family

Small Moments, Big Strides

It broke with a small pop. At least, it felt broken. I was bending over a low changing table at work. One of my favorite fifth graders was on the table. I always work with a partner when changing a student and this was no different. We had gotten him from his wheelchair to the table with no problem at all. He has limited mobility do we have to be careful that he doesn’t drop down and hurt himself. I was adjusting him so that he wasn’t so close to the edge of the changing table. Pop. Just like that, my back went out. I slipped a disc in my spine.

This one tiny, mundane incident has changed my quality of life completely. I spent the next several weeks with worker’comp. paperwork and doctors and a physical therapist. My back was shot, my hip muscles were spasiming and I had pain radiating down my right leg. My only thought was, “I can’t be injured! I have kids! Traumatized kids! They don’t react well to compromised parents!”

I was wrong. Amazingly, the littles chickens handled this well. Carl has been working in therapy to empathize with others rather than simply control or dominate them. It’s having a wonderful effect on his ability to interact with people. He comes home with activities about animals such as how to care for them, how to help them, and how they might feel. He LOVES animals. Then his therapist relates those same skills back to family members. They draw animal families and write little stories about animals. It’s been nothing short of amazing. I would add that Carl is trying, really trying. He’s working so hard!

The other element that’s helpful is that I am essentially held captive in my own body. I can’t drive. I can’t walk long distances. Heck, I can’t even sleep all that well. But I am home. I am not rushing to work in the mornings. I wake the Littles up with hugs and kisses.  I help them pack their snacks. They can clearly see that I will be right where they left me when they come home. I think on some subconscious level, they are soothed by the fact that I literally cannot leave them. Mom isn’t going anywhere any time soon!

So here I am, awkwardly askew on the couch in the only semi-comfortable position I can get into. Carl brings me water. He brings me coffee. He holds out his arm to help me up.  He will typically help with small things if told to do so. It’s sweet, but this isn’t the moment. The moment I’m not expecting comes right after I struggle into a standing position. In this moment he puts one hand on my lower back and gently rubs it in circles.

“Is that better, mommy?” He asks.

“That’s wonderful, Carl. Just wonderful.” I reply.

**Editing Note–As soon as I finished writing this, Carl fractured his foot. Our family is now officially limping along!

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

*if you’ve ever thought about foster or adoptive care, I encourage you to get started on your adventure!

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adoption, family

The Weight of the World

It takes a village to raise a family. Logically I know this, but sometimes I don’t ask for help. I’m not sure why. My family life is complicated. Sometimes it feels like it will take an army rather than a village!  I’m protective over our children because not everyone understands their trauma. I’m hesitant to let others into our little world (outside the bogging community…obviously!)

After injuring my back at work, I’m starting to see how much I can’t do on my own. This scares me. 

At church this Sunday, our Reverand prayed over me. She offered prayers of healing for my back. It went something like this:

“Dear Lord, please help Abigail heal. She carries the weight of so many on her back. The weight of work, the weight of her family, the weight of responsibility. Heal her and watch over her. Amen.”

The Reverand is right. Sometimes it feels like the weight of the world. Parenting is hard work. Work is hard work. Heck, being a grown-up is hard work! The thing is, I’m not alone on this journey. I have a strong and loving family. 

Over the holidays my parents made the journey from the mid-west to our little New England town. They sold their house. They left their friends and their church behind. They came with their cat to live in a house they’d seen only on the internet. They did it for our family. For me. 

My mom has flown out to visit us in the past. She’s offered me backup when we were in crisis mode. She’s visited Mary in the psychiatric unit of the hospital with me. My mother has seen the Littles rage and anger. She also sees their love and creativity. She has never once questioned their place in this family. She just loves us, warts and all! 

My parents now live about ten minutes away from us on the other side of town. They come for dinner, we go to church together, and they take our Littles occasionally to give Luke and I some alone time. My step-dad makes “black cows” for the kids with coke and ice cream. My mother reads aloud to them as she did for me so long ago. My husband takes my step-father to doctor’s appointments. It’s family. We aren’t alone out here, not anymore. 

I can’t tell you how much it means to me to have my mommy when I’m hurt like this. She’s offered to drive me places or come with me to work. She keeps me company when I’m stuck at home. Sometimes she makes me coffee with a bit of Kaulua in it. She loves me. When I’m with her I am reminded of a time when I was safe and small and someone else made the tough decisions. 

Luke and I are not alone. I don’t have to carry all of the weight on my back. For now, my body is telling me to slow down. I’m hurt but I have my family. 

I only hope that one day I can be the kind of mom who radiates safety and love. I want to be the mom who shares the weight of the world. When I finally grow up? I want to be just like my mom. 

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

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adoption, family

The Go Bag: Adventures in Emergency Coping Skills

Gillette2

My husband has a “jump bag.” It’s filled with life-saving tools that paramedics use. He keeps it with him because he volunteers for the service in town, and may have to go at a moments notice. I’m pretty sure he even carries an oxygen tank in there. Basically, anywhere he is in the town, he  is only a phone call away from saving a life. He is a prepared paramedic.

Our family needs first responders, too. We need to be able to respond to a child’s out-of-control or spiraling emotions in a flash. We need tools to help soothe sensory overload, or satiate sensory seeking behavior. We need things to help us be proactive, rather than reactive to our children’s emotional needs. And they have plenty of emotional needs!

Recently, we took a trip to visit Gillette castle here in Connecticut. For long day trips, we always plan ahead. We talk to both children about the long car ride. We role play and practice responses to possible frustrating scenarios. We brainstorm coping skills ahead of time. I ask the Littles, “Where can you sit in the car to make the car ride easier?” I guide them into thinking about sitting in separate rows so as not to attack each other on the ride. We carefully plan out what we can bring with us. Would Mary like to bring her blankie, her doll, or both? We give choices.

And then, we have the coping skills bag. I bring it on trips both short and long. I bring it to church. I bring it to events. Just having the bag helps Mary feel like she is prepared to handle her emotions.

Our Emergency Coping Skills Bag includes the following:

  1. An iPod with extra headphones. Music is soothing and it can drown out the annoyance of your siblings.
  2. An adult coloring book with colored pencils. This is a soothing activity that you can take anywhere.
  3. Sludge (or another gooey substance.) This is a fun sensory activity that is calming and keeps hands busy.
  4. A stuffed animal, blankie, or another transitional object (such as Dad’s dirty shirt) for hugging, squishing, and soothing.
  5. Snacks
  6. Word search or activity book. This gives them something to think about other than murder plots for siblings.

Having the emotional “jump bag” made our day trip possible. Two hours in the car and no one was physically assaulted. No one tried to climb out of the vehicle. No one collapsed from boredom. Not one meltdown! And the best part? We all got to enjoy our trip to the castle.

Apparently William Gillette wrote in his will that he did not want his castle to fall into the hands of a “blithering sap-head.” Although our kids didn’t necessarily retain all of the historical information from this trip, they remembered that phrase. I am proud to say that they both declared they would not be calling each other “blithering sap-heads” because it wouldn’t be nice. Hey, any day without a blithering sap-head is progress to me!

castle

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

*Photographs courtesy of my awesome husband, Luke!

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adoption, family

Disapearing People: Abandonment Fears in Adoption

“Where are you going? Why are you leaving? Where is Nana? NANA?! WHERE ARE YOU???” This was Carl’s reaction when my mother walked around a corner. I’m not sure if he thought I’d done away with her, a black hole had gotten her, or that she possibly fled in fear. He had to see her to believe in her presence. Once we rounded the side of the house again he exclaimed, “Nana!” as if seeing her for the very first time.

The fear of abandonment runs deep in our children. When I think about it from their perspective, it makes sense. Children only know what is concrete and in front of them. The nuances of life outside of their experiences are lost on them. What our kids know about abandonment comes from their own personal history.

Their biological parents left them. Their foster parents left them. They changed schools, doctors, therapists, and homes more than once. In their experience adults leave. Some adults don’t come back. This is what they know.

For the most part, our children have started to believe that Luke and I will come back for them. Over the last two years we have amazingly been able to go to work, go to the mailbox, go to the grocery store, and even go to the bathroom while coming back. Every. Single. Time.

And then… the Littles’ therapist went on maternity leave. She left them. Of course, she had a very good reason to do so, and I am able to understand that. (OK, I’ll admit it. That little baby girl has seriously inconvenienced me! I mean, how could she be more important than my children. But, it isn’t polite to argue with a baby…) Carl and Mary, on the other hand, need to process that their therapist will, eventually come back. (Oh, please, please, come back!!)

I’m beginning to think that our children need their therapist more than a fish needs water. They’ve been with her for over a year, give-or-take. Through the last 2 years our kids have been through all kinds of therapy. Group therapy, inpatient therapy, intensive outpatient therapy, in-home intensive therapy and individual trauma therapy.

The most effective thing has been finding the right treatment providers. Therapists who were well versed in the effects of prolonged early-life trauma on kids. Therapists who believed that our kids could attach to us and would attach to us. People who believed in family, our family. I found it in the therapist who I see weekly. We were lucky in to find all that in a trauma therapist for Mary and Carl.

Since their primary therapist has been away on maternity leave, a lot of Mary’s past anxieties about being abandoned have come up. She is melting down into sobbing, gut-wrenching wailing tears daily. She hates for me to go anywhere or pay attention to anything other than her. She is fighting with Carl every day. To his credit, he tries very very hard not to fight back. Mary has had a few tantrums at night, screaming and throwing things, demanding to be tucked in over and over again. Refusing to lie down. Screaming at the top of her lungs that I am just like her bio-mom because I don’t love her and I am leaving her to go to bed. “You’re leaving me!! You’ll never come back!” she screams. Meanwhile, I am left sitting next to her bed wondering where I have gone.

Carl, bless him, has been working hard to control his anger. He is in an intensive group therapy program right now. Every day he tries to show me in little ways, that he loves me. That he loves Mary. That he is sorry he was smashing things and having violent rages a few weeks ago. He is still uncontrollably angry at times, but his fear is what I am seeing the most of. Fear that we will leave him. Fear that we won’t come back.

Every time my husband picks up an extra shift, Carl gets a tension headache. He crawls into my lap moaning and crying and clutching his head. “Why won’t he come back?” Carl sobs. When I ask him what hurts he tells me he has “a head anxiety,” because “Daddy is at work.” Sometimes his headaches make him throw up, if he is crying hard enough. Medicine doesn’t help. For Carl, the only cure that works is family.

After Luke came home the other night, he tucked Carl in twice. A half hour later, Luke and I were snuggled in bed watching “grown-up” TV shows when we heard a whimpering shuffling noise on the stairs. Carl crawled dramatically into our room and flung himself on the bed. His “head anxiety was too much to handle Daddy working,” he claimed. Carl squirmed into the middle of us, face down, in a fetal position. We all squished in tightly, and watched a more PG show. He tgradually relaxed into a normal resting pose.  We just rubbed his back. After 20 minutes of snuggle, Carl had “enough of the Mommy and Daddy love” to feel better. While he went back to bed I pondered the fact that our mere presence could have that much of a healing effect. All we had to do was be there and love him.

All of this brings me back to their therapist who has shaped our family in so many ways. She has worked miracles in fighting that horrible  early childhood trauma. She has helped our kids see that they are safe enough to attach to us. I realize that while she is home with her new baby, she is doing much of the same work. Her new baby is learning that family means safety and mothers give love. This child will grow up feeling secure in the fact that food, warmth, affection, and love are all things that come with parents. She is providing her baby with all the things I wish someone had provided for Carl and Mary. I find this comforting because, let’s be honest, my kids aren’t the only ones feeling this separation anxiety right now.

In the end it’s all about family, and ours is here to stay. Thank goodness we have a therapist who understands this. Now if she would only come back! Had anyone ever heard of therapists cutting maternity leave short after being offered homemade cookies???? Flowers?? A fruit basket…?

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

*If you’ve ever considered foster or adoptive care, I encourage you to get started on your own adventure.

 

 

 

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