family, Star Wars

Does Kylo Ren Have Reactive Attachment Disorder?: RAD and the New Star Wars Movie

****SPOILER ALERT*****

I know I can’t be the only trauma mama out there rooting for the new villain, Kylo Ren. When I watched the new star wars movie, my heart lurched when this new character removed his mask. The new Star Wars movie, “The Force Awakens,” is rife with analogies for Reactive Attachment Disorder. Perhaps I over-identified with the character of Kylo Ren. Perhaps I have been in the trenches too long, and see RAD lurking around every corner. Perhaps I’m just a mom who can see the potential of a lost boy behind the villain in a movie.

I don’t really know anything about Star Wars. I’m not a movie critic. I’m just a mom identifying with a movie. The character in the movie isn’t adopted, and wasn’t written to be a person with RAD, as far as I know.

Whatever the case, I was riveted to the screen. I predicted the boy’s treachery  long before it happened. The first glimmer of attachment disorder came in a scene relatively early on. The character Kylo Ren had the female protagonist, Rey, captured in a cell. He was attempting to draw information out of her. She said something along the lines of she couldn’t tell if she was talking to a “man or a machine behind that mask.” So he took it off. There was Kylo, a perfectly normal boy. He didn’t have any facial disfigurement, scars, or any visible reason to hide his face. So why the mask?

It was in this moment that I began to see the mask as a protective layer between his emotions and the world. If he kept a barrier between himself and others, then he could continue to wield his power as if he were something other than human. But human he was, at least to me. In the scene where his mask is removed, the hero, Rey, looks into his eyes and begins to see his true fears. Kylo recoils instantly and retreats to his mask once more. After all, sharing feelings, allowing emotional intimacy, these are scary things for those with RAD. This is where I sensed a “disturbance in the force,” so to speak.

Later in the movie we learn that Kylo Ren is really the son of Princess Leia and Han Solo. In this scene, Kylo is alone in a room with Darth Vader’s melted mask. He is begging for strength to remain with the “darkside” while lamenting that the presence of Han Solo was bringing up old feelings. I know I’m not the only mother who experienced this very thing from a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder. A child tries to renounce their love for a parent or primary caretaker. They panic when feelings towards this person begin to surface. I knew in this moment, that the character of Han Solo was doomed. I knew it for the simple reason that I could see there was no way that RAD, the dark force, or whatever you call it, would allow this boy to feel love towards a father figure.

That struggle is real for kids with RAD. The scariest thing they must face is their own growing attachment. To feel love, even a little, for a caretaker seems deadly to them. In order to get rid of the threat (love) the person with RAD must take very drastic action to sever the attachment. I know when our teenage boys got too close, they took drastic measures. They said anything, did anything, and in the end, physically hurt me, in order to burn that tie. I am no stranger to death threats, plans for my murder, and other homicidal ideations. After all, the bigger the love, the bigger the action will need to be in order to be rid of it. That’s how I knew Han Solo would die.

What I didn’t plan on was the absolute perfection of the RAD metaphor played out in Han Solo’s murder scene. I couldn’t look away. It’s only a movie after all, so how could they have gotten this so perfectly, truly accurate as a metaphor for RAD?

Han Solo calls to his son and approaches him. The boy removes his mask. There it is. The vulnerability. The human connection. Kylo says that he is being torn apart. He doesn’t want to feel this pain anymore. How many attachment-challenged children have felt the same way when confronted with the love of a parental figure. Kylo asks for his father’s help, and of course, Han replies that he will “do anything.” In so offering up this unconditional love and support, Han literally aides in his own death. He holds the lightsaber, with his son, as Kylo slices it through him. Our own giving is too often our own undoing. We give without thought to our own needs. As parents, we put our children first. Children, of course, deserve nothing less. But RAD? Rad will take this from a child. RAD will twist this into something terrifying and threatening.

The most poignant moment in the whole movie, or at least for me, is not the stab itself. The slice through Han Solo’s chest is just like so many parents have felt their own hearts town asunder. It’s what happens next that seals the RAD metaphor for me. Han Solo, now impaled,  reaches a hand up and and cups the face of his son. In this moment, he shows his unconditional love. He still sees the boy he loves, no matter his actions.

Parents who are in the trenches with me will empathize. I know I had absolute empathy for that moment. No matter the actions our children may take, they are not villains. They cannot defeat our love. Yes, they can sever ties, and destroy relationships, and walk away seemingly unscathed. But I know the truth. It is not our children who are the villains. It is the RAD inside of them that can do this to a family.

As the movie ended I found myself in a strange position that so many other RAD mamas are probably in. I was rooting for Kylo Ren. I am pulling for his redemption in future movies. I don’t believe that his character is beyond hope. In him, I saw a boy who was afraid to love. In him, I saw the two sons I lost. He may be the new antagonist where the Star Wars franchise in concerned, but not to me. Never to me. I will always see RAD as the true villain.

**Image courtacy of idigitaltimes.com

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Your Holiday Might Stink, But You Don’t Have To!

Holidays for kids with trauma are a little bit like the apocalypse. All of the excitement and joy triggers an “end-of-days” type reaction withing them. There is yelling, lying, screaming, fighting, nightmares, rages, the works. I’m pretty sure a bunch of locusts just flew by the window. I might need more deodorant. Welcome to Christmas with children from foster care.

Thanksgiving starts the countdown. Christmas is on it’s way. It isn’t their fault at all. It’s not intentional. it’s simply their reaction to trauma. As parents, Luke ans I try to be as therapeutic as possible. We connect before we correct, we listen, we stay close, we are present with our children. We acknowledge their emotions. We give them choices. We give them a voice. Sometimes, we need to give ourselves a break.

Self-Care is one of the most important things we can do to support our kids. It is more important than making it to all their sports games, volunteering in their school, or even deescalating every meltdown. There is no way to provide the kind of parenting it takes to work through their childhood trauma, unless we get a break.

Luke and I rarely get out, so we take our self-care moments when we can get them. For example, last Saturday was one of those days. One of the days where our squawking little chickens are convinced the end is nigh! Carl spent most of the day arguing with just about everything anyone else said. He was loud, aggressive, and screaming. Even his hugs were leaving bruises. In short, his energy was off the wall. He yelled things like, “You’re ugly! I hate you! Your armpits stink!” See? I was stinking and so was this Saturday.

After a reapplication of deodorant, I doubled down on “time-ins.” I encouraged Carl to share his feelings. He shared that he was mad that Mary spit in his face. Mary shared that she was mad that Carl slapped her in the face. Carl shared that he was mad about “all of his mad feelings.” He shared them so loudly that I considered ear plugs. Nonetheless, I kept him close by all day. He wasn’t regulated enough to be away from his parents. He needed us to role play and practice “do-overs” with nice words.

After about 10 hours of the little chickens yelling at each other and shoving each other and generally just spreading their panic around in the form of anger, Luke and I were exhausted. Objects were flying through the air,  little chicken tears were mixing with little chicken screams. The end was indeed upon us, at least the end of our patience as parents!

We looked at each other and just knew. We both needed a time out. A mom and dad time out. Luke poured out two glasses of wine. I looked up at him adoringly in what can only be described as cinema-worthy romance. All we needed was background music.

Carl stomped by screaming, “And you know what else? I’m going to tell everyone that you pick your nose, mom! I’ll do it!! I will tell everyone that you stink!” Then I did something that we honestly try not to do. I sent them to their rooms to play for awhile. I phrased it as something along the lines of, “It seems like you might need some space. You two can play with the toys in your rooms for a bit. Go ahead and try out a couple of coping skills. Dad and I will check back with you in a bit. We will be right down the hallway in the living room.

Two doors slammed simultaneously. For a moment there was the sound of throwing toys. And then…blessed quiet…for about 2 whole glorious minutes. Luke and I bolted to sit in front of the fireplace with our glasses of wine. We snuggled in close and looked deep into each other’s eyes. From down the hallway Carl shouted, “I know what you guys are doing. Your kissing! You can’t trick me, I KNOW you are out there kissing!”

And then, for no discernible reason at all, Mary began belting out the Star Spangled Banner from her room. Finally, our romantic background music had begun! So right there, on the floor in front of a roaring fire, to the off-key tune of our national anthem accompanied by an enraged 10-yr-old boy, I kissed my husband. A lot. On the mouth!

Then we welcomed the kids back into the living room for a family art project and some real Christmas music. We were all ready to try again. And we all lived happily ever after. Without an apocalypse (at least not yet!)

The end!

 

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

 

*If you have ever thought about foster care or adoption, I encourage you to get started on your own adventure!

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“She Let Me Clean the Puke!” and Other Trauma Triumphs

This finally happened. Cue the drum roll and the applause, please. My daughter finally let me clean her puke! I’m actually not being sarcastic at all. This happened. I am overjoyed. I got to clean the puke. Finally! Victory is mine!

 

Let’s back up about 18 months. Mary was just 7 when she came to live with us from foster care. Although she had a good foster home, she had a distorted view of what a “mom” and “dad” were, and what they were supposed to do. Her experiences had taught her that parents get drunk. A lot. Parents leave. A lot. Parents may love you, but they will hurt you physically. A lot. Her schema for “family” was so distorted that she was at a loss as to what to do in many situations.

 

Mary hates getting sick. In her view, anything that makes her weak will leave her vulnerable and defenseless. She feels the most vulnerable in the bathroom and in bed, the 2 places you usually go when sick. Initially she hated sleeping because she would be vulnerable if unconscious. Mary never slept for more than 45 minutes at a time when she first came home. If she fell asleep in a random spot in the house, we would try to carry her to bed. This would cause her to awaken in a heightened panic, crying and screaming and swinging wildly. Being sick caused all of these things to culminate for her. I may not like the stomach bug, no one does, but Mary HATES it.

 

Last year, she got the stomach bug. It was the only time she had vomited around us, at all. She ran off of the carpet and bolted onto the tiled foyer, collapsing to her hands and knees. She vomited in great quantity in a pool on the tiled portion of the floor. She hadn’t said a word, or even indicated that she was sick in any way. I rushed to her side, only to realize that her panic was mounting and she very much needed me to back away. “I threw up!” she kept shouting. “Go away!”

 

I’m sure I muttered soothing nonsense to her, in order to ground her to this reality. “It’s OK, honey, Mommy is here.” I spoke my steps aloud so she would know my location. Mary was always afraid to lose me from her line of vision in those days. “Honey, climb into bed. I’m getting a glass and filling it with water. I’m getting you a wet wash cloth.” In this way, I gave her the physical space she requested while giving her the support of my presence. I could hear her sobbing and stumbling to her feet. I ran over with the aforementioned items saying over and over, “It’s OK honey, let’s get you to bed.”

 

I was shocked to hear her yell at me, “I’m TRYING, stop yelling at me!” My only view was of her little hunched over back. As she slammed her little fist against the ground, I could see that she held her own roll of paper towels. She was cleaning. Cleaning the puke and sobbing. Mary angrily got up and slammed the soiled items into the trash. “Leave me alone. I’m doing it!!” she yelled. Mary grabbed a spray bottle of cleaner and stomped back to the foyer. When I tried to halt her efforts she became even more enraged, yelling, “I can do this, I can!” through her sobs. I was befuddled, to put it mildly.

 

Was she angry? At me?  At the puke? Eventually she calmed down as I sang to her and bundled her into the couch with a bucket to puke in. I put on her favorite show and promised her she did not have to go to bed. As she nodded off on the couch, only to ferociously open her eyes a minute later, I paused to reflect. Why was she cleaning up her own puke? Why was she mad?

 

Her older brother relayed a story to me that helped me understand. He told me about a time that he had gotten sick in his bio home. He’d thrown up on the carpet in his bio mom’s room. She had been mad about the carpet so she yelled at him and held his face in it. Then she left him to clean it up.

 

All the pieces fell into place for me. Mary had interpreted the events differently than I had. She had been in a heightened state of fear because she didn’t want to ruin the carpet, and she hadn’t made it out of the door in time. When I urged her to come to bed, she interpreted it as my rushing her through cleaning and telling her she was too slow. She thought she was being punished and sent to her room, when I was urging her to go to bed. The poor little thing thought I was upset about the floor and punishing her.

 

When she had recovered, and was more regulated, I assured her that she was not in trouble. I explained that she was way more important than a carpet would ever be. Then I asked her who’s job it was to clean the puke. “Mine,” she answered definitely. “No, honey. You don’t clean up when you are sick. The mom gets to clean the puke.” We talked about this often, along with other “mom” jobs for the next year and a half.

 

Today was the day that it finally happened. She marched in a parade and was stuffed with candy and cookies and junk food all day. She was resting on the couch when out of nowhere, she bolted for the bathroom. “I need a hair tie,” she cried, “I’m going to puke.” I rushed over, just as she vomited onto the tile floor of the bathroom. She didn’t cry. There were no panicked sobs. She let me sit with her and hold her hair back while she vomited. I rubbed her back in circles and brushed the hair from her neck. I muttered soothing mom things, and she leaned into me.

 

When she finished, she let me guide her to bed. She accepted my nurture, and it helped her. Gone was the little girl who yelled, “Leave me alone!” I gave her water and tissues and fussed over her. Carl came, too, and he brought her things and rubbed her back. I gently queried, “Who cleans the puke?” Mary looked at me uncertainly, “You do?”

“Yup,” I beamed at her, “the mom gets to clean the puke!” And I did. Gleefully.

 

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

 

*If you have ever considered foster care or adoption, I encourage you to get started on your own puke-filled adventure today!

 

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Adventures in “The Sex Talk” With Your Adopted Child

Mommy-Needs-a-Cocktail

Make sure your heart is healthy enough for sexual activity.” There is some kind of commercial about medication for erectile dysfunction on TV. Mary and Carl are looking apprehensively at each other. I can feel what’s coming next. They are children. They have questions. They have had the unfortunate traumatic experience of seeing sex in real life at a very young age. I take a deep breathe to fortify myself for the coming conversation. I can do this. We have talked about good touch vs. bad touch. I’ve told them about their puberty and where babies come from. What they came out with was not what I was expecting.
“Mommy?” asks Mary, “Umm…does Daddy have that?”
“Have what?” I’m confused, “A heart condition? Medication for ED?”
This isn’t exactly the turn I expected the conversation to take. They usually just ask about sex. They want to make sure the woman says it’s OK. They want to know what’s wrong with me that I don’t have any boyfriends at all, “just daddy.” They basically think I’ve done it all wrong by having a husband first, and then children. They have told me, on several occasions, that I should have children and then a boyfriend, and then other boyfriends. They are glad I don’t have other boyfriends who “do stuff to me, like with those toys,” but they are still befuddled over my monogamy. They have no problem telling strangers, or my mom, that I have “just daddy!” or that we kiss and it is “gross!”
I am extremely confused. I am also slightly nervous that my children will begin to tell strangers that their father’s heart is, indeed, healthy enough for sex. Worse still, they may start telling strangers or unsuspecting relatives, that Daddy does not need medication for erectile dysfunction, but if you do, please consult your doctor. I am praying they did not hear the part of the commercial warning against an erection lasting for more than 4 hours. If Carl starts carrying around a stop watch, we are doomed!

“No, mommy. Sex. Does Daddy have that?”

Oh. Phew. This is common ground, something I am prepared to discuss. Before I can even start with “Daddy and I are married. We are in love. We would never hurt each other,” Carl jumps in and says, “Don’t tell her, Mary!”

Mary responds with, “That never happened Carl. Mommy, it’s not true about Daddy, is it? He never did that.”

“Oh yes, he did! And we should tell her!” shouts Carl. This is getting heated.

“Mommy,” says Mary, the picture of seriousness and compassion, “people can make bad choices sometimes. It doesn’t make them a bad person.”

These are my exact words, and apparently facial expression, I have used to discuss questions about why their bio-parents did certain things. She gently touches my arm and moves closer to me. The thought fleetingly crosses my mind that she is picking up some great therapeutic parenting skills!

“Mommy!” shouts Carl, “Daddy did that. He did it to Jessie. TWICE!”

“How do you even know?” retorts Mary. “Daddy is appropriate and he’s nice.”

“Because of Seth and Catlyn. Duh!” Carl snaps back at her.

Oooooh. Now it dawns on me. Jessie is my husband’s ex-wife. She is the mother to Seth, and Catlyn, my step-kids. Carl and Mary are under the impression I am unaware of Luke’s previous transgressions. Mary wants me to know he is still a good person and we should definitely keep him!
As I attempted to jump in and correct the course of this conversation, the argument somehow turned into questions about why the “guy does the thing” and the “girl just lies down and does nothing.” I tried to explain that this wasn’t the correct view about sex. I wanted them to realize it was something both people participated in, when they loved each other. Mostly, what they took away from this portion of the conversation was, “The girl can SIT UP when she sexing? Really??? Why?!?!?!!!!”

Today will go down in history as the day that I spent an entire conversation talking about my husband having sex with his ex-wife, and how much they loved each other. Some highlights from this conversation include my saying how glad I was that Daddy had sex with Jessie because now we have Seth and Catlyn. Don’t get me wrong, I like Jessie, and I really do appreciate her. I just never pictured myself discussing, in detail, why it was OK (and even great!) that she used to have sex with my now-husband. Oh yeah, and did I mention that Luke hid in the bathroom for the entire conversation?

I ended the conversation by explaining to Carl and Mary that it would be rude to ask Jessie if she “just laid there” during sex with Daddy. I attempted to reinforce that it was OK for two consenting adults to have sex when they are married. I tried to help them remember that sex is supposed to be a loving act for adults and not hurtful. What Carl took away from the conversations was, “My daddy is the MAN. He did it TWICE!”
Both children have solemnly agreed not to run and call Nana with this news.

Luke and I are downstairs, by the fire. He magically appeared AFTER we finished the conversation! The kids are in bed. I am laughing so hard that I am practically snorting! I need a glass of wine. The problem is that I am laughing too hard to swallow.

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.
*If you’ve ever considered fostering or adopting, I encourage you to get started on your own adventure!

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