There are days when I forget how broken my children were when they came to live with us – days when I get to be a normal mom dealing with normal kid problems, like fighting over whose day it is to feed the dogs or who has to turn the light out because they were the last one in a room. There’s a part of me that smiles each time my kids don’t empty their pockets before their clothes go through the wash. And, although I may bark at them for it, I don’t mind stepping on thousands of Legos, silly bands, and barrettes as I walk from room to room. These are the things that kids do. They leave stuff out to be stepped on, send entire Kleenex boxes through the wash, and argue over light switches. And it makes me feel amazing inside.
Then there are days when their broken pieces come a little bit unglued and their cracks begin to show. On those days, I do not feel like a normal mom dealing with normal kid problems. On those days, I’m reminded that parts of them are still broken and that they’re prone to shattering more easily than a “normal kid”.
It’s often the small things that cause them to chip – their new, shiny beings that we worked so hard to polish up with pleases and thank yous, therapy sessions and reward charts, prayers and petitions. We put them in nice clothes and comb their hair until it glistens. We clip toe nails and remind them to stand up straight. They look the part. My kids look all new. They look so good that sometimes I forgot that when I raise my voice, my 6-year-old daughter will be unable to meet my eyes with hers and will hunch over, not with shame, but with fear. And my son can seem so friendly that you’d never expect him to pull out his own teeth when a child at school makes fun of the silver caps covering his less-than pearly whites due to being bottle fed soda throughout his baby years. It’s on those days that the small lines of their glued together parts are most evident.
My 8-year-old has been suspended twice so far this year. Honestly, I had thought we were past this stage. After multiple suspensions at the end of Kindergarten (when he first came to us) and throughout first grade, we were pleasantly surprised to have no incidents in second grade. What a relief, I’d thought. Problem solved! But I was wrong. Because, you see, in his third grade class, there’s a boy that reminds him of a half-brother that he had to leave behind when he came to our home. A boy that was slightly older than him, whom he tried to emulate, despite the boy’s constantly bad behavior. All the long talks about being a leader and not a follower flew out the window this year in a desperate attempt to fit in, look cool, appear tough in front of this boy and his new classmates.
My son stole a sweatshirt. He stole a sweatshirt and made up an elaborate story of how he earned the shirt by participating in a fundraiser. He stole the shirt, made up a story, and then wore it to school the next day. The poor boy who originally owned the item is in his class. (At least my kid is still somewhat stupid when it comes to his crimes.) After some more lying and lots of tears, followed by a suspension and a full weekend sitting at the table for a rousing rendition of “Read, Write, or Draw” for his grounding, I spent the better part of the next 4 weeks applying more glue to the lines and painting over the chips that had started to show.
It wasn’t long after that I received another phone call from the school because my son had made “terroristic threats”. For the love of all that is good and holy…. As if on cue, my kid started his routine cover-up. Lie, blah blah blah, lie, lie, blah, lie, blah blah, lie, lie lie. After wanting to bang our heads off the walls, my husband and I were finally able to get the whole story. Cameron was caught cheating on a worksheet (it has to be noted, the worksheet was for fun, not even for a grade!). But he wasn’t caught by the teacher. No, he was caught by the sweet little girl whose paper he was copying not-so-sneakily. Naturally, she threatened to tell. And naturally, my son threatened to kill her family. I’m not even kidding.
How do I explain to a little girl’s parents that my son is not, in fact, a sociopath, but that he was trained to lie, cheat, and steal at all costs in order to survive and escape beatings from his first dad? How do I get a freaked out mom to understand that her child wasn’t the only one threatened – that my child was also threatened by a large man with a belt that if he ever told on him for his many indiscretions, he’d “get it again”? And even if he did tell the truth to the nice people in his life that were meant to help him, he’d be sent to live with yet another family, leaving all his belongings behind, changing schools again, only to find that they didn’t want him either? How do I show her that I’m so so sorry and that I don’t condone my son’s words, without it seeming like I’m making excuses for him?
Because I won’t make excuses. I can’t let him think that it’s OK to do wrong because of previous wrongs done to him. And I won’t let him turn others into victims and perpetuate a cycle of violence, theft, and lies.
But there I sat, grounding and re-gluing him at the same time, wondering when my broken kid will just get the chance to be normal. No labels, nothing to live up to, no one to please, no one to fear – just be able to live without the cracks and chips. He broke into my thoughts to show me something he’d written during his long sit at the table. It was his autobiography, something they’d just learned about in school that week. It was only one page -double-spaced and written in large letters, but I could see that it was his best handwriting.
It read something like this:
“Once upon a time, I lived with a bad family. I was scared and had belt marks on me. And then one day I moved to a new family with a Mom and a Dad that are nice to me. They don’t let me do bad things and teach me to be good. I love my new life very much. The End.”
While it may not be the end, it just may be a beginning. And in that moment, one small crack healed.