This Trauma Dad Turns 60: My Bucket List

Two years into my adoption journey, I turned 40.

I had energy – no task seemed too vast. I had courage to face Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and early childhood trauma – head on, no less. And I had hope for my three sons’ future.

Life was busy yet close to perfect. Room for more.

Over the next two years, I added a daughter and two additional sons to the family.

faoEastbrook Elementary embraced us. Not problem free – but a collaborative approach produced progress. Year after year.

Then one-by-one my children transitioned to middle school.

That’s when the not-so-easy-to-fix challenges began. Slow academic progress for some. Suspensions for others. Social difficulties for all.

I prayed for patience each night. Not only for me – but for every person who would come in contact with my children the following day.

Certainly not bad kids. But kids who needed to feel safe, who needed to be repeatedly affirmed and who needed to attain reasonable and regular success – amid a myriad of obstacles.

I barely remember turning 50.

From morning to night, I remained in high gear – running on empty by the end of day. Most nights so exhausted that my worries temporarily disappeared until waking early the next day.

That enabled me to experience peace and total quiet. An hour of my very own. Self-care to recharge and refresh – before the next round of chaos began.

Never did I imagine that raising children to 18 would become totally unpredictable – no matter my effort. Staying one step ahead of inappropriate behaviors proved impossible.

Chalk message

Struggling parents can wish they hadn’t adopted. I refused to lose hope – and never did.

If I could hold on. A few more years. Eventually each would cross the threshold into adulthood.

But 18 turned out to be just another number. No significance.

If anything, my children – now young adults – needed more support than ever. Without realizing it. And without knowing all I was doing quietly behind the scenes.

Subtle. No need for personal recognition.  

That’s because young adults can dig deep holes in days, not months.

25 seems to be the magic number for individuals with trauma from my experience. The frontal lobes of the brain finally mature. Judgment increases. Impulsive decisions decrease.

By the grace of God, I’ve witnessed a unique mixture of supportive people from all walks of my life. Some totally unexpected.

They all give me energy – which is less abundant than in my 40s.  

Now I’ve almost made it to 60.

No doubt, I’m thankful for the past 22 years of being a father to my six children.

But an updated bucket list remains to be completed.

First, I’m preparing to retire at 62. Simplifying my life.

The stock market has been kind to my retirement account since the 2008 collapse – which overlapped with my most difficult years of parenting.

Talk about double anxiety.

Even during rough years financially, I made retirement contributions a priority.  

Turning 60

Although work will continue here and there on projects that interest me, I’m not taking life for granted. The years of stress have likely taken a toll on my body.

Turning 70 is not guaranteed.

While healthy, I want the freedom to be truly spontaneous for the first time in a quarter century.

Second, two of my sons with more significant intellectual issues still live with me. They may always live with me. I’m cool with that – and so are they.

Together we will master independent living skills. At the same time, our door will remain open to my other children who could find themselves unemployed and homeless.

Stuff happens over which no one has control.

Third, my father and mother are still living – but 1500 miles away in Montana. I hope to spend quality time with them while they’re still alive physically and active mentally.

Fourth, I enjoy playing in the dirt like half of my children. The small plot with a few tomato and pepper plants will grow bigger.

Fifth, my self-care over the years has included physical exercise. Recently, I’ve found time for additional running. I even ran my first half-marathon AC – after children. Under two hours, no less.

Now I have this crazy idea.

My Boston Marathon qualifying son Andrew and I both running down Boylston Street on Patriots’ Day. An hour apart.

Old men can dream big too.

Sixth, advocacy for mental health and developmental disabilities is second nature – when raising multiple children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

I plan to make my voice heard with several of my children in tow. Ashley, Michael and Brandon have stories to tell.

Perhaps the day will come when a broad coalition recognizes the needs of all children – rather than the current categories that divide families. And don’t get me started on the associated funding pie for services.

Why is mental health always the smallest piece?

Seventh, I’d like a special person in my life.

For two decades I’ve been lonely while rarely being alone – outside using the restroom, sleeping or sometimes driving. Honest truth as many trauma parents know.

Yet I miss the intimacy of an adult-to-adult connection – and, most importantly, the related conversation. Sharing daily with a like-minded person is the goal. I’m open to variety of possibilities.

Eighth, I have a book to finish editing and publish. Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love began eight years ago. The story has further evolved. Thankfully my writing is kinder and more reflective today.

Ninth, hike in Montana. See the places I’ve always driven past. Up close.

Craig Peterson family 2005Finally, the biggie. Having all of my children – including Alex and Travis – in one place at one time. With everyone getting along.

That would be the ultimate gift.

It hasn’t happened since 2006.

On a handful occasions over the past 10 years, I’ve pulled together four or five of my children. But never all six.

That means no one in jail. No one on probation. No one addicted. Everyone accomplishing something worthwhile in their lives.

Realizing potential.  

And valuing the importance of our family for the rest of my days.  DCP

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Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE

To follow Craig’s journey in raising his six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love

To follow my son Andrew’s inspiring story, “Like” his special Facebook page NoLimitsAndrew – Andrew Peterson

To watch Andrew’s amazing ESPN 14-minute documentary, click here. Andrew Peterson ESPN Documentary

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