Adoption/Foster Care, RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder, Uncategorized

To the Dad in Walmart — a RAD story…

It’s been almost a year now since I met you, but our one-time, chance encounter has remained an embedded, powerful memory and I wanted you to know.

I only stopped by to grab a few last-minute Christmas items.  The store was (over)crowded with loud music, flashing lights, and people on a mission – some miserable, some filled with the spirit.

I heard you long before I saw you.  Or, I should say that I heard your child.

Even from the extreme corners of the store, the emanating screams were far-reaching and without pause.  For a split second I remember thinking that SOMEONE should comfort that little person because he sounds like he is well beyond upset.

It would be a full fifteen minutes or so of shopping before our paths would merge, all the while the screaming intensifying and the shoppers mumbling among themselves.  As I turned the corner from electronics, I was met with the full-blown situation – an hysterical child, a gathering crowd of onlookers, and you.

I was rather surprised to see the source of the screams.  I truly thought I was hearing a toddler, but I’m guessing your young man was about eleven or so – smallish, lanky, ash blonde hair, and raging.  It stopped me in my tracks, but only for a moment because, in that split second, my mind, body, and soul crashed together and came to full attention and I knew.

Everything I’ve experienced, everything I’ve learned, everything I’ve felt all came together in that one instant and I knew.

I could feel my heart begin to race, my breath quicken, my mind trying desperately to remain calm and focused.  This was not my child, but it has been my child and so I knew.

He stood there stiff as a board with his little fists clenched at his side.  He was beet red and sweating and when he was forced to breathe between the screams, the words were painful to hear.

It was his eyes, however, that told the story.  I saw it.  You saw it.  But for those who have not walked the path we walk with our RADishes, those eyes went unnoticed.  To those who have, they said it all.  FEAR!  Unreachable, primal, gut-wrenching fear – that in the case of this child, and so many like him, manifested itself in rage.

My heart broke for him – and then for you.

There you stood not more than five feet in front of him while he raged, talking desperately to a lifeline on your phone, presumably begging for help from someone – anyone.

You knew better than to touch him.  I did too.  You knew that when he was in that state of dysregulation, lost to himself, that words would not help and, in fact, would probably escalate the already out-of-control situation.  I did too.  You knew that you couldn’t just grab him and tuck him under your arm and make a run for it because that too could’ve garnered disastrous results.  I knew that as well.

And so you waited, trying desperately to get some help from the invisible person on the other end of the line.

Now, for those of us who live in the RADish patch, we know how this goes.  As time goes by, we learn what we can and cannot do when our child rages and how to work through the episode – in the safety and security of home.

The middle of Walmart at the height of Christmas shopping is another scenario altogether.

You knew that your child could’ve hurt himself if you made a single move toward him.  You also knew that he could’ve hurt you and even those around him because when a RADish rages, all bets are off when it comes to predictability and it’s not a choice, but a reaction to trauma he may not even remember occurred.  I knew that too.

I honestly don’t recall how much time passed, but I can still see your face – how mortified you were – hopelessness written all over your countenance.  And as if the situation in and of itself wasn’t bad enough, a true crowd had gathered to revel in your misery and openly criticize your boy and your perceived inaction.

It was horrible and my heart broke for you!

I even went so far as to put myself between a few of the more outspoken and you to try and make a point without words, but misunderstanding hidden behind hatred and intolerance never sees truth.

I cannot erase from my mind the vision of the three well-dressed twenty-somethings leaning casually on the fabric counter not 10 feet from you loudly vocalizing their indignity at having to be exposed to such vile, public behaviors and how “people like you” shouldn’t be allowed to have children if you can’t parent them – how NO child of THEIRS would’ve ever behaved in such a way – how all he needs is a good “what for” and that would be the first and last time he ever acted like that.

I am slow to anger, but I tell you with all sincerity that, in that moment, I saw BURNING red!

How DARE they criticize you (me) when it comes to parenting your (my) child?  Do they have any idea what it’s like to live in the RADish patch day in and day out?  Do they? Do they know how our lives with our children are measured by the distance between one episode and the next – how we walk on eggshells 24/7/365 – how even the simplest moment can turn into a full-blown rage in the blink of an eye and for no apparent reason?

Of course they don’t!

They walk in the world of cookie cutter kids who conform easily to societal expectation by way of words, a time out here, some consequences there, or a smack on the backside for good measure.  The cookie cutter kid responds to and learns from that.

Our RADishes do not and, in fact, will be sent into a deeper sense of fear and rage when traditional methods are applied, primarily because traditional interventions do not address the INTERNAL reason for what is happening on the OUTSIDE.

And, unless you’ve taken the life-changing leap into that alternate universe, you DO NOT GET IT and it is quite probable that you never will.  But, for you and me, it is our reality and we “get it” all too well.

For you see, living in the RADish patch is a whole foreign existence – totally unpredictable, ever-changing, exhausting, and lonely – very, very lonely…

I wanted to scream at them the way your son was screaming at his internal demons.  I wanted to wipe their self-righteous smirks off of their clueless, uninformed faces and silence their hateful words with those of my own.  I wanted to see their expressions change from arrogance to humility and embarrassment when I put them in their places by saying, “Exactly how many adopted/foster/abused/abandoned/RAD/drug-exposed/(insert your choice here) children of trauma are YOU raising?”  None??


Those are the things I wanted to do and say, but even in my own rage, I was a coward and so I didn’t.

Instead I kept moving with my cart – in front of this person, beside that one, pretending to be shopping  – hoping to disrupt the crowd enough to disperse.  It didn’t work and I am sorry.

I wanted so desperately to help you and I couldn’t, because we both know that no one can.

As the crowd continued to grow even more vocal and hateful, I tried one last thing – to catch your eye — just a look, a glance in my direction.

I wanted/needed to make eye contact with you, to let you know that there was at least one person who understood your pain (and that of your child)  —  one person who was walking alongside and breathing for you.  One person to, if by nothing more than a look, let you know that even in your very dark place, you were not alone.

I couldn’t even do that, because in that moment you were as lost as your boy and never looked my way.

And so, with the sad realization there was nothing whatsoever that I could do, I turned my back on you in your pain and I walked away.

The screaming continued for quite some time as I tried to finish my shopping, but I was acutely aware of every second and knew the instant you were somehow able to exit the store.  I don’t know how you did it or if someone else arrived to intervene.  I do know I could still hear your son raging even as you crossed the parking lot to your car, but that was almost drowned out by those who had the audacity to actually applaud as you left.

I wanted to be happy for you – to at least give you a nod and a smile of accomplishment, but I knew that you were only stepping into the next stage and your battle was far from over.

I wanted to take a soapbox and preach to the ignorant and closed-minded the realities of living with a child of trauma, but there was no one there who would’ve heard anyway.

I wanted to blink my eyes and make it all go away – for you – for me – for our kids.

I checked out and made it to my car where I dissolved into tears.  I cried again when I shared the story with my husband upon arriving home.  There are tears as I write this now.

The effects of RAD never go away!

They wait just under the surface of our consciousness for the next trigger, exactly like those that trigger our kids.

We are scarred.

We are beaten down.

We are warriors.

We are members of a club we never knew existed and most assuredly did not sign on for.

We see the world differently where our children are concerned and we find our strength in the “in-betweens.”

We hit brick walls, fall down, crawl back to our feet, and do it all over again – and again – and again.

We cry and rage ourselves.

I doubt that I’ll ever see you again and, even if I did, it’s questionable whether I’d even know who you are.  You most assuredly wouldn’t know me and that’s okay. But, for that one moment in time that our lives crossed, I just needed to be able to tell you that I was the one who, even though invisible to you, was breathing, praying, running interference, and walking alongside while you were in darkness and I have not forgotten.

I just wanted you to know.



God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Psalm 46:1

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