You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby!

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Four years ago…don’t be fooled by that cherubic face!

Anthony got a citation at school today.  He walked in the door and without hesitation explained to me why it wasn’t his fault and the teacher was wrong. She always is. I’m surprised she still has a job with all the times she’s wrongly disciplined my son whilst he, an innocent angel of youth, patiently puts up with her shortcomings as a human being.

He’s so tolerant…he’s so accepting…he’s so Oppositional Defiant Disorder.

Yes, the Anthony we all know and love is brilliant, sweet, hilarious and charismatic. He is also diagnosed Reactive Attachment Disorder and Oppositional Defiant Disorder as well as is a victim of child abuse and neglect to such an extent as most of us cannot imagine.  He has survived the kinds of things we read about in the paper…and wish we hadn’t read.

Children who are early childhood victims of abuse and neglect often develop a lack of trust in their surroundings. After all, they cry and nobody answers, or the answer is scary.  They need food, it’s not there.  They need nurture and none is offered.  They learn very early that their needs are not going to be met and so those links inside the brain that would normally connect need with satisfaction simply do not develop. And as they move into their toddler years and those needs continue to not be met, the connections may actually never develop.  By three years old, say the experts, it may be too late.  Even if they have wonderful families in their later childhood years and move into adulthood with healthy surroundings…they sometimes never regain those lost phases of basic trust development.  Their brains simply lack the capacity to trust, to connect, to love.

And trust, as most of us know, is pivotal in positive and healthy relationships.  Trust, especially subconscious trust, plays a role in every single aspect of our lives, whether we realize it or not.

So when Anthony came to me with a citation and tells me all the reasons it’s not his fault, I wasn’t the least bit surprised.  I was, however, surprised when the teacher told me the citation was for being argumentative and talking too much and that he’d not thrown a chair, knocked over a desk, threatened anyone or cussed.   Because not so long ago, the calls were a whole lot different. Not so long ago, we wondered if he’d ever be okay.

We wondered…if he was salvageable.

Four years ago he came to us with a chip on his shoulder and a view of the world consistent with trauma and neglect.  He was angry.  He was volatile.  He was damaged in every possible way and it showed in his every action.  He was, without a doubt, the most difficult and challenging child I’d ever had before or since.

And so the work began.

The first step in ‘fixing’ Anthony, if he was to be fixed, was to create a trusting relationship between him and someone else. Lucky me, I was the obvious choice.

Anthony went off to first grade just two months after his arrival and we began to see behaviors develop in the classroom that were nearly unmanageable.  He would crawl under tables and not come out. He screamed, yelled, cussed, argued, threw chairs and basically rebelled against all forms of authority.  Because remember, in his world, authority figures had destroyed his life.  Authority figures had failed him in every way imaginable and then removed him from his family, who though they abused him horribly, he loved them ferociously.

Authority figures had pretty much removed all sense of control over his own life…and so he sought control.  Over anything.  Over his environment and surroundings, if that was all he could manage.  Just something he could grasp on to and manipulate. Because if you can manipulate, you are not lost.  And Anthony, at times, must have felt completely lost.

And so when Anthony went to school…I went to school also.

I walked him to the classroom, helped him with his backpack, got him to his seat, pulled up my own tiny chair, and plopped myself down.  I rubbed his back, played with his hair, spoke soothingly in his ear as he settled in to work.  And for the first two hours of school, if I followed this routine, he would sometimes make it through the school day without a total meltdown.  Sometimes.

I would then return to school early, before the bell. Often, when I walked in, the secretary would just say, “The principal is down there with him…” and I’d nod my head and switch into intervention mode.  I’d enter the classroom and often find him curled in a corner, pulling his own hair or banging his head on the floor.  Anthony was barely able to function outside of my watchful eye.

This is a child who looked his principal right in the eye and, at seven years old, said, “It’s a free country and I don’t have to listen to you.”  And he probably had some statute ready to back up his claim.

And so first grade continued like this, with me at his side daily.  I volunteered in the school so I could be there, just in case.  Once the music teacher found me in the gym, decorating for a carnival.  He walked Anthony to me, one hand on each shoulder and simply said, “I can’t do it any more today.”  And then a teacher with undying patience, who loves my children, turned and walked from the room.  I took him home that day, half carrying him from the building as he screamed his hatred for me through the halls, in front of the office where the secretary was sweet enough to not look up, past strangers who entered the building and surely must have thought me a horrific mother, and out the door.  We went home and sat together, side by side, him pressed to my arm, and watched a movie together because sometimes discipline is not the answer.

Sometimes…he just needed my side.

After a while, as his attachment to me begin to develop into something somewhat healthy.  He began to behave normally as long as I was around.  But God forbid, I round the corner or leave the room.  I could literally stand on one side of the gym during P.E. and watch him begin to lose it… I’d walk towards him and as soon as he saw me coming, his behavior would change dramatically.  The closer I was, the more in control he became.

I was his safety net, said his therapist. I was his stronghold…his grasp on all that was good and okay in the world.  I was his salvation…the hand that reached into the tornado inside him and pulled him to safety.  Without me…and it could have been anyone who was simply ‘there’ for him…he feared he would spiral away into a realm in which he may never return. And he may have been right.

We moved into second grade and before the school year began, I’d made the decision to homeschool Anthony while the other kids went off to school.  It was a way for us to bond.  It was a chance for us to spend time together.  It was a way for me to not spend the next nine months in the school building, plastered to the boy.

And it worked.  For nine weeks we were together at home, studying.  I found, in those weeks, that my son was brilliant.  His thought processes were unfathomably deep.  He shared with me his history and began to relate the abuse from which he’d come…and survived.  He began to trust someone for the first time in his life…to truly feel like he could rely on another.

And then the good state of Alaska Office of Children’s Services informed us it was illegal to homeschool a foster child.  And so he went back to school.  And I stayed home. I just couldn’t be there every day anymore. I needed to devote some time to me. Some time to the other children.

Three weeks later Anthony saw his birth family for the first time in seven months and following that one hour visit on New Years Eve, 2008, he began a spiral that ended with him stabbing another child with a pencil, terrifying the other second grade students to the point that he was not allowed back into school without a “shadow” or personal attendant who’s goal was to keep him, and the other students, safe.

Thankfully, that plummet initiated a recommendation by his therapist that he no longer have contact with his birth parents.  That was the last time he saw them.  And he’s been on the mend ever since.

And so third and fourth grade passed with only a few serious incidences.  Only once did the principal have to chase him into the parking lot.  Only once did I find him curled in the coatrack hitting himself in the head.  And only once did the bus driver have to turn around and bring him back to the school, just five minutes into the route.

Progress, I say, is what you make of it.

Four years from his arrival into our lives at the age of six, we’ve reached a point with this child that he is a joy…nay, an absolute wonder, to be around.  He still lights up when I enter a room and requires continual hugs.  He still gets into trouble at school.  He still argues continually, and probably always will.  He sometimes, though rarely, loses his temper.  But he’s learned how to transfer that need to control others to his own actions and…to some extent…he’s learned to control himself.

And he did it not because of the therapists, myself, teachers and aids who tried everything we knew how to ‘fix’ him…but rather he did it in spite of our flailing efforts.  He did it, on his own.

Honestly…there was a time when I didn’t think that possible.  There was a time when his first grade teacher said to me, “Keri, I don’t know how you take him home at night,” and I wondered the same thing.  There were discussions as to whether we would adopt him or not.  There were times when we thought it wasn’t a matter of “if” he went to jail, but how soon it would be.

And now…the unimaginable has happened.  He got a citation at school…for talking out of turn.  He got a citation at school, for not making good use of his time and doing what he does best…arguing.  And though I should have been upset with him. I should have been angry that just two weeks into the school year he has already gotten a notice sent home… and I did give him a talking to…

All I could think was, “Damn….that’s AWESOME!”

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28 Responses to "You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby!"
  1. Catherine says:

    You just gave me hope. We got my stepdaughter from her mother after years of abuse and neglect– and Alaska’s OCS services never once stepped in.

    She has RAD, PTSD, and Disruptive behavior disorder. Since coming into our lives 2 years ago she has almost torn my family apart with her behavior so we sent her back to Alaska for the summer (it was the best of a bad choice)–she comes home in 3 weeks and just today I found myself wondering if I could do it.

    Thanks for your honesty—and for the hope of change.


  2. countrygalbelieves says:

    You are amazing as are these kids you heal 🙂 When I am feeling depressed or aggravated I come to your page and read your stories and my worries and troubles are so petty compared to what you deal with and with tremendous GRACE and LOVE.  I am so glad I found your blog 🙂 THANK YOU!!

  3. Jameshaeberle says:

    KatyaRose is missing the point.  Christ taught about the shepherd who left the 99 to go in search of the one lost sheep.  The extra time and effort you spend with  Anthony is an example of that.  As I said in my first comment, I think you’re going to be blessed for all this, Keri. 

  4. KatyaRose says:

    Maybe he needs to be in a residential facility someplace. I can’t imagine what your other kids have lived through with him and what those poor children at school, not to mention teachers have to put up with. No child should ever have to go to school afraid of a classmate or miss instructional time because one kid is constantly acting out. How is that fair? What about your other children would would love to have you visit their classes and spend an afternoon curled up on the sofa watching a movie? He may have been through a lot but you are now making so many others suffer as a result. 

    There are excellent residential facilities that specialize in dealing with these issues. It is not just locking the kid up forever, it is getting him the help from professionals who understand his issues and needs and giving him the assistance he needs without traumatizing and alienating an entire family and community. A “victory” of not destroying property or injuring someone else is no victory.

    • I can’t even begin to respond to this…

    • iiicrazycats says:

      Wow, Katya. I think you missed the entire point of the post. I’m going to stop addressing you before I make an off color comment.

      Keri, you did an amazing thing for Anthony, especially during those particularly difficult stretches. Being a succesful foster/adoptive parent takes a special type of person, especially when the child(ren) have special needs. I disagree wholeheartedly that you helped Anthony at the expense of your other children. By giving Anthony the time and space he needed to open up and trust, you have demonstrated to your family how to respect people of all kinds and what true compassion is. You’re doing wonderful things for all of your kids.

  5. Meikley4 says:

    Thank you for writing this.  You get it….and you can put it down so others can have a chance to get it, too.

  6. R Ekker says:

    Damn, that is awesome.  🙂

  7. Jameshaeberle says:

    I know you’re a lady, Keri, but still “You’re a better man than I am, Gunga-din.”  I believe in eternal consequences for earthly deeds.  You’ll be blessed both now and then.

  8. gramma_bettie_mae_turley says:

    oh keri, you are such a remarkable person!!! n i know, i know, you always say that you don’t write these posts for a pat on your own back BUT it was your loving soul who had room for anthony’s wounded soul. to give him the safe place that he needed to heal. n now you’re the momma who gets to rejoice in the wonderful soul that your son has become. thank you sooo much for being that “safety net” for anthony.

  9. Sarah P says:

    You so touch my heart! You are such an incredible blessing! Thank you! Just thank you!

  10. Marsha says:

    My story isn’t quite as horrific as Anthony’s. And yet, it still left me frozen and unable to trust anyone. I only know this after MANY years of therapy. At almost 60 years of age I am just learning some things about how to Live, and maybe a slight glimmer of Who I could have been. No one talked about those things then, and so all of us kids grew up to be the *walking wounded*. I leave the Forgiving to GOD, because that is too much for me. I choose to live alone, because it is far safer that way. My antenna for what someone’s mood may be is still many,many feet out from me. I can tell instantly if I am safe or not………… And so, this is why I Love to hear stories of Anthony. His wit, his charm; how he is in the world now Delights me and gives me Hope, even at my age. So, thank you for saving him, and please don’t stop posting the wonderful *Anthony stories*!!     <3

  11. Mamabeardoulacare says:

    we got our boy at 2. He followed me everwhere. he would sit outside the shower and talk to me. he would scream and cry if i left the house without him and be so greatful and happy and amazed that i came back. he had to hug and kiss everyone that left our house…it was like he thought he’d never see them again…he was/is so articulate and smart…so we loved him and hugged him and cuddled and sang and talked and talked and talked…non stop about every little thing.”what’s that? what you doing? where we going? what’s that? what’s that?” and now he’s almost nine and is with his mom and lives far away and i think he’s ok for the most part and we did/do all we can to keep in his life…and we are blessed that even after everything and 3 years with us and Courts returning him to mom, we are still apart of his life even long distance…but no else understands really, the nights i sat with him through the horrible dreams, the bonding that happened that hadn’t happened with anyone else…the hole in my heart that only fits him…

    • gramma_bettie_mae_turley says:

       ooohhhhh . . . you are another beautiful soul who has the heart big enough to be THE “safety net” that a little heart needed. thank you. y’all are very special people!!!

  12. Rivers3lady says:

    You are truely an Angel that helps to heal broken wings…

  13. Anonymous Mom says:

    Thank you on behalf of all the children and parents you help with your lovely life and writing. Thank you.

  14. Ryan Rickborn says:

    Please tell Anthony that I believe he is amazing.  Not for his brains, not for his talents, but for his willingness to fight for his own life.  The funny thing is his argument was probably better thought out than the teacher’s whole lesson plan…but I wouldn’t tell him that lol.  You are an angel for healing these children with their broken wings. 

  15. Aknoef says:

    This article stung my eyes. Have you considered or been asked to train other foster parents? You GET it.I am a former DCS caseworker and used to absolutely despise the reunification statutes at times. and I can tell you one thing for sure, you are a better woman than me. I am a mother to two bio children and when I would send a foster family a difficult case, I would sigh and say a prayer – knowing I couldn’t do it myself.

  16. Pam J says:

    oh, those who suffer and those few who will stand there with the one who suffers and endure, and move them, inch by inch, to a place of love.  God bless you.

  17. Cathyorene says:

    Awesome and Amazing! God bless you for being a foster parent!

  18. Bobbyspain says:

    sometimes love , and patience , are the only methods that can work . proffesional help is ok , but wont replace a good mom.

  19. Nangae2005-wrk says:

    You are so strong. I am currently living through an identical story, though darker…for the past year I’ve been in an foster/adoptive situation where my son has been throwing chairs and desks and trying to hurt the other students. Where he’s been passively or actively screaming and yelling insults at me for the past six months in between hugs and constant vying for my attention. His therapist is talking about putting him on meds or hospitalizing him if he won’t stop trying to hurt people (shoved myself, his biological sister, his daycare teacher, tried to pinch kids at school between his desk and the wall). Things do spiral every time he sees his birth mom.  We’re just coming out of a spiral now.

    I’m single, with four adopted/almost adopted children total and I just don’t have the resources to leave work and stay with him at school as you did with your son. More than that, I’ve been under investigation for most of the past year due to 2 different claims where he said I had mistreated him. My family no longer supports the adoption, and I am exhausted and disillusioned from what OCS has put me through following his claims. He wants to leave. I think I am going to have to let him have his way, even though your story illustrates what could happen if I could just somehow hold on a little longer. I wish……

  20. Annieb says:

    What a beautiful tribute to Anthony! My heart goes out to you and to him and to all who open their hearts to foster beautiful children that need you. I feel that I have a good heart, but I know that I could not do what you do and so it leaves me to believe that you are indeed an angel.

  21. Kkoschke says:

    We were lucky, she was lucky, she wasn’t yet three.  She came in a dress, a sweater and clutching a bag of pull-ups.  She was brought by the police, covered in bruises, missing clumps of hair.  She wouldn’t cry, she wouldn’t get out of bed, she hoarded food.  She couldn’t walk well, she had spent all her time in a playpen. She had fetal alcohol syndrome, and would act out by hitting and pinching.
    We would hold her and tell her we loved her and hugs were better than hitting.  We celebrated the first time she skinned her knee and cried.
    The years have passed, she is a preteen, tall and beautiful.  She still has and always will have learning problems,  she still is impulsive and forgetful.  But she understands now that she is so very loved by so many.  She has forgotten, we hope, the horror that was her life as a baby.
    She is a great joy to our lives.  We are lucky.

  22. b. nikalee rath says:

    The true meaning of discipline is “to desciple” or “to teach,” despite the common misconception that it means “to punish.”
    It sounds like true discipline is exactly what you employed, snuggling on the couch. Teaching him love and trust, lessons most of us take for granted, but that we would be lost without.
    Thank you for sharing this, and for making his world, our world, a better place.

  23. Spunti97 says:

    I love these posts where you get the chance to reflect on how far you’ve come and one of your children has come.  I imagine the chances to reflect don’t come nearly as often as you need them.  

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