How do I adequately explain the past twenty-four hours of my life without chasing rabbit trails and explaining virtually everything that has happened for the past seventeen years? Hmmm, well, I could take the blunt route and just say “x, y, z” happened and let people think what they will, or I could give reasons and minute explanations where necessary and still leave out more than I tell, or I could realize that the vast majority of people I know won’t read this anyway and just plod along at will.
As you might have guessed, the last twenty-four hours of my life have been hell, an emotional roller coaster that we’ve ridden before on numerous occasions. A little over eight years ago we adopted a child, an eleven year old girl who spent most of those eleven years in foster care. She had one failed adoption previously and two other failed adoption placements plus three family rejections based on her behaviors before we came along. In and out of mental homes for violent behaviors (behaviors which I’ll leave you to imagine the horror of), setting fires, and psychological issues that no one could define.
In a nutshell she was a mess.
So we adopted her. Signed the papers. Changed her name. Made her part of our family. We even quit being foster parents to better help her.
For the first few years she was in our home, we had two or three episodes a year in which she flat out violently exploded, raged, told us she hated us and never wanted to be part of our family, broke whatever she could get her hands on, ran-away, threatened to hurt herself or one of the animals, etc. They were moments of absolute terror for us all.
Usually they would be set off by her doing something she wasn’t supposed to do and having consequences for her actions taken. Several times they took place in public. Often she would precipitate the event with multiple lies trying to manipulate everyone around her. And people outside our home and outside the circle of people who had worked with her for years and knew her pattern of behavior, usually bought the lies hook, line, and sinker.
So, not only did we endure the violence and disruptions in our home, we then were the bad guys who must have done something to “push (poor little innocent) her” over the edge.
We learned, however, over time not to respond to her outbursts. The harder she fought, the less we interacted. And, over time, the outbursts reduced to an almost normal teen behavior of slamming doors, huffing off to her room, giving us the silent treatment, and half-assing chores. For a couple of years, we almost had a “normal” life.
And that’s when things got worse.
I know, right? How did things get worse just when they seemed to be getting better? How does that work? I was confused too. Everything is going well so it needed to be screwed up? Not enough drama in the world? Not enough emotional garbage to sift through? I don’t know. I still don’t know.
But I’d had enough.
I’d had enough of being an emotional punching bag, of dealing with the manipulation of my love, of being the one to always put the pieces back together. Our daughter was no longer a child living in a temporary home with only fragmented memories. We’d taken her on European vacations, cross country trips, to Broadway musicals, and fancy dinners. She’d seen cities and oceans and historical landmarks. She had pets all her own, books, movies, clothes, music, electronics … anything she ever wanted or needed. And she had a family who loved her and shared their lives with her every second of every day – grandparents, parents, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles.
In a word she had stability. Something that she had never had in her first eleven years of life.
In her first few years with us I used to write quotes on her chalkboard about family – what a family is, what a family does, how a family works. About not giving up on one another, about sharing, about taking turns, about having a place to belong. We talked about each and every one of them. We applied them to our lives. We helped her apply them to her life. And soon she was coming up with quotes of her own and sharing my quotes with other people. We thought she understood.
But the last year has been hard.
Fall of her senior year of highschool, she decided she didn’t need to do any work. She lied to us repeatedly. She manipulated her teachers. She spent hours watching you-tube videos and playing computer games. She basically refused to take responsibility for anything in her life – school, chores, friends, driving, getting a job – she just blew it all off. But she was eighteen and we told her she had to be responsible for what she was doing, that we weren’t going to hold her hand and stand over her and make her do anything. She had to want it or it wasn’t going to happen.
Despite the talks, the assurances from her, the oaths she made, she failed her fall semester. When we found out we took away her computer.
Once again, she exploded, raged, threw things around, screamed at me, threatened to leave. But she was no longer a child. No longer a minor in the eyes of the world. The knowledge that she was manipulating me, tearing at me emotionally, somehow completely calmed me down. I decided she had to take responsibility for her rage and the emotions surrounding it and that if she didn’t want to be in our home, I didn’t want her there. You can’t force someone to love you. So I opened the front door and told her she could leave with what she came with.
She hesitated for a moment and then walked out. I shut the door and locked it and went about my evening, washing dishes, vacuuming the floors, tending cats. Within twenty minutes she was back on the front porch sitting on the steps. I heard her and checked out the window discretely. Within thirty minutes she was sitting on the porch swing creaking the springs.
When she knocked, I hesitated, unsure what to say that would make any difference at all, that we hadn’t said before, that would change the situation. I opened the wood door and left the screen door locked then asked her what she wanted. She gave me her standard flat apology, rote memory from some counseling session she’d attended years before. I shrugged and told her I didn’t believe she was ready to come home. I went on to explain to her the emotional toll she had enacted against me over the years and how I was done being manipulated and stepped on and abused by her tantrums. I further explained that being an adult and earning the right to be treated like an adult came from being responsible not only for her actions and chores but for how she treated other people as well. I told her when she was ready to talk about that and her affect on the whole family, she could knock on the door again.
With tears in her eyes, she returned to the porch swing and sat down.
I closed the door slowly and quietly. I was shaking so bad I couldn’t move though. I just sank to the floor and cried. I was terrified she would actually leave, that I would lose my daughter for good but somehow I also knew that I didn’t have any fight left in me. That if she didn’t want to be in our family, it was best to let her go.
Twenty minutes passed before she knocked on the door again. This time, she choked out an apology like she’d never given before, about knowing how she’d been trying to manipulate us, about wanting to get her way, about not wanting to take responsibility and grow up, about all those things that a parent hopes and prays they are teaching their kids without a grain of evidence in support of it. She wasn’t parroting my words or saying the same old things, she had actually thought about it.
And things got better for awhile.
Until my dad died and I had to move in with my mom to help care for her. I was split between two homes, in two separate towns, with two different lives … and I was deeply, fervently, wrought with grief over the death of my dad.
When our daughter failed to graduate from highschool with her class, due to her failing her classes in the fall, we revamped and came up with a new plan. She decided she would just re-do her senior year in my mom’s town. It was her choice and we supported her in that decision. Problem was the school system wasn’t willing to let her do that. They wanted to send her to an alternative school.
So we sat down and regrouped again. We laid out four or five different options and went through each one in detail. She picked her favorite and we started with that plan. She wanted to see if she could get into a junior college near us and go to nursing school. We spent a week getting her tested and enrolled and paperwork filled out, etc and in a whirlwind she moved into the dorm and that was that.
But right away we knew there were problems. For the first time in eight years she was on her own to battle a world of other young adults and education. Within two days she’d had a fight with her roommate and moved out to another room. Within the first week she was running around town, giving her phone number out to everyone she met, texting people constantly, falling in love with with every boy who walked by, not eating, wanting to dye her hair blue and get a tattoo. She texted me frequently and when we picked her up for the first weekend it took her four hours to slow down enough in her dialog for me to reply to anything. She was hyped up and on fire.
I tried to caution her, tried to explain that I had been in college at one time and she needed to slow down just a bit. I also praised her for keeping up with her classes and getting her work done on time (a feat she’d never accomplished before).
So then it was two weeks before we picked her up for the long labor day weekend. She seemed a little tired, but that’s college. She was still talkative and rattling on … but the things she told me about bothered me. She’d ridden out in the country in the back of a truck with a group of boys she didn’t know. Someone was leaving lewd pictures on her dorm room door. She’d messed up with a class but assured me it was all fixed. People were asking her to use her credit card.
Red flags shot up in almost every single story she told me.
And then, she insisted she was going to bed early … something she had never done before in the entire time I’d known her. I didn’t question it. Told her goodnight. But, even though she turned out her light, she spent the night texting people. When we “woke” her up the next day at noon, she yelled at us and stomped around. She pushed my mom. She refused to help with anything in the house and laughed at us when we asked her to help her brother feed the goats.
I ignored her. I wasn’t about to engage in a battle with a sleep deprived college student who now knew everything. But, we had things we needed to get done and my husband and I left to take care of some farm chores and asked her to help my mom make lasagna.
I honestly have no idea what happened while we were gone but I got angry texts and then when I tried to call her all she did was yell at me through the phone and refuse to talk. I told her to work out the problem and get back to me. Two hours later I got a text saying the lasagna was in the oven and when I got home, she proceeded to yell at me about my mother and how she didn’t have to put up with this crap. She was violent. She was mean. And she was acting like a four year old.
I threw my hands up and told her to pull up her big girl panties and get over it. Part of being in a family is helping out and part of being in a family is taking care of each other and she was old enough to do both without getting bend out of shape about getting her way. She stormed off.
The rest of the weekend she was calm. We went shopping and she picked out things for her and her roommate. My mom insisted on paying for it all.
We drove her back to school and …
She took a handful of melatonin and told her roommate she was going to kill herself.
The roommate (her best friend in the whole wide world who knows everything about her and is just like her sister … that she’s known for three weeks) called security, the police came and took her to the hospital, and she was admitted to a psych ward. We guess. We still don’t know for sure.
She won’t talk to us because “she’s an adult and needs her space.” She texted her brother and pretended nothing was wrong. She texted her cousin. She texted and called an old foster parent. But she refuses to contact us.
I have no idea what hell she is going through because I’ve never known what hell she was going through because she never shared. She just raged. She just tore us apart. Over and over and over again.
I only know the hell we’ve been through from the moment the school called us to tell us she was “missing” to the moment the school told us what had happened in a very hush hush session behind closed doors and insinuated that it was somehow all our fault. (“The parents are usually the ones to blame in these cases.”)
I’m glad she’s safe. I’m glad she’s back at school. And I hope to hell she gets the help she needs …
Because now we get to face the toughest parenting challenge of all. Letting her go entirely.
Emotionally I’m a wreck. On the outside I’m tough as nails … but only because of the scars upon scars upon scars that cover me. I can take no more hell.