Thursday, April 09, 2015

Unfinished stories and second chances

We sat in a dark booth near the back of the restaurant. A single bowl of seafood gumbo between us. Two spoons. Two unopened packets of crackers. The rain outside matched how we were feeling.

I stared at my utensils wrapped in a black napkin. It was as if I couldn't remember what I was supposed to be doing. Tim reached his hand across the table and gently laid it on my hand. I was shaking. I looked up into his eyes. My pain was reflected there. Mixed with many other feelings.

I was holding my breath. I think he did, too. I felt all of those feelings work their way to the pit in my stomach. And I just held them there. I was trying very hard to hold it together. But I felt like I should be spilling all over the restaurant. I could actually visualize myself falling apart. I wanted to scream. I wanted to cry. I wanted to yell until someone would listen. Until someone would help us.

I still want to do all of those things.

I want someone else to stand with us and proclaim that this isn't fair. That what we're experiencing at the hands of an organization whose mission is "Protecting Children by Strengthening Families" is anything but protective or strengthening.

Tim worked until 2:30 this morning. He slept for a couple of hours. Then he got up, packed lunches, got three people out the door for school and work. Then he went back to bed. He's done this three days in a row now. He set his alarm and got up around 11:25 a.m. He jumped in the shower and had planned to pick me up for a quick lunch date.

When he got out of the shower, he had a cryptic message from the social worker who was assigned Isaiah's case. It was actually addressed to Isaiah's therapist.

Isaiah is being moved to a facility out of state on Monday.

We have submitted three formal requests over the last month to have a meeting with the transition team at FCCS. Three independent professionals (including Isaiah's therapist and the psychologist that conducted Isaiah's most recent psych eval) have recommended that Isaiah be kept close to his family. There are two group homes in our county that are willing to take Isaiah. One of them is in our school district. He could finish school where he started.

Instead, Isaiah is being moved to a facility four hours away.

There are other details. There has been some maneuvering by FCCS behind the scenes that is counter to the mission of the organization.

I want to be very clear here. We have met some GREAT people who work for FCCS. We have good friends who work for FCCS. However, none of those great people were assigned our case. We are not being treated as if there is a desire to strengthen our family. And now, all of our work toward reunification is being undermined. For what? Why? What can be done?

Tim dropped Esther-Faith, Isaac, and me off at church early on Sunday. He gave me a quick kiss and left to pick up Isaiah for the day. While I was brushing and braiding Esther-Faith's hair, Tim's parents (the kids call them Nana and Poobah) arrived. There were hugs and kisses and lots of pleasantries.

We settled into our seats while the music started. A children's choir. An adult choir. A special music guest. And then the music... So much music. A medley of all the Easter songs my dad used to sing. I could hear his voice in my soul.

When everyone stands to sing, Esther-Faith likes me to stay sitting next to her. I never mind doing that. She usually leans into me and watches the people around us. We were sitting there, singing, snuggling. The song was about second chances. About the story not being over.

My tears spilled into Esther-Faith's hair. I couldn't even stop myself from crying. I tried.

My mind flashed back a couple of months to when my oldest son had a major breakthrough in therapy. As one friend said, those breakthroughs come with their own set of issues--and Isaiah's did--but we celebrated that breakthrough. He's still working through the aftermath of that. Wrapping his brain around the implications. Struggling to make positive choices when he's still in a place that isn't necessarily the most conducive to personal growth.

Have I mentioned the therapist? Isaiah has the best that there is. Say what you will about "these kind" of residential treatment centers, and "these kids." Isaiah has the best therapist.

I closed my eyes, let the memory wash over me, and I gave thanks for unfinished stories. And second chances. I heard that therapist's voice in my head, "Do you have a minute to talk?" I remember telling him that Isaac was in the car with me. His voice pregnant with unspoken words, he said it needed to be a private conversation. I turned off the sync and picked up my phone.

"First I need you to know that Isaiah is okay," the therapist started. His voice cracked. Something wasn't okay. "I have him sitting right here," he continued. "He wants to talk to you." I remember forcing myself to just listen. Don't react. Don't react. Don't react.

I felt Isaac's eyes boring into the side of my face. Don't react.

"Okay," I said. "I'd love to talk to him."

The therapist continued, "Before I put him on the phone, you need to know that he's okay. He had a breakthrough, and it was a lot for him to deal with."

Don't react. Don't react. Don't react.

"He talked about some really hard stuff and he's been writing you a letter all week."

Please God. Give this therapist the strength to keep helping my son.

"He was picked on by some boys on the unit. He struggled with redirection from some staff. Then he went into his room, frantically finished the letter to you, locked himself in his bathroom, and he tried to hang himself."

Dear God. Oh, my God.

At this point, I couldn't react. I was shocked. Frantic. And holding every bit of myself together so that Isaac couldn't read anything on my face.

My voice shook and cracked when I asked to speak to my son.

"He's okay, Karin" the therapist said. He hardly ever uses my name. "His roommate suspected something and alerted staff. Two men broke down the door and cut him down."

"I need to hear him," I said. "I need to hear his voice."

"Mom?" Isaiah. Oh, my God. His voice. His voice. His voice. His voice. "Mom, I'm okay."

"I love you, Isaiah. I love you. I love you."

The tears. The ache. The frenetic desire for him to know that he is loved.

"I know, mom," he said. "I love you, too. So much. I'm sorry. I'm okay."

"Isaiah," I said, not even attempting to conceal anything. My voice shaking. Tears pouring. "I love you. Never forget that."

"I know, mom," he said. "I know that. I'm okay."

And he handed the phone back to his therapist. We talked for a bit. There are obviously details that I'm leaving out. Bigger conversations. The admission that led to him feeling that suicide was the only way out. But Isaiah has given me permission to share this bit of his story. He said, "If one person can learn that there are other ways out, it is worth it."

I love that boy. He has changed my life. My heart. Everything.

The tears trickled into Esther-Faith's hair on Easter morning as I allowed myself to be thankful for unfinished stories and second chances. The song changed. The choir left the stage. Esther-Faith continued to snuggle.

Just then, there was a commotion as my oldest son stepped around the pillar into our row. I sat Esther-Faith up and wrapped my arms around that boy. He held on tight. A smile spread across his furry face. I kissed his bearded cheek. He bent over and hugged his sister. Then he wrapped me up again.

Since Christmas, that is how it's been. Real, genuine hugs. Ten years of waiting for those hugs, and now they are easy.

And now those hugs will be four hours away.

This breakthrough has opened the gates for many more visits home and into the community. Many more opportunities to be together has a family.

Yesterday during family therapy, we arranged for a family visit on Sunday. At the time, we thought he might be placed at a group home here in the county and would be able to start playing sports and running track again. So, we asked if we could take him to a metro park for a run. Tim runs pretty frequently and I've started a running program. Isaiah was ecstatic about running with us. So were we.

During therapy Isaiah gave me a letter he wrote to me. He also gave me a letter for a good friend who has kept in touch with him. He working on appropriate tone and language. He's doing a good job. The letter he wrote to me says...

Mom, Hey! Thanks for letting me come to Easter with you and the family. I loved being a real part of the family. Here on the Kauffman unit, we don't have a mother to love and to be thankful for. We barely have any respect for each other.  That's why I am thankful that I have you. I now realize that all the work and dedication you provided helped me out. I can't wait to earn my points so that I can come over and hang out with you guys. I've learned a lot, about how a family's supposed to work. I really miss you. Thank you for listening to me on the phone. I know that I don't always know what to say and sometimes I can be rude, too. I can't wait to leave Pomegranate because it's one step closer to home.  I love you and can't wait to see you again. Thanks for believing in me, too. I won't disappoint you. Love ya! Love, Isaiah.  

Then, today happened.

We're scared. Isaiah has told us (and anyone who will listen) that he plans to run away from anywhere that isn't close to his family and friends.

He didn't call me today (it's a call day). I can't imagine what he's feeling knowing that I won't be minutes away. That he won't be minutes away from us.

But as Tim and I sit here and try to process the events of today, we're reminded that the God we serve is really a God of second chances. And today, I'm thankful for unfinished stories and second chances.

© 2015 Karin Shirey Henn, all rights reserved. 
Copyright notice: All content, including writings, artwork, photographs, or videos, posted on this blog is original to Karin Shirey Henn and the HennHouse unless otherwise stated and may not be reproduced without permission.

Monday, March 30, 2015

From the archives--March, 2010.... Dancing

As the kids prepare for their second dance recital in about two-and-a-half months, I thought I would share a post from five years ago before there were formal lessons and the dancing was just in our living room.

We still dance in the living room, but the contrast from then to now is striking.



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Dads and daughters...

That is such a loaded phrase. For some, with nostalgia, emotion, happiness. For others, regret, anger, loss. But there is no mistaking it, dads and daughters have special relationships. Different than moms and daughters. Or dads and sons. Those are great relationships, too. But dads and daughters? Special. Very special.

We had been home from the hospital for two weeks. She was recovering nicely, but I felt like she needed to be pushed. Prodded. Encouraged. To get back into some of the things that she seemed reluctant to do. She lost a lot of weight and strength while she was hospitalized. I wanted her to get some back. So, I pushed her to keep trying. And honestly, she was doing great. But the one obstacle was the braces. The waistband for the twister cables sits right on two of her incision sites. She had them on at the hospital before the final surgery and it hurt. A lot. She was more than reluctant to try again.

Two weeks after her third surgery, I implored her to put them on. Just to try. She was adamant that it wasn't going to happen. She can be a very persuasive child. So, she does what she does when she doesn't want to do what I'm suggesting. She negotiates. Girl can hold her own. Let me give you an example:

Me: "Esther-Faith, would you like to have broccoli or green beans for dinner?"

Esther-Faith: "I think I'm going to have itty-bitty marshmallows."

Me: "Esther-Faith, would you like to have broccoli or green beans for dinner?"

Esther-Faith: "I think I'm going to have applesauce."

Me: "Esther-Faith, would you like to have broccoli or green beans for dinner?"

Esther-Faith: "I think I'm going to have tomato soup."

Ad infinitum.

As it turns out, she lost NONE of her negotiation skills while hospitalized.

But neither did her Mama.

So, on February 19, we compromised. After the back and forth of the "would you like to's" and the "I think I'm going to's," we came to the compromise that she would put her braces on when daddy got home from work. Only if she could get into the learning tower.

I texted him that I thought I was losing the battle. That I wasn't sure she would ever want to put them on again. I told him of our compromise. He loved it. Daddy as the reward.

Daddy got home from work, changed his clothes, and HE started to try to negotiate. Knowing that it was already determined that she WOULD put them on, he switched tactics and asked if she wanted to sit or stand while wearing the braces. She ignored the question instead saying, "I think I'll use my wheelchair." And round and round it went until we convinced her to try.

Once in her braces, it was if she had lost no time. She wandered the house, chasing the cat, emptying shelves, reaching for things on the counter. Climbing, falling, standing, walking.

It was a beautiful sight. There were many tears at the HennHouse. I took her picture and texted it to Kate and my mom and a couple of friends and anyone who I thought would appreciate the accomplishment as much as I did.

Then she did that thing she does with Tim. I would call it batting her eyelashes, but she doesn't really do that. It is more of a WAY she asks him something. And he really can't say no. EVER. If she wanted to paint the ceiling pink and she asked him the right way, he would find a way to convince me to paint the ceiling pink.

But that day, she walked over to him in her braces and simply asked him to dance. I'm not sure a whole second of time passed before they were out on the "dance floor" grooving to Mahalia Jackson. She would instruct him to tip from side to side, and he would do it. She would instruct him to jump, and he would do it. She would instruct him to swing her around, and he would do it. Song after song played, and they danced the night away.

At one point, she set one of her little feet onto Tim's toes, and she stepped her other foot onto his other toes. My memory flashed decades back to when I used to dance with my dad the same way. I looked at Tim's face. And he was happy. Truly happy. He laughed. She giggled. They danced.

It was one of those moments that I'm sure will be seared into my memory for a very long time.

Tim is a smart person. It wasn't lost on him what was happening. She was holding onto him, not the wall or her walker or a chair. Him. So, he started to let her hands go. One at a time. They would scream "TA-DA!" and then he would grab her hand again. She was so into the music and the dancing that eventually, when he let go of both of her hands, she didn't realize it right away. She just danced. It was truly amazing. He stepped back and let her dance. She lost her balance a little bit and reached for him--almost taking a step toward him in the process.

Watching your kids take their first steps is one of those iconic moments in parenting. The toddling and falling. But we haven't had that moment with any of our kids. It was emotional the first time she walked with her walker. And the first time she walked holding onto us. But holding onto nothing? It hasn't happened yet. That night, though, I could finally see what Kate saw in her dream. That she WILL do it someday. She will take those unassisted steps. And I will look on through the tears that represent all that she has been through. And all the anticipation of the years of waiting.

© 2015 Karin Shirey Henn, all rights reserved. 
Copyright notice: All content, including writings, artwork, photographs, or videos, posted on this blog is original to Karin Shirey Henn and the HennHouse unless otherwise stated and may not be reproduced without permission.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Do what you love

© 2014 Karin Shirey Henn, all rights reserved. 
Copyright notice: All content, including writings, artwork, photographs, or videos, posted on this blog is original to Karin Shirey Henn and the HennHouse unless otherwise stated and may not be reproduced without permission.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Overheard at the HennHouse

You can always tell when "Ranger Rick" is delivered...

During nighttime prayers, Esther-Faith prayed, "Thank you for my dog Angel because she is so cute and a lot of fun and I hope we get to go to Africa so she can ride on an elephant. With grownups to keep her safe, of course."

And when you're married to someone who has seen just about all that humanity has too offer, he finds humor in the littlest things. Tonight as Tim discovered that his new pajama pants have a back pocket... "No way!!! I can wear these to court! Put my wallet in the back and everything!" (And then he proceeded to tell stories about what he's seen people wear (or not wear) to court.)

© 2015 Karin Shirey Henn, all rights reserved. 
Copyright notice: All content, including writings, artwork, photographs, or videos, posted on this blog is original to Karin Shirey Henn and the HennHouse unless otherwise stated and may not be reproduced without permission.

Friday, January 09, 2015

How to help a friend experiencing a prolonged crisis

I'm not going to lie to you, this past year has been very difficult. Exactly one year ago, my oldest son tried to kill me. The time between that moment and today has been filled with so much. So much progress. So many setbacks. So much hope. So much dismay. So much faith. So much heartache.

As we round the corner on this date, I refuse to call it an "anniversary." That word connotes celebration, and frankly, I'm not really celebrating that my son has not lived at home for a year. Here's what I am celebrating, though: progress, timing, placement.

Isaiah has made significant progress this year. Sure, there have been so many setbacks and concerns, but those feed into the progress that he's making. And this week, well folks, this week he had a breakthrough. It did not come easy--for him or for us. It was messy and horrifying and frightening and beautiful and exciting. Yes. All of those things all at the same time. But I will celebrate this breakthrough differently than the others, because this one opens the floodgates. This one allows him to make progress in the parts of his story that he has closed off for many, many years. And yes, I'm being cryptic and vague. I'm doing it on purpose. Because this has been hard. For him. And for us. And when he's ready, we'll tell the story of this week together. And believe me there are stories to tell. Horrifying, exciting, progress-filled stories.

This breakthrough came at exactly the right time for Isaiah. He struggles with time. With lost time and anxious time and future time. With being 18 and still being in a treatment facility. With seeing other kids come and go. He's impatient and closed off and frustrated. But this breakthrough broke down some walls. He's not quite seeing it the way we are yet, because he is overwhelmed and scared and ashamed. But he will get there. In his own way at the right time for him.

And I cannot say enough about the therapist Isaiah has been working with. This guy gets it. He gets our family dynamic. He gets the fierceness with which we love our son. He gets the tenacity of this kid's mom. He gets the complexity of Isaiah's story. He gets the walls and the anger and the frustration and the history. He just gets it. Are we major fans of the facility? No. Not really. But we are major fans of this therapist. We will always be grateful that he is in this place where our son is and that he was "assigned" his case. This guy is... I cannot even begin to tell you what this therapist has done for our family. For the HOPE he has renewed in Isaiah's treatment. I see people complain all the time about situations and therapists. We didn't have a choice here. Isaiah was placed and assigned. But folks, we won the freaking lottery.

Here's the deal, though. We're still in crisis. This week has been overwhelming. I know our situation is exhausting and so many of our close family and friends simply cannot grasp the severity or understand the stress our family has been under for the past year--and continues to be under. But this is what I've learned about helping a family experiencing a prolonged crisis, not based on what I want, but based on the love and kindness shown to our family.

Show up.
And keep showing up. A year is a long time to be in crisis. At the outset, we had so many offers of help and expressions of love. You know what? Those things have continued. People offering to hang out with the kids so that we can go to therapy with Isaiah. Colleagues. Former teachers. Friends of friends. And they didn't stop showing up. With help. Or hot chocolate. Or Christmas ale. Or time. Or love. For our whole family.

Be creative.
There have been times that I've hurt for Isaac and Esther-Faith. The time we miss with them when dealing with crises and breakthroughs. Isaac's best friend lives down the road, and I work with his mom (she's one of my closest friends). Randomly, his family will scoop up Isaac and take him to the library or bowling or to the movies. They have opened their home to him many times that he just needed an escape. They have given him a safe place to go and be to decompress from the stress in his own home. And go out of their way to help. Offering to drive Isaac home from youth group so I don't have to delay Esther-Faith's procedure. Stopping in to check on the kids. It seems that they have thought of what they would need, and just done it. In creative and unassuming ways.

My boss is a really smart cookie. She has mentored me in ways I didn't know I needed. I crave her advice and experience. And I work with some amazingly talented people. But the thing is, these people are also very, incredibly human. Some (most?) of them are probably reading this post right now. And on Monday, they will ask me how I'm doing. They will gently pry. They will slide the tissues across the desk when I well up. They will offer some anecdotes and painful stories from their own lives. They will laugh at the striking absurdity in mine. But they will ask. Hard questions. Not because they are nosy or gossips or prying people. They ask, because they genuinely care about me as a person--not just a colleague. This might apply only to our family, because we're such an open book. But you know your friends. You know if they need to talk. You know if they would welcome a question. But if you're my friend, and you want to know something, just ask.

Maybe you're just friends online, but that doesn't mean you can't support your friends in prolonged crisis. Sometimes when I write a bit of our story and put it out there, I have such fear and trepidation about how it will be received. Long ago I stopped writing with an audience in mind and I just write what is on my heart. It often spills onto the page in a disjointed and jumbled fashion. When I go back to read it, sometimes it doesn't even make sense to me. So, when I put it out there, I'm always so afraid that the point will be missed. (And it often is.) But some of the best support and advice has come from IRL friends turned online friends or online-only friends reaching across the miles through cyberspace with a verse or a line or a simple comment. I covet those.

If you're the praying type, and you have faith that those prayers are heard (we are), then don't just say you'll pray. Do it. Over and over and over and over again for your friends in crisis. Even if you don't know what is going on. I can tell you from experience that there have been days I've sat down to pray and I simply do not have the words, but I know someone somewhere has them. And they are using them on our behalf. If you don't know specifics, and you don't feel comfortable asking for details, don't skip that prayer. It will come to you. If you're not the praying type, don't think for a minute that "good vibes" or "positive thoughts" or whatever don't matter. These things matter. Just taking a minute of your day to think about and meditate for a friend in need is so valuable. These things--praying and thinking--for and about your friends are a sacrifice for you. A gift of your time. I know that. And I cannot tell you how many times I've felt resolved in a situation or confident in a moment--not of my own strength, but on the backs of many people's prayers and thoughts for our family.

I have more. Especially about how I've failed as a friend this year. I'll share as I feel comfortable, but this post is long enough. If you've been doing these things for my family, and you know who you are, I cannot begin to express how grateful we are. Especially this week. Especially today. We have a gratitude board at our house. The last couple of nights, Tim and I have been writing our little cards with your names. And as overwhelmed as we've been this week with circumstances, we are feeling the scale tip the other way with your love.

So, thank you. Whether you're holding my family or another family in your thoughts and prayers. Thank you.

© 2015 Karin Shirey Henn, all rights reserved. 
Copyright notice: All content, including writings, artwork, photographs, or videos, posted on this blog is original to Karin Shirey Henn and the HennHouse unless otherwise stated and may not be reproduced without permission.