adoption, family

I Missed Open House…Again

I seriously, honestly, for real, no excuses planned to go to Carl’s open house this year. It’s a great opportunity to meet your child’s teachers and see their work. I didn’t make it last year. I’m pretty sure it’s because Open House conflicted with one of Mary’s visits.

This year I had it circled on the calendar. My best laid plans were derailed when Luke needed surgery. I still thought I could go if my parents could just drop Carl off at football practice, I could pick him up after the open house. In my imagination Luke went home to bed and slept without my help for a few hours. Since Luke needed to be in at 7:00AM the day of the surgery I was sure I’d be home for the 6:00PM open house. Wrong!

I didn’t make it. We got home around 7:00PM. Luke was completely blind and in pain. He needed me to take care of him the way he’s taken care of all of us a hundred times before. So I skipped Open House. Again.

Carl has two band events coming up that I can’t make, either. Worse, he can’t go because there are a lot of moving parts and tight schedules around my surgery. It really stinks. When we started the adoption process I didn’t see myself this way.

In my before-mommy strategies I saw myself at all of the PTA meetings and school events. I thought we’d go to all the outings put on by the foster care association. I’d volunteer for things. I’m a teacher so I assumed I’d be involved in all the school things.

Reality was different. I hope we didn’t let these guys down. I think it’s OK, though. Maybe I didn’t make it to every school function. Maybe I didn’t get to every sporting event. But I did other things. Luke and I sort of triaged what the kids needed at any moment. He’d take Marcus to another court appearance while I took Mary to another therapy appointment. Luke and I haven’t ever missed a week visiting Mary. We’ve never missed a PPT or a treatment meeting.

I manage to be there at the times my kids need me but maybe not all of the times both of us would like. Last night Carl was up on three separate occasions in the night. Sunday nights are difficult for him. I think he experiences anxiety about starting the school week again. The first time he woke up he was stressed out that Luke (in the shower) had left or decided not to wish him goodnight. Our kids are always freaked out about people potentially disappearing from the bathroom.

The second time Carl woke me up to ask for help. He was holding a wad of tissues to his nose and dripping red blood down the front of his shirt. A bloody nose had awoken him to a crime-scene worthy amount of blood on his sheets and pillow. He was understandably panicked.

I stripped the bed, and tossed the soiled sheets and jammies in the washing machine sanitary cycle. I cleaned up Carl, and put fresh sheets on his bed because he was shaking too badly to do it. Once he was calm we tracked down and plugged in his humidifier.

The third time Carl woke me up by banging against the wall in an urgent call for help. The insistent BANG BANG BANG(!!!) pulled me out of a deep sleep and right to my feet. When I got to Carl’s room he was hidden under a mountain of blankets, stuffies, and our 109 lb therapy dog.

He poked his head out and tearfully told me that the power had flickered. To Carl this automatically means the power will go out which he places right next to “terrorist attack” and “nuclear bomb detonation” on his fear scale. He needed a battery powered nightlight. He was frozen in terror at the thought of being alone in the dark.

Even at 13, my teenager needs me to chase away the nightmares. So here I am. I didn’t make it to the open house (again) this year but that’s probably OK. I show up when it counts.

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

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adoption, family

Report Card for a Trauma Mama

On the last day of summer vacation I brought Carl to the lake, all the while keeping a diligent eye on my son. It was hard to peg him at a distance. Carl spent the summer outdoors baking in the sun until his brown skin perfectly matched the dock color.

I hate to admit it but I panicked a little. Where did my kid go? I could see the headline now: “White Mother is Complicit in Hispanic Son’s Drowning.”

He kept bobbing in and out of sight as he swam away, and then back to, the dock. Drowning statistics were running through my head. Doesn’t it only take 30 seconds or something? The peaceful water lapping at the sand became suddenly ominous.

Through my sunglasses I glanced at a sign that read “Children under 13 must be accompanied by an adult.” This gave me pause. I realized in a flash that Carl turns 13 in two weeks. He will be a teenager. He can technically, by the law of the lake, swim alone in two weeks. What on earth was I panicking about?

Also, what could I even do if I saw him in distress? Paddle slowly over to him at the speed of an octogenarian or snail? I certainly couldn’t pull or drag him to safety. My back injury would completely sideline me on a rescue mission. So basically, I spent a good hour on the possibility that I might just watch my son drown. In this situation my mom skills were nonexistent.

I settled back in my ergonomic beach chair to contemplate my role as he ages. The house seems strangely quiet these days. Out of 5 children only one remains at home. Soon he will be a teen. I think it’s time to re-evaluate my skills. Let’s face it. I am most certainly not always up to the task of parenting. Sometimes I am magical and wonderful and thisclose to being Mary Poppins. Sometimes parenting adopted children from trauma gets the best of me. My report card is as follows:

Areas where I am crushing it:

  • Persistence- I don’t give up on my kids. I advocate in schools, in psychiatric hospitals, RTCs, therapists offices and so on with the persistence of an emperor penguin. No, seriously, an emperor penguin. These animals are persistent AF. Google this!
  • Scheduling- I can remember to throw laundry in overnight on the delay timer setting. I switch it over in the morning and go from there. I can rotate chores, emergencies, sports schedules and my medical treatment like a boss. I should probably admit here that Siri helps me.
  • Using Siri-I am totally counting this in the mom-skill plus column. Yeah, she can do anything. Enough said.
  • TBRI- Its a form of therapeutic parenting known as “Trust Based Relational Intervention” and I’ve gotten pretty good with this over the years.
  • Research- I’ve read books, taken classes, and done many a webinar on developmental trauma. I can quote Deborah D. Gray, Bassel Van Der Kolk, Karyn Purvis and Heather Forbes verbatim. I LOVE reading.
  • I bake my own bread- Yes, this one is real. It’s also not as cool as it looks. I have a bread-maker so I just add 4 ingredients in the morning and set a delay timer. Voila! Fresh homemade bread for dinner and it is hot out of the…er…oven.
  • Crockpot Usage- I am a crock-pot ninja.
  • Saying “no”- I don’t mean to my kids. I mean to everyone else who wants something from me.  My kids have worn me out with trauma drama. I’m sorry. I can’t volunteer for you. I just don’t want to.
  • Naming and validating feelings-If you’re having a tough day then I am here for you. I won’t advise. I will name and validate your feeling and then ask you (therapeutically of course!) how you think you might handle the situation. I can validate your feelings like a boss!
  • Apologizing- I’m not above it and I need to do it a LOT.

Areas where I need to take the remedial training:

  • Naming animal facts- see above under “persistent.”
  • Sports- Umm, I can totally get you there but I don’t know what you’re doing. Hooray for ball points!
  • TBRI- Hey, some days I’m a therapeutic master and some days I am back to grasshopper status.
  • Research- I’ve read everything I could find. I still don’t have all of the answers when it comes to helping my children heal from trauma.
  • Making dinner- OK, being the queen of the crock pot and the delay timer on our bread maker are my ONLY cooking skills. The stove and I have a tumultuous relationship that once ended up with me melting a leggo on the back burner.
  • Saying “no”- When it comes to a therapeutic recommendation or treatment for my children, I have a hard time saying “no.” Even if it isn’t evidence-based or isn’t helping I’ve given just about everything a try. This has the unfortunate effect of working me to the bone while the children either ignore or actively evade the treatment.
  • Naming and validating feelings- I forget my own all the time. I think our entire family would be better off if I could admit to having feelings rather than waiting until the boiling point.
  • Apologizing-  I just HATE to be wrong. I’m sorry, Luke. See? I can do it.
  • Letting go- This is the hardest one. I can’t actually do the healing for my children. At some point I need to give them more freedom to make decisions and hope they make the right ones. You don’t want to go to therapy (Carl) anymore? OK well then it’s up to you to practice the skills you’ve learned. I’m not staying up with you until 3:00 AM because there might be maybe a bug alive somewhere in the world. You want to live in your car (I’m looking at you, Marcus!) for no apparent reason? I’m going to sleep in my nice memory foam mattress and love you from over here.

All in all I think my report card breaks even.  I’ll just give myself an A and pick up takeout.

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

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The Small Things

Sometimes it is best for me to focus on the small things. The pieces of life that make me grateful for each day. The small moments show me that my choices have been good ones. The small things that make me smile are all worth it.

  • Marcus, at age 20, crawling inside the boxes on Christmas morning. Don’t babies always play with the packaging more than their gifts?
  • Carl wearing Chewbacca onesie pajamas and cuddling his Chewbacca doll.
  • Carl looking up from his iPad to say, “I love you Mama!”
  • Luke tucking his knees in behind mine and snuggling me close on a cold New England morning.
  • Beef stew simmering in the crock pot when I come home from work.
  • Walking from the car into a building without thinking about back pain until I sit down.
  • Mary calling to ask how my day was.
  • Mary calling to check on Luke when he had a fever and wasn’t well enough to visit her.
  • Playing the new jeopardy board game with my mom and Carl.
  • Marcus coming home from a piano lesson with Papa shouting, “Yo! Papa is NASTY on the piano! He’s so great!!!!”
  • Watching the latest Star Wars movie with my boys. I wasn’t worried about Mary melting down in the theatre or being unsafe in the car. The villain Kylo Ren didn’t remind me of losing Marcus. This time Marcus was sitting next to me during the movie. Plus, Kylo Ren got a promotion and he is my favorite character…
  • Ripping open box inside of box inside of yet another box to get to the present Marcus gave me on Christmas morning. After about 15 layers I found a tiny snow globe with his adoption day photo in the center. Tears.

Not all the moments are like these. We have had so much to contend with lately. All I can do is hold on to these small things.

What are your small moments?

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

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adoption, family

Cocaine Donut Mom

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I wanted to be the homemade chocolate chip cookie mom. Before the children were placed with us I practiced. I tried all different recipes. I used different ingredients. Organic flour, cake flour, semi-sweet chocolate chips and dark chocolate chips.

I practiced making cookies from scratch like it was my job. Then I brought batches of cookies to my actual job. I let everyone weigh in on the best kind. You see, I believed that having perfect homemade cookie skills was essential to being a good mom.

I wanted to be a cookie-ninja mom. I wanted to welcome my kids home with the smell of fresh cookies baking in the oven. I wanted to mix dough with my children and teach them to measure ingredients. We would wile away the long New England winters in our cozy kitchen, just baking away. Chocolate chip cookies. The ultimate comfort food. I wanted to be THAT mom.

How naive was that? I held on to that cookie dream until the kids came home. Acquiring three/sometimes four children at once is a bit like getting hit by a truck. Mary only slept for 45 minutes at a time. She and Sean both woke up screaming from nightmares all night long. Carl raged whenever I was out of his sight. He would scream and throw his food at me during every single dinner. The dinnertime meltdowns cost me many-a-meal. I lost close to 20 pounds in those first months! Carl would hoard croutons in his room to eat later. “I want my REAL mom to make me food,” he’d say.

I never slept. On the off night the house was quiet I would jolt awake terrified something had happened to the kids. I was so used to their nightmares I didn’t know how to sleep without them. Going to the bathroom started meltdowns galore. I couldn’t even pee, let alone utilize my cookie ninja skills.

At some point I gave up. It was a Saturday morning and I was dragging my weary carcass around on autopilot. We must have been out of coffee. With dark circles under my eyes, I shuffled the children into the nearest Dunkin Donuts. I figured everyone could have a donut. It wasn’t homemade comfort food, but it was something.

And then I did the bad thing. I ordered a powdered jelly donut. Gasp. Somewhere a trauma-trigger alarm sounded, unbeknownst to me. Carl looked askance at me and bellowed, “Don’t do it, mom! Don’t eat the cocaine donut! Cocaine makes you crazy!!!”

Record. Scratch. I blinked a few times. Then I glanced around at the shocked patrons all staring at me. I looked down at my disheveled clothes hanging loosely from my skeletal frame. I did indeed look the part. Cocaine Donut Mom. So I ordered a different donut.

And right then and there I gave up the dream. I gave up the fantasy. No, I wasn’t the cookie ninja mom. This definitely was not the parenting journey I expected. It didn’t matter what the white-haired ladies at the corner table thought about me. It mattered to me that Carl felt safe. Thus began my foray into chocolate glazed donuts. Which, by the way, I got to actually eat without anything being thrown at me.

Sitting in the coffee shop, eating my donut in uninterrupted bliss, I found my comfort food. Maybe we didn’t spend hours happily baking together as a family. But we did get eat our donuts (in their entirety!) without a single meltdown. It was something. It was a start. Being the Cocaine Donut Mom wasn’t the worst thing, after all.

Over the years we finally joined together on several family baking endeavors. Some were great, like our Christmas cookies. Some were a blackened mess of would-be snickerdoodles that stuck to the cookie sheet. I never again made the perfect chocolate chip cookie. But we made memories.

Yes, this is a different kind of parenting. It’s different from the path I thought adoption would lead us down. Accepting an alternative parenting journey has made all the difference. Plus, I have great stories to tell, like the time I was a cocaine donut mom!


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

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family, parenting

Why I Don’t Co-Sleep, and I Don’t Care If You Do

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I Lied. This entire post is about to be a lie! My husband and I always had a pact. We would be the only two people in our bed.

We would make time to spend with just each other, every night. Mom and Dad’s “Special Married Time” was sacred in our house. Yes, sometimes our kids would wake with nightmares, and we’d tuck them back into bed. But then Luke and I would return to bed. Alone. We like to spend time together and we like to have sex (and here’s how I had to explain it to my kids!) We both think it’s important to our marriage. So the bottom line is, “no kids allowed.”

But then we adopted kids. Traumatized kids who came from hard places. We did our best to maintain that boundary, until last night. It was our 9 year wedding anniversary. We’d been together for 10 years exactly (We got married on the first anniversary of our very first date.) After a decade together, we wanted to do something special. Since my recent back surgery, I haven’t been able to do much, though. The original “out-on-a-date” plan was replaced with a tentative plan to make very, very gentle love, then have chinese food and watch our new favorite zombie show in bed. I even put on make-up! (Carl’s comment was, “What happened to your face?!)

And so, we put our children to bed. Mary began to sob and cry. Her eyes weren’t even open but she was crying. She hasn’t been afraid of bedtime in almost 3 years. Ever since she got back from the hospital, and I had my back surgery, she’s been afraid again. We’ve done our best to soothe her fears. We use a soothing sounds noise machine, a sensory pillow, her blankie, essential oils, and her favorite cat. Carl even slept on the floor of his room one night so that she could see him across the narrow hallway and wouldn’t feel “alone.” He tired of that after about 3 nights of her waking up crying.

OK, I lied again. We attempted to put Mary to bed. First dad stayed with her. Then I awkwardly hobbled in on my walker to lie uncomfortably on her bed to hold her. She claimed she “couldn’t breathe” because she was so scared. I held her back against my chest as we breathed in and out together using a “belly breathing” technique to calm her. Then I rubbed her back in circles and whispered soothingly, “mommy’s here,” over and over again until she finally fell asleep. Then I clumsily angled of of her bed and back to my walker. Ouch! Definitely time for my pain medication.

Now, Luke and I knew she would wake up again at some point. She is really and truly scared, probably because she is triggered. It may be my back injury that makes her scared to be away from me. It may be that she has been away from us at the inpatient unit in the hospital. Either way, Luke and I knew our anniversary celebration was on a time schedule. So we got to it right away. And then we put our Pajamas back on and went to sleep.

Sure enough, Carl woke us up around 1:00 AM to tell us, “Mary is crying AGAIN!” Not being able to go up and down the stairs more than twice, a day I gave in. We ALL needed sleep after the last week of Mary waking to cry repeatedly through the night. “Send her up,”I said, defeatedly.

Mary came up, clutching her blankie, hiccuping and trying to stifle her sobs. “Climb in,” I told her. And she did with an instant sigh of relief. We all slept amazingly well after that. Mary was snuggly and warm. I typically snuggle Luke but this was even rather pleasant.

I realize that every family is different. Some people do this all of the time. Hey, I don’t judge that. If this is what works for a family, then why not? After last night I am able to see the appeal of holding your child close and helping them to feel safe. I just don’t personally want to do it all the time.

So I spoke to Mary about how we would need to address her new night fear with her therapists. She agreed. I explained in a gentle way that we love her and we want her to feel safe. We just don’t want her in our bed every night. I held my breath and waited for her to protest, or beg, or even cry.

Instead she nodded and said, “Yeah, I don’t want to hear Daddy snoring all night, either.” Well, there you have it!

 

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

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I’m Not Sick and You Can’t Make Me! Adventures in Oppositional Defiance

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Anyone who has ever raised an oppositional child knows that they are very good at one thing: opposing you. It is like an unexpected special talent or bonus sporting event that adoptive parents were not expecting. This issue isn’t really about trying to drive us parents crazy. It’s really about gaining their own sense of control out of a chaotic life and a traumatic background. It’s just really hard to remember that after a night with only about 3 hours of sleep and an aching back.

Mary was sick all of Sunday afternoon. She took an unprecedented nap at a friend’s house. When Luke picked her up she had red puffy eyes, a runny nose, and the sniffles that wouldn’t quit. She forced herself miserably through dinner and then begged me for snuggle time. She fell asleep in my arms around 6:30. We put her to bed with some children’s cold medicine and called it a night.

Meanwhile, Carl was hacking up deep phlegm-filled cough from his chest. We gave him some cough medicine and sent him to bed at the regular time. He got up twice for extra snuggles and a cough drop. When both kids were finally asleep, Luke and I thought we were in the clear. We quickly wrapped Christmas presents like fiends  and before we knew it the time was 11:30PM. Very late for us old folks.

Of course, this was when the parade of sick children began. It started with a tap-tapping on my shoulder and, “Mommy, I need you.” Mary was throwing up, Carl couldn’t stop coughing. It sounded like a tuberculosis factory.  I administered medicine, checked temperatures, and held back hair. By 3:00AM my husband found us all in a pile with pillows and blankets sleeping right outside the bathroom door. After this, we traded places and my husband stayed awake with the sick little chickens while I got some sleep. It was a disaster.

What we did next might shock you. We kept the children home from school. Yes, we called them out of school and made doctor’s appointments for them. Carl was astounded and infuriated with our decision. Around 5 my husband crawled into bed for some shut eye. Big mistake.

Carl was ready to go to school at 6. Not to be deterred he came back at 6:30, then at 7. We just didn’t get it. “I am NOT SICK!” he started  yelling. He wanted to watch TV. He wanted to play (cough) outside (hack) in the snow (labored wheezing breathe.) Back to bed I sent him with Vick’s vaporub and the humidifier running. As he is crying and wailing about how (gasp, wheeze, guttural coughing fit) unfair and mean I am, Mary decides to join.

My vomitous daughter of the previous night comes out dressed in the full regalia of her sleeveless Christmas Eve gown. Did I mention that the gown is pure white? Or that she has been vomiting poison green phlegmy stuff? She tells us she is ready for school. If they can’t play in the snow or play video games then she is off to school. Carl agrees. Clearly I am crazy for ever thinking they were sick!

Unfortunately for these little chickens, the doctor did not agree with their self-diagnosis. After having both children change into warm clothing (It was 12 degrees outside this morning) Luke takes them in for a check-up. Both children have prescriptions and are ordered into bed for the day with plenty of rest and fluids.

We are all exhausted but I see a small victory. Last night, when they were in the worst throes of discomfort, they sought us out. They came to mom and dad for comfort. Our children have many issues from their past trauma, but one thing is for sure. They are attached to us. After almost 3 years, they trust us to meet their needs. Now if they would only believe us about what it is they actually need!

And home they are now. Despite how adamant Carl was about not being tired, he is fast asleep. Let’s hope we are all a little less grumpy after getting some rest.

sicky

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

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

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