politics

A “Good” American?

contrast2

There is one peach color among all of the crayons. I’m at school working with some students on coloring a picture of a boy. There are at least 6 shades of brown, tan, and something called “coffee grounds” in front of my student. She looks perplexed.

Me: “Honey, why don’t you use one of these to color in your boy?”

Student “But I’m coloring an American”

Me: “You can still use another color. Americans come in all different colors.”

Student: (looking confused) “But I’m drawing a good American.”

What?! My jaw hangs open while I try to gain some composure. I explain to her that good American people come in many colors. I ask if she thinks that Hispanic people or African American people are not “good” somehow.  I’m not just a teacher. I’m a mom. I am the adoptive white mom of Hispanic children.
Is she racist 8-year-old? I don’t think so. This is obviously an interpretation she has garnered from what is being said around her. We, as adults, must be careful with the message we are sending our youth.

Maybe it isn’t outright racist comments. Maybe she’s hearing the “Black Lives Matter” movement retorted with “All Lives Matter.” You can justify this to yourself, but a child will see the truth. A child sees it as a denouncement of black lives actually mattering. I’m sure there’s more. In a culture that professes anxiety about the growing number of hispanics, or “dangerous immigrants” in our country, what message are we really sending to our kids? Is she hearing concerns about American Muslims? Maybe it’s a combination of all of these things.

Children are concrete thinkers. They hear the truth behind rhetoric couched in “nationalist” terms. They hear the fear mongering about people of darker skin colors. They hear presidential candidates who want us to fear what is different, what is “other.” Being afraid of differences is harming our culture in so many ways.

As the mother of brown children, I worry. “No,” I tell my Puerto Rican son, “You can’t have the toy gun. Choose another toy.” Is it because I’m anti-gun? Because I don’t want children to play hunting games or Wild West adventures? No. It’s because my son is a darker skinned Hispanic boy. I’m afraid that somehow, somewhere outside of our small town, an officer might mistake his toy for the real thing. I won’t take any chances with him.

My husband and I spend extra time with our kids discussing how to speak to an officer. How to be respectful of the police if they ever stop you. How to explain every physical movement before you make it.  How to avoid being shot. We do this, not because we think police are all bad, but because we are afraid. So we practice. Just in case.

My husband is a paramedic in our town. Everyone knows everyone else here. It’s a wonderful community and we feel safe. When I get pulled over I feel safe. I chat with the officer freely and never think twice about reaching into the glove box. I’m not sure if that’s due to the safety of our little town or the privilege of my white skin. Either way, I want this safe feeling for my kids.

Will our children be subject to discriminatory “stop-and-frisk” policing? Will they grow up to face unfair voter laws which smack of Jim Crow laws to me? I’m not asking about my kids. I’m asking about all of our “good” American children.

Every time I hear rhetoric about “dangerous” Mexicans I get worried. I can’t help it. A country afraid of its brown people isn’t a country that I want my kids to grow up in. I can’t understand the things they might face. The preconceived notions or subtle racism they will experience. I can’t understand it because I’ve never experienced it. It is lucky that I’m raising children with a Hispanic husband. He will understand in ways I may never fully grasp. I’m a product of the white privilege I didn’t even realize I grew up with.

It brings me back to thinking about America. What makes a “good” American? Think about it. Is it hard work? Patriotism?  What about simply being “good” to others? I believe our country is stronger for its diversity.

No matter what side of the political fence you’re on, please be careful. You’re children are listening when you speak. A good American comes in many colors. A good American sees the good in others. A truly good American cares for all of the citizens in our country.

Are you a “good” American? Either way, you’re children are listening.

Advertisements
Standard
family

Technology and Trauma: Adventures in Finding a Middle Ground.

I wholeheartedly want to get rid of the iPad. I am ready to throw the thing away and be done with it. My husband loves his technology, but the children simply cannot handle it. It’s as if they escape into this magical world where their problems do not exist. They don’t have to think about anything at all while they are using the iPad. It’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s versatile. Most of all it is a path to escaping.

Children with a history of trauma can often manifest fear and anxiety as pure rage. My son has been having difficulty with irritability and anger lately. I can’t tell if this is the start of puberty or part of his emotional difficulties or a reaction to a trigger I just can’t seem to find. Either way, time on the iPad soothes him and takes him away from his emotions in a way that nothing else can. Unfortunately for Carl, these emotions all come flooding back the second he puts the device down.

We only allow electronic use for the children on the weekends. We don’t even watch much TV during the week. Instead, we play outside, play board games, eat dinner as a family, and attend events. The kids are involved in clubs after school and sports. The more exercise they have, the better they are able to regulate. Football has really helped to let Carl take out his aggressions in an appropriate way.

Unfortunately for all of us, once Carl gets on the iPad, he refuses to do anything else. He refuses to eat. he wants family meals to be over as quickly as possible so that he can pick up his game again. He sulks through family outings because he wants to be at home, playing. He whines that he wants a phone of his own so he can play whenever he wants. He becomes enraged when I won’t let him use my phone. To be clear, he’s 11-years-old. he does not have a phone and we are in no hurry to provide one.

I think my problem is that I remember his older brother. Sean was with us for a year-and-a-half. For the most part he seemed calm and happy. he could laugh his way through any event as if nothing at all was amiss. However, he couldn’t stand to be separated from his iPod. When that happened, he would become a totally different child. He was 14-years-old and over 200 pounds. Separating him from his technology was scary.

He brought it with him when he moved in. It had been a gift from another foster family so we were loathe to keep it from him for any reason. He had to earn his electronics time by taking out the trash, going to school (which he always tried to refuse) and completing his homework. When I had to take the iPod away from him the first time, he took a hammer to the pipes in our basement. I called the emergency crisis intervention hotline. By the time the therapist came he was perfectly composed. He smiled and laughingly told her he wasn’t angry and had “no problems.” Sean insisted he had no idea what I was talking about when I explained his tantrum.

When I hear Carl yelling at us that he doesn’t want to put down the iPad, my heart starts racing. Carl has never tried to do purposeful damage when he is enraged. He never plotted to break the pipes or threatened to do so. In the past, he has threatened me, but he was reacting to anger. Carl was proactively planning to damage anything or “punish” us. I am afraid of the thrall this technology has in him.

I can’t tell if I am nervous because of what his intense rages look like. After all, he hasn’t had one in awhile. I could be afraid because his behavior reminds me of Sean, who was truly dangerous when crossed. Or maybe all kids have this problem. Maybe it has nothing to do with trauma and everything to do with raising a preteen.

So should we keep our weekend electronic policy? Modify it? Cancel electronics and get back to basics? If only I had all of the answers. Feel free to weigh in…

 

 

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

 

Standard
family

Don’t Wipe Your Nose on Papa

papaplay

It’s supposed to be a gesture of affection. Mostly it has become a way for Carl to wipe away the boogers in his nose or the sweat from his face. He buries his head in the nearest family member and just swipes from side to side. Carl does not believe in tissues or napkins. He didn’t have them in his biological home. He prefers to use his shirt. When I tell him not to wipe his nose on his own shirt, he turns to Papa’s shirt. Clearly my parental guidance is lacking somehow.

My parents have become a major fixture in this family. They are always here for us. When they moved halfway across the country to live in our town, it was like a lifeline being thrown our way. Now our little family is bigger. The best days for me are the ones that are really rough as a parent. On those days I can tell my own mom how hard it is to be a parent. She comes over for coffee, no matter how big of a tantrum one of the kids is having. She’s brave. She loves us, warts and all.

On the phone Carl tells my mother that “this will probably be the last time I ever see you in my life.” It’s such an odd thing for a child to say, but it is so true for him. Of course, my mom has the solution. She comes over with pictures of Nana and Papa in little frames. Now Carl cannot help but to see them in his life. There they are, right next to the remote!

Nana brings us a map of Missouri. She has marked the areas where they will travel. Each town is circled in red pen. Here in Connecticut, we can follow their progress. This concrete reminder will show us all that they are still out there. Carl has a toy VW beetle that we placed on a map of the US to track their move from Missouri to Connecticut. Now they will be bringing the real life VW home.

We call them throughout the week and track them on the map. On the day they finally come back we have therapy. Mary cries in the therapist’s office that she doesn’t think Nana and Papa are ever coming back. Carl explains to her that are because they have to come back for their cat and we have the map etc. etc. Logically she knows they are coming but she feels like she won’t see them again.

After therapy we drive straight to their house. Mary is overflowing with amazement. “They came back!” she exclaims. Carl buries his face in Papa’s sweatshirt. I forget to remind him not to wipe his sweat on Papa. Secretly, a small knot of worry in my stomach unravels. I breathe a sigh of relief. It isn’t just Mary and Carl. I needed my parents, too. I think we are all learning the truth about family. When you love someone, you show up. Family shows up. Family comes back.

 

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

 

Standard
adoption, family

Clown Pranks vs. Trauma

Oh my ever-loving-cookie-dough! What is with the clown pranking everywhere? I know that kids all over the place from all different backgrounds are scared. I get it that it’s not just kids with past trauma who are being affected by this. I suppose we don’t have the market cornered on kids with lots of anxiety. But, Come ON!!!!

Our children have a serious aversion to masks of any kind. This isn’t at all surprising, considering that they have a specific trauma history related to masks. They can remember being small, in their biological home, and being terrorized by adults in masks.

So all of the media hoopla over the clown hoaxes is not helping. The kids at school are all talking about the creepy clowns. Every child knows someone, who knows someone else, who has a cousin, who saw a clown in their backyard. The difference for these kids is simple. They don’t end up worried that it might be their biological parents coming to terrorize them.

Mary was able to have an open conversation with me about how she feels “very triggered” when other kids start talking about the clowns. She told me that she logically knows there isn’t a band of child-killers dressed as clowns running around. Instead, it’s been making her think about her biological family and some of the scary things they did.

The school sent out a letter stating that they would be telling kids that the school was safe from clowns. They stated that they would not be allowing children to spread rumors or continue talking about the clowns. The letter advised parents not to expose children to the news on TV, because it was featuring stories about the clowns.

Really? That’s the plan?? When we find something in the world that makes our children uncomfortable we shelter them completely? How on earth is the school going to police every conversation children have? How will they stop kids from “spreading rumors” when little kids actually believe that these are concrete events.

We took the opposite approach in our house. We showed our children the news. Why try to get your children to believe your word over that of their friends? Why not show them that the news is reporting these events to be hoaxes spurred on by social media? The news mentioned teenagers who thought it was funny to put on masks and stand around. Just a hint, teens who want their pictures on twitter are not that scary.

We discussed all of this with our children. We listened to Carl’s opinion about why teenagers might do this and not realize how their actions were hurting others. We listened to Mary wonder aloud why adults would think it was funny to put masks on and drive. Most of all we listened. We acknowledged that their fears run deep. We accepted their emotions even as we let them come to the logical conclusion that this wasn’t real.

We don’t hide our kids from triggers. We help them to cope with triggers. After our talk Mary said to me, “I know it isn’t real. Can I still hold your hand on Halloween, Mom?” Of course she can. That right there is a darn good coping strategy. A strategy our daughter came up with. So take that, you stupid clowns!

 

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

 

Standard
adoption, family

Why do Adoptive Parents Care About Attachment?

hug1

Why do we want our kids to form attachments? Why is this issue so pivotal for adoptive families? Why are we even discussing attachment? Shouldn’t it be all about the trauma when you are fostering or adopting kids from hard places?

In my opinion the answer is yes and no. Yes, attachment is a key issue for our kids. No, it is not the only issue they face when coming into a new family. Trauma is huge for our kids. Not the kind of single-incident traumas such as car accidents or getting mugged. Our kids have faced traumatic experiences at the hands of the very people who were supposed to care for them and keep them safe.

Suffering abuse and neglect from a caregiver during the early years of life will affect other relationships. It doesn’t matter how you look at this kind of trauma. It understandably makes it hard to trust others. So often our kids get stuck in survival mode. They are used to looking out for themselves and that’s all they have space for. It makes it hard to empathize with others, because these kids are trying to ensure their very existence. At least, that’s what it feels like to them.

I was asked recently to explain why attachment is so important to adoptive families. Is it because we, as adults, demand affection from our children? Is it because we are seeking love on our own terms? I don’t really think so. Do we need proof that our children are “fixed?” Although it’s perfectly normal to hope our children will heal, or love us back, I don’t really believe this is the crux of the issue.

Building healthy relationships is key to having a fulfilling life. I believe we want to teach our children how to love, how to experience rewarding, reciprocal human connections. We want to enable them to feel love and safety in ways we sometimes take for granted. Does trauma need to be addressed? Of course. But it needs to be in the context of healthy connection with trustworthy loved ones.

According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, physiological and safety are the base of the pyramid. These needs must be met before the human can go on to meet other, higher level needs. The next one is relationships. It is a psychological need. According to Maslow it’s actually a step on the journey to self-fulfillment. And wouldn’t we want this for our children?

Continue reading

Standard
family

To the Drunk Dad at a Child’s Football Game

footfield1

Look, football can be intense for some people. Even the kids’ league gets a little crazy with the “fans” in the stands cheering and taking each play personally. Everyone has coaching advice. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone has a good reason why their player should be/is the star.

I get it. I love to watch my son play while my daughter cheerleads from the side. Carl is a linebacker and a tiny kid in general. I cringe with every tackle he makes, every hit he takes. It’s a little scary to watch. I get excited and cheer him on, jumping up and down in the stands whenever there is a touchdown or a good play. I’m not obsessed with football. I don’t know that much about the game. I do know that my son is an awesome kid and watching him play is the best thing ever! Here’s the thing: other parents feel the same way about their kids. This part may come as a shock but I’m talking about the parents of the kids on the opposing team!

Last night, at Carl’s game a player from the other side got a personal foul. He was trash talking some of the players on our side and the referee heard him. The kid was understandably frustrated. Our side was up 27-0. He didn’t handle his frustration well. While this 11-year-old child got a personal foul for “poor sportsmanship” one of the dads on our side started clapping and cheering. The kid bowed his head and walked off of the field to the sounds of clapping and shouting, “That’s right! Woo-hoo! Let him have it!! POOR SPORTSMANSHIP!”

The shouts were all coming from an inebriated man, swaying back and forth precariously on his feet, on our side of the field. I immediately told him to stop cheering when the other side gets a fowl.

“Stop that!” I told him, “Those are just kids out there. They make mistakes. You’re a grown man!”

Of course he got angry and slurred some phrases about how I belong on the “other side of the field,” if I’m going to stick up for the opposing side. He went on and on about kids learning good sportsmanship, all the while spittle flying from his mouth while he swayed back-and-forth. I told him straight to his tomato-red face that the same thing applies to the adults on the sidelines! There is no need to make that kid feel any worse. The player had his consequence. Let the referee and the other coach handle it from here. Adults don’t need to jeer and heckle 11-year-olds.

The thing is, I remember some of the anger outbursts my son has had. His anger issues stem from fear and trauma, learned during his early formative years. Before he came into foster care he suffered abuse and neglect at the hands of another mom, another family. The aftereffects of this are still with him and may always be. Carl’s anger is like visceral tornado at his back, waiting in the wings to wipe out anything in it’s path. He uses coping strategies, sensory tools, and yes, even medication, to keep the tornado at bay. This kind of self-control is so hard for an 11-year-old.

Carl can handle himself on the field now, but there was a time when he couldn’t. I remember when another child had to hold him back at school from attacking a substitute teacher.  He thought she had done something bad to his regular teacher in order to replace her. Another time he destroyed a book at school when he was mad, and then attacked a file cabinet. All to prevent himself from attacking the teacher.

This past summer Carl came home crying from day camp. He had gotten into an argument with another boy and began kicking a cardboard box repeatedly. He was chastised for kicking the box and the teacher was surprised by how angry he was. Later Carl sobbed in the car, “But she didn’t understand. I was trying not to hurt anyone.” I understood. There was a time when Carl would’ve been kicking the other boy. He has come so far.

My point is this: we don’t know about someone else’s kid. There is no way we could possibly know what another child has been through. Maybe the offending football player had a bad day. Maybe he was just being a brat. Maybe he even has PTSD, like my son. We aren’t the ones to judge. That’s why games come with referees.

So to the drunk dad at a child’s football game? I say the following:

Whether you’ve had 1 beer or 30, there is no need to shout at someone else’s kid. Or the coach. Or the referee. Honestly? Please stop drinking and just cheer for your kid. I know I’ll be cheering for mine, even if he makes a mistake.

 

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

 

Standard