family

Monster Feet in the Night

The force is strong with Carl tonight. He is trudging up the stairs into our bedroom about every hour or so. I hear a quiet, “Mommy? Daddy?” and squint my eyes open. There is Carl standing in the doorway in Star Wars Pajamas and monster-feet slippers. Yes, the force is strong. The force of wakefulness.

All manner of emergencies happen. He has a stomach ache. He needs to blow his nose. He had a bad dream while he was awake  and he cannot fall asleep. I know exactly what this means. Mary has been gone for a week straight now. I believe that Carl is afraid because he was separated from his sister for so long in foster care. The 11-year-old boy who is a fierce athlete by day, has become a frightened child with monster-feet slippers at night.

What he really needs right now is a little nurture. What I really need right now is a little sleep. He asks to sleep with the cardigan I wore that day. I hand it over while realizing I’m missing about 8 cardigans because the children like to sleep with the smell of mom. I’m either going to have to go shopping, or go digging around under their beds. But first, I really need to sleep.

“Do you feel safe now? Do you have everything you need?” I hear Luke say this as he escorts Carl back to bed for the 6th time. And it’s only 1:00 AM. I do not know how people with infants do this! Luke then asks Carl to please stop coming up the stairs and knocking on our door. He explains that we all need to sleep. If Carl can’t sleep he can do one of his crossword puzzle books or read for a bit. Carl agrees in a sincere and determined voice.

2:00 AM rolls around. I am woken by something. Carl is standing at the bottom of the stairs (not going up) and whisper-yelling, “Mommy? Mommy!” Well at least he isn’t banging on the door to our room. He has a headache this time. I administer tylenol and take him back to bed. Hey, he attempted to follow Dad’s directions.

3:30 AM comes and, believe it or not, I am woken again by a little whisper-shout from the bottom of the stairs. “OK, Kid.” I say, “You’re scared. Grab the nesting materials from our closet and set up a place to sleep on the floor near our bed.” He agrees with palpable relief.

It’s that little high-pitched voice that gets me. Soon it will change and deepen. He will only be my little guy in Star Wars PJs for a little longer. Carl rustles up a soft bed made from a large down-feather quilt and several different kinds of “nesting” pillows we keep on hand for the kids. It’s usually used for watching movies. We don’t co-sleep, but whatever. Did I mention the part about 3:30 AM?

Finally, we sleep. The next morning I stumble downstairs like a bleary-eyed zombie. My face feels puffy. Carl is industriously putting his things in his backpack and getting ready for the day. I can’t seem to manage actual words so I grunt and mumble my way over to the couch. That’s when Carl hands me a fresh cup of coffee. Just the way I like it. My little big guy is now dressed in Nike sports gear and operating kitchen appliances.

Soon the days of monster-feet and the little voice will be gone. He is growing so quickly. Adopting kids from hard places is a long, difficult journey. But it’s amazing. It’s moments like these where It’s nighttime again, once more. These are the moments I can reflect and write about our lives. It’s all worth it. He has learned to show empathy. He has learned to trust. He has–wait…is he up? AGAIN?! Yes, he’s up.

What I meant to say was:

Please send coffee!!!!

 

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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adoption, mental illness

When It’s Not Enough: Adventures in Getting Help

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It’s not enough. I’m not enough. All of the work we have been doing for the last 3 years is not enough to help our Little Bit. 10-year-old Mary is starting puberty. She is also starting to unravel in terms of her mental health. She is back inpatient again at the psychiatric hospital. So, yes, I feel like I am not enough for our girl right now.

During her last meltdown she locked the door to her room and then jumped out of her window. Barefoot. Mary then got into a fight with our outside garbage bin (she won) while screaming at me. I couldn’t stop her. She ran a mile to a friend’s house in bare feet screaming that she needed the police because her mom was trying to kill her. Of course the police came with the ambulance. But they came to take her back to the psychiatric hospital.

We have used up all of the local resources. We have In-Home Intensive Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Services (IICAPS.) She’s been through trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT,) Family Systems therapy, ongoing trauma work, Intensive Outpatient Treatment (IOP,) Partial Hospitalization Placement (PHP,) medication management, and many inpatient stays. Was that all one sentence? We’ve also read every book, checked all of the research we could find on developmental trauma, and parented therapeutically using the Trust Based Relational Intervention model (TBRI) No matter how many acronyms we throw around, she is still stuck in a downward spiral.

I am helpless to heal the deep wounds she carries from trauma. They will never be entirely healed, let’s be honest. But we want to get her to the point where she is functioning at home, as opposed to being in fight/flight mode most of the time. I think puberty has started to re-trigger some of the trauma that she had already come to terms with.

Our entire goal is to keep her safe. We want her safe at home, not inpatient. I did find a great model for attachment and trauma work done in the home. In-home services are the most effective for our daughter, but most programs are not specifically  trauma-focused. Even if they are, it is not for complex, developmental trauma. Thank goodness I found the Attachment, Regulation, Cooperation model (ARC ) through The Justice Resource Institute (JRI.)

JRI is dedicated to helping children and adolescents mental health. They are one of the leaders in the field of research on developmental, complex trauma. (Often referred to as C-PTSD. More letters, I know!) Unfortunately, they won’t take insurance. They won’t take cash. They only contract through the Department Of Children and Families (DCF.)

So we are asking begging for their help. We are in the process of applying for voluntary services. I’m not sure what will happen, but I’m hopeful. We are in the fight of our lives right now. It isn’t us against our child. It’s us fighting with our child against the trauma of her past. The question is not if we will continue the fight. The question is whether or not the state of Connecticut will join us.

So here I sit, typing away my jumble of letters and acronyms. Since when did the alphabet take over my life?! All that’s left to do is wait. And hope. Will you hope along with us?

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**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

**If you want information about ARC or JRI you can go to www.JRI.org or www.traumacenter.org to learn more.

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parenting

Bra-gate: Puberty and Sibling Rivalry

My son is rolling around and whining on the floor, like a pained animal. All because he isn’t going bra shopping. Yup. He’s pretty upset. Mary is 10 now, and at the beginning stages of puberty. She needs bras. Badly. I can’t drive, so Nana and Papa are up. Aaaand now I’m home with a whining and moaning 11-year-old boy who doesn’t understand puberty (you can read about our sex talk here.) Carl is lucky he’s so darn cute!

He is consumed by his anger that his sister is doing something he is not. She is going somewhere without him. Clearly the world is a very harsh and unfair place. As he attempts to explain how very, very unfair this is, I try to explain a bit about girls and puberty.

Carl: OOOOohhhhhh. Why can’t it be ME?! Why can’t I be the one to go with Nana and Papa? Why do I have to be stuck here with you?!

Me: I love you too, honey. Mary needs new clothes. Fair isn’t everyone getting to do the same thing. Fair is getting what you need. And Mary needs to buy bras. She’s starting to grow breasts.

Carl: Well why did she have to do that? I want to!

Me: Honey, boys don’t usually grow new breasts.

Carl: That’s stupid. Why does she get new shirts?

Me: Again, she needs clothes to fit her changing body.

Carl: But she never changes! She is still annoying!

Me: No, it’s her body that’s changing. She needs bigger shirts now that she is growing breasts. You got new pants when you got taller during your growth spurt. Remember?

Carl: It’s still not fair. I want to do it.

OK. Well, if he really wants to go and buy some bras, then it’s fine. I lay a few of mine on the floor and ask him which style he would prefer? Just so we know what kind of bra to get him when Nana and Papa take him bra shopping. I explain sports bras, underwire, front clasp, halter style, etc. I say, “I support you, honey. I will always meet your needs. If you need to go bra shopping then you can.”

Carl freezes and a look of pure terror dawns on his face.

“GROSS!” he says,”Mom bras! Now I’m scarred for LIFE!”

And there ends the story of bra-gate. We collapsed into full-belly giggles and decided to watch TV instead. We laughed about it for the rest of the night. I hope Carl gained some insight about girls and puberty. I also hope he has less anxiety over his sister and their rivalry.  And would you believe that he never brought up bra shopping again?

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy involved.

 

 

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adoption

Disconnected Parenting and Other TBRI Misadventures

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My mom with my “chickens.”

She’s screaming at the top of her lungs right now. Deep, guttural, animal cries that are meant to be heard by everyone in the vicinity. When I approach my daughter, she screams at me that I never allow her to get her anger out. I am bottling up all of her emotions. Sigh. I’m too tired to name the feeling and ask her what she needs. I’m too tired to give her choices or a compromise. Instead, I say, “Well in that case, carry on.”

Meanwhile, Carl is carrying on in his room. It’s so unfair. How dare I separate them when they are fist fighting? How dare I enforce limits on him when he attempts to physically intimidate me? How dare I suggest that there is a better way to treat women than attempting to scare them and dominate them? What gives me the right? He needs a chance to think it over. Normally he would do this near me with a “time-in. I just cannot, so he is yelling, “If daddy were here he’d see things differently!” from his room.

Daddy isn’t here.  Right now I think they are just being kids. All kids occasionally misbehave. I’m the one who needs to think it over and try again. It is my responsibility to help them regulate. It’s my job to teach them respectful behaviors. I should be helping them practice using kind words to express their feelings. But I’m on my own today and worn out.

Our kids are learning about how to have relationships like other kids learn how to play a sport. Practice, practice, practice. With that said, daddy would be having none of this. Despite Carl’s view about how to treat women, my husband does not feel the same. Our children were adopted at an older age. They spent more time in their biological home where other viewpoints were the norm. We are trying to undo that model of thinking and replace it with positive behaviors. I can only hope someday that Carl will follow Luke into the land where men are respectful, kind, and not scary. We certainly role-model and practice these skills with him.

I’m  making an attempt at being a connected, loving parent. It’s called TBRI or “Trust Based Relational Intervention.” But all I’ve succeeded in so far is putting on headphones with soothing music. And, yeah, we are all “taking space.” We all need some time apart. Even me. All of the time-ins in the world were not helping today. At this point we are all on edge. It’s all I can do not to yell back or burst into tears. Here I sit listening to soothing Spa sounds. I’m sipping decaf coffee. I purchased a book for myself on my kindle. I need to be calm before I can connect with a “soft voice and soft eyes.” I need to regulate in order to help them regulate.

I’m in the same boat as my children. I’m counting the minutes until Daddy gets home! Lucky for me, my mom makes an appearance at the door. I’ve already warned her about the screaming children. Who would willingly come over to the house today? “I’m brave. I can take it,” is all she says. For my mom there is no problem too small, no behavior too big. She will always back us up when trauma triggers threaten to ruin our day.

It’s finally quiet. Carl is working on a word search in his room. Mary is on her bed. A bit of time away from the anger and the screaming helped me. Being with my mom helped me more.” Don’t they deserve the same?” I think to myself. After some coffee and conversation, my mom leaves. I feel ready to try again.

They need me as much as I need her.

As I head to the kitchen, I feel a “thwack!” On my head. It’s a paper airplane launched from the upstairs loft. It contains a sweet note from Mary. In the letter are a list of coping skills she can use next time. It also contains an apology. It ends with a #Mommyisthebest.

We all come together as a family and group hug for a few minutes. We sit down to dinner and laugh and talk until my husband gets home. We brainstorm ways we can stay regulated as a family. We talk about farts. We each appreciate each other for one thing that the other did today.

I don’t feel like  #Mommyisthebest right now, but I’m working on it. It must take lots of practice to be like my own mom! Good think I’ve got do-overs just like my kids. I’m ready to try it again, but with respect this time. .

Oh yeah, and now Daddy’s finally home. “It looks like you’ve all had a great day,” he says without a trace of sarcasm.

https://fulltimetired.com/roundup/?vote

FTTWR

**TBRI or “connected parenting” strategies mentioned come from the book The Connected Child. You can also learn more by clicking on the link above.

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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adoption

It’s Time to Hit Your Children

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My daughter is screaming “F**k you! I don’t F**king care anymore! I’m a bad kid and I guess I’ll just stay in my room!” She’s 10. She’s mad. She slams the door and we hear some small pounding. Things are either getting stomped on or thrown around in her room. She alternates between this and then and then crying for me and tearfully begging me to forgive her. I wasn’t even all that bothered. I just asked her to pick up a few toys.

She screams, “I’ll do anything for you guys! I love you!” followed by “You’ll never make me clean up my toys!” After she finally calms down a bit, she cleans her two toys with help from dad. He is with her the whole time. I’m not, just in case she escalates into violence (I have a back injury.)  the screaming and crying part lasts for hours. Finally, she is ready bed.

As she showers, she screams at us that the water is “too hot.” It isn’t, but it is on one temperature setting since she ripped out the nozzle, years ago, during a tantrum of sheer terror. (she used to be terrified of bathing) We sort of pushed the nozzle back on, but it can’t move well to adjust the temperature now. So we are all stuck with warm showers until we can get a new one installed. Soon, the warm shower will calm her and we can talk. She isn’t quite ready to listen yet

Carl got in trouble at school this week. He got angry about losing a privilege, so he went into the hall and started violently beating the lockers with his lunch box. His  vice principal escorted him to the bus during dismissal, for safety reasons. We met Carl’s behaviors with firm boundaries. We met his emotions with love and understanding. It’s OK to get frustrated when you lose a privilege. It isn’t OK to lash out and start beating lockers.

It never ceases to amaze me the unsolicited advice strangers are willing to offer about other people’s parenting. In the grocery store, at sporting events, and even from friends. Suddenly everyone’s an expert. Except, those “experts” didn’t grow up in foster care. They were never hurt the way our children were hurt by the very people they were supposed to trust. So these ignorant oblivious strangers continue to offer their “expertise.”

“Who do they think they are? Don’t let them disrespect you. Spank those kids!”

“Someone should teach them some discipline. Back in my day I would have gotten a spanking for that!”

“Don’t let her/him get away with that. If he were my child, I would slap him a good one on the butt.” 

Ooooookkk.  Thank you helpful strangers, but I think I’ll take it from here.

When Carl got home after getting in trouble, that he had a full-on panic attack. He started crying and blaming the teacher right away. He was crying so hard he couldn’t breathe. He needed his asthma inhaler. Then he threw up all the way to therapy in a bag I supplied. Why? Fear.

It’s pretty simple simple. Sometimes, children who have suffered from the effects of physical abuse will act out when they feel threatened. Even the smallest correction, or perceived rejection, can set them off. Traumatized children are hyper-alert for any potential danger even when they appear calm. It can be confusing for others to watch them go from zero to sixty at the drop of a dime. What we don’t see outwardly is that they are always running around fifty.

They may be acting defiant and violent and scary. But that’s all it is. It’s an ACT. Our sweet, loving, kids are acting out in angry ways because deep down, they are really afraid. They are afraid they won’t get their needs met. They are afraid of being the victim again. They are hitting because they are afraid they will get hit. Sure, they will act tough, and scary. They aren’t. They are scared.

So, no thank you, strangers. I will not hit my already-traumatized children. I will not teach them with fear or intimidation. I will let them have “do-overs” and “time-ins.” We will practice coping skills and problem solve together. We will allow them to have natural consequences for their actions. We try our best to meet them with love even when all they want to do is argue with us. We will demand respect, and model it through our own actions.

Most, importantly, we will prove to them that we are not like their abusers. We will help them practice kindness and obedience. We are firm with their limits, but we are also nurturing. Parents shouldn’t be scary to children who have come from scary parents. Instead, we should be teaching them about working together, and building family through love.

Let me say again that we will not hit our children. Under any circumstances. We will not meet violence with violence. We will not teach them that aggression is necessary to get what you want. Nope. It is not time to hit our children. That time is long past in their lives. And it will never, ever happen again.

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved

 

FTTWR

 

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adoption

The Month All the Mommies Leave

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It’s March again, and I can never stop this month from coming! This is the month our children were removed from their biological home during a drug raid. It was a particularly warm March the year they went into foster care. I know this because I looked it up. Carl is 11 now. After living with him for a few years, we’ve noticed that his fear and/or misbehavior increases drastically every spring. As soon as it gets warm, Carl’s “traumaversary” kicks in.

In all honesty Carl’s been cranky in a pre-teen sort of way so far. He yells at us and stomps around, slamming doors. He reminds yells at us for being “stupid,” or “aggravating.” Then my sweet boy runs to me, head hanging down, for a hug or a snuggle. He admits that he is very angry and can’t figure out why. I’m hoping this is the worst of it. things seem to get a little easier every year. I really hope I’m not jinxing myself by writing this!

Anyway, as things get easier for Carl, we are noticing some significant separation anxiety in Mary. I’m not sure if this has happened every year or not. Have we overlooked her because Carl’s reactions were so extreme? Are her reactions more extreme this year because she has started puberty and gone through some medication changes?

All I know is that when I am out of sight, Mary starts to become agitated. At a recent doctor’s appointment my husband brought me to, they sat in the waiting room. When the nurse came to get me Mary started kicking the seat, trying to bait Carl into an argument, and being defiant to Luke. These are all signs that her fear is increasing. Her fight or flight response was taking over.

Luke took her outside to the car, where she could safely tantrum, and get all of her screaming and kicking out. It didn’t last very long and everyone was safe. She just really needed to let her big feelings out. She’s also having big feelings at school about missing me. I sent in a picture of Luke and I that she can keep in her desk, and look at when she is lonely.

Mary has also started to sit outside the bathroom door when I am showering. She is sleeping upstairs outside of our room. We’ve taped a picture of mom and dad on the wall next to her pillow. She’s like an extra cuddly  mom-magnet following me around everywhere. When I do my physical therapy exercises, she does them too. When I sit down, she plops herself as close as she can to me. Short of crawling directly into my ribcage, I’m not sure she could get any closer.

Somewhere, deep inside, they remember this as being the month that they lost a mother. This is why the month of March is a tough one for our kids. As my mom explained to me, this must be the month when our kids feel like “Mommies Leave.”  Every year, I hope their fear eases a little more, as they heal.

Too bad March. I’m not going anywhere! This mom is here to stay!

 

 

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

 

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