Rewind to five years ago. (Don’t I wish I could?) My then husband and I have enjoyed an empty nest for about 3 years after raising one daughter and two sons now 28, 29, and 30. I begin to push my husband toward my life long dream of fostering, and the adventure begins. After mounds of paperwork, fingerprints, and physicals, stacks of jammies and undies, toothbrushes and toys fill our hallway shelf in anticipation of our first placement.
So anxious, so naive. Foolishly, we accept a placement for a young sibling group of three. Sure that’s a bunch to take on at once, but hey, we had our own three in three years. We’ve got this. Plus, we’re told there are no reported problems with these kids who have been with an aunt and uncle for the year since their removal from their bio mom’s home. Are you laughing yet, dear reader?
Fast forward past the kids’ removal when our youngest bio son nearly dies when an infection ensues after a nasty spider bite. A few months later the youngest foster, Ashlee, then 4 1/2, returns to us. She has tantrums that can get pretty intense, is bossy and demanding, but we fall in love. Mom’s rights are terminated and despite being 56 and 57 with no prior intention of adopting, we can’t say no to this little sweetie who has won our hearts.
Besides the three littles, there are two older girls 10 and 12 years old. It looks as though they will not get placed and may have to go to a residential placement. My husband and I both feel a tug to take the 10 year old but I know in my heart this is more than we should bite off. When my husband actually begins to push, I take this as a sign and we begin the process that will be our undoing. Literally.
Yesterday, Kyla turned 15. In the four years she has been with us, she has stolen food, candy, gift cards, make-up, jewelry and most tragic…our smart phone and tablet. This last item allowed her to connect with sexual predators online resulting in her sending them explicit photos of herself and even an actual encounter in the woods of our neighborhood. Police report, rape kit, therapy.
Four years of therapy, most of it with a therapist specializing in connection for adoptive families. A week long hospitalization. Numerous runaways and tantrums resulting in visits by the police and CPS. Broken walls and doors. Charges of incorrigibility ending with a 2 month stay in juvenile detention. An attempt at an alternative living situation with her older sister’s adoptive family. And, the dissolution of my marriage as my husband’s anger became too much and I didn’t feel the girls were safe.
Last summer, after her guardians let us know they didn’t feel they could handle her, I found what I thought would be our saving grace. A way to keep her safe and get her through high school. A Christian boarding school for troubled teen girls, fully funded, welcomed Kyla to Kansas to join the other 14 girls being ministered to by a wonderful and committed staff.
Kyla thrived there at first, joining the volleyball team, making friends, enjoying the animals and farm setting. Then she began telling lies (lots of prior experience with that) and refusing to do chores. Lo and behold, there were consequences….something Kyla just cannot tolerate. She pulled out her arsenal of yelling, screaming, swearing, and running off. Behaviors she perfected while at home. These things the school expected and could handle.
When she didn’t manage to get herself kicked out to come home (where she had begged to leave whenever she didn’t like what we did), she needed to escalate behaviors. And escalate she did. She sexually molested her suite mate who reported to authorities. She sent sexually predatory type grooming notes to younger girls. She pushed a staff member and threw rocks at others. Finally, she succeeded in getting expelled and on February 6th, was flown home.
After having exhausted all know resources last summer when the guardianship failed, I planned to have to do the unthinkable and relinquish my parental rights. Perhaps the state would see the need to get her the residential treatment she needs and Ashlee would be able to grow up without this dysfunctional presence in our home and without the threat of insestual molestation. Hold the phone. Not that easy.
Turns out, if I hand Kyla back to the state, that’s abandonment. I am placed on the Central Registry, lose my teaching job and worst of all, lose Ashlee…the very one I am hoping to protect. Government logic. Oxymoron?
So, that brings me to today. Kyla is enrolled in our local public middle school. I have fully disclosed to the principal, counselors and social workers who have a safety plan in place. We had to rearrange rooms in my tiny 2 bedroom condo. Ashlee sleeps with me so that I can protect her. The past three weeks have been uneventful as far as behavior, if you don’t count Kyla taking and eating an entire Whitman’s sampler giving to me by one of my students on Valentine’s Day and her refusing to come home for two hours last Friday.
I have spent these weeks going from one phone call, appt, and lead. Pounding headaches, exhaustion and frustration. I believe I am not alone in experiencing what I’ve learned is called secondary trauma. I am glad I’m not alone and yet I wish I was. I hate to think so many of us are experiencing this debilitating condition.
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I live in Charlotte, NC with my family and am working on a memoir about raising my adopted son, Devon.