Posted by: Kate | November 20, 2015

Lest You Dwell Overmuch on the Amazingness

…or even just that things are shiny-happy around here more often than not, this is what I actually wrote first. It started as a Facebook post, then turned into a secret-group rant, then I thought, why am I continuing to allow people to imagine that I am worthy of canonization? Why am I pretending things are so much cuter and happier than they are? If my friends haven’t run screaming for the hills, then most of the public can probably handle the dark-and-difficult side of things… right?


And I could allow the blog to remain dormant, while I continued to share this experience only with specific, trusted friends. That seems logical enough, given my decision to cut off contact with L — by posting here, she gets a free peek at her offspring’s ongoing life, and I very much suspect she will be watching, and reading, and copying the photos to pretend I’ve sent her updates. She doesn’t deserve that, and if there was any realistic way for me to somehow block her from my entire online presence instead of just Facebook, I would do so.

But, as I said in the previous post, this is no longer, in any way, about L. She could always create another fake Facebook profile — she already has at least one, to allow her to spy on various friends and family without identifying herself, so why not more? — and I would be none the wiser. So let her tell whatever lies or alternate versions of our story she needs to. I already know that she tells people we have been lifelong, best friends. That she believes I always wanted Danielle to be my own because I was so upset at having a hysterectomy after Isaac’s birth. That Danielle was somehow meant to be in our family, not hers.


I think what we’re going through is important. I think it’s necessary to acknowledge just how hard this is, because so many people hear our story and immediately slide into the “You are so amazing / she is so lucky” chorus. That’s uncomfortable to hear at the best of times, because it simplifies the situation and glorifies us, neither of which feels right.

We never thought things in terms of How Awesome We Are and How Much L Sucks. At worst, it was How Tired We Are and How Else Can We Try To Help Her? It was difficult, and rocky, and we very much wanted a different outcome, and so this is a case of making the best of things, but not in an amazing, upstanding, model citizen sort of way. Every decision along the way came hard, and required much rethinking and triple-checking to try and find any other solution.

It’s hard to find many people who can identify with us at all, because so many people wait years and years, desperate to adopt, and Danielle literally fell in our laps. So many people spend thousands of dollars to be able to adopt; we spent more in the efforts to avoid the adoption than in the adoption process itself. People can grasp the concept of an unintended pregnancy, but the unintended adoption? Not so much.

So, yes, I do believe that we are providing Danielle, and all of the kids, with a good life. I do believe that she will have a better go of things with us than she would otherwise have had; not just financially, but emotionally. I do believe we made a right and good series of decisions to get where we are. I do believe that, as evidenced by the sheer amazingness of Emily (now 15) (15!!), Jacob (11) and Isaac (5), we kind of know what we’re doing most of the time.

Yay for us.


I’ve been a mother for 15 years, by the calendar, or 34 years, by accumulated childrens’ ages (which I think is a completely valid approach to measurement, because juggling four kids turns every day into more than just a day). I know it’s hard work, and I’m willing to give it everything I have (especially since I’m not working). And I’m damn good at it.

Or, at least, I was.

Raising a traumatized kid, who hits on every diagnostic criterion for Reactive Attachment Disorder, Disinhibited Type, is So. Much. Harder. Never heard of it?? That’s because it’s super rare in the US, usually only seen in kids raised in overcrowded overseas orphanages and the like, but Danielle was so intensely and thoroughly neglected that she has it in spades (see prior post for symptoms, even I’m tired of myself talking by now).

We have boiled her entire disciplinary system down to one rule, and everything else gets a mild reprimand at best while we focus on this one thing. It’s a simple rule, and she knows it — ask her, she spits out the right answer every single time — and the thing about RAD is that she isn’t doing it to be specifically oppositional or nasty. She simply does not understand the concepts of cause-and-effect, right and wrong, truth or lie, consistent parental discipline. Just because it was a rule yesterday doesn’t mean it applies, today… right?? So if she is not being directly and obviously watched, she breaks the rule. Every. Single. Day.

Want to know what it is, this diabolically and apparently wildly complicated rule?

Brace yourselves.

It is…

When you wake up, stay in bed.

Unreal, right? So freaking complicated. How dare I expect a 3-year-old to learn such a rule…after over a year of living here?

It’s not like she crawls into bed with me or plays with her toys. She learned, while living with L, to pull out the drawers in her dresser to climb to the top. She destroys anything paper or rip-able. She smeared diaper cream all over Willem’s desk (he uses the room as an office, since she’s only in there to sleep), as well as in her hair (it took a week to get that crap out), then smooshed a stick of deodorant onto the top of the desk, then covered it all with Post-Its. She wanders the house, getting into stuff that is not hers, finding creative ways to break things or at least spill them.

Then, when she hears me moving around, she races back to her bed, lies down, and fakes sleep. And all it takes is me asking, “What are you doing?” or sometimes just making eye contact, and she breaks into an Oscar-worthy tantrum, complete with instant tears and the hitched breathing you get when you’ve been sobbing for an hour. I’d see that as a sign of guilt, except she can turn it off on command, too.

And let me be clear: I am not leaving her unattended in the room for hours and hours every day. She wakes up and launches herself out of bed within seconds. It doesn’t matter if I set an alarm to wake up before her: she’ll be sound asleep, so I’ll go use the bathroom, and I’ll come out to chaos. I can’t use a baby gate because (a) she’ll destroy the room, and (b) she learned how to climb over them before she came to us.

If it was just property damage or goofiness, I would be irritated but not as frustrated and, frankly, often ‘roid-rage pissed, as I feel nearly every morning lately. But she does things that are outright dangerous, and I’m shocked she hasn’t gotten more than the occasional pinched finger or bruise.

I’m completely out of ideas. I have tried reacting lightly, reacting heavily, keeping my emotional reaction hidden, allowing her to see just how angry I feel, whispering, shouting, time-outs, spanking, keeping her home from school, rewarding minimally acceptable behavior (which is totally against my basic belief that kids — and adults — should not get gold stars for doing what you’re supposed to do; gold stars should be reserved for above-and-beyond)…you get the idea.

And none of it, literally not one approach, has had the slightest impact. She stops, in the moment, but repeats the same behaviors day after day, as though yesterday never happened. And I take another step toward losing my mind.

So, we make a good story for friends to tell other friends. But the reality is so much harder, so much less amazing, than people want to hear about. They want an, “…and then we all lived happily ever after,” and I can’t even imagine that kind of feeling right now, much less envision it. I’m so deeply defeated by the endless loop of this situation that I find myself in tears at least daily, and I am not a cryer (not least because I do not cry pretty).

I’m a smart person. I’m a good mother. I am not used to feeling like a failure.

And I know, I know, my brain knows at least, that I’m not, actually, failing. I know that I am doing the best I can, and that it is good enough. I know we are giving Danielle a better life than she had before, or would be having now, given the alternatives. I know that, in the long run, this little experiment will be a success, even if we check her into juvie for running drugs when she’s 13, because she will have stability and family and love, and only occasional mind games for fun instead of daily exercises in How Not To Bond With Your Mother.

I know these things.

But I don’t feel them.





  1. I’m not going to invalidate your feelings by launching back into the “hallelujah you’re amazing woo” chorus, but I have to rebut just a little bit. Because you’re still fucking doing it, every day, still trying to find the approach that works, still carrying the weight of this damaged little human and her damage to your home, still pushing forward. And I can tell it’s exhausting. I can tell it’s painful and frustrating and enraging. I don’t know if I could persist as intently as you guys are doing. I don’t know if I wouldn’t inadvertently cause more damage just by being clueless.
    This kid is where she’s supposed to be, never doubt it, because she ended up the child of a trained, savvy mental health professional.
    And right. She could absolutely wind up in juvie because the damage was done too deeply and too early to reverse it. But goddammit, your fight to mitigate that damage, even in the face of your own sorely tried patience, is astounding.
    OK, so maybe I did launch into a little bit of a chorus. But maybe you can’t see how incredible what you are still fighting to do really is because you’re too busy seeing all the ways you imagine you’ve fallen short. I see a scrapper who is battling demons she didn’t even summon. And that is awesome. The end.

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