Time to rev up the old blog, I think.
So, um. Hi.
Being lazy, being tired of myself, being bored by a daily life that was intensely repetitive (Sleep late. Hold down couch. Eat something. Go to bed. Repeat.), being depressed, being sad (not at all the same as depression), being in chronic pain…pick one, or several, they’re all applicable reasons for not writing anymore.
But I have words, more than I want to spew on Facebook. Because, since my last post, Things Have Been Happening.
There is simply no short version of the story; my private ramblings about the whole saga, shared only with close friends, reach upwards of 80 pages in a Word document. But I’ll try to hit the highlights for now. If you’re not interested in a long, occasionally whiny and other times psychologisty rant, then the true bottom line is: We have adopted the child of our former nanny.
Sit with that for a second. Bizarre, no?
When I was recovering from 2010’s medical insanity, we hired L, initially to be a mother’s helper in the hours between school and dinner, when I could not consistently function as a parent or really even a human being. After a few months, we moved into a house with an in-law apartment, at a time when she happened to be looking to change her living situation, so we came to an agreement to trade child care for rent and coexisted pretty well for over a year. She was a good nanny; she seemed to get how we approached parenting and fit pretty well into that scheme. This is important, and ultimately baffling.
The first signal that things weren’t entirely solid in her decision-making process came when L announced she was trying to get pregnant, with the specific intention of being a single mother. Couldn’t she see how hard it was, to love these creatures with your every breath and yet deal with constant demands and change and outbursts and other people’s bodily functions and ingratitude and noise and occasional urges to eat one’s own young??
Apparently not. Because despite pointed conversation on my part, both with her and with the father, they thought their plan was just fine: he would continue to see his “actual” girlfriend and just do his old buddy L this one little favor, she would be the valiant single mother, and everyone would somehow ride off into the sunset. Her complete lack of job skills, his complete lack of involvement, their complete lack of money…these were not pressing issues.
So, it was with a certain sense of relief that, once I was well enough to return to work, we were able to buy a house instead of continuing to rent a poorly maintained house in Massachusetts owned by non-English-speaking landlords in Texas. Our criteria for the realtor were simple: four bedrooms, 1.5 baths, and NO in-law apartment. We moved into our new place just a few weeks after L confirmed her pregnancy.
We parted ways amicably enough; I visited her once or twice during the pregnancy and was in the hospital a few hours after Danielle was born. We stayed in touch sporadically over the next two years, and I heard a cleaned-up, Disneyfied sort of version of her life: she had met someone online and he seemed like a good guy, so they moved in within a month of Danielle’s birth. He did computer repair, she was mostly a stay-home mom with the occasional college class sprinkled in to keep the student loans at bay.
I never heard a word about the Department of Children and Families (DCF), at least as far as Danielle was concerned. I did know that the boyfriend had two children from a previous relationship, one of whom was being raised by the boyfriend’s father and the other in a foster home, but I was told a story about the ex-girlfriend’s lies and DCF’s unfairness and unreasonableness. They were living their own lives, several hours away, so I shelved any skepticism I had and focused on my own life.
Two years passed.
The boyfriend turned out not to be as great a guy as L had thought, and suddenly she was living here, then there, then here again…with “here” being her own mother’s house, despite extensive stories of abuse by the same mother. (Perhaps it’s a violation of privacy, but I’ll risk a hint as to L’s mother’s name: after a few interactions directly with her, I began referring to her as the Bethhole. If I were to meet her on the street tomorrow, I guarantee I would not be able to stop at the first syllable.)
Still, I was given the picture of the valiant single mother, struggling to save up enough money to be able to get her own apartment as soon as possible. Willing to expose herself and her daughter to the outright cruelty of the Bethhole because, in the bigger picture, it meant she could reach that goal sooner. Desperate and lonely, yet functional and finding strength for the sake of her child. Awww, right?
Apparently not. Because on October 17, 2014, our lives all changed.
I got a text, around 9:30 at night, on just a random Thursday evening. “I’m overwhelmed and suicidal, and I can’t leave Dani with my mother. Can you take her so I can check into a hospital?”
Well, of course. Of course we can. As soon as I confirmed that L felt she could get herself here safely, I went up and cleaned out space in the office for a Pack ‘n’ Play, and warned Willem of our impending houseguest.
His very first comment was, “Can we just skip ahead to the part where we adopt the baby?” I think he’ll celebrate his instinctive rightness until the day he dies; I’m glad he is able to find reason to celebrate.
“No, no,” I insisted, “We’ve done this before. She just needs us to hang onto Dani, and then she’ll need a place to crash and recover a bit, but she’s been working and saving money.” Willem and I have always tried to operate under the idea of, If you can help, do. So, despite his initial skepticism, he agreed.
And I will admit it, publicly and unabashedly: he was right. I was wrong.
L was, indeed, admitted to the hospital, and stayed for over a week (a long time for a first admission). She did, indeed, crash when she got back here, because hospital stays are bizarrely exhausting no matter what the cause. Then we waited…and waited…and she just never picked herself up and moved on.
Oh, she got jobs. And lost, or left, every one within a few weeks.
She had a little money, once in a while. And spent it on cheap jewelry, unused makeup, and random (also unused) craft supplies.
She had therapists and social workers at her beck and call. And dismissed, avoided, or refused to engage with them.
She had her child. And avoided even simple eye contact, or any activity that required interaction beyond reading at her (not with) or watching cartoons with her.
I was baffled.
Of course, I understood, being a single mother is more stressful than having a solid partner. But she made it seem like she did have a solid partner, for a while. And everyone has their own parenting style. But after seeing her fit into, and seem to appreciate, our style, it was bizarre to me that she was so intensely distant and dismissive of Danielle. “Go play,” was her mantra, and she used it regularly.
“Go play,” to a two-year-old who seemed cute and smart and happy, but was quickly displaying plenty of underlying symptoms of a traumatic and neglectful life: inability to maintain appropriate eye contact (either avoidant or too intense), random and disproportionately intense tantrums (to the point that I would make her sit on the porch to yell at the neighborhood instead of yelling at the people in our house), significant speech delays (fewer than 30 understandable words, at 2 1/2), clear fear responses at simple things like asking her, “What?” or giving her an either/or choice… and there were still a few dark and oddly-placed bruises on her torso and back, longer and with clearer edges than I was used to seeing on a child that had fallen down or walked into a table, plus her physiology was frail, to the point that her elbow was dislocated with a simple lifting-up (we later learned it had been dislocated at least six times prior, according to the pediatrician’s notes).
My alarm level increased when I sat down with a DCF investigator, who was following common protocol anytime a single parent appears in an ER expressing suicidal thoughts as well as homicidal urges toward her child. (Yeah, she didn’t mention that part to me, in her text or on the drive to the hospital. Must’ve slipped her mind.) I learned that there had been an open DCF case for Danielle since she was two months old. Due to suspicions of neglect (hard to spot, hard to prove, even when you have the honor of living with them and watching it firsthand). Due to suspicions of abuse by the maternal grandmother (the whiteboard she kept on her kitchen wall, tallying the number of times she “had” to hit Danielle whenever she babysat the then-18-month-old, was a clue). Due to DCF’s openly expressed belief that the boyfriend is a sex offender, trafficking in child porn (L was told they would remove Dani from her custody if she left Danielle alone with him for five minutes…which she interpreted as, “DCF is mean,” and stayed with him another 6 months).
I tried, Willem tried, the therapists tried, we all tried so, so hard to help, pressure or scold L into being a better mother. A better employee. A better human being.
After four months of her flat refusal to contribute to the household in literally any way — oh, pardon me, she did the dishes two or three times and provided four meals, but only after I established Dinner Night for everyone over age 10. Emily was 14 and Jacob was 10; they each worked hard and prepared decent meals once a week, while L found ways to ease out of meal duty most of the time, usually at the last minute (though she was able to find it in her heart to consume whatever we threw together in her absence, not to mention plowing through copious snacks and desserts on the rare occasion that I was able to get out of the house without her) (Which, about that…while she never got as far as the bunny-on-the-stove routine, there was decidedly an element of obsession in her attitude about me; to this day I swear she would have followed me into the bathroom if she could.) — anyway, we asked her to move out. She waited until literally the last day we said she could stay, then slunk away.
We told her she was welcome to take Dani with her, or leave her with us while establishing a job, apartment, etc. She opted for the latter, with the stated intention of visiting often (after giving us a few weeks to settle into a routine) and gradually reuniting, independently and permanently.
Two weeks later, she asked us to keep Danielle forever.
Willem and I had, as I mentioned, anticipated this possibility. We weren’t enthusiastic. We had our kids and our life; we weren’t looking to expand the family; I was on long-term disability from work and had no idea whether my condition would remain stable, worsen or maybe possibly kind of sort of improve; this was a child with even more baggage than your typical adoption-eligible two-year-old might carry; and so on.
But, on the other side… while not a specialist, I had enough child psych training to recognize and understand how her tangle of behaviors and symptoms wove together to create this bizarre entity called Reactive Attachment Disorder (Disinhibited Type, for those in the know): an inability to process her own emotions, a refusal or inability to independently act or problem-solve, difficulty understanding relationships, total inability to understand what a stranger was (if someone smiles at her, they are her friend, and she would take their hand and disappear off into the sunset with them, never looking back — and, even now, nine months after last seeing each other, Danielle has not once asked about L), an innate and wildly sophisticated ability to profile the people around her and behave in whatever ways she thinks they want her to, great abilities to mime and mimic to get her needs met but serious problems with speech and articulation (she can make all of the speech sounds, some better than 5-year-old Isaac…she just…doesn’t). It’s so rare, and so poorly understood, that I know it would have gone unnoticed in a foster home, at least for a long time, and she needed consistency and stability if she wanted any hope of minimizing those tendencies.
This is a child who had lived in our home for almost five months, by that point. We had been forced, at the beginning, to stand back and really watch for a long time before we could truly absorb the extent of emotional, and to a lesser degree physical, neglect that was happening in front of us. Neglect isn’t like a punch or a slap, instantly observable and clearly wrong. It’s slow, and sad, and subtle.
I know she was also hurt by the Bethhole…and if we mention L, we hear increasingly scared, sad and horrifying responses, including, “L run away to be happy!” and “L not love Dani. L hate me.” (She started referring to me as Mama within months of moving here, which is both sweet and heartbreaking in itself. She has no idea what a mother should be.) Just yesterday, when I was trying to rehearse with her the One Rule in the mornings — stay in bed, do not wander the house when Mom is sleeping — and I said, “We need you to be safe in your bed until it’s time to get up. What might happen if you get up alone?” Her reply: “I get a cold shower.” Wait, what?? That has certainly never happened here. Maybe I misheard her. But when prompted, she repeated, “I go in the cold shower with my clothes on and I cough.”
Plus, she adores our older kids, who have been wonderful with Dani from Day One. And, while she wavers between so-cutesy-and-over-sweet-it’s-bad-for-your-pancreas and whine-whine-whine with Willem, and she is not interested in following rules she’s known for months with me, she does have strong feelings for us both. At the end of the day, while we knew DCF was an option (and they later admitted that, if we had sent Danielle to live with L, they would have immediately placed her in foster care), we just didn’t have the heart to let her lose absolutely everything like that. She has already lost enough.
So, we agreed. The pros outweighed the cons, for everyone. And… If you can help, do.
The day after she moved out, L got a tattoo, with another, much larger one within a month. She was short on money at the time, so, she assured me, she opted to pay for both with sex instead. She insisted that it didn’t count as prostitution because no cash was involved. I knew the phrase “goods or services” applied, but she was not convinced.
We gathered copious paperwork, and filed for adoption on April 1, with the hopes of maintaining sufficient civility and contact with L to have an open adoption. The plan was, no direct contact for several months while we all continued to adjust, but regular communication, photos and updates, on both sides. I was very much in favor of visits, as long as she met a few basic criteria: Maintain one job for more than a few months. Get an apartment, with your name on the lease. Do not engage in prostitution.
That seemed like a pretty low bar to set, I thought. But apparently not, because after a disastrous series of more lost jobs and threatened eviction, a disastrous readmission to the psych hospital, and a disastrous six-month stint in Ohio (“because I have a free place to stay…and because there are goats there”) (yes, really), it has become clear that I was asking far too much.
So, since in Massachusetts all adoptions are, legally and officially, closed, with the adoptive parents in charge of the degree of contact with the bio parents, we finally decided to, legally and officially, close it.
This breaks my heart.
I cared about L. This is someone who lived with us and helped us during the darkest, hardest and scariest period of my life, when I was in absolute despair, physically broken, and overmedicated. Yet she insisted on seeing me as a competent, interesting, worthwhile person throughout, and to an extent helped me eventually start seeing glimpses of that side of me again.
She’s smart, and witty, and capable of doing all of the things a grown-up, with or without kids, needs to do. She just won’t do it, and she refuses to acknowledge her primary reason for that refusal: she tells people she has Bipolar Disorder, when what she really has is Borderline Personality Disorder. Similar names and abbreviations, very different treatments.
So it hurts me, deeply, but I had to cut off direct contact, in order to remove that constant hovering presence just beyond the borders of our life, always wondering when she would finally lose all her other sources of support and end up on our doorstep again. I’ve had to appear in court dozens of times already, between guardianship and restraining orders and more guardianship and more restraining orders (seriously, you have no idea); what’s one more No Harassment Order in the bigger scheme of things?? We haven’t quite reached that point yet, but we’re on the brink, in terms of criteria and such. I so, so don’t want to. Because it would force me to see her face-to-face, and I just can’t anymore. I have given her absolutely all of myself that I could, and so… enough. She’s out of the picture.
See??? No short version… and while this is certainly longer than the explanation I give casual acquaintances, it by no means encompasses the whole ordeal.
But, yes: enough. It’s late, and I already have another too-long post to follow this one.
So, we are now a family of six. As I told my dad, “Surprise! It’s a girl!” (Quick! Name the ’80s TV show!)
Her name is Danielle Grace. For all of her quirks and challenges, she is ours and we love her. And for all our quirks and challenges, we are hers and she loves us.