Casey’s Comfort Pillow

Casey Photos 1991-96_0042I submitted this short personal essay to KQED-FM’s Perspective series which invites listeners to submit their 2 minute stories. They broadcast a couple I did a few years ago but lately I’ve been on a losing streak. After they turned this one down I listened to the essay they accepted about someone’s old cat. I didn’t get it. But sorry I don’t do “lite and breezy.” I write from the gut and go for something hopefully thought provoking and uplifting in the face of tragedy.

Unfortunately what I’m finding I suspect is that the general public doesn’t like the whole “suicide thing.” But when they let me tell the story or read the book they are totally enrolled.

So…

When you were a kid, what did you have to drag around with you all day and snuggle with at night? For me it was my Teddy bear.

For my daughter Casey, it was different. She had plenty of stuffed animals. There was Toucan, Plush Pink Piggy, Pooh Bear, Squeaky Doll, Bunny and an assortment of Beanie Babies. Like all kids, she’d play with them when she was little – having snacks, pretend tea, watching videos together – but at bedtime they were relegated to the foot of her bed.

Casey’s true constant companion was her goose down comfort pillow. My wife bought it for her just before we received her from a Polish orphanage where she’d spent the first year of her life. She was well cared for but missed the things that provide comfort to children who weren’t raised in an institution. She was never breast fed, probably wasn’t held nearly enough, and wasn’t allowed a pacifier for fear of spreading germs.

Casey had trouble self-soothing from sometimes crippling tantrums and meltdowns. So her comfort pillow was her prosthetic. On any given night we’d find her asleep in bed with that pillow over her face. She’d suck on it and rub it on the tip of her nose to calm herself down. During one of her meltdowns, she’d cry and scream into that pillow. My wife re-stuffed and re-covered it many times from all of the use it had gotten to sooth her well into her teen years.

But the pillow wasn’t enough. Eight years ago when Casey was 17, she took our car, drove to the Golden Gate Bridge, jumped and disappeared. She left her room behind neat as a pin with Toucan, Plush Pink Piggy, Pooh Bear, Squeaky Doll, Bunny, her Beanies and her comfort pillow, threadbare from use, carefully arranged on her bed.

Now her comfort pillow is my comfort pillow. I hug it and smell it but her scent is long gone. It’s all I have left of her. Meanwhile my own Teddy sits old and musty, worse for wear, hermetically sealed in a Rubbermaid container in my basement.

Casey Photos 1991-96_0047

NY Times The Ethicist Piece, March 6, 2016

Yesterday’s Sunday New York Times Ethicist column featured a piece titled “Should I Tell My Sister She’s Adopted?” The title alone was jarring to me. How can this even be a question in 2016? In short, the letter writer’s biological parents adopted a child, so the parents had a biological and adopted child. But the parents kept the adoption a secret and insisted that their biological daughter keep the secret as well, a terrible burden to impose on a child!

I wondered if this adoption had happened decades ago when these kinds of secrets were more commonplace. But it seemed as though the adoption happened more or less in current times.

The Times’ Ethicist responded in an overly long winded response that had little to do with the question until finally answering the writer’s question with a convoluted affirmative.

They could’ve just answered with one word: Yes!

UPCOMING RADIO EVENTS: MONDAY MAR 7 2-3PM KPFA-FM/94.1 AND MONDAY MAR 14 10-11AM KQED-FM/88.5.

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Please tune in for these upcoming radio events.

 

logoMonday Mar. 7 2-3PM on KPFA-FM/94.1 I will be interviewed about adoption and attachment along with internationally renowned adoption expert, therapist and author of the adoption bible, The Primal Wound, Nancy Newton Verrier, on the show “About Health” hosted by Rona Renner, RN. You can also LISTEN LIVE on KPFA.org or listen to the archived show.

 

KQED_logoMonday Mar. 14 10-11AM on KQED-FM/88.5 I will be on a panel discussion about survivors of suicide on the nationally syndicated “Forum,” hosted by Michael Krasny. You can also LISTEN LIVE on KQED.org or listen to the archived show.

 

STAY TUNED FOR MORE MEDIA AND SPEAKING EVENTS!

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REMINDER: Girl Behind The Door Author Event at Book Passage San Francisco Wed. Mar. 2nd at 6PM!

9781501128349Please join us for an author event for The Girl Behind The Door, published by Scribner, at Book Passage San Francisco in the Ferry Building on WEDNESDAY MAR. 2nd at 6PM

About The Girl Behind The Door:
Early on Jan. 29, 2008, Casey Brooks drove from her Tiburon home to the Golden Gate Bridge and jumped. Why?
* Winner of the Benjamin Franklin Silver Award.
* Winner of the Kindle Award for Non-Fiction.
* Recommended as an Elaine’s Pick.
* Recommended as a Marin Magazine Local Page Turner.
* Featured in Books Inc’s non-fiction titles.

About Scribner:
A premier imprint of Simon & Schuster founded in 1846.

About Book Passage:
One of the Bay Area’s premier booksellers.
Ferry Building Marketplace, 1 Sausalito, San Francisco Ferry Bldg. #42

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STAY TUNED FOR MORE EVENTS. ON MONDAY MAR. 7TH AT 2PM JOHN BROOKS AND ADOPTION SPECIALIST, NANCY NEWTON VERRIER, TO BE INTERVIEWED ON “ABOUT HEALTH” WITH RONA RENNER ON KPFA-FM.94.1.

“I Hate Adoption” From The Blog Those Sweet Bare Feet

dads-053I don’t remember where I found this blog post “I Hate Adoption” but the title must’ve caught my eye. What did the writer hate about adoption? The writer, “sistertoten” posted on her blog Those Sweet Bare Feet about her experience as an adopted child whose family swelled with many more adopted children. Adopted or not, in my opinion, her parents were either saints, masochists or both. Come on, readers, having a dozen kids under one roof?

I share it here because it is a very raw and honest experience about adoption and what it really means to the children, warts and all. To this day there are adoption magazines that post only the good stories, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Children are incredibly resilient and can overcome almost insurmountable odds. But many can’t. I speak to them.

Attachment Disorder Or RAD?

angry-kidsI’ve learned over time that in adoption circles some people describe the sometimes unusual and extreme behaviors seen in orphaned and abused children as “attachment disorder” while others label it “RAD” (Reactive Attachment Disorder.) What’s the difference and who’s right?

If Wikipedia is any help, it defines attachment disorder as follows:

“A broad term intended to describe disorders of mood, behavior, and social relationships arising from a failure to form normal attachments to primary care giving figures in early childhood. Such a failure would result from unusual early experiences of neglect, abuse, abrupt separation from caregivers between 6 months and three years of age, frequent change or excessive numbers of caregivers, or lack of caregiver responsiveness to child communicative efforts resulting in a lack of basic trust. A problematic history of social relationships occurring after about age three may be distressing to a child, but does not result in attachment disorder.”

Wikipedia describes reactive attachment disorder (RAD) as follows:

“It is described in clinical literature as a severe and relatively uncommon disorder that can affect children. RAD is characterized by markedly disturbed and developmentally inappropriate ways of relating socially in most contexts. It can take the form of a persistent failure to initiate or respond to most social interactions in a developmentally appropriate way—known as the “inhibited form”—or can present itself as indiscriminate sociability, such as excessive familiarity with relative strangers—known as the “disinhibited form”. The term is used in both the World Health Organization’s International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems and in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.”

My reading of both terms as a layman is that they are interchangeable, saying essentially the same thing. The difference is that RAD is the official term used by professionals featured in medical journals. So in that sense, those using RAD are probably technically correct. The problem I have with this is that too often RAD is used as a pronoun, as in “my RAD” or “my RADie” and other variations thereof, as opposed to “my child.” I cringe at these references.

I realize that many exasperated adoptive parents at their wits end need anonymous places to go online and rant. I wish I’d known of such places when I was an adoptive parent. Trust me, I’m ashamed to say that there were times when I slapped (or tried slapping) my teenage daughter Casey for her attitude and language; she could hardly complete a sentence without the s-word or f-word. Of course now that Casey’s passed, these are things my wife Erika and I laugh about. How trivial in the grand scheme of things.

But when RAD becomes a pronoun, even anonymously, it seems to further stigmatize a child who is already stigmatized. One’s child is no longer a child, but a thing. Why encourage this type of thinking?

The broader issue, as I’ve learned from attachment experts, is that both attachment disorder and RAD are overused as convenient labels for behavioral problems that are far more complex. The experts are quick to note that there are multiple factors that play into an orphaned child’s behavior that can’t be diagnosed due to the lack of information about birth families – fetal alcohol syndrome, substance abuse and a wide range of mental health issues from depression to bi-polar to schizophrenia. So when I speak about attachment I’ve learned to use the much broader term “attachment issues” rather than attachment disorder or RAD.

I just hate to stigmatize children for behaviors – as irritating as they are – from experiences that they never asked for.

Join Me For My Next Author Event, San Rafael Downtown Public Library Wed Dec 17 @ 6:30P!

Dear Friends and Neighbors – The San Rafael Public Library – Downtown Branch – has been kind enough to invite me to speak and read from my book on Wed Dec 17 from 6:30P-7:30P. My first event went super well and I have more planned and hoped for in Tiburon (Mar 2) and Mill Valley and San Francisco (TBD).

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