Nature vs. Nurture

This was a tough one for me to write. Mainly because it is an ongoing thing that is undeniable in nature. It is something that various other family members have been very much against discussing until recently, when a new development occurred with Three. In the interest of my own mental health in dealing with a still unknown situation, I won’t go into too much detail as of yet except to say here I will be outlining a few things about Mental Health, Addiction and Genetics.

All of these things have been somewhere in my peripheral vision since I started this family journey. For good reason. Three Four and Five all have the same biological mother. (I have referred to her as “Mommy Dearest” or “Baby Mama” previously. In the interest of efficiency, I will refer to her as “MD” here).  MD has, at various court ordered psychological evaluations (as part of her sentences for various crimes) been diagnosed with various mental disorders. Including, but not limited to, bipolar disorder, depression, and various personality disorders. At least, so we were told by her family members that do speak to us. Anything is possible. The problem is, we don’t know for sure. And quite frankly, no one ever will. She has been an addict since age 15, she is now 38 years old. After more than 2 decades of abuse to her system, with nearly every possible kind of drug, and 2 overdoses later, there is just no way to tell what is mental illness and what is a result of the addiction.

The bottom line is, I have done my fair share of research into mental illness and addiction. I was voluntarily becoming a mother of 3 children without my DNA, I needed to know the risk, the level of the monumental responsibility I was willingly entering into. So here is what, after 5 years of hours and hours of the internet, I know.

Mental illness affects as many as one in five Americans over their lifetimes, irrespective of age, gender, or race. Four percent of the Nation’s population lives with severe mental illnesses. Children of people with mental illness would be as much as eight times more likely than the average person to develop mental illness.

I have to face the fact that no one can tell me whether one of my kids would be healthy or ill until it happens, or it doesn’t.  Researchers may differ on their estimates of the amount that genes and the environment each contribute to the onset of mental disorders. Three, Four and Five, at least from my perspective, have a “leg up” as far as environment goes, so maybe that makes a big enough difference for them to escape, or maybe its just not enough.

Investigators have had trouble discriminating specific forms of mental disorders, such as distinguishing someone experiencing depression as part of a depressive disorder from someone experiencing depression as part of bipolar disorder (also called manic-depressive disorder).

To complicate matters, as I mentioned above, MD is what I refer to as a “lifer” addict. She has been known to “doctor shop”, getting multiple prescriptions for various narcotic painkillers, commonly known as “benzos, or oxys” etc. According to researchers, by far the most common issue connecting mental illness and substance abuse is the intention of patients to medicate the mental health symptoms that they find disruptive or uncomfortable by using alcohol and drugs.

So lets just say, IF she had never began using drugs, if she had gotten diagnosed or gotten some help earlier in life, would she still be mentally ill? Would her mental illness be manageable, or even mildly noticeable? Who’s to say.  But this is where we are. So now, we have a biological child of MD who is currently the age she was when she started using drugs.

At the end of the day, this is what I know as far as nature or nurture is concerned – nurture can win, but there is no denying nature. Make no mistake, you cannot fight DNA. The sooner you accept that, the better off everyone will be. If you don’t do the best you can to be prepared, the fight is lost before it begins, and the outcome will be bad. For everyone.

Sources used:

https://www.dualdiagnosis.org/mental-health-and-addiction/the-connection/

 

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/about/advisory-boards-and-groups/namhc/reports/genetics-and-mental-disorders-report-of-the-national-institute-of-mental-healths-genetics-workgroup.shtml#toc-i

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School of Life

I generally will never write anything  political in here. For me its compartmentalized – my mom brain can’t function as well when I’m thinking about the state of the worlds’ politics.

I know its rough these days for anyone to discuss such things. What I have found interesting though is how my kids think about it. One has written a number of essays for school lately dealing with things like healthcare and school shootings. It is interesting to see, not only a 17 year old’s viewpoint, but your own child’s. I feel more and more lately that our children are so much more exposed to things, and worried about things that I never even considered worrying about at their age. My focuses were on getting a job, or school or boys. None of which required a lot of planning or thinking too far into the future. It was more a moment-to-moment thing.

My latest mom struggle has ultimately been getting One into college. The paperwork, the financial side, the never-ending list of things that need to happen before he can even set foot in a classroom. I myself never attended a traditional college and my continuing education was primarily done online or on the job. I find it utterly ridiculous the mountain teenagers are expected to climb just to attend a secondary school. I’m not sure I would have had either the motivation or the sheer will to push myself into something like that voluntarily. Nevertheless, I am convinced my children should have what I didn’t. So as many of them as we can push onto the path, that’s the plan and we’re sticking to it.

Anyway, recently I handed him an application for a scholarship in which he was to provide a 400 word essay on a current event type issue of his choice. He sent me an essay about healthcare in the United States. I have to say, I was both shocked an impressed that he took the issues so far. It’s not just a surface piece. He really had to research and spend time reading actual news (whether real or “fake” sources I can’t be sure). It was one of those moments that showed how grown up he is already, and how I wish I knew the formula to make another one just like him. His compassion and intellect continually surprise and delight me and I still can’t even believe that one has my DNA in there!

Every decision we make as parents ultimately affects other humans’ lives. I’ve said similar things before in my posts, but in this case I’m feeling like I’m at the edge of a cliff…all I can do is hold my breath and take yet another leap into an unknown future. Not the first time…nor the last.

Raising the Hoard

Its been 2 years now since our adoption of Five was finalized. Yes…for those who may have read my previous work, we did it!

I won’t get into the nitty gritty of the “showdown” that never really was. The bottom line is, we thought the hard part was over. We were right, and wrong, in alot of ways…and on that I shall elaborate.

We were right in that, since the adoption was finalized, we have heard nary a word from Baby Mama. She went to jail a few times, got kicked out of a few more rehabs, got some reckless driving charges, and on an even sadder note, dragged some people down into the abyss with her, but that’s another blog post and I digress.

What we were wrong about is this….the struggle is so very real. Raising a child who lived giant chunks of her life in an overwhelmingly toxic environment is stressful. Perhaps there are those who might read this who have adopted truly suffering children who have been abused in ways I don’t even want to think about. And honestly, I am forever grateful knowing that she never suffered in any of those ways. But we have discovered over the past 2 years that she did not, in fact, escape unscathed.

The struggle as a mom can be such a neverending, and almost destructive type of anger that I find I try very hard to internalize. I admit this is not a good thing. But since this is not exactly my first rodeo with horrible parental figures, I feel like my way of coping has been perfected, modified, perfected some more over the years where I have learned to deal with it in my own way.

I feel angry alot. ALOT. not at Number 5 of course, but at the people along the way that failed her, in even the smallest of ways. Those who could have stepped in sooner, who could have prevented at least some of the issues we are dealing with and will be dealing with possibly the rest of our lives.

This is not your average 10 year old (she turns 11 this year and I just can’t believe how fast the time flies!!!). Her behavior has changed, some of it has improved, but we’re still talking maybe the social skills of your average 7 year old here. She’s been to counseling, speech classes, more counseling and speech, groups that help her learn proper social skills to make and maintain friendships with peers in her age group. It’s nonstop work.

The one thing that I, for some unknown reason, thought she would pick up quickly, she did not, but it seems to be improving recently. Her adjustment to life with 4 siblings. She still has her struggles, and moments where she whines that she just wants some “quiet time by herself”. HA! girl, me too! I don’t say that, but I’m totally thinking it. For the most part though, I guess I hadn’t realized the amount of things those of us who have multiple children that grew up together or those of us who have siblings probably take for granted. You know that there will be a certain amount of button pushing, of teasing, of playing in competitive ways that kids who grow up with siblings learn to see as normal and use it almost as a type of socialization tool. These are people who are ultimately on your side, they know where your buttons are and will push them mercilessly and unrelentingly until you cry…but if an outside person were to do the same, it simply is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.

Honestly, it really is little things like this that maybe we take for granted…until you can no longer. Such is my life now. Lots of explaining. Lots of coaching a 10 year old on how to deal with social type situations that most children learn to deal with somewhat organically.

On another note…One was accepted to college and will be graduating high school this year!!! I’m definitely going to ugly cry. For sure. It will be embarrassing for everyone, this I can guarantee. But at least I have 11 years to go before Four graduates high school also…11 years of graduations and parties, of milestones and struggles…and alot more ugly crying. Definitely.

Maybe the hard part is really over, but the struggle most definitely is not. But that’s why wine exists, right?

 

The Struggle

As parents we all want to believe our children love us unconditionally, forever. That no matter what we do, how we raise them, it will all work out in the end. I think sometime over the past few years my belief in that generality has changed. I do think that at some basic level, deep down in places we never let anyone see, the love for our parents will always be there. Even if they are really terrible at being a parent, or don’t express love well or at all. Someone once said something to me about the idea of love that I will remember always. She and her husband had just separated, he had a year long affair with someone. And then she discovered she was pregnant, and I remember thinking”There is no way someone could treat me that way, lie like that and me be able to forgive them.” And she said “Just because someone doesn’t love you the way you want them to, doesn’t mean they don’t love you with all they have.” In other words, they love you the only way they know how. And that has always stuck with me. The idea that they way we express our love for other people is so invariably different from the way everyone else does.

I think this inevitably applies in the way we love our children. It is going to look differently to everyone.

My original point here was, being a blended family is hard. In every way you would imagine it to be. Even if it seems easy in the beginning and you honestly believe that all your ideas of raising children, having a marriage work, and being a family are all the same. At that level, deep down, it is not, and can never be. We are all different people. Our children are all different people as well, I think sometimes that is forgotten. Our children are not our property, they are people. They are going to have their very own view of the same world. They will love differently. That does not mean however, that they don’t love you, or you don’t love them. That part is, in fact, unconditional in the way that the earth rotates. It is irrevocably there. But…the way we treat our children as people IS important. Taking all of their separate feelings and views into account when we speak to them. Letting them discover things and make decisions on their own, and hoping they make good choices. Not necessarily the “right” choices, because the “right” in it is a personal thing. They won’t make your choices or do things the way you do them. That is not your job. Your job, as a parent is to instill in them the idea that they be decent human beings, and if they are, they will make GOOD choices. For them and for others around them. You cannot control or monitor their every move, you can only hope you have taught them what is important in life. After that, it is out of your hands.

The bottom line is, children are not property. They are people. We all need structure, family, forgiveness, faith, hope, love, connection, caring, safety and stability to be happy. Those are not conditions. They are not negotiable.

No one ever said you don’t love your kids or your family. But if you can’t give them those basic things, they will seek them out, and likely find them elsewhere. And that is the only choice of theirs you ever have control of….because at the end of the day, your kids depend on you to show them the right direction, and they will look at your actions first. Words are just words. This is something children seem to know right from the beginning. They are meaningless without the actions behind them that make them real.

Begin at the Beginning

When I was 20 years old I met a man in a bar….and I was immediately and irrevocably in love at first sight. Now, before any of you even think of making a comment, let me repeat, I was 20 years old. In a bar. I had no business being in a bar when I was 20, but to be honest, it wasn’t my first time in a bar.

I grew up with a very large, very Irish family, with parents who were still in love, ARE still in love to this day. My father had a heart attack and a stroke in May of 2014 and I thought my mother would lay down in bed with him and pull a scene right out of the movie The Notebook. It scared me half to death, while simultaneously and not for the first time, giving me complete visual affirmation that true and lasting love, just like in the movies, does, in fact, exist. This is, however, likely the very thing that both kept me sane, and also kept me looking in all the wrong places for exactly that kind of love.

As I traveled through my life I had more than one person tell me they could tell I was looking for or waiting for something…at the time I thought they were right, but I didn’t know any more than they did what exactly it was. Now, well, we’ll get to that….

So to get back to the guy in the bar…I was, for lack of a better way to put it, completely and utterly blind. This, I would discover, would be the theme of my love life for a very, very long time. He moved in almost immediately and without my permission. Three years later I was pregnant with my oldest son (Let’s call him “One” for arguments sake. This will make more sense later). When One was 9 months old, I became pregnant with “Two”. Bar guy and I moved to another state shortly before this second pregnancy and it was decided (mostly by him) that I would stay home with the kids and he would work. I didn’t realize at the time this meant “stay home forever and never leave the house either without permission or with both children at all times so my ego is unscathed from the idea that you might find someone to talk to who is more interesting/intelligent/etc. than me and realize I’m a jerk and leave me.” I digress….

When Two turned 2 years old, I had had enough…enough yelling and screaming and throwing things at my head, enough of feeling like a piece of property without a brain. Just…enough. I took the kids and left. He withheld money, time, and any sort of humanity possible from both me and the children. And I discovered that there are angels living on earth…

I have been fortunate in my life to have met some of the most unselfish, giving, truly exceptional examples of human beings ever to walk this planet. I have been unbelievably blessed in this regard, and thank the powers that might be every single day for this. Anyone who can show up on a random weekend with food, clothes, and company, with excuses that they “had extra”, or show up with $200 cash and ask me to run to the store for “beer” …to any single mother who has ever struggled, this is an answer to a prayer, a response to a wish on a star, and quite simply a gift I can never ever be thankful enough for. To those people, you are a credit to your kind and I wish there were so many more of you.

Now that you have a glimpse of my past, I will jump forward to the future…in 2012 I was living with One and Two in a townhouse in a fairly wealthy county of Maryland. I had a well paying job that managed to cover bills, afford the purchase of a new vehicle, pay for vacations and trips north to see family. What I didn’t have was that one thing I’ve been waiting for my whole life. I had convinced myself I didn’t need forever, but it gets lonely not having someone to share your experiences with. I joined Match.com…and after a few failures, which is inevitable, I received a message from a man who lived 30 miles away, with 2 kids of his own. I didn’t know his story at the time and people have asked me now and then, if I had known more, would I still be where I am, have the life I do. That is a hard question to answer, because to put it simply, he was unquestionably my match in every way. We knew each other from the beginning and it immediately felt like we had known each other all our lives.

He is now my husband, and those 2 kids (Three and Four of course) are now my step children…

My mother asked me recently, mostly musing to herself but I answered anyway…”How did I get so lucky to have all these wonderful grandchildren?” and I said “Well, I AM collecting them now, didn’t you know?”

And this….is where the rest of my story begins.

Partners in Crime

In 2012, having been single and “dating” for a couple months, and having had what could only be described as a “toxic” relationship for About 5 years with a man I shall name “Demon*”, I decide to try my hand at online dating. Not the best choice I agree, but having done so before and with my new found lie/crazy detection skills (I’ll have to elaborate in a subsequent blog for details), I thought “What could go wrong?”. Ha! I’m hilarious! Obviously, literally everything can go wrong. About 3 weeks of horrendously awful first dates, I get a message from a guy who lived close to an hour from me. He’s a 32 year old single father of 2 kids, owns his own house and has a job. Frankly, that’s a “Sold!” Right there for a 36 year old single Mom. Even if it just meant a free meal and even a slightly not boring adult conversation (sorry guys, we’re still out there, I promise).

Anyway, turns out he’s smart and funny, and doesn’t think I’m too horribly crazy. 11 months later, we’re married. We’re currently approaching the 6th Anniversary of the day we met, and I have to say, I’ve never made a better decision in my life.

Occasionally, I am asked for relationship-type advice. Quite honestly, I don’t feel particularly qualified to give any. The truth is, we are all so unique, in every way. I consider myself something of an empath, meaning I can feel what others are feeling and thinking in sort of a general way. Are they sincere? If not, are they just genuinely trying to believe what they are saying but mean something entirely different?

The bottom line is, the only advice I can give them is this – the only way to have a solid relationship with another human is to truly know yourself. Be alone. Know deep down how you feel about that. Understand your goals in life. Know that you can achieve those goals with or without anyone else. Never mistake sympathy, empathy or the urge to be helpful for love. If the person you meet needs to be “fixed”, don’t do it! You do not want a “fixer-upper”. Trust me on this, it is NOT worth it. They will never be the person you want them to be if they aren’t that person the minute you meet them. People don’t change. They might improve their lives, but the person they really are is forever. Period. As far as intimate, personal relationships go anyway.

At the end of the day, you absolutely, without question, have to know who YOU are, completely, before you can ever know anyone else. For some people this takes many years, for others not as long. How much time you need to do this is really irrelevant. If you can’t let go of what you think you want, for what your soul truly needs, you will never understand any of this and spend your life wishing for things that don’t exist.

Find a partner in every sense of the word, and happiness will find you. The end.

 

*Demon is an ex-boyfriend who was subsequently diagnosed as a sociopath, who clearly should have been on medication, but due to the circumstances under which we met this was not considered important information at the time. Additional blog entries to follow in this regard.

Death & Taxes

It has already started out as a pretty rough year. And before I explain why,  allow me to provide some background..

My father is one of 7 children…out of those 7 children arrived 14 more children. And because a large majority of those 14 lived in close proximity, and in reasonable close proximity in age, they spent a good amount of time together.

I am one of those 14. None of them live very close to me now. We are all grown up, most with families of our own. We have careers and lives and friends of our own. We make attempts as keeping in touch. But one thing is for certain, at the end of the day, there is no more important thing than family. They were my playmates, my babysitters, my friends.

In February of this year, we tragically lost one. She was not perfect, none of us can claim that title. She was a mom, and a wife, a sister, a friend, a mentor, a hard worker…she was beautiful. It is still hard for me to reconcile all of this.

It did make me think though, of life and of death, and how we grow up knowing there is a beginning and an end to this thing we call life…what do we tell our kids about this? When do we? In the midst of my grief I found discussing this with my kids painful. They don’t understand yet, the pain that comes with that level of loss. Part of me just wanted to shield them from it entirely. But death is part of life…perhaps I will have better answers or advice on this subject when the pain has lessened.

After all…in this life, 2 things are certain….

The Home Stretch

written November 2015

 

This waiting stuff is killing me.

We filed 2 adoption petitions on October 19th, for both Four and Five, and it’s like watching Looney Toons. You know, the one where the on character is leaking gunpowder from the acme cannon, and its following them right to the pile of explosives. That’s exactly what this feels like. The waiting. Waiting for MD to be served the papers that will forever end her reign of terror. Waiting for the court date. Waiting for the phone messages and texts calling us every name in the book.

I mean, who do we think we are to voluntarily raise 5 kids, 1 of which has zero biological relationship to either of us? Who do I think I am taking in 3 kids as my own. And don’t be mistaken, they are mine just like the others.

Journey to Chaos Island

Well, we’re on our way to the final showdown. Visited with our local attorney to begin the adoption paperwork. He made it sound like it’s no big deal, but he’s not sitting where we are. I’m acutely aware of the storm headed our way. It’s big and ugly and cares nothing for the living beings in its way.

We’re filing for both Four and Five’s adoptions. Four as a step parent adoption and Five as a full adoption for Husband and I. Five has decided she also wants a new name and has it all picked out. Soon her new life with our crazy family will be permanent, and I will officially become a mom, with my name on their birth certificates forever.

In the meantime, I’m gathering what’s left of my strength, trying to remember to breathe, praying for enough sleep so I have the mental capacity to handle what is coming. I’m hoping for the best, but bracing myself for the worst. It’s a high wire act that I feel as though I am not quite prepared for. But I better be.

One last appearance from Karma is all I need, before this last journey into this all too familiar battlefield is complete.