Trauma is a kiddo melting down while at the happiest place on earth. Shriveled up in a ball, body shaking, crying so hard it hurts his head, burns his throat, and makes him nauseous. Trauma is the scariest thoughts or feelings at the most inconvenient of times. It looks like a foster kiddo peeing his pants in fear at the sight of a police officer because that police officer reminds him of that one time his dad beat his mom, almost to death, and as a result, he lives with strangers. It’s having to immediately pull the car off the freeway because the siren of a passing ambulance triggered unbelievable anxiety and fear for the 7 year old that moments before was playing legos in peace. Trauma is the child that stands over my bed at 3am, making sure I haven’t left him. Trauma is that child that asks me hundreds of times all throughout the day if we have enough food. “What’s for breakfast?” “What if I want more” “Will there be milk?” “Will we have snacks?” “What kind of snacks?” “What’s for lunch?” “Mom, did we have dinner? I can’t remember!!!” Trauma is the child that’s scared to leave my arms at school because she doesn’t know if she’ll ever see me again. Trauma is a child calling me “Mom” after only knowing me for hours. It’s a child begging me to stay forever, after less than a week in my home. Trauma is the girl that screams all throughout the night, haunted in her sleep by god knows what and we hold her and rub her back and we pray for the nightmares to end. God, why won’t they end? 😫 Trauma is a little girl living with strangers because her parents sold her to pay for basic things that you and I take for granted. It’s ordering a seatbelt cutter off of Amazon, hoping it arrives the same day, while holding a precious young teen who is experiencing suicidal ideation because their world feels too heavy for them. Trauma is mean and ugly and raw. It rocks its victims to their core, taking their breath away, stealing their feelings of safety, security, warmth and love. It’s a kindergartener throwing chairs at his teacher, ripping posters and artwork off the walls of the classroom, destroying everything he can because he’s angry… his emotions are too big for him and he doesn’t know where these feelings are coming from or how to deal with them. It is that child that pushes me so far to see how I’ll respond because everyone before now dumped him off at the social worker’s office when things got hard. Trauma is the child that arrives at my house in the middle of the night, reeking of cigarettes and urine. “Hi, my name is ____________. The kids call me ___________ or ___________. Are you hungry? Here’s your bed, here’s the bathroom, here’s your jammies, this bear is yours. Do you want a hug? Can I rub your back?” It’s a child acting out on a family vacation because in his last placement, he was moved again to another strange family’s house immediately following a family vacation…just when he was starting to feel at home. It is that child that hoards food so bad you find a stash of fermented shelf unstable food under their bed along with ants. It’s is trying to breath through your mouth and act as nonjudgemental as possible while you clean up a child that made themselves vomit. It is crying into your pillow for one minute after bathing a child that responded with such terror and horror at the sight of a shower / bath. As if they were in severe danger. It is hearing a child say they’ve never had a bed before. It’s is muttering “efff it” and giving the kids their favorite cereal for dinner because they’ve had a shit day… and you did too… and you’re not about to make them eat another one of your “healthy” paleo experiments… and besides, you didn’t have time to pick up groceries on your designated shopping day because the school called 6 times and you had to go deal with a kid getting expelled from school, and work sucked and “did I pay those bills yet?” and the house doesn’t meet your cleanliness standards, there are 12 loads of laundry that need to be done, 4 beds that need to be made because the kids had accidents, and you are tired and angry and empty and wondering “why am I doing this? I miss my care free life. And traveling. And reading novels in a nice quiet bath.” It is watching a child flinch because even though you were only redirecting their negative behavior, they were expecting you to hurt them physically… because that’s what they are accustomed to. It is checking your teen girl’s tablet to make sure she’s not at risk for trafficking. Checking her wrists and legs to make sure she’s not using her shaving razor to cut. It is stripping a baby down after a visit with their birth family to check for marks on their body, praying to god there are no burn marks, bruises or signs of abuse from the 3 hour unsupervised visit they returned from. Trauma is relentless; unpredictable emotions, uncontrollable feelings, flashbacks, distractions, grogginess. It is a random recipe of self preservation, hyper-vigilance and dissociation. It is deep emotional scars that affect learning, relationships and growth. Trauma is trying to ground yourself in the midst of a panic attack that creates such intense physiological symptoms, that you think you are dying. But you’re not. And you know it; you just have to push through it. Keep going.
Trauma is processing events with a professional and seeking guidance so as not to trigger our kiddos.
Trauma is an invisible wound. Purveyor of billions of dollars in research, services, billable hours. It is an overwhelming amount of booze and pills and habits that would break your mother’s heart. It is shame and lust. It is begging for mercy. It is trying to keep it all together. It is the kid that’s hardest to love and bond with. It fuels burnout, making this foster life so difficult.
I was told by one of my kids’ therapists this week, “You should consider seeing a therapist just for yourself. The things you witness and experience as a caregiver for kids with trauma may be creating your own trauma.” I laughed because realistically where am I going to find that kind of time in my INSANE (ly wonderful life) and because there is some truth to what she’s saying. BUT instead, I bought a subscription to Sirius XM Satellite Radio so I can listen to the comedy station non stop in my car…. because laughing is cheaper than therapy. And it’s fun. And because trauma is sometimes avoidant coping. We laugh, we smile, we tell the world everything is fine … even when it’s not. Even when we are choking up water from the sea we are drowning in. It’s okay.
Trauma has made my kids resilient. They bounce back. They are tough as hell. They are brave and funny little warriors who understand far more pain than the average human being. They crack jokes at moments that would bring another to their knees. But not my kids.