family

The Great Homework Heist

I am pretty sure that our daughter just pulled off the greatest homework heist of all time. Don’t get me wrong. I hate homework, too. I am an elementary school teacher and I’ve seen the research behind it. Basically, it has no effect on learning. It’s useless. It’s also a part of life and something that my reluctant daughter must learn to do, no matter how stringently she protests.

She’s hidden her assignment sheets. She’s “lost” important papers in her backpack. She has feigned absolute ignorance as to knowing what an assignment sheet is even for. She tells us that her teacher refuses to let her take her homework home from school. She tells her teacher that her parents refuse to let her complete her homework. Somehow, none of this is her fault.

Our daughter is a very bright girl, and it didn’t take long for her to figure out that we email back and forth with her teacher. So the homework tug-of-war continued. I found that if I sat close to her and prompted her with questions, she calmed a bit. I think doing any kind of independent work triggers a feeling of abandonment or a feeling of simply not being smart enough. I felt like we were getting a pretty good system down.

Then, last night, she came home insisting she had to go to the chorus concert that was starting in 30 minutes. It’s true, there was a school concert. The only trouble is, she hadn’t joined chorus at the beginning of the school year. In the elementary school, students can choose to give up their Wednesday recess for choir practice. They don’t need a permission slip to join, they just sign themselves up. I vaguely remember her saying at the beginning of the school year that she wasn’t going to do it because she didn’t want to give up recess.

Last night my husband and I looked at each other in confusion. The concert was right there on the calendar. Mary seemed astonished and a little hurt that we had “forgotten” she was a part of the chorus. Needless to say, we felt awful. The family rushed through dinner and I fished out her fanciest dress and did her hair. She went to the concert, alright.

The problem was, she wasn’t part of the group. Her name wasn’t on the program. The choral teacher let her up onstage but professed that Mary had never joined chorus or been to practice. To our daughter’s credit she sang in the concert. She performed songs she had never practiced and she looked competent doing it.

This kind of lying is not at all uncommon in kids with traumatic backgrounds. When any kind of fear response is triggered, they launch into activities they believe will protect them or keep them safe. I have to give her credit for this one. It took some serious planning. She is a smart girl. Of course, we had to work on her homework the next day before school.

So is homework completion the thing we are working the hardest on? Not at all. Is it honesty? Again, not at all. It’s safety. We want her to feel safe. My husband and I spoke to her teacher about alternate ways for her to complete her homework. We discussed options to help us communicate better. And we included our daughter in the conversation. After all, she is the one with the fear.

But can I tell you all a secret? I sort of wished I could give her a high-five.  I could never have pulled this one off!

 

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

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parenting

Anger at Biological Parents: Adventures in My Own Humanity

carlosmeltdown

Carl facedown on his “fainting couch”

I’m not even sure where the anger comes from. All I can see is red in this moment. I’m not proud of it.  I am tired, I am frustrated, and I am DONE with this whole conversation.

It’s early in the morning. The children are getting ready for school. Carl wakes up angry, as he so often does. He is arguing with me from the moment he opens his eyes.

“Carl, please get off of the floor. Your sister needs to walk through there.”

“I’m NOT on the floor, Mommy!!” He yells from the floor. Then he heaves himself up with an elaborate sigh and an eye-roll. I can hear him muttering “stupid” under his breathe. To Carl’s credit this is a far cry from the “stupid b*tch,” he might’ve muttered at one time. He also used to threaten me with a fist or with a suggestion that he would physically show me or teach me a lesson. He no longer does these things. In fact, I should be saying to myself, “Progress! Look how far we’ve come!” Instead, I am stumbling to the coffeemaker with a murderous feeling blossoming in my tummy.

After my husband distributes meds, Carl flops down on the couch and feigns sleep. (As a side-note, he is an excellent flopper. Usually face down, in the middle of the floor, or on his “fainting couch” as we have now dubbed the oversized ottoman in the living room.)

“Carl, get up. You need to get ready for school.”

“I AM up! And it’s 6:22! I don’t HAVE TO be up now!!!” he yells from his prone position.

The fact that his alarm goes off at 6:25 is a moot point. Those 3 minutes are black and white to him. After I have banished him to the bathroom to brush his teeth he continues with a mix of yelling at me, saying nasty things to me and his sister, or singing and dancing. I give him reminders to brush his teeth. Mary needs to get in there, too. I remind him at 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, and then 15.

“I AM brushing them!” Carl shouts through a mouth unobstructed by toothpaste or toothbrush.

As I begin a final countdown for him to exit the bathroom he screams, “But I haven’t even brushed my teeth yet! You are the WORST!!” and slams a few things around. Then he shoves his sister in the hallway and I send him into his room. When he is this angry it is better to take a few minutes before having him come in close to me in order to practice respect towards family and emotional regulation. His engine is revving too high at this moment.

Once in his room, he slams things around, slams the door (Flexible particle-board doors never break. I swear! Always buy the cheap ones!) He screams at me the whole time. Part of his issue is that we will have a high of 32 degrees today. That means he must wear his coat and his gloves. He absolutely hates dressing for winter. Part of it is a control issue. Unfortunately for Carl, it’s a battle he cannot win. When he was small, in his biological home, at some point he suffered frostbite on his hands. That means he has 2 fingers on each hand that are extremely sensitive to cold.

Carl is different from other kids in the sense that he feels physical sensation differently. He is highly sensitive to sticky or wet substances. It takes a great deal of pressure or force to make him feel hard physical impact. For example, breaking his foot wasn’t nearly as bad as having tree sap stuck on his fingers. Many children from hard places have a smattering of sensory processing issues due to their past trauma.

In his biological home, he was beaten so badly, so many times, that physical impact doesn’t phase him. I believe he honestly doesn’t even feel the New England chill until it is too late. Until he comes inside screaming in abject pain and holding bright red, naked hands, out to me. They hurt him so much but he refuses help to keep them warm. It’s much easier to argue with mom.

Today, Carl yells at me from his room this morning that I will have to make his lunch because he can’t make it from his room. I sip my coffee and tell him that he can easily dip into his money jar and bring his own money to buy a school lunch. No worries.

I am mad at Carl this morning. Really, really angry. He is screaming and shouting horrible things at me. He shoved his sister. He sometimes reverts back to whatever mentality in his bio- home that taught him women were meant to be beaten, controlled, and dominated. He isn’t often like this anymore. He’s not physical with me but it sounds like his bunk bed is taking a solid beating.

It occurs to me that I might not be completely mad at Carl. I am mad that we have to worry about his frostbite because his first mom left him alone outside in the snow, under the age of 5. I am mad that no one bundled up my little boy and met his needs. I am mad that he was beaten so badly, and so often, that sensations rarely register with him. After all, nothing will ever hurt him as badly as his biological parents did. I’m mad. He’s my baby now and I wish I could have met those needs. But I wasn’t there. I am here now and instead of letting my pre-teen boy have a healthy parental rebellion, I’m stuck attempting to further protect him from damage that she has already done.

Realizing this softens me towards him. He hugs me and apologizes on his way out the door.Of course I squeeze him tight and wave good-bye.  I am left to wrestle with this anger I have towards her. I try to be understanding. I try to be forgiving. But I am only human. At this point in the day I am a very disheveled, under-caffeinated human. I guess grace and forgiveness will have to wait until I’ve at least had a good long shower.

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

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family

Not This Time: Mood Disorder Warrior

yarynote

 

Sometimes I just know that I can do this. I am feeling the super-powers of being “mom” to some very traumatized children. I try to hold on to these feelings because, let’s be honest, every parent feels woefully inadequate at times. It doesn’t matter if you’re a trauma-mama or the parent of a perfectly behaved honor roll student. We all question ourselves.

Our little family has once again been faced with some big challenges. My back injury has returned. The disc that was operated on has re-herniated. I am out of work, on a heating pad, and just trying to manage my pain. In addition, Mary’s emotional cycle is on the uptick. This time she is in her happy place. Unfortunately, for Mary, that means that she is louder, laughs longer, and becomes wildly impulsive. She is in a manic state.  Eventually, her laughing  ends up as screaming. Then she cries and falls asleep.

Her emotions come before her thoughts. They precede any kind of cognition and she is left scrambling to figure out why she is feeling whatever emotion has taken over. It’s like she’s been hijacked by a feeling and can’t regain control of the car. When Mary cannot control her feelings, or her body, she is scared of herself. I get that. I can’t control the pain and/or function of my own body right now. All of us feel more comfortable when we are in the driver’s seat.

This time, Mary is able to verbalize if she feels unsafe. She tells me that she is afraid she will be hospitalized again. Mary can name her feelings and rate them on a scale of 1-10. She can ask for help. Mary is proficient on coping skill strategies to help her. I am so proud of her ability to handle this mood disorder that life has handed her.

She has been having intrusive thoughts about hurting me. To be clear, Mary hasn’t been hospitalized in almost 2 years. She hasn’t been physically violent with me since then, either. Mary is well-managed with a combination of therapy and medication.  But emotion this big does not know logic. Mary is terrified of the intrusive thoughts she is having. These thoughts tell her that she is going to hurt her mother. These thoughts tell her what the other girls on her cheerleading team are thinking about her. These thoughts are telling her, “I know where you live.”

While Mary is flying high in her manic phase, I am lying low. Literally. I am lying down on a heating pad or an ice pack. I am arranging lumbar support in the strangest sitting positions you’ve ever seen. I am feeling sharp, fiery, electric shocks down my right leg. That right leg isn’t working as well as it once did. I can’t drive at the moment. I can’t go to work. But I can still parent my daughter. I can be there to listen to her needs.

Mary is scared. But she isn’t alone. She is reaching out. She is asking for help.She can do this.  She is a little 10-year-old warrior who inspires me to face my own fears every day! Luckily, we have an amazing trauma therapist who is always there for us. We have a full sensory-diet plan to help her at home. Our state has a mobile crisis team that can send out a therapist when Mary says she is having suicidal thoughts. Her psychiatrist is adjusting her medication and it just takes time. Mary is scared.

We’ve been down this road before. I have neurosurgeons, and pain specialists, and MRI appointments. She has her therapist, her psychiatrist, and the mobile crisis team. We have my parents and our church. We have the support that we need, but that’s not all. The important part is having each other. We will get through this.  A 10-year-old warrior told me so.. So I’m not scared. Not this time.

 

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

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