Wednesday, October 31, 2007

War & Peace-Mothers

Jim is the youngest of 6 kids. Born to a devoted mother who made perfect meals and took her children to church and kept her family strong and united, he was spoiled somewhat by his position in the family. The youngest, the cute one, the baby.

His mom had 3 children early in her marriage, one after another, R, a boy, K, a girl, and M, another girl. She must have gotten too close to the empty nest syndrome, because when that batch of babies was becoming teens and young adults, she had another, three more to even things out...D, a girl, M, a boy, and then Jim. 3 of each, a perfect mix.

He got the best of both worlds in some ways, he was doted on by his older siblings and vied for place with the younger ones. As close knit and loving as his family was, they, like all of us, had demons. Their skeletons were not necessarily in the closet, they came out and rampaged in the public eye, for all the world to see. His Dad was a raging alcoholic, a good and hard-working man who found his solace in a bottle. As gentle as he was with his grandchildren, and without question he adored them all, he could be violent and abusive, especially to his youngest two boys.

My sister in law tells me stories of her coming in and taking the boys out of the house because she genuinely feared he would hurt them. She is married to the oldest son, and she has memories of Jim as a little boy that are all at once sweet and terrible, beautiful and horrifying. They all laugh at how, when his biggest brother joined the Navy, leaving behind a beloved car, little Jim decided to make R happy by painting his car for him. Someone looked out the window to see this 4 year old boy, paint rollers in hand, painting every square inch of that car. Their Dad being a painter, all the materials were handy. Jim does not like this story, for some reason. I get the feeling the punishment didn't fit the crime, and while everyone else laughs about it, he does not remember it with fondness.

Jim's next closest sister was about 6 years older than him. D was deeply intelligent, and deeply troubled. She read ferociously, searching endlessly for answers to all of life's questions. She had a deep faith, raised in a Catholic home, but she was seemingly interested in Buddhism and Wicca, Mahatma Gandhi...and marijuana.

No one talks about D much, most of her teen years were spent away, somewhere, institutionalized, put away, locked up. She lived with an Aunt for awhile, and though she was in and out of his life, Jim adored her in that way that little boys love teen girls. She doted on him, mothered him, perhaps he filled a hole she was trying desperately to fill? She also introduced him, at 13, to drugs. The first time he ever smoked pot, it was with his beloved bis sister. Just a year older than my Jesse now, I cannot imagine it. I blamed her for a very long time for shirking the responsibility of helping raise him right. She should have known better. But her demons were far more entrenched than marijuana and far-fetched ideas. D was teetering on the edge of insanity, consumed with paranoia and fear, schizophrenic and angry. Very, very angry.

When I met Jim, she was still living at home. We would giggle at her antics sometimes, she was impolite, to say the least. Bodily functions were wildly amusing to her, she would pass gas loudly then sit laughing about it. She ate weird foods, talked crazy talk, and adored her baby brother. She seemed amused by me, no doubt figuring "puppy love" had struck, we were all of 16 and 17 years old. Even then, I knew that their house held secrets I would never know. Clean as a whistle, warm, overflowing with food and French-speaking, laughing people, there was always an edge to it all, like the feeling you get watching people walk a tightrope, willing them to toe the line, holding your breath when they slide off course, your heart beating faster and faster when they start to fall. In their lives, the safety net was the silence, it seemed an unwritten rule: "We don't discuss those things." Whether that meant D's escalating craziness, dad's alcoholism and occasional sadistic abuse, or the simmering resentment that ran like a live wire through them all, we just didn't talk about it. Coming from my own dysfunctional (to say the least) family, I knew when to avert my eyes. You don't need to ask questions when you already know the answers.

Jim and I moved away to start a new life downstate. D moved to Connecticut and started hers there. She had a great job, was doing well in school, and yet still being pursued by the ghosts and goblins of her mind. We would hear bits and pieces, she was hospitalized, she was in a supported living unit, she had met a man. She would call with ever-increasing wildness. She broke her back, she was stinking rich, she fell under a bus. The spiral she was in seemed never-ending, and watching her free fall was painful, especially seeing it through the eyes of her little brother, who both loved and feared her by now.

We were making our way through life, trying to get ahead and struggling to make ends meet. Now firmly "away" from both of our families, we went home perhaps once a year, and kept in touch by phone as much as possible. We got snippets of every one's lives, saw them all now and again, but were increasingly limited in our contact. Families grow, and that means they grow apart, sometimes. Time, distance, and circumstance were fueling the divide. We heard bits and pieces about D, but hadn't seen her in several years. We knew she was dating a man named John. Then we heard she was pregnant, with twins no less! She had a very light hold of sanity at the time, and her paramour was brilliantly troubled right along with her. No two people seemed less equipped to raise twin boys than those two. In retrospect, the mother in me is saddened that I didn't reach out to her more, to try to help, to offer support. It was more a matter of whispering behind my hand, "she can't raise a baby!" Jim and I had our daughter, Kristin, and it was hard enough with all of our faculties in place. How would they feed the babies? How would they do this, with no money, no vehicle, and a genuine failure to understand even the most basic principles of caring for another human being? They barely kept themselves alive!

The twins were born in Hartford in in 1994. Tiny, fragile little boys, the state took immediate custody of them. D and her partner were called inept, incapable, their various diagnosis' deciding for them, in the eyes of the law, that they could not parent their children. Placed in a foster home, they grew and grew. Jim's oldest brother, R, and his wife fought for custody. The hearings dragged on for years, what could have ended gently, with the babies being raised by family, became an all out war. In and out of the courts, years later they were taken out of the foster home and finally placed with R and his family.

By then, D and John had found themselves pregnant again. Jim and I had had a son we named Jesse, a beautiful little boy who was the apple of our eyes. If I had known then what I do now, I would have allowed him to be our ONLY son, to have us sane and whole throughout his infancy and toddlerhood. Our daughter was 7, and our son was 1, when we won the right, after a year long battle, to bring D & John's youngest son home to live with us. There had been no question, this child would never be raised by his parents. Their hold on sanity was loosening, their anger at losing the first two was palpable. We, suddenly, were the enemy. We were taking away their son, to another state where visits would be nearly impossible. We, in the Judge's eyes, were more acceptable, little brother wasn't so little anymore. And he was deemed more responsible, a more fit parent. That had to hurt.

We brought Alex home when he was 8 months old. He had been in a foster home too, and in my heart I knew it was not a good place for him. I cried and cried over the months, hearing about his life. We finally met him, clandestinely, in a McDonalds. He was fragile, pale, and tiny. He needed us. We were determined, and we finally won the right to bring him home. Our new son joined our 1 yr old and our 9 yr old. Life was good.

3 days later, at a Pediatric appointment, Alex was determined to have Cerebral palsy. He was way behind on milestones. He could not yet roll over, at 8 months. He bruised easily. A blood test revealed that he had Von Willebrands disease, like hemophilia. It would mean human blood product every time he had a cut or needed surgery. He was diagnosed with VeloCardioFacial Syndrome on top of it all. There was a question of Fetal Alcohol syndrome to add icing to the cake. I loved him, and I said repeatedly, "I can handle that." He was enrolled in a special preschool. He smiles a brilliant smile, but he seemed to have dark secrets of his own.

Four weeks after bringing him home, On August 20, the day before Jim's birthday, we were pregnant again. Unplanned to say the least. We had had to try for years to have our son, saw an infertility doctor even. Had him, got Alex, and then pregnant? Our lives were rapidly becoming crazy, too. "I can do this!" I said. And we moved forward.

D called often, and John did too. They loved their son, but they seemed stuck on how to show that love. D would send packages of things for him, oftentimes clothing that was 10 sizes too big. She would send spices, poured into envelopes, broken crayons, one earring. always some odd, bizarre thing. I learned to know there was a package from her by the smell, walking to the mailbox. I was frustrated, angry, overwhelmed. She would call and be very unkind. She did not like that we had her son. She resented us, and she told us so. Her angry tirades often ended with me slamming the phone down, in tears. All the time, the children were growing, and so was my belly.

In June of 1998, our daughter was born. Ciarra was much wanted, if a surprise. We discovered on the day she was born that she was packing even more surprises. Down syndrome became the talk of the town. Our daughter, our youngest and last child, had been born with Down syndrome. Life changed dramatically that day, and although we couldn't know it, it changed everything.

We had been licensed as a relative foster home, and licensed by space allowance per child. We had barely squeaked by. When I found out I was pregnant, we were told we didn't have enough square footage to maintain our license with 4 children in the home. We took out a loan and added on. The walls were literally down the day I left to go deliver Ciarra, workers everywhere, trying to get it all done. I had a 9 yr old, a 11/2 year old, a one year old, and a newborn.

When Ciarra was first born, there were literally no walls on the front of our home. There was plastic sheeting stapled up, and the guy we had hired to build the thing was not interested in "hurry up". In his defense, he was now working around me and my new mom-of-a-child-with-an-unexpected-disability nerves, a curious 9 yr old, an even curiouser toddler, and a tiny fragile one year old who could bleed to death from any injury he might receive on said workman's tools, stray nails, etc. Plus a newborn. I was over my head, and I knew it. Depressed, scared, angry, volatile...all of those words could apply. I had gone from a nice quiet life as a mom of 2 to mom of 4, 3 of them babies, 2 with special needs, in a HURRY.

For much of that first few weeks, Alex was in his crib, in his room just off the living room where he could see everything and everyone and be safe from all of the commotion. Ciarra was often in her room too, but being a newborn, she slept a lot and didn't much care where that was. After a week or so of begging the guy to hurry, I fired him in a fit, after finding him smoking pot in the new addition. I was furious. So was he. Before he left, while words were being shouted, he promised to "pay me back" by making an allegation to DHS about me and how I left Alex and Ciarra in their rooms all day. I heard him, but I was so angry I couldn't respond. HOW ELSE was I to keep them safe? I could barely contain Jesse, never mind 2 infants. I cried for days, waiting for the knock on the door. Instead, I received a phone call, and a polite "Hey, can we just come over and see how things are going?" They did, in fact they spoke to Kristin and Jesse, checked everyone out to make sure they seemed "OK" and left with the promise of an "all clear" letter to be mailed. All clear is cool, when you have been accused of abuse/neglect. But it doesn't ever go away, in your own mind, once it is there it leaves a smell you can never ever be fully rid of. The letter goes into the file, marked "Unsubstantiated" and noted with the babysitters comments about how she was here and saw the whole thing and can verify that he did it out of retaliation. Today, 9 years later, that letter, that accusation, still sits there. I have seen the man who lodged it several times. Once at a funeral for a mutual friend, he tried to hug me, and when I resisted, he said something about forgiving him and letting go. I want to remind him that his lie started the ball rolling that would eventually cost Alex his life.

So, babies being babies, they grew. Ciarra thrived, she was meeting her milestones, smiling all the time, a happy joyful and sweet little girl. She was sanity for me, proof that I could do it right, and she was healing my heart in so many ways. Alex was in a wonderful preschool which sent a social worker once a week to sit with me and talk about his needs. I treasured her as a friend, and thanked God for her insights. She, above all, made me feel like a good mom again. I needed that, I was still terrified and overwhelmed, and disheartened by the allegation. Alex was 11/2, quite delayed cognitively and physically, and with escalating behavior and emotional issues we were desperate to address. Jesse was in the terrible twos, all boy, rough and tumble and ready for action. He wanted a wrestling buddy, and Alex wasn't it. He loved physical contact, and would create intricate walkways built of furniture, laundry baskets, stuff, on which to leap across the living room. He was determined to have a playmate, and dragged an unwilling Alex along with him. Kristin was a 3rd grader, and I am sad to say that that time with her is somewhat of a blur. I was grateful she was in school, at least there she had some routine and sanity. She gave up her room for the boys to share, squeezed into a tiny hole of a room that was meant to be a den. She didn't complain about her life, which had changed drastically and suddenly. But she started spending a lot of time in her room, with the door closed. I regret the time I lost with her in those days. I regret that Jesse got scolded often for trying to make Alex play, I regret that I was frazzled and bewildered by all of their needs, and was emotionally not in very good shape. I regret that when D called to check on her son, I was angry right back at her, and felt we were each other's competition. *I* was his mother, *I* was doing all the hard hard work. *I* wrote her off and chose to be short and abrupt with her. In fact, I was becoming short and abrupt with everyone, including the kids.

Alex was 21/2 when he had a crib accident. He had loose ligaments and hated his crib. He wanted to get out and get to the fridge. His food thing had begun to consume us. There was a question of Prader Willi syndrome. He ate constantly, till he vomited, and would eat that too if you weren't quick enough. He was constantly crying for food, constantly watching us eat after wolfing sown his own meal. We were meeting with a child psychologist, who told us that it was likely his emotional reaction to his first 8 months in the foster home, where he just might not have had enough of anything, love, attention, food, and he was filling that void with food. Dog food, cat food, people food, it didn't matter. In any event, I heard a terrible thump one night, just as Kristin came down the hall. I asked her what she was doing, told her to be quiet, the babies were sleeping. She said it wasn't her, I asked her to peek at Alex in his room. She did, and hollered for help. And there he was, lying half on the floor, one leg still stuck through the crib slats. It looked like he had tried to put one leg up and over and wrap it back through, to brace himself, then fallen. It looked BAD. I knew in my heart that his injury would always be looked at as something I might have caused. I was grateful beyond words to have the ER doc tell me that unquestionably, it did NOT look like abuse to him, but a simple crib injury exacerbated by his CP. The mechanism of the injury made it clear, he dislocated his hip straight up and down, and unless I had hung him by one leg and shaken him perfectly straight, it was impossible for it to have happened via abuse. Still, I faced the long searching looks of his DHS worker, who I called immediately. She met with the doc, she met with our social worker and psychologist. They ALL told her to give us the supports we needed to make it work, and to stop putting so much pressure on me. I knew then that I was beginning to change in my feelings. I loved Alex, but his needs were too much for me. I was so overwhelmed by then that I wasn't a very good mother to any of them. I was angry, I felt slighted by the allegation of abuse. I was humiliated, I was ANGRY. I began to realize that I needed to find a way out. I wanted to keep Alex, but I needed to end the DHS involvement. I told them either we adopt him or take him back, but STOP controlling every aspect of our lives. Stop telling me he isn't mine, when I am killing myself to make him better.

Months passed, again. In all the 3 yrs that Alex lives with us here, his Ct social worker came to visit ONE time. She called perhaps 4-5. She offered none of the support we needed. She wouldn't let us do anything without permission. She seemed unable or unwilling to tone down the contact from his bio parents, which was becoming increasingly bizarre. She talked down to me, asked questions about Ciarra that spoke volumes about her lack of understanding. Finally, she called, it was a beautiful late summer day. She said the adoption papers were ready. But there was one hangup. I wasnt to be Alex's legal parent. Jim and I weren't married. Only HIS name was to go on the paperwork. The child I poured my heart and soul into for years would never be mine. Jim, who loved Alex, and supported us all, but who had never attended one PET meeting, who had never faced DHS, who had let me handle...everything...would be Alex's only legal parent. I felt kicked in the teeth. It was the worst kind of disrespect. I was his mother. And yet, I would be nobody. If Jim had died that week, I was told, I would have no legal rights to this child. I told her, in not so polite words, to go to hell. It was the beginning of the end.

Jim and I talked in depth about what we needed, and about what we believed Alex needed. I knew in my heart that I was not a good mother to any of them really at that point. I loved them all, cared for their needs, but I was not emotionally capable of handling all the many many things they needed. There were 2 sets of social workers, 2 special needs preschools, medical appointments for 2 with special needs and 2 without. Trips to specialists, bleeding disorder docs, DHS paperwork, psychologist appointments to TRY to find out how to meet Alex's needs. Behavior supports we begged for and never got. He was now driven to eat, to demonstrate that one day I showed his social worker how he would eat an entire HUGE box (not the little box, mind you, the huge huge 2 foot tall sized box) of Cheerios. He ate it all and cried for more. She was shocked. I was resigned. In the end, we made a very hard choice. We decided that we couldnt meet all of their needs. We decided that Alex, particularly, needed to be an only child. He needed all the time and attention he could get, with no other kids to distract from it. He needed intensive therapy for his emotional issues, his eating disorder, and he needed constant monitoring by orthopedic, genetic, behavioral, occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, doctors. He needed far more time than I could give him. I believed, we believed, that the best thing we could do for him was allow him to be adopted by someone who would allow us to see him, to know he was ok. Where he would absolutely be the only child. Where his needs could be met and our own kids needs could be met, as well. Where I didnt have to watch over my shoulder every time I turned around that this kid with a bleeding disorder and human blood product...in 1999....would either have a suspicious bruise that would invite questions or maybe bite Ciarra or Jesse, necessitating another round of HIV testing. His biting had become uncontrollable. His behaviors were wild and erratic, he would poop and hide it in her toys, under his bed, under Jesse's pillow. He was stealing food, screaming all the time. I felt like it was me. I wasnt doing something right. In the end, I conceded. I wasnt the right mother for him. I felt defeated, angry, sad, and so sorry. I was full of guilt, cried all the time, and yet I knew this was right.

D called often, asking how I was. I thought at the time she was rubbing it in. Now I think, maybe she respected me as his mom? I wasnt very kind to her, I was as short and polite and distant as I could be. I just didnt want to have to worry about her, too.

It took 6 months from when we told DCFS in Ct that we couldnt raise Alex for them to start acting on a permamency plan for him. Their sideways looks and ignorant comments, their judgement of us as parents, all went by the wayside. Suddenly, we were "good enough". They made virtually no contact with us over that time. They were so worried about his safety in our home that they left him here for 6 long months. There were days he would walk into my kitchen and be standing in a puddle of sunshine and look at me with his big blue eyes. My heart would sing, and I would go to reach for the phone "Forget it, I can do this." And there were days when I wanted to grab the phone and scream, "Please, save me, I cant do this anymore. Im scared. Im overwhelmed. Im not doing it right." I never called.

In August of 2000, we were moving forward. A friend of mine, whose cousin used to babysit Alex (and whos home had been DHS approved) was stepping forward. They wanted to adopt him. They would let us see him. He would be their only child, as they couldnt have kids biologically. They loved him, even now I believe that is true. They came to Maine to get to know him again. They took him on visits. I knew it was the right thing, but still, I was his Mom. I felt a tinge of jealousy, and wrestled with myself. I knew that the best thing for Alex was this. He deserved better than me.

The visits were going well. J&J, the prospective parents, were enjoying him, spiling him. We talked a lot about his needs, his food thing, his emotional needs. He was not fully potty trained, at almost 4. Developmentally, he was more like 2. He was tiny, just 25 pounds. His big bloue eyes and blonde hair made him waifish looking. He was beautiful. I bundled him up for his visits with tears in my eyes, but I hoped and prayed this was right.

On September 11, 2000, he came home from a visit with them and said "Mumma, J punched me." He was crying, great wracking sobs. I picked him up and put him on the table to face me, and asked him to say it again. He had a speech delay that left me unsure, did he say pinch or did he say punch? I wondered, in the space of a second, if he was just being a whiner and they were play wrestling and he, being Alex, didnt like rough play? I asked him, pinched or punched. I demonstrated punch, and he cried hysterically and threw himself into my arms. I held him till he fell asleep, and put him in his little bed in the room he shared with Jesse. And then I picked up the phone and called a local foster care support agency. I begged them to help me. I had made a mistake, I said, please help me. They are going to be taking him any day now. What do I do? She took my information and said she would call me back. I called his DCFS worker in Ct, in a panic, and left a message. I didnt trust her, and I knew she would think this was about me changing my mind. THe day was supposed to be 2 days away, he would be their son forever after that. I saw wondering who to call and heard the knock on my door. Two armed men came into my home, introduced themselves as DHS agents, and asked me to give Alex to them. I was so scared, so freaked out. There was an allegation against me, made by J...the soon to be adoptive father. Supposedly he had seen me hit Alex and throw him in his bed. Supposedly this happened from our mud room entryway, where he stood watching. I showed the men that it was impossible, the boys room was around a corner, and couldnt be seen. I begged them to listem, told them about what Alex had said an hour before. They steadfastly ignored me and repeated their request for me to get Alex. I woke him up from his bed, dressed him in his sweet little khaki overalls and flannel shirt, changed his diaper, and carried him out. My mind raced to Ciarra, asleep in her crib, and Jesse due home from Kindergarten anytime. Would these men take my other children if I fought them? Would I be able to stop this, would anyone believe me about the punch? I could never have known that that was the last time I would touch him while he lived. His little body still half asleep, warm and snuggly, he clung to me. He was afraid. The man reached out and tried to take him, he clung to me, arms tight around my neck. I whispered to him, "I will see you soon, Alex, you are going to be ok." The men said he would go to the DHS office, I would have time to make some calls, at least make someone listen to me. I handed my crying son to the taller man, and then the diaper bag, and a little red truck Jim's dad had given him that he treasured. And I watched them carry him away to their cars, screaming "Mommy" over the mans shoulder, arms reaching out. I will never forget that, I will never forget his face. And I will never ever forget how guilty I felt for not fighting harder to keep him here.

J's allegation was checked out by DHS. They agreed that there was no way it could be true the way he had said it. It simply is not possible to see what he said he saw from where he claimed to see it. I was told it would go down as unfounded...again...I found out later that he and the workman who made the original allegation were friends, and he knew just what to say to cause me trouble. making abuse allegations against someone destroys them. It is so easily done, and so maliciously done at times. And yet, it is the best way we have as a society to protect the Alex's. It is too bad, to say the least, that my own report of abuse aganist him went unheeded. For 2 weeks, until mid September, I was grilled by DHS, I was threatened with the loss of my own children. They were asked question after question about my parenting, about if we hit them, about stress. (And there was plenty of that, I can only imagine what their answers were.) Despite seeing with their own eyes that it was impossible to happen as he said it did, this was the 2nd allegation against me, and had to be checked out. While they were interviewing me and my children, Alex was making his way south, to Florida, in a baby blue Cadillac.

On September 25th, we had a meeting at home at home with our social worker. I will be forever grateful that she was here. We were talking about Alex, wondering how he was. I doubted now that we would be allowed to see him again. I was so angry at how it had eneded, after 3 years of our lives, a lie had cost my kids and Jim from saying goodbye. And I worried everyday about his placement. I never knew when they left for Florida. I never knew that J&J were given custody of him despite my calls. I was so busy dealing with all the emotions swirling through my house, the kids missed their brother, Ciarra looked confused, where is he? Jesse had just started Kindergarten, and I was grateful he and Kristin had school, they needed to be children. DHS had finally said they believed that my children were safe. They would not discuss Alex with me.

As the social worker and I sat talking, the phone rang. It was Jim's brother M. Alex was on life support in Florida. He had "choked on his vomit". I knew instantly that this was very bad. I felt so many emotions, anger, even hatred, vengefulness, distress, sadness, overwhelming grief, exhaustion, and the tiniest sense of vindication. I know that sounds awful, but I knew finally, without a doubt, people would believe me. But first they had to understand, this wasnt choking. It couldnt be. Something happened here, and they had to listen to me. Within days, they had. J confessed to wrapping Alex so tightly in a blanket that he couldnt breathe. He was punsihing him. Video shot earlier at a home depot store would show further abuse. Finally, someone was hearing me. Alex had to be ok. But what then? would they let us take him back? Should we? I wanted to run to him, to hold him and promise him he would never hurt again. A series of phone calls told me that that would never happen. Alex was brain dead. I would never be able to tell him I was sorry. I remember getting that call and screaming with everything in me. I felt so personally responsible. I felt such grief. He survived on life support until September 27th, when we agreed that it was futile. He had no brain activity at all, and had suffered such serious injuries that he could never recover.

Once again, the state took away my rights. Someone in the family made the decision to bury Alex in Ct, near "his mother." They wanted D and John to be able to see his grave. (Nevermind what we wanted.) I went to the church and watched the media firestorm erupt. Jim and Jesse were out front playing on a patch of grass when a cameraman rushed in from nowhere and captured their little game. I was so angry. My name, our names, were now national news. Ciarra's DS was now fodder for why we gave Alex up. Nevermind that it wasnt about her needs, it was about his. Even little Jesse's name was maligned, he was noted for being "rough" with Alex. Tell me what 4 yr old isnt rough with their little brother sometimes? I, of course, was painted in various colors throughout. I was the victim, the accuser, the abuser, the poor mother, the one who gave Alex to these monsters. All came partway near the truth, none ever portrayed me accurately.

We went into the church, and there was my tiny boy. Dressed in a little suit I had picked out days before. (May you never know how hard it is to buy a suit in early October in a size 3T. Walking through that store, knowing why I was there, while the world bubbled happily by on their quest for new school clothes, was an experience I hope never to repeat.) Facing D and John at the church was difficult. For better or for worse, I feel a strong sense that I let them down. I didnt do enough to protect their son. Suddenly, there in that church, he was their son, too. Even as I read the eulogy, in which I spoke of Alex;s love for greeting jim at the door each night with a "Daddy's home!", I felt keenly the sadness of Alex's biological parents, hearing about his life and knowing that they didnt know half of it.

As hurt and angry and alone as I felt, there was an odd kinship with D. We were, after all, mothers. She gave birth. I brought the tshirt from his beloved preschool to lay to rest beside him. She was seeing him for the first time in a year, while I was counting bruises and seeing his crew cut that took away all of his beautiful blonde hair, and admiring his tiny hands, so still. I hugged D, and as much animosity as there had been, we were alone in that church, we two, with our relationship. We were both his mother. We both loved him, in our own ways. We had both lost him. In fact, there was a third "mother", the mother who would have been if her husband hadnt beaten, smothered, and tortured him to death. We were fragile, we were broken. And the only one who really knew just how broken was each other.

And so we laid Alex to rest, in the children's cemetary in Hartford. Walking away from his grave was the hardest thing I have ever done. D goes to visit, but not very often. His preschool planted a flowering crab tree in his memory (yes, the pun was intended) and I visit that at every Christmas, his birth and death dates, and sometimes on days I just need to be near him. I think I probably visit the tree more than she visits the grave. But Alex isnt really there, anyway. There is a body there, but the spirit that he was is not there. I like to think it is here, with us, it is at his preschool, it is in his sisters smile.

D and I have a weird connection now. We arent close, and yet we are the only ones who always remember the days. Birthdays, death days, special days. She will call, we will make small talk about the weather. She will sometimes tell me some wild story about her life, and I dont try to guess anymore if they are real or imagined. Inevitably, she will say something about the day being special, and she will seemingly take comfort when I respond affirmatively, "I know". We dont talk about the details, but we remember the days. And we remember the son we shared, in our crazy mixed-up way. John still sends postcards, as he did throughout Alex's life. Inevitably, he thanks us for the love and care we showed his son, while recognizing that he was our son, too. It is a funny, peaceful, undiscussed alliance. We four, so different, but tied together forever because of one little boy with bright eyes and blonde hair and a killer smile. I shouldnt be surprised that this definition of family is dysnfuctional, to say the least. But it works for us, it functions for us.


1 comment:

melody is slurping life said...

I've lived the life as a bio mom, adoptive mom and foster mom. I've seen the failures of the system. I am so sorry that you and this precious child had to travel this path.

Know that he is at peace.