Really Sherific!

It’s really spooky. Sometimes when reading Sheri’s blog posts, I feel like she is inside my head and reading my thoughts. It is true that we both have adopted children who are diagnosed with FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome), and perhaps that is the reason her words could be mine.

This week’s interview is a bit longer than usual, but I believe Sheri’s words carry such feeling and wisdom, and that we all will be changed just by reading them. And don’t forget to visit Sheri’s blog, Ain’t That Sherific.

Tell us a little about yourself and your family.

My name is alternately Sheri, mom, mommy, hey you, and lady. I have a degree in elementary education, yet decided that preschool is more for me. I have worked in the largest childcare facility in my county for 18 years. I am the wife to a wonderful stay-at-home husband, the mother to one adopted son, Dustin 13, who has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, the mother to 2 home-grown kids, McCartney 4 and Harrison 6, and the caretaker to a dog, a Macaw, an African Grey parrot, a cat and a rabbit.

Robert and I adopted Dustin after fostering him for 2 years. He was our first foster son and boy-o-boy did we learn a multitude of things in a very short time.

We learned that love doesn’t fix everything, that we were have to be our sons biggest advocate, that sometimes choosing your battles is the only way to survive, that laughter truly is the best medicine, stopping-up the bathroom sink upstairs will make it rain in the dining room and a cat doesn’t really like to be stuck down your child’s pajama pants.

Tell me more about child’s disability. Did you know when you first agreed to foster him that he had a disability? If not, how did you feel when you discovered it?

Dustin came to us at the age of six. We were “fresh” to foster parenting and they told me on the phone that he needed a family that wasn’t “tarnished”. Later I decided that meant that a family who actually knew what they were doing probably would’ve said no. I knew he had FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) yet he came with a longer list of disorders. Pretty much any and all abbreviations you could have were stuck behind his name on that placement agreement. We wanted so badly to “parent” and provide a child with a home we were willing to try. Dustin had been in 9 previous placements in a short 2 year period. He had been “dumped” more times than I care to think about. We promised his county worker and ourselves that we would be his family until he found a forever home. We had no intention of being that home, but God works in mysterious ways.

When I found out that Dustin’s issues were a product of his mother’s drinking while pregnant I was angry. I struggle daily forgiveness and acceptance. I hate this disorder. I hate what it means for my family and my child. I hate that I cannot hire a babysitter to have a nice dinner with my husband. I hate that I have to think about the bleak future I see for my son. I hate it and yet I am filled with love for this little boy who didn’t ask for this. He didn’t ask to be born with a hole in his brain. He didn’t ask to be physically abused by a parade of boyfriends in and out of his house as a toddler. He didn’t ask to be shuffled around from foster home to foster home. He didn’t ask to be thrown out when he was “bad”. He didn’t ask for this life.

He simply wants to be loved and safe and happy.

You blog a lot about your son’s issues, and that is so valuable to me and I’m sure, to others that read your blog. How did you go about making the decision to blog about him? What do you personally get out of blogging about him and his issues?

One of the main reasons I started blogging was Robert nagged me. I really didn’t think I had anything to say that people would want to read (and still not so sure I do), but the reason I continued was Kari over at Thoughts Preserved. She found me one day and left me a message that we are not alone in this struggle with FAS. Through that post I found many other blogs of families like mine. It held my attention. It furthered discussion of our own issues. It helps in a way nothing else has. It is my best therapy.

All that being said, we are wickedly alone. We have no Personal Care Attendants like they do in Minnesota and other states. We have no other families around us that we can talk with, fret with and help to support. We have no babysitter for Dustin other than my mother. No one else can deal with him. While Kari so fortunately “has people”, we do not. Blogging is “my people”.

I say all this not to have a bunch of comments of sympathy. I say this to say that even though I feel alone because of FAS, I am certain others feel alone with children of differing disabilities. Reach out to someone. Email them. Comment on their blog. Give a mother an understanding look when she is struggling with her kids in the grocery store. Let them know you understand, laugh with them.

Most importantly, look at them differently. It is so easy to assume the parents are at fault for a child who is behaving badly. . . give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they are on their last shred of patience. Maybe they want to chuck it all. Maybe they go home and cry because they are alone in their child’s disability.

I know I do sometimes. . .

How has your son’s disability affected you as a person and as a mother?
What did you do right? What do you wish you had done differently?

Dustin’s disability has definitely made me stronger. It has forced me to seek out information and differing parenting techniques. It has forced me to be an advocate for him since no one else could. It has drawn Robert and me together in a way that nothing else could. We fight with him, for him and about him. Our world revolves around constant vigilance and supervision.

Having Dustin has made me look at the world in a different way. In one respect it has made me more aware of the “ugliness” the world has to offer. The ugliness that allows mother’s to drink while pregnant, the ugliness of mother’s allowing others to harm your child in your own home, and the ugliness of some aspects of foster care. In another respect we have seen ugliness in people’s reactions to our son and his behavior, the ugliness of expectations the school has had of him complying with “general education” standards, and the ugliness of misunderstanding even within our own extended families when it comes to “what is best” for Dustin and our choices in dealing with him. We can also experience the ugliness in ourselves when we have “reached our limit” in dealing with the daily struggles that life with Dustin comes with. It is those time when having a supportive spouse and a committed father is absolutely a god-send. We have learned when it is time to “tag-team” Dustin.

Thankfully having Dustin has also opened us up to a whole new world of kindness. I have experienced the kindness of another mother in a restaurant who gives you that “knowing” look and a kind smile when he is wailing about something. I have seen how he touches people and how his story has changed someone’s perception about the world of a moderately handicapped child.

I have experienced the kindness and patience of his teachers and his administrators who deal with his issues daily. The kindness of the ones who have a true heart for the moderately handicapped child and truly give all they have on a daily basis and still can give a parent encouragement and praise.

I have unfortunately experienced the kindness of behavioral hospital staff who take care of your baby when you cannot keep him safe from himself. Those staff who know it is not the fault of bad parenting that your child needs their services.

I have also seen the kindness of my husband in his dealing with Dustin. He is so very patient and determined to give Dustin the best possible life.

I have also felt the kindness of families like my own and some who are learning about families like ours who have commented on this blog and others. These words of encouragement and advice mean more than you can know.

We often say that Dustin’s saving grace is his kindness. We have been touched by the kindness and acceptance from a child who has been “forsaken” by many other adults in his life. He loves us unconditionally. He trusts. For that we are truly blessed.

What do you want other parents fighting the same fight to know?

You are not alone, it may be scary and frustrating and crappy, but you are not alone.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Once when Dustin was hospitalized, our psychiatrist apologized to us. He said, “I am sorry! I had no idea what you are dealing with on a daily basis.” I began to cry and said, “I feel like a failure every night hen I lay my head on the pillow.” He said, “If you do not feel like a failure you probably are. You will never feel like a success with a child like this, you just have to know you are doing the best you can.” I have held onto that comment for years.

Deborah can be found writing here at 5MFSN every Sunday and Wednesday, and can also be found at Pipecleaner Dreams.

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