ resonated with me.  If we have had an operating principle with Yasik since our relationship with him went sideways, it was that we would support what we believed to be healthy life choices.  We would not support the unhealthy.  That meant that if he chose to go to soccer on a school night, then we would drive him.  If he chose to go out on a school night to hang out with people who were doing drugs, then he would have to find his own way home.   If you agree or do this, then we will follow through and do what we felt (rightly or wrongly).

Of course a moment later all the other arguments swimming around in my brain shake off sleepiness and begin to hawk their wares.  What about the danger of leaving an immature teen out on his own at night in a sketchy situation? What does the refusal to help say to someone who started life with at best a shaky sense of attachment?

Yes there are complexities and the strident questions they shout back at my attempt to reconcile the choices we made refuse to be ignored but there is also some rightness as well to the simple little truism,’ Follow through’.  In a moment of uncertainty that demands an immediate response, this one is easy enough to be at the ready.

God is Not a Genie

I don’t think I am depressed.  I am sad and anxious.  There is a difference.  Check out the definitions in “A bit of a sidebar”. (Actually, a week later the ‘self-editor’ me, a Mary Karr suggestion, is looking at this piece again and not sure if a good measure of petulant self-pity energized this writing.)

Today is a few months short of when we told Yasik he had to leave our home nearly 10 years ago.  He will be 27 in a few weeks.

He is scheduled for a video sentencing today.  It may be in process as I write.  It’s 11:28 a.m.

Dave is out shopping for a turkey for Thanksgiving this weekend.  I will mow the lawn after writing this because it is sunny out and the grass keeps growing, so why not?  Life does not stop; it does not make a U turn or even try another road just because it is not going the way I envisaged it.  So later today I will drive over to the tutoring agency I work with and help a middle-aged woman who is upgrading her job skills.  It may at the very least divert my emotions, gripping the normal to counter the upheaval as every unguarded moment will veer toward thoughts of my son’s bleak passage on his journey.  An ode to turkeys, lawns and other people’s needs.

Last night while trying to lull the neighbour’s young son to sleep, I held him – his eyes resolutely grasping at Paw Patrol to fight sleep and my mind and heart reciting a mantra for the outcome of Yasik’s sentencing today. Over and over I called on ‘God-as-I-understood-him’ to please send my son to a prison that will offer to show him a new path to life – in our case, quite specifically the open prison system in a nearby town.  My rational is that then we can visit more often and be a counter balance to unhealthy influences he may engage with in the prison.  It certainly sounds a reasonable prayer to me. This morning I asked my sister to pray as well for the sentence to be at this prison.  My sister’s response was, “God isn’t a genie.”  Barely holding it together, I slid over my real reaction by agreeing, not interested in arguing the pointlessness of my rational.  But to myself I think, if not God, who else is there for Yasik anymore.  And then I enter my mind dialogue with God.

In my speaking for both God and myself and therefore assuming I have some idea who God is and how He interacts with humans, I argue with Him.  Yes, I have no right to make demands; yes, I don’t know if this is how I can engage with You.  But, on the other hand, You give an open invitation when You, or your hopefully legitimate proxy, say, “Ask and it shall be given to you.  Seek and you shall find.  Knock and it shall be opened to you.”  Isn’t that what we are encouraged to do when we rub the genie’s lantern? Isn’t Yasik, especially with his back story, also someone who needs a helping hand?  But no, if you do the crime you better expect to do the time.  Round and round, throwing up mental hands in frustration, despair, confusion.  It’s a tangle of all sorts of thoughts, feelings, understandings, ignorance, love and a measure of self-pity.  There is never unalloyed altruism they say.

And it is not one I can easily talk to anyone about.  First it is such an old story now – over 10 years relentless disappointment, heart ache, anxiety, hopelessness.  Who wants to talk about it anymore?  He committed a serious crime, why should he not get the treatment others who get caught receive?  What can anyone say to out argue that?  Ok, he has the scars of abandonment being in an orphanage until almost 5.  He may have prenatal drug or alcohol impact.  School left him feeling incapable.  We didn’t understand most of what was going on in the memories, brain, and consciousness he then developed.  He ended up on the streets, in and out of trouble with the law.  The ‘stats’ on that life trajectory are awful.

So if prayer is almost my sole initiative to help my son, why prayer? Is that the best I can plan on in terms of a rational solution to the problems of the prison system, or more specifically my son’s situation in the prison system?

Ah yes, I can speak with my vote.  Which party is promising to work at a more rehabilitative prison system in readiness for the upcoming election next week?  The Conservatives under Stephen Harper took Canada backwards to a more punitive system.  Justin Trudeau promised in his first campaign to reset the system in a more progressive direction.  He had 4 + years to do so.  Turns out not much has changed and little is being said of future plans in the current campaign.  See “Harper was tough on crime, Trudeau promised a new approach – did he deliver?” by Jane Gerster, Global News, posted October 6, 2019 4:00 am.

Other options: my husband and I could spring for a lawyer rather than leave Yasik to work out his own legal aid.  He got into this mess and we established our take on that right from the beginning of ‘The Troubles’,  telling him even when he was barely 16 that he had to take care of the legal repercussions of his actions. Recently though, we did talk to a lawyer who did not encourage us to seek out a lawyer for Yasik because there is little that can be done at this stage anyway.   And no one is asking us to become involved.  The current probation officer called us as she prepared her pre-sentencing report.  We assured her that we are willing to be involved with a caveat that Yasik also be getting a rehab recommendation.  We are not prepared to work with a still addicted Yasik without support.  That is rational is it not?  Anymore options?   Well, there is also the activist option which I keep shelving for the present. I could get involved with Moms Stop the Harm or return to AL-ANON or whatever activism is encouraged in my small town. In lieu of stepping out in activism, I know there is always the good old ‘look for the silver lining’ fall back.  Who knows, some serious prison time in a medium security prison, likely near to his home and just as likely with cellmates he knows, may be just the thing.  The memoir, The Master Plan, could not have been written had it not been first experienced by Chris Wilson.

Right now though, it is going to be hard to tell me not to rub the genie’s lantern, if only out of petulant self-pity.

Thoughts on Yasmin Mogahed’s comment on Attachment

March 2, 2018G

Yasmin Mogahed urges her followers to”Try not to confuse “attachment” with “love”. Attachment is about fear and dependency and has more to do with love of self than love of another. Love without attachment is the purest love because it isn’t about what others can give you because you are empty. It is about what you can give others because you are already full”. I do not know the context of this comment. Perhaps in terms of altruism or aspiration, this quote is a noble sentiment. Maybe she is referencing what Larissa MacFarquhar explores in Strangers Drowning.  But I latched on to that one word, attachment. It is one big word in the context of adoption. Google it. Attachment is connection. Attachment is not the evil twin of love. You may see yourself as an independent bag of chemicals or a being infused with something which makes you part of a wider universe; either way attachment, whether to a person, place, thing or idea is something that binds/connects/ties. “Attachment” refers to a vacuum cleaner hose for sucking up dust but it also refers to reasons and ways to connect to an emotion – whether love or another of a fair variety of emotions. And having worked this paragraph over a few times now, I admit ‘attachment’ is very difficult to adequately define. I still say though that it is not in competition with ‘love’.
But having accepted that perhaps Mogahed sees attachment as the emotion itself, my perhaps pompous mind has a question. If attachment is about fear and dependency, what generates this ‘purest love’? How does a person become “already full”? I do, of course, recognize that fear and dependency motivate attachment for the little one who worries about who will be feeding his or her tiny, hungry tummy. But how love blossoms in a person has to be asked.
Then again, maybe, maybe, just maybe, my mind is connecting the word ‘attachment’ to the ways we find to cultivate love rather than disparage attachment as an emotion in competition to love because of a book I have just finished reading. The title might even suggest where such love may come from, Born for Love by Maia Szalavitz and Bruce D. Perry. On page 315 they talk about introducing reading “…in the laps of caring parents, siblings or grandparents….” This they suggest is just one way to encourage love to grow and hopefully fill one more person with love. My thanks then to Yasmin Mogahed for giving me a nice segway to the many considerations of attachment as it relates to adopting families.

Is this ‘letting go’ or ‘moving on’?

March 15, 2018

The following thought may take a more circuitous route to clarity than is helpful, but it seemed amazing to me, at least initially. Right now I am making my way through a book by James Breech, The Silence of Jesus. It is not that in this particular book I expected to find anything blog-oriented. (Understand that I come from somewhere between fundamentalist and evangelical Protestantism, more steeped in all things biblical than I am likely aware of). I was given the book and so felt I should work my way through it because it may counter some of the ideas I was exposed to in my actively protestant years. (I am also currently reading a detective novel, some tree and bird books, a Lewis Mehl-Madrona, The Unmade Bed, Goldacre’s Bad Science and two books on attachment theory.) Somehow I manage to find something about our relationship with Yasik in almost anything I read.
James Breech has made a study of the parables of Jesus, pulling out what he may have said from the cultural context and interpretation of those who recorded his words.  Here’s the backstory. Breech is examining the story in the Gospel of Luke of the Good Samaritan. First he strips away what he considers are the trimmings in which Luke couches the story. It becomes simply a story of a man assaulted by robbers. Two people passing by do literally that, pass by, even crossing to the other side to do so. A third person comes along and having wine and oil, cleans the assaulted man’s wounds, puts him on his donkey or horse and takes him to an inn. As Traveler Three prepares to go on own his way, he instructs the innkeeper to take care of the wounded man and promises to settle whatever expenses are incurred when he next returns to the area. And then the good fellow continues on with whatever business brought him to the area.
A few years ago I chose to explain to myself why I am on earth by espousing the concept that we are each on a journey through life (yes, Joseph Campbell influenced). Traveler Three is on a journey that metaphors our individual life experiences. Breech suggests that Jesus’ point in this story is that a man with wherewithal shares with another in need to aid the wounded man on his particular journey. The phrase from Yasmin Mogahed’s thought of “It’s about what you can give others because you are full” now takes meaning of which I am less cynical. It was not the third person’s intention to go about helping people. In fact no motive for helping is offered other than obvious, immediate need. Traveler Three recognizes that harm has been done, but that does not need to be the end of the story. Because he has some medical supplies with him, he can reorient the story in a different direction, a better possibility. As Breech stresses, the storyteller is not asking his listeners to dwell on whether or not the victim recovers, just that Traveller Three takes care of what he can. He suggests that Jesus is telling this story to make the point that helping others on their equally valid journeys if at some point they need a boost is simply part of going forward each on our individual journey. We give that boost because we see ourselves as having enough to be free to share. So parents often adopt to aid another on his or her journey because they want to share (Note: there are lots of other reasons to adopt as well, just as there are other reasons for the choices of the other characters in the parable). But once we have offered aid in a difficulty we carry on with our own journey, assuming the other will be quite capable of also carrying on. Is this the “letting go” concept or the “moving on” concept we are encouraged to embrace over staying in a slumped tear-drenched heap of guilt?
At any rate, when I read the bit about Traveler Three taking care of what he could and then moving on with his own journey, I did not think it was about dusting my hands of my son, but I did feel some sense of release from guilt. Or maybe this essay is simply about Breech’s thought on the parable being a boost for me on my journey, helping me get back on my feet and enabling me to move forward. And actually thereby giving a boost to my son for in my giving into guilt, I am denying my son the respect that comes from believing he has yet within himself the strength to continue on his journey.
Yes we have taken on responsibility for a life. Yes we are ‘Parents Forever’ (see fgta.ca). But our hand-wringing guilt is not a boost to our child in his or her difficulties. The FGTA site would encourage parents to get past self blame for guilt does little more than sink a parent in a sodden heap or urge a parent to “cross the road to the other side and hurry on by” the problem. As FGTA encourages, there are helpful steps to be taken.

If the kindly advice, “Let Go” sometimes  leaves the distraught parents bewildered for its frustrating vagueness when something is consuming their psychic energy, with respect to difficulties in adoptive relationships, perhaps a plan to stop enabling is meant by “letting go”.   In terms of a broader scope of struggles, in You are Not Your Brain: the 4-step solution for changing Bad Habits, Ending Unhealthy Thinking, and Taking Control of Your Life, Jeffrey M. Schwartz, M.D. and Rebecca Gladding, M.D.(p134) give  four concrete directives:

Step 1: Relabel or call our negative thoughts and emotions what they are. Are they thoughts of continued enabling or guilt with how we have engaged with our child to this point? Perhaps we ‘Let Go’ of the way we are currently handling our situation with our child or our guilt for our past failures by ‘Relabeling’ our situation with our child.

Step 2: Reframe or look at why these thoughts and emotions are bothering us. Give our situation some analysis; come to a new perspective.

Step 3: Refocus or redirect our attention to an action or thought that is healthy and maybe kind forgiveness of ourselves.

Step 4: Revalue or recognize that the negative messages that, as Mindfulness training aims to demonstrate, are merely passing thoughts or emotions that will vapourize as we choose to move in another more positive direction.

There is no passivity here, waiting for a hard-to-visualize god  to come and zap us with a new life; there is us pulling ourselves out of the abject slump on the floor, and walking toward a better activity or thought.

 

Guilt

March 30, 2018

Somewhere in one of Joseph Campbell’s books referencing our individual life journeys, I came across his observation that in our communication with God we should be encouraged not to dialogue from the place of “Father, forgive me for I have sinned” but rather “Father, look at all the good I have done.” And though a protestant would not say ‘Father I have sinned’ to a priest as a Roman Catholic has been taught to do, as a Protestant I was also taught to come at my religion from the position of a sinner. I orient more quickly to ‘Father I have sinned’ than ‘Hey Father, look at the good I have done’. And when it comes to banishing my son from my home before he was 18, I find it almost impossible to accept the comfort some have offered by trying to reassure me that I am a good mother.
Several times in any given month I screen several movie shorts set on a loop in my brain. In one, I am standing outside a classroom talking with a colleague about a student who has been kicked out of his home. The colleague wonders aloud how she would be able to cope if she ever did that to her daughter. My response: I deal with that every day. She is silent. What can she say when she doesn’t know if I have done the right thing or not.
In the other, I play and replay the night we decided to deny Yasik further access to our home, in less civilized terms—kicked him out. We are standing at the window in his bedroom. He is outside in the dark with nothing but the clothes on his back. We tell him he can’t come in. There is some back and forth. In frustration he sits down on the front step. Inside, I slide to the floor, slumped and overwhelmed with tears while the back and forth continues between Yasik and Dave.
We sat down with him after he returned from a juvenile pretrial treatment center stay to make clear that if he wanted to go forward with us as a family, we could not continue dealing with drugs and theft. Return to school or get a job was a must. After a couple of incidents with theft and drugs and absence from school, we had decided that if he took any more money from either of us, he would have to go. We barred him entrance that night because the story he told us about his plans for the evening turned out to be untrue and $3.00 was missing from my wallet. I have never carried much change in my wallet. We carried out the refusal to allow him in even as he pleaded he wanted at least a belt for his pants because we were uncertain whether we could handle him once he got in the house and we didn’t want him taking more of the stuff he had ready for a pawn shop. Yasik walked back into town that night to stay with a friend. I probably called in for a family day from work. In the morning we took our client to his day program, stopped at Macdonald’s to pick up some breakfast and went knocking on doors looking for Yasik to see if we could work something out. When we found him, he resisted our overtures for help. We tried to step inside the apartment we found him in so that we could talk more privately. He called us rude for trying to step unasked inside the apartment of his friend. He refused the breakfast we offered. He has always had a strong sense of justice. We were the wrong doers and needed to be put in our place. We had tried to reconnect, felt somewhat justified, ate the breakfast and went back to our home and daily responsibilities. He once made reference to our kicking him out for taking $3.00 dollars from my wallet, and I stopped him quickly by saying we found him the next morning and he refused to reconnect with us. He did not remember that, he said. Our kicking him out over $3.00 was also the story he told his probation officer. As we assured her, there was more to the story than some wallet change.
But we have never dusted off our hands, shrugged and moved on.
Our son has not lived with us other than a few short term stays since that day when he was not yet 18. At first he couch-surfed, then lived for a few years in a homeless shelter and spent one winter in a tent city. But he remained angry and resistant to offers of help for many of the first half of these past eight years.
There was nothing beautiful about that night. It was awful enough to still bring me to tears as I write. Does it trivialize the night to say it was the worst of my relatively serene and comfortable life? And what do I say to it? “Father I have sinned” or “Father, look at the good I have done”. I have not been able to let go of all the “what if”s and “maybe”s. I do try to work the mindfulness meditation idea that while we cannot control the thoughts that intrude, we can try to keep them at an observational arm’s length. And it’s true, most thoughts pass through even the most well-worn pathways in our brains in about 90 seconds. But are they resolved or just helplessly brushed aside?
Of course wisdom tells us that if we refuse to engage with or are able to let go of the guilt ridden thoughts about our relationship and interactions with our addicted loved one, we may be freer to move forward to more helpful thoughts. Outside of seeking to daily practice a conscious thought of letting go, I do not understand how ‘letting go’ operates.
However, one of the first points made in the Coping Kit prepared and made available to the families of addicts by the association, From Grief to Action, www.fgta.ca is the following:
Don’t blame yourself. Guilt is not a useful emotion.
Other people’s actions generally do not cause alcohol/drug dependency.
Admit it when you’ve blown it, apologize, and move on.
Focus on what you can do, and let go of what you can’t. 

I agree that guilt is not useful. I have acknowledged failure a fair few times to Yasik, though to be honest I don’t know exactly what I did wrong. That is, of course, why I am reading and writing, seeking to understand and also perhaps find ways to more effectively support him in hopes that he will be able to return to wholeness.
But “don’t blame yourself….let go of what you can’t.” Some days I am still praying,“Father, forgive me for I have sinned.” Some days I am looking at what might be done to turn things around.