How I rocked my adopted kids through their anger, hurt

Pretoria News Weekend - - NEWS - RENE DENFELD

GROW­ING up with poverty, mo­lesta­tion and abuse, I of­ten wished for a new fam­ily. I day­dreamed about what such a life would be like. There would be hugs in the morn­ing, plates full of food and a safe bed to sleep. I would not have to worry about my mother’s boyfriends, one of them later con­victed as a reg­is­tered preda­tory sex of­fender.

But I also loved my mother, even dur­ing her worst drink­ing, and I loved my sib­lings. Like other chil­dren from such homes, I strug­gled with feel­ings of shame, guilt and dis­ap­point­ment: Shame for what had hap­pened to me, guilt for want­ing safety, dis­ap­point­ment be­cause it never hap­pened. Though I prob­a­bly should have been re­moved from my home by au­thor­i­ties when I was young, I never was.

By the time I was 15, I was home­less. Sleep­ing un­der benches, I pre­tended I was wrapped not in news­pa­pers but in a blan­ket, rocked not by the wind but by a mother who ac­cepted my angers as well as my hurts. Be­ing as­saulted on the streets, I told my­self the truth and promised my­self I would never have a fam­ily that sup­ported lies. It was through such dreams I fought my way off the streets, be­com­ing a free­lance writer and in­ves­ti­ga­tor.

In my 20s, I de­cided to adopt from fos­ter care. I wanted to be a mother, and rather than have chil­dren bi­o­log­i­cally I was drawn to giv­ing homes to chil­dren that came from back­grounds like mine.

There are half a mil­lion chil­dren in fos­ter care, many in need of adop­tion. They are chil­dren like I once was – vic­tims of abuse, mo­lesta­tion and ne­glect. Re­moved from their par­ents, fos­ter chil­dren face un­cer­tain fu­tures, with­out a fam­ily to call home or a mother’s love. I de­cided I would change that…

I would cre­ate a fam­ily where there were hugs in the morn­ing, plates of food and an al­ways-safe bed. I would be the mother that would rock them through their angers as well as hurts – the fam­ily that would let them tell the truth.

I ended up adopt­ing three chil­dren. My daugh­ter came first, then my old­est son, then my youngest son.

All were con­sid­ered spe­cial-needs chil­dren, which in fos­ter-care lingo can mean any­thing from sig­nif­i­cant de­lays to merely be­ing older or part of a sib­ling set. The spe­cial need for many chil­dren is how dif­fi­cult it is for case­work­ers to find them homes.

My chil­dren came with trauma. I won’t lie – it wasn’t easy. For years, my life was lim­ited to an ex­haust­ing rou­tine of schools, meals and ther­a­pies.

I felt alone as friends with kids en­joyed ac­tiv­i­ties that re­sulted in my chil­dren fly­ing apart into fear­ful rages. So I learned to cre- ate fun times right in our own home. I stacked ev­ery pil­low in the house to make a gi­ant hill to tum­ble down.

I painted the bath­room with stars and put an old mat­tress on the stairs as a slide. I pulled them around and around on blan­kets, pre­tend­ing to be a roller coaster ride, tak­ing their tick­ets and call­ing out in joy with them. There were birth­day par­ties ev­ery day with can­dles on morn­ing pan­cakes, and ev­ery night we would wave at the moon.

I saw how deep their hunger for love was. Where an­other par­ent might see a bro­ken cup, I saw a beau­ti­ful thirst. So I filled their cups.

When my old­est son – far too large – wanted to climb un­der my shirt and be car­ried around like an in­fant in my womb, I obliged. While he nes­tled, de­lighted, against my skin, I walked up and down our street, wav­ing to the neigh­bours, who came to ex­pect this game. “I’m hav­ing a baby,” I called, and my lovely neigh­bours shouted con­grats in re­turn. Back at home my son would jump out of my shirt.

“I’m here!” he al­ways yelled, and I swooped him in the air, cov­er­ing him with kisses. In this way he was re­born to me, over and over again, into a world with­out hurt. We played this game un­til he no longer needed it. His brain and heart rewired: What had hap­pened to him be­fore was real, but now so was our love.

The abuse he had ex­pe­ri­enced was not erased. It was un­con­di­tion­ally ac­cepted, and loved with­out mea­sure.

Even­tu­ally, our world widened, un­til we were like other fam­i­lies, en­joy­ing trips to parks and the zoo. I felt there was some­thing spe­cial about us: We had all walked on the side of sor­row and seen the dawn. Each time I tucked my kids in, singing our silly night-time songs… each and ev­ery morn­ing they woke up safe was like a drink for my own thirsty cup. When I was that age, I would think, and fill in the blank for all that I had avoided for them. Through them I got to ex­pe­ri­ence what it was like to be loved, to be pro­tected, to be cher­ished.

It’s been more than 20 years now since I first adopted. My chil­dren are now warm, won­der­ful teens and young adults, go­ing to school and work­ing. They’re the kind of kids to make any par­ent proud, but that’s not why I love them.

I love them for all they are, in­clud­ing their past. I am thank­ful for the gift they gave me, for the child­hood I had lost and re­gained through them. My dream came true, af­ter all.

Denfeld is the best­selling au­thor of The Child Finder, a lit­er­ary thriller based on her ex­pe­ri­ences as a li­censed in­ves­ti­ga­tor and fos­ter-adop­tive mother. She lives in Port­land, Ore­gon, with her three amaz­ing kids. – The Wash­ing­ton Post

The au­thor and two of her three kids.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.