adoption

But We Know What We’re Doing!

bodymap

This is a map of Mary’s feelings and where she feels them in her body. 

This week I find myself sitting in front of yet another psychiatrist in a string of specialists that we have worked with over the last three years. I find my mind drifting as I stare at the felt painting I have seen in this same office, in this same treatment center, with different doctors over the last 3 years.  I’m not thinking about that. I’m thinking about my vacuum cleaner. It’s supposed to be new and amazing but it never seems to pick up any dirt. It just sort of disperses bits of daily debris from our everyday lives. Our carpet must be looking very gray at this point.

We are at a partial-hospitalization program that provides treatment in the afternoons each weekday. Luke clears his throat to bring my focus back to the task at hand. I’ve come prepared with a typed lists of our daughter’s treatment providers, insurance information, medications, sensory diet, presenting behaviors, and coping skills. I am also carrying a suitcase-sized manilla file with past psychiatric evaluations, occupational evaluations, and records from emergency services, in-home services, out-patient services, and in-patient services.  Luke and I are sitting through what is probably our 1, 456th intake appointment at a mental health treatment facility.

Luke comes  on strong. He starts by saying, “Look, we’ve been here before. We’ve talked to a lot of professionals. We know our daughter best and we can tell you what’s going on.”The doctor nods and takes a few notes. He asks for a history, although he assures us he can get most of it from the therapist at the center who has worked with Carl and Mary in the past.

We both review the story from start to finish with a strong emphasis on trauma and the trauma-focused therapy and therapeutic parenting we do. To my surprise, this doctor nods and take notes. He agrees with us that our daughter doesn’t fit into any one box or diagnosis (Thank you!) He agrees that trauma-focused therapy is paramount (THANK YOU!) he also agrees that medications should treat symptoms and not a diagnosis. I can’t even say how relieved I am.

For the last three years Luke and I have had to learn brand-new parenting techniques that focus on connection and felt-safety for the child, rather than consequences and control. All of the books we read by Dr. Karyn Purvis, Heather T. Forbes, and Bryan Post have been stepping stones along the way to becoming therapeutic parents. The classes we’ve taken for “The Circle of Security,” and the webinars we watched with Dr. Siegal have helped us better understand our adopted children.

After a grueling 2 hour intake session, Mary is accepted into the PHP program. It’s a day program with group therapy, coping skills, and social skills. Mary will continue to see her long-time trauma therapist separately for the trauma-focused cognitive behavioral work she does. My husband and I will continue to see the partner therapist who helps us become a better therapeutic parenting team. We also have a referral for in-home clinical services and we have requested the program that provides a trauma-informed approach.

Our kids are phenomenally resilient. They have survived detrimental, developmental trauma and managed to survive. They have managed to attach to us and love us despite their fears. They have managed to live in a house with an ever-dirtier carpet on the darker side of beige. Somedays I feel like we are super parents with super skills to meet their needs. Somedays I feel like we are parents with a very dis-colored carpet.

On days like today I feel a bit defeated. I’m just a tired mom with a broken vacuum cleaner and a very long reading list. As we trudge home I explain to Luke that I wish we could be enough as parents. Just us. I wish that was all our kids needed. The truth is that our children need the vast trauma team and array of services they receive.

After everyone is sleeping, I tip-toe down the stairs to look at the vacuum. I take each hose apart until I find the one that is clogged. I have absolutely no knowledge about vacuums, household items, or fixing things in general. It doesn’t matter. Without even touching the manual I find the clog and dig out clumps of matted cat hair and other crunchy, fuzzy, questionable bits. It looks like a dead furry creature has been pulled out.

When I am finally ready, I flip the on-switch. It works! The suction is back! Our carpet is now covered in the clog of waste I have extracted. The family may wake up tomorrow thinking there is a dead hairy creature on our floor. I’m ok with it. It doesn’t matter. Victory is mine!

vacuum

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

 

 

Advertisements
Standard
adoption, family

Seasons of Trauma

The steady “swish” of the washing machine reminds me that life is cyclical. The seasons change. The sporting events change. Right now we are in Lacrosse season, with both of the Littles playing, and Luke coaching. We also are on the merry-go-round of therapy. Our kids will be stable for a time and then, inevitably, one or the other is in crisis mode and we cycle back in. Right now we are in the season of Carl’s crisis. This is the never-ending circle of parenting children with trauma.

Little Carl is in a partial hospitalization placement right now. They pick him up early from school. He spends 4 hours a day, every weekday, at the center. They have group therapy, art therapy, and individual sessions. They drop him off at 6:30 every night. He is in an intensive placement, but it is still one step down from hospitalization. We get to tuck Carl in each night and have him at home on the weekends. From here, he will drop down into “intensive outpatient” therapy, which will only last for 3 hours a day. He will do this 5 days a week, then 3, then 2 until he is discharged. Then back to TF-CBT again with his normal therapist.

Watching the same clothes swirl around and around again in the washer makes me pause and think. Carl was in crisis last spring. When the days got warm, he became very intense and dis-regulated. He was hospitalized in a psychiatric unit towards the end of the school year. We know that every year, around Christmas, Mary goes into crisis mode. Sean used to blow at the start of the school year and again at Thanksgiving.

Curiosity about the Spring got the better of me. Why Spring? Yes, Carl is in the thick of his trauma work in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. He was stuck in a place where he was able to vocalize all of the truly bad things he suffered at the hands of his biological parents. He just kept insisting that all of the things they did were his own fault somehow. Then, his therapist went on maternity leave. He is very dependent on her. We could see that this would trigger him. But still…the Springtime…it held onto me.

I went back into the files we have from the Department of Children and Families. There it was, staring back at me. May 4th. The day of the drug raid in his bio-home when he and his siblings were separated from their family. Bingo. It may not be much, but it gives me a clue as to why his behavior turns when the weather changes. It explains why he is more and more nervous that I may be “drinking” or “passed out” in my room. Trust me, the only thing I’m drinking is copious amounts of coffee. It has the opposite effect of helping me “pass out!”

There isn’t anything I can do about Spring. It will come every year. It’s not an excuse to be unsafe. I can only hope that, with continued love and therapy, he will heal. Understanding the fears he displays as anger is helpful for me. It helps me to sympathize. It helps me to see the sweet boy underneath all the layers of hurt and rage.

Seasons may come and go, but this forever family will always be just that; forever.

 

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

Standard
family, fostercare, mental illness

Belief in One Girl: The Argument FOR Medication In Foster Care

die.letter

It’s taken me quite some time to decide if I should share something this intimate, this painful.  The reason I blog is to give hope to other trauma mamas. I also blog to give TRUTH to other families going into foster care and adoption. People need to know what it’s like herding chickens! Sometimes I only wish I knew then, what I know now.

I’m about to tell a very raw, very real, and very ugly story. It’s also an amazing and very hopeful story.

There are some things about my children that I’ve been reluctant to share. What if they read this someday? What if they are horrified to see these intimate details out in the world? I balance this with the fear that there is a family out there, somewhere, debating if it will ever get better. Debating if they can do this any longer. This family needs to know that it’s possible before giving up on a child/ children from the foster care system.

This story is about the face of trauma and attachment challenges and a genetic predisposition for mental health disorders. This story is about the face of a little girl the first time she actually feels safe enough to admit she loves her new parents.

Foster kids come to us from a variety of backgrounds. They come from broken homes, abuse, or neglect. Sometimes they come from homes of crippling mental health concerns. Sometimes they come quite by mistake from healthy families. Either way, they all come out of their home and into ours. No matter what preceded it, this is a crushing trauma. All foster care starts with trauma.

“The Over Medication of Children in Foster Care” seems to be a big headline these days. A few years ago the headlines were all about kids in group homes and not with families. Are these connected? I believe so. I often hear statements such as, “I don’t believe in medication.”  It isn’t a religion. It isn’t a political stance. Since when did choices about our children’s health start falling into the “belief” range? Truth be told, unless your religion prescribes an actual belief about medication (and some do) wouldn’t this be more of a “preference?” I don’t believe either way about medication. I believe in my child. I don’t care about medication. I care about my child.

When we first brought the children home, it was after 4 months of overnight visits, phone calls, and traveling out-of-state to be at their school functions. We knew them fairly well by the time they came home. We were trained, ready, and prepared. Or so we thought…

The 4 siblings had been split up into 3 separate foster homes for their 3 years in care.  Only one of the children was receiving any kind of counseling. Coming into our home permanently was an enormous change for them.

Placing them all together again, with a set of forever parents, triggered their survival skills big time. It started with hoarding food and hiding food in their rooms. This progressed into urination and deification in odd places such as the trash can or the towels.

It quickly turned violent. Mostly towards mom, but also towards each other. They would try to push each other out of a moving vehicle if they even suspected the other had more food or more attention. They hit me, yelled at me, and threatened me , “you’re gonna be sorry!” They also screamed in terror every time I raised my arms to adjust my ponytail. They were waiting for me to hit them. History had taught them that moms hit, moms are drunk, and moms don’t feed you.

This was pretty typical trauma behavior. So we did what foster parents do. Did we go right for medication? No! We sought out counseling for our children. We went to a support group. We read all the books. What we didn’t bargain on was the extreme reaction of our youngest child.

The trauma of the move into our home, impending adoption, and trauma triggers of living with her brothers again, weighed on her. This was nothing compared to her early onset mental illness. The poor girl.

There was a strong history of mental illness in the maternal side of the birth family. Combined with precocious puberty, and all of the changes in her life, she entered into the perfect storm.

At first she would scream and cry alone in her room. This could be over any problem such as seeing a stray cat, being asked to let someone’s else steer the shopping cart, or even an argument she got into with her backpack one time. She would yell out, “Stop murdering me!” And “Owie, owie, oww!”while all alone. She threw herself straight down the stairs, stiff as a board.

Sometimes she would begin laughing hysterically for no reason and then immediately shift into screaming and pulling her hair. She would attack us and her brothers. She stabbed us with pencils and threw shoes at us. She tried to grab the car keys and drive the car. She ran into traffic many times.  She would smash her head against the wall over and over. She bit us. She bit herself. These things happened multiple times a day. Every day. It wasn’t safe to drive her to therapy because she would try to shove her brother out of the car, or jump out of the car, while it was moving. We were trapped at home during the summer months because it took 2 adults to transport her anywhere and my husband was at work.

Once, following an out-patient therapy session, she had a full-blown tantrum in the parking lot. Her three brothers and I got her in the car. The child locks were on so I settled in with her brothers to keep her from climbing out of the hatchback on our SUV. She smashed her head against the glass, tried to kick out a window with her feet, and tore at my clothes. The entire time she screamed, “Somebody help me! Help! Ouch! Owie!” We were there for an hour and then bystanders called the police. Once the police came she cowered in my lap and begged me to protect her. She begged me not to send her away.

There were many times she sobbed that she was an awful girl and no one would ever adopt her. She said she wished she was dead. She clung to me and hugged me and panicked if I was out of sight. She never slept for more than 45 minutes at a time. Ever. We constantly had to watch her vigilantly for the safety of her brothers.

We found scissors in her room, hidden under the mattress.  At 44lbs. she could pick up and drop her bed, complete with heavy wooden bed frame. There were holes in the drywall, closet doors hanging by their hinges, and broken windows. The adrenaline kicked her into super human strengths when she was afraid. I wore long skirts and long sleeves throughout the summer months to cover my bruises and bite marks.

Did she do any of this because she was “bad?” Of course not! This little girl was surviving. It was taking everything she had just to live in a family setting, surrounded by love. She loved us so fiercely that she was afraid. She pushed us away because she only knew loss and grief.

In her first 9 months home, she was hospitalized at an in-patient psychiatric unit 5 times. She went to a short-term residential facility once. Mary spent most of her first year home in a partial hospitalization program. Then an intensive outpatient program. We had intensive in-home therapy services, too. My husband and I participated in family therapy, trauma therapy and training.

Did all of this therapy work? Well, she could talk the talk, but she couldn’t access the skills when she needed them. Our daughter was in a heightened state of fear all of the time. She was trying her hardest just to survive. Her nightmares never let her sleep. Ever. I would often wake to find her standing over our bed silently.

Once, after trying to escape our moving vehicle on the highway, she told me “I can’t live like this. My feelings are just too BIG. No one understands what this feels like!”

She needed the help of medication to access the skills she was learning in therapy. It’s not a religion. Sometimes people ask me if I “believe” in medication. Believe in it? Don’t believe in it? That sounds more like a question for scientific research and the FDA. I’m not talking about snake oil magic potions here. I’m talking about psychotropic medications that are sometimes used for children. And, yes, sometimes they are necessary.

It’s not a matter of “making it easier to parent them” or “making things better for parents.” It is a matter of life and death. Permanency versus disruption. Home with family or hospitalized. Again. Type 1 diabetics require insulin to live. Some children require glasses to read. Some children with psychiatric conditions require medication to function in the world. Why would I ever deny my child what she needed?

There has been a lot of media coverage in the last year about medication over-use in foster care. Yes, there are certainly cases where a child is medicated without therapy and behavioral interventions. That’s terrible and probably not very effective. A treatment plan should have many components and should always include therapy for the foster child, if not the entire family unit. If therapy isn’t working, and medication isn’t an option, then kids disrupt. Families cannot manage like this long-term. Many would not. Many would give up.

Then foster kids move into a “therapeutic” or “intensive” foster homes. Often, they are moving away from their siblings who just may be the only stability they’ve ever known. If this doesn’t help they may end up in group homes or bouncing from place to place when their behaviors become too much for one family.

Let me be clear. The behaviors are a symptom. They are a symptom of trauma. They are a symptom of pain and grief and loss. They are often a symptom that the child is developing the very mental illness that prevented a birth parent from actually parenting them. We need to treat the problem the child has, not just the symptoms.

But, if the symptoms prove too much for the child to access therapy and healing? Treat them in addition! Treat them with medication if needed. Every child will need something different. Why would we toss out a whole category of help because it comes in the form of medication? Why not do whatever is best for the individual child?

I am aware that there are side effects. I am aware that we may be changing her brain chemistry. I hope we are. In this case, the benefit outweighed the risks. If she hadn’t settled into a family? If she hadn’t learned to love? If she hadn’t been able to access therapy? She would have been lost in a foster care cycle that too often repeats across generations. We would not give up on her or leave her to that fate. Our little girl deserved a family. She needed a family. She needed us. 

After her medication was right? The uncontrollable raging stopped. It ended. It’s been over 8 months since she had a violent outburst. She is still working through major trauma and emotional issues. We still have in home and outpatient therapy services to support her. But she is with us. She is functioning in a family setting. We can use the car and go places. She sleeps through the night now, on most nights. She isn’t having toileting accidents out of fear and anxiety anymore. Instead, she is making friends, playing with barbies, and hunting for bugs in the yard. She leaves me sweet little “I love mommy” notes and she means it.  She is loved beyond imagining.

Will she be on medication forever? It’s a possibility, given her diagnosis. I hope not, but we will face whatever comes. She is our daughter. Our heart. Our littlest chicken.

Here’s the thing. My daughter’s past does not define her. Her trauma will not define her. She is more than just a mental illness. She is more than just a series of behaviors. Now she is able to shine because those things are all getting better.

She is just a normal little girl, experiencing a normal childhood. It took a long time to get there. It took  a lot for her to trust in us never to leave her. She was able to get there because she had the right supports, including medication.

This is just one story. It is a beautiful story. It is a story of hope and healing and family. It is the story of a little girl brave enough to try to love again. Brave enough to heal.

When did this ever become a conversation about “beliefs?” If you believe in one thing, I urge you to believe in the power of love. Medicate or don’t medicate, I won’t judge you. It isn’t fair of us, as a society, to pass so much judgement on parents. Why do we do this?

Have compassion. Know that all kids are different, and kids in care are traumatized to a whole other level. If we want to stop passing kids around from home to home? If we want to break the cycles of mental illness, trauma, and abuse? We need to be open to anything that works.

Yes, the number of children in foster care on psychotropic medication is vastly disproportionate to the general population. However, all of our kids in care have experienced huge trauma. It may be hard for us to comprehend a hurt that big in the general population. I have no idea how hard that must be. I will not judge another family for trying to help their child any way they can.

I urge you to remember our story. We never gave up. We do believe in something. It has nothing to do with medication. We believe in the power of love.

letter.love

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

Standard
adoption disruption, family, grief, parenting

Switching Shampoo: Grief in Disrupted Adoption

So, Luke is pissed. Pissed. Mad, steaming, angry, seeing red, blow-a-gasket, pissed. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen my husband this mad in nearly a decade. Today just happens to be one of those days. He is typically calm and steady. He is always the voice of reason. Just, not so much today. His exact words were, “Of course I’m pissed! I’m sick of them! They did this to you on purpose and I am pissed at them! All I hear about is them and look what they’ve done to you! Do you see me calling them? I won’t do a thing to help them. I’m not going to play their games.” He is, of course, right. They were trying to hurt me as deeply as possible, thus making it easier for them to walk away. The “they” he is referring to are Marcus and Sean. Our 17 and 14-year-old boys who recently disrupted out of our home.

It worked. I am but a shadow of myself these days. This day, in particular, has been difficult for me. A friend’s 14-year-old son attended a social function with her recently. He obligingly took pictures of us grown women acting like silly children. He held his baby cousin most of the time. Sure, he rolled his eyes at his mother and poked fun at her, but he was there.  He was right there with her. I went home and cried for hours. Today I’m mad and prickly. I’m snapping at everyone for no reason and I can’t seem to get back on track. I feel like there’s a cartoon storm cloud brewing over my head and I’m just spoiling for a fight.

I sometimes feel that my intense level a grief over these teens is a huge inconvenience to him and to the rest of the family.It can hit me so hard over the smallest things. I look at the door knob on our basement door and remember Marcus installing it. I stumble across Sean’s favorite chicken salad sandwich in a picture at Dunkin’ Donuts.  There are times that it consumes me so much that I cry. I spend time alone. I go into our room and shut the door to be alone. I can tell that I am not myself. In our family I am usually laughing and baking brownies and singing crazy songs. I always find the bright side, the half-full glass, the silver lining. Lately I can’t seem to find my own smile.

It occurs to me that I can switch back to my old shampoo again.  Sean was so hyper-sensitive to smells that I had to switch hair products. This was to keep him from gagging on long car rides with me. I still buy the Sean-approved brands of shampoo and conditioner, out of habit. Why am I doing this? Why am I holding out hope? Why can’t I let go? My therapist tells me that I don’t need to let go. Grief is a process. I am grieving the loss of a child. But, wouldn’t it be easier to let it all go? Wouldn’t it be easier if they just weren’t my problem anymore? Sometimes, in my deepest, darkest places, I admit this is true. It would be so much easier. If we had never become this entangled with them, if I had never fallen in love with parenting these chickens, wouldn’t things be better right now? They would be, but that isn’t the point.

All anger is born of fear. I admit that I am angry at the teens. It comes and goes. I am angry because I fear that they never really loved me, even a little bit. I am angry because when I am in my darkest place, I fear that I didn’t actually make any impact on them. I am afraid that I wasn’t a good parent.

Luke is afraid, too. He is afraid for me. He is afraid that the fun-loving, optimistic wife is MIA and he wants me to come back. I am precious to him and he wants to protect me. Of course he is mad.

If I am being honest, the hardest part was losing Sean. When Marcus left, I wasn’t all that surprised. He has struggled back and forth with loyalty to his biological mother for a long time. He went through a phase before where he got incredibly close to me and then just completely cut off contact. He always seemed to have one foot out the door, in case things didn’t work out. Not so with Sean. Sean was my cuddle buddy, my cooking buddy, my constant companion. Now he is my yesterday, my memory, my once-upon-a-time.

It’s not as if they are dead. They simply don’t wish to be in our family. They can’t handle being in any family. The question is, how do I move on? How do I come back from this? And then my fear creeps in. Do I ever come back from this? Can I?

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

Standard
adoption, family, Therapeutic Parenting

Adventures in Therapeutic Strategies for Traumatized Children and Their Stinky Parents!

The whole family has been “cooked”. We are wildly flopping our noodle arms around the room and bobbing along on freshly noodled legs. My family of spaghetti is dancing around the therapist in a freshly cooked state with their therapist. God bless her!

Our whole family is learning and practicing coping skills to help with “big feelings.” Because of past trauma and PTSD, our children can quickly become dis-regulated. Once their “fight-or-flight” response is triggered, they can become dangerous to themselves and the rest of the family. Our goal is to catch their escalating emotions and intervene before they get to this point.

My husband and I will often start a coping skill while the child is dis-regulated and hope they will join in. We can often sense when an outburst is brewing long before they even know that their feelings are beginning to take over the “driver’s seat.” I am, by no means, a therapist or a neurologist. I will, however, try and paraphrase the experts as I show you some of the things we have learned. Here are some of the calming strategies we have tried. Feel free to add your own in the comments section!

1. Cooked spaghetti:

There is a tutorial available online for this. The basic idea is to have the child tense up their body like uncooked, stiff pasta. Then they “cook” it either all at once or lying down and one body part at a time. The cooked child becomes limp and floppy. We prefer to stand up so we can dance around in our wiggly, floppy, “cooked” state!

  • YouTube has lots of videos. Search “Spaghetti toes”

2. Deep pressure:

Sometimes deep pressure activities provide a sensory feedback that is needed to sort of bring the child back down into a “grounded” feeling and a sense of body control. Some children prefer a weighted blanket. We use a Velcro vest that we tighten according to the child’s preference. The tight squeeze is soothing to our kids.  We also have body gloves that can encompass the child completely. They can see out, but you can’t see in. This gives pressure feedback but also a sense of safety and privacy. And it looks super cool!

  • Weighted blankets and body socks are available on Amazon.com and Abilitations.com

3. Scent Memory:

We spend quiet happy times massaging lavender-scented lotion into each other’s arms and hands. That way, our children associate the smell of lavender with calming and nurturing. Once their Amygdala assigns an emotional state to the scent, then the scent can be used to activate this calming state. Now, in times of stress we can nonchalantly open up the lotion and apply it to ourselves. Then, when Carl or Mary are ready, we can give a soothing hand massage. This is also true for objects that smell like mom and dad. Our dirty shirts from yesterday can be worn by the Littles in times of stress. Believe it or not, these smells are soothing and comforting to children in distress. Yup, they love our stink!

4. Heat:

Warmth is a basic human need. We are hard-wired to seek out good, warmth, and shelter. We have a heating pad that plugs in and helps warm the back of any child who is becoming dis-regulated. A fuzzy blanket, heating pad, and snuggles are often a good way to soothe a frightened child. We have also ordered heated stuffed animals (accented with lavander!) that our chickens can microwave and hold close. You can make this yourself with a sock or small bean bag. Fill it with beans or rice and a few drops of lavender essential oils. Sew shut and microwave for warm hugs!

  • quirkymomma.com has a great DIY lap snake.

5. Breathing:

When any animal-even humans- perceived danger, they enter into a state of primal fear. This is also known as the fight-flight-freeze response. Children who have been traumatized are often operating very close to this fear-based survival state much of the time. Their pupils will dilate and their breathing will be rapid and shallow. When the survival brain kicks in, the thinking brain shuts down. The beast way to bring your child back to their “thinking” brain is through breathing.

Slow their breathing and you can calm their neuro-response. Our kids’ super-swell therapist gave them jelly belly bubbles to blow. They are awesome! These bubbles are scented like Jelly Belly candy so they automatically trigger happy candy memories in the brains Amygdala. Plus, blowing bubbles will force the child to slow their breathing down.

We also like “Lazy 8 Breathing” from the Zones of Regulation curriculum. This has the child trace a sideways figure 8. They breathe in on one side and out on the other. This is also used in Brain Gym activities in part to have the child cross the midline of their brains. It’s calming and it activates different areas in the brain to work together.

  • Bubbles available at Vat19.com
  • Check out BrainGym.com for more brain-based activities

Please feel free to add your own ideas about calming your child’s stress responses. How do other Trauma Mamas out there help kids to regulate their emotions?

When all is said and done, I have to thank our therapist. So, here it goes.  Thank you for cooking my children! 

**Please note that I am in NO WAY a certified professional in the areas of occupational therapy, psychiatry, psychology or counseling. I am a special education teacher by day and a trauma-mama by night. See your own child’s professionals for specific plans. Thanks!

Standard
adoption, family, parenting, PTSD

Furniture in the First Degree: Adventures in the Rage of a Traumatized Child 

He is standing in the closet doorway, screaming in a wordless rage at his dresser. I eye the dresser suspiciously. What was its offense against my son?

“Carl, honey, did you want me to help you pick out some shorts?” It’s 6:00AM. A full hour before he needs to be up. My bleary-eyed-9-yr-old is standing in long sleeves and pants, screaming at his dresser. It is going to be over 90 degrees outside today.

It isn’t entirely unusual for Carl to become enraged with inanimate objects. I very much prefer this to becoming enraged at mom! Often times I will “count” the offending object a la “1-2-3 Magic.” I will sternly scold the table-door-cleats-refrigerator with a, “Hey! You can’t do that to Carl. That’s 3, take 5!” Then said object will remain in “time out” until the timer rings. I figure laughter is the best policy, right?

Wrong. At least, not this morning. This is one of those mornings that Carl woke up yelling. He blocks me from the dresser in a defensive stance and insists that he has no shorts. He dares me to “cross him.” Why on earth would I want to do that? I suggest getting myself some coffee and coming back when he is ready to choose his clothes.

As I walk away I can hear him kicking the closet door. Maybe the closet is an accomplice? I shrug it off and wake my husband. He will need to be up early if Carl is already raging. Just in case. Because I have to go to work. Thank god for Luke. He is the glue that holds our family. He has the power to soothe a raging child, calm a stressed out Mama, and properly discipline a wayward dresser.

This marks a solid week of Carl being in his rage cycle. Waking up is difficult and the time before bed is difficult, too. He has been physically aggressive with both Luke and I. He has punched his walls and thrown his things. Luke caught him smashing his bed with a hammer he must have gotten out of the toolbox in the basement.

Things are changing. Marcus is gone. Sean is gone. I’ve gone back to work. The chickens have gone back to school. It’s a lot to take in. And let’s not forget that the furniture is misbehaving.

The problem is, when Carl starts in this cycle, he gets stuck. He rages one day, then the next and the next and the next. He hurts us and hurts himself. He feels tremendous guilt about his own actions. He starts to make claims about how he “hates Carl.” Who could hate little Carl? Seriously, his dimples are to-die-for-cute. He judges himself too harshly.

Luke and I have concerns that he may go back in-patient if we can’t break his cycle. What we want most of all is to keep him home and keep bonding with him. A sense of permanence and belonging is so important to our kids.

We are working on a sensory plan to help with his mornings. After work I got a “thunder vest” for him. It’s actually a strong Velcro vest that is used to soothe dogs during thunder storms. The vest has little doggie paw prints on the front. A weighted vest didn’t help very much but Carl seems to love the Velcro. I can strap him in really to provide deep pressure that should help to soothe his senses.

We tried it on and then Mary wanted to try it. Don’t worry, I had one for her, too! They paraded around in their vests and pretended to be police. I told them that they were ASPCA officers responsible for brushing our cats in the mornings. I added it into “Officer Carl’s” morning schedule.

I am hoping that tomorrow he wakes up, gets dressed, and then suits up to fight against cruelty to animals. I hope he has a morning adventure rather than a morning altercation with the closet.

The bottom line is, I am hoping. Perhaps with practice, modeling, and a little sensory feedback, maybe we can break this cycle. Just don’t tell my children that the vests are made for dogs.

I am hoping we can maintain Carl in the home without another hospitalization. No matter what, we will keep trying new approaches. Therapy, sensory, behavioral, visual interventions, whatever it takes. We haven’t had much luck modifying the behaviors of our furniture. I am hoping we have luck in riding out this cycle with Carl. After all, we were lucky enough to find him, weren’t we?

vest.2

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

If you’ve ever considered fostering or adopting, I encourage you to start your adventure today.

Standard
family, marriage, parenting

Choosing Forever: Adventures in Marriage and Adoption

Wedding_rings

Here is your forever home. Here are your forever parents. Here is your forever family. In the world of foster care and adoption we toss around the word “forever” a lot. We use it liberally and sprinkle it in to the interactions we have with the children we are adopting. But what does this concept mean to our children? 

I wonder if many of us have stopped to consider our own personal paths to our “forever?” I know one thing for sure. I know that Luke is my “forever.” Wherever he is, there is my “forever home.” Wherever he is, there is my “forever family.” I have known this from almost the first week we started dating 8 years ago.

But how did we get there? There certainly wasn’t a social worker assigning us to be a match. We both chose to walk the path of “forever” on our own. I had the advantage of a preconceived notion, a schema, a background upon which I based my beliefs about marriage. In the world I grew up in, such things are possible. 

Luke and I were friends before we started dating. We had known each other for about a year before I asked him to run away with me. That’s right, I asked him to run away with me. During the time of our friendship, I’d always had a crush on him. We were both in other relationships and so we remained friends and nothing more.

After my relationship ended, I figured it was now or never. If I didn’t take the leap, I knew I’d end up regretting it or the rest of my life. So I called Luke and asked him to run away with me. He compromised and offered to take me on a date. We went out the very next night, and the next, and the next. We’ve never been apart since.  A year to the day after our first date, we were married. We just knew. 

Fast forward to 9 years later and I realize that the reason I so firmly believe in happily ever after is because I have mine. He is right by my side where he belongs. And so, my schema starts. I have lived with the certainty and the joy of his love. We are family by choice, but I never question that we are truly one family. Luke is a sure thing, my forever.

When I try to view this from my children’s schema I simply can’t. The past has already taught them that love can be hurtful and scary and not to be counted on. We are their family by choice but they didn’t choose us. Not really. If anything, it seems to me that adoptive parents have many more choices than adopted children. How can I expect them to love us back with reciprocity? I can’t.  That is a whole new foreign language for them. 

They are thrust into a situation they can’t comprehend.  To me, family is forever. It has always been that way. To them, family is temporary at best. We must shift their entire thinking.

The foundation of our family is the marriage Luke and I have. My love for my husband reminds me that I am worthy of being loved. His kisses, his hand in the small of my back, his gentle words, tell me that I am not alone on this journey. No matter how rough the road is I am comforted by him. I find joy in him. No matter how others feel about me, I am able to bask in the image he holds of me (albeit, I admit, he has a rather inflated view of me!)

We need to nurture and treasure this connection. We need to be reminded of how reciprocal relationships work. We need to show our children that fairy tales ain’t got nothin’ on this family!

I can give unconditional love to our little chickens, but for now I will have to receive unconditional love only from my husband. What more could I possibly expect of them after such a relatively short time in a healthy family? 

I can only hope that one day our children will learn to love and be loved the way Luke and I do. I hope we can re-teach them the meaning of “forever.” But until that time? I can see why they wouldn’t believe. I can see why choosing this family may not always seem so permanent. That’s OK for now. Luke and I have enough faith to go around.

** Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved. 
**If you’ve ever considered foster care or adoption, I encourage you to start your own adventure! 

Standard