A friend advised that I should write down my experiences with FAE (fetal alcohol effect). The fact is, I never tagged these experiences to a cause.....it was all a big puzzle until I learned more about this condition and only then did things start to fit and make sense.
Eleven years ago, almost to the day, I met a delightful six year old boy. His name was Aaron. He was a very small boy, very affectionate, and full of energy. He was being raised by his grandma, having been abandoned by his mother when he was just 18 months old. Since I was only visiting the UK for a very short time, I did not get to know Aaron very well as a person until four years latter when his grandmother passed away. It was at this time that Aaron's behaviours began to build this unsolvable puzzle in my mind. At age 10, Aaron still was very small, physically and in maturity he was more like a 5-6 year old. He was behind in school, though I wouldn't fully know the extent for another year, when he came to live with us in the USA. One thing I noted was this small boy was ALWAYS getting into trouble, often for the same things, with the same consequences. I passed it off as due to being abandoned at a young age, the loss of his grandmother, the subtle cruelties at the hands of a step-grandfather that wanted nothing to do with him. It wasn't an easy life, even if Aaron had been a normal child with a typical history. It was also during this trip that I met Aaron's two living brothers, Dominic, who had been in and out of fostercare, a trouble maker and frequent runaway and Timmy, who at the time I considered probably in a worse state than Aaron, who is the only child who remained with his mother. I noted at that time that even though Tim was not much younger than Aaron, he appeared physically and mentally to be much younger than he was. There was much debate on what was going to happen to Aaron. Jerry, his step-grandfather, who he called dad said he couldn't stay, there wan't a place for Aaron in his life now. Rachel, his biological mother, couldn't handle him and did not want him....no one wanted him but us, and a family neighbor of VERY questionable reputation. Terry (my husband) refused to let him go to the neighbor, but there was much to consider as we had three very young children at this point, one of which was severely disabled AND we lived in another country. For a few months we even thought about staying in the UK. It was only about a week before we were due to come home after a three month stay that Terry's youngest sister said she would give it a try with Aaron, so thinking all was well and settled we flew back to the USA.
It was probably a good thing that Emma had taken Aaron, even if it was just for a short time, because a couple months after we got back to the USA and found a place to live, just barely big enough for us and three small children we discovered I was pregnant with our youngest, who desided to arrive 6 weeks ahead of schedule....it was seriously the shortest pregnancy ever because I did not know I was pregnant for several months because I was breastfeeding Mark and had not had a period since he was born. A couple weeks before Chloe arrived Emma had been calling us frequently having a lot of trouble with Aaron. He was rude, disrespectful and abusive to her two little girls. It was desided that he had to come here, because it was either that or foster care. He arrived on the last day of February 2005, just two weeks after Chloe was born and just a day or two before Chloe became critically ill with RSV. Now we were parenting 5 children, crowded into a tiny 2 bedroom apartment. Me in and out day and night to the PICU where my baby was fighting for her life. BUT this was the easy part. Aaron was new to our family, new to this country. He was home schooling since there was not much point in trying to get him into school for the last quarter, and we were not seeing the behaviours that Aaron had displayed in England. I HOPED we were making a difference, that Aaron truly wanted to make a change and we had given him the chance at something good. After a couple weeks Chloe came home and things began to settle down and we desided we better start looking for some place to live that would accomodate our large family. In May we found a nice 4 bedroom rental on a 1 acre horse property, put down a deposit and moved in. The honeymoon was over....
Life with ODD (oppositional defiance disorder)
Things started to deteriorate just when I thought they should start falling into place. We had space, Aaron got his own room, and many things that he never had before in his life, nice clothes, food always in the cupboards, a game station....a family. He also got, rules, structure and responsibility. I don't think we asked a lot of Aaron, at eleven he should have been able to handle keeping up with school work, keeping his room tidy, taking care of his laundry and helping with dishes (we had a dish washer and in England he was required to wash dishes by hand every night). I was worried about him being so behind in school, so I registered him into 6th grade rather than 7th (junior high) because from my assesments of the work he was doing with me, he was not even passing fourth grade work, but at 12 years old now, I could not really put him into the fourth grade. At mid term barely more than a month after school started I was called into conference with his teacher, who was concerned with the effort Aaron was making. It was both of our opinion that Aaron was capable of doing better, but he just wasn't putting forth the effort....on top of that the teacher warned me that Aaron was not choosing the best in the way of friendships, at this point I was just happy that he was actually making friends, but we were keeping a close eye on the situation.
Every night became a constant battle to get home work done that Aaron said he didn't know how to do, mostly math, and much of it very basic and the same thing night after night. Aaron was also constantly getting interested in different activities. First was horse ridding. Our landlady offered to make a trade with him. If he helped clean stalls/pastures, he could ride her horses....it lasted 1 week. Then Karate, that lasted long enough for us to pay an enrolment fee, for a uniform and equipment, then he quite because a girl in his class was a higher rank than him. Then Basket Ball, but his team didn't win and three games later he wasn't interested any more. I was at a loss for his lack of motivation in following through with anything no matter the reward at the end, he would start and then suddenly it wasn't worth it to him any more especially if it involved hard work. Halloween came around and even though he was a little old for Trick or Treat, it was something he had not gotten to do before, so we encouraged him, bought him and expensive costume and then took all the kids around the neighborhood and everyone got plenty of candy. Aaron was allowed to take his in his room, but since our kids were all tiny, we dumped it all into our big candy jar which we kept on top of the fridge and the little ones would get a limited amount each day. It was only a few days before I noticed that the jar was just about depleated and I had only given the kids a few peices (we are talking atleast 5 pounds of candy). I asked Aaron if he knew anything about it, but he claimed that he didn't. When he was at school the following day, I had to go into his room for some reason I can no longer recall. His room was a disaster, stunk terribly, and there were litterally hundreds of empty candy wrappers hidden in every conceivable place. Even when presneted with the evidence Aaron still denied having taken and eaten all the kids' halloween candy. Aaron was sentenced to #1 clean his entire room up, it would never be allowed to get into that state again and I would be performing weekly checks on it #2 he would do extra chores to earn money to buy the kids candy #3 he was grounded from the game station/tv/friends for 2 weeks. You would have though it was some great injustice done to him. School continued to be difficult, but we were persistant in sitting down with him nightly to complete his work, having conferences with his teacher frequently. I admit now that probably my biggest mistake was letting him still hang out with these friends, who were manipulative and tended to be trouble makers. They were his only friends and I thought it would be worse to isolate him.
Aaron's first Christmas with us came. We went all out as this was the first christmas he would have a real Christmas, money just had not been available to buy nice gifts while he was in England, not to mention, granddad was quite selfish and would much rather spend what little they had on his own hobbies. I remember we spent more money on gifts for Aaron than we spent on our own four little ones combined. But none of it meant anything to Aaron. There was no appreciation, no pride of ownership. It wasn't that he did not like his gifts, he just did not value them and at the same time felt he was entitled to them.
Life continued to become increasingly difficult. After the new year Terry and I had gone out somewhere, I don't remember where, but Aaron had been left at home for a very short time. When we came home, to our RENTED house, we found the brick fireplace vandalized, sprayed with clear aerolsol and it read Aaron. When questioned, Aaron denied having anything to do with it. We handed Aaron a bucket of soapy water and a scrub brush and sponge...it was no use, it would not come off, not with all the recommended solutions and we ended up haveing to purchase a belt sander and grind it off the bricks. I think the several days work in cleaning up the grafitti was a slight wake up call as Aaron was on his bes behaviour for several weeks following that insident. Long enough that he was not grounded any more and was allowed out with his friends, under conditions that he would retunr home no later than 7:00pm. He strolled home friends in tow at around 8:05 pm. Terry was angry and with a hand resting on the back of Aaron's neck swiftly escorted him into the house after he boldly asked to be allowed out for the rest of the night with his friends. His friends proceded to shout obsenities at us and yelled to Aaron that he could not be treated in such a maner. At around quarter to nine there was a knock on the door. It was several police officers who have been called because a boy was being physically abused. They asked to see Aaron after speaking to us about the insident and found no evidence that Aaron had ever been mishandled or mistreated and they left. Once again Aaron found himself grounded, most specifically from these friends. The lying and stealing continued to be an issue, especially because Aaron was well aware that what he was stealing would not have been denied him if he had asked, but he refussed to ask for things before taking them then lie about having done so even when he was caught litterally in the act. A week later CPS turned up, stating that Aaron had told the school councelor that Terry was beating him senseless. I will not deny that Terry had spanked Aaron when he had exhausted every other means of discapline both of us could think of, but Aaron was never abused, and he was never "beaten". After speaking with us and privately to Aaron the worker let us know that she was closing the case as unsubstantiated, that she did not believe that Aaron was being abused and that we were doing our best. She recommended that maybe Aaron needed counceling, which he flew off the handle about and refused all together. Things settled down over the following week and into the next.
Failing Aaron to save my own.
I don't remember where we had to step out to, I just remember it was only for a few moments. The baby was asleep so I asked Aaron if he minded looking after the little ones for no more than 10 minutes while we ran this errand. The nightmare that unfolded will always be in my mind. We returned home to a terrified and screaming two year old saying that Aaron was chasing her with a knife. When Terry walked into the kitchen he noticed the largest butcher knife was half way out of the block and Aaron close by with wide eyes. That was it for me. There was no asking him as I knew he would deny it all. My kids safety had to come first and this adolecent was now a danger and a threat to them. He had to go, or I had to go and take the little ones. Aaron knew this was the end, the last straw. We started looking at flights and calling family in England as we prepaired to send Aaron back to England. He cried, he knew where he had come from and what he was going back to. My heart was breaking because I failed this child, but could not fail my other children. Lastly we spoke to my family, who all had grown fond of Aaron and all cared deeply for him, and some could not believe what a challenge Aaron was for us. My parents, in the end said that they wanted to give Aaron a chance to stay. That maybe with them where he would be the youngest child, different culture, background and parenting tactics and over all experience with 8 prior adolecents that he could do well with them. The next week, Aaron went to live with them five blocks away, and to a new school.
Like when Aaron first came to us things went very well at first.