adoption

It’s Time to Hit Your Children

sandwichhug

My daughter is screaming “F**k you! I don’t F**king care anymore! I’m a bad kid and I guess I’ll just stay in my room!” She’s 10. She’s mad. She slams the door and we hear some small pounding. Things are either getting stomped on or thrown around in her room. She alternates between this and then and then crying for me and tearfully begging me to forgive her. I wasn’t even all that bothered. I just asked her to pick up a few toys.

She screams, “I’ll do anything for you guys! I love you!” followed by “You’ll never make me clean up my toys!” After she finally calms down a bit, she cleans her two toys with help from dad. He is with her the whole time. I’m not, just in case she escalates into violence (I have a back injury.)  the screaming and crying part lasts for hours. Finally, she is ready bed.

As she showers, she screams at us that the water is “too hot.” It isn’t, but it is on one temperature setting since she ripped out the nozzle, years ago, during a tantrum of sheer terror. (she used to be terrified of bathing) We sort of pushed the nozzle back on, but it can’t move well to adjust the temperature now. So we are all stuck with warm showers until we can get a new one installed. Soon, the warm shower will calm her and we can talk. She isn’t quite ready to listen yet

Carl got in trouble at school this week. He got angry about losing a privilege, so he went into the hall and started violently beating the lockers with his lunch box. His  vice principal escorted him to the bus during dismissal, for safety reasons. We met Carl’s behaviors with firm boundaries. We met his emotions with love and understanding. It’s OK to get frustrated when you lose a privilege. It isn’t OK to lash out and start beating lockers.

It never ceases to amaze me the unsolicited advice strangers are willing to offer about other people’s parenting. In the grocery store, at sporting events, and even from friends. Suddenly everyone’s an expert. Except, those “experts” didn’t grow up in foster care. They were never hurt the way our children were hurt by the very people they were supposed to trust. So these ignorant oblivious strangers continue to offer their “expertise.”

“Who do they think they are? Don’t let them disrespect you. Spank those kids!”

“Someone should teach them some discipline. Back in my day I would have gotten a spanking for that!”

“Don’t let her/him get away with that. If he were my child, I would slap him a good one on the butt.” 

Ooooookkk.  Thank you helpful strangers, but I think I’ll take it from here.

When Carl got home after getting in trouble, that he had a full-on panic attack. He started crying and blaming the teacher right away. He was crying so hard he couldn’t breathe. He needed his asthma inhaler. Then he threw up all the way to therapy in a bag I supplied. Why? Fear.

It’s pretty simple simple. Sometimes, children who have suffered from the effects of physical abuse will act out when they feel threatened. Even the smallest correction, or perceived rejection, can set them off. Traumatized children are hyper-alert for any potential danger even when they appear calm. It can be confusing for others to watch them go from zero to sixty at the drop of a dime. What we don’t see outwardly is that they are always running around fifty.

They may be acting defiant and violent and scary. But that’s all it is. It’s an ACT. Our sweet, loving, kids are acting out in angry ways because deep down, they are really afraid. They are afraid they won’t get their needs met. They are afraid of being the victim again. They are hitting because they are afraid they will get hit. Sure, they will act tough, and scary. They aren’t. They are scared.

So, no thank you, strangers. I will not hit my already-traumatized children. I will not teach them with fear or intimidation. I will let them have “do-overs” and “time-ins.” We will practice coping skills and problem solve together. We will allow them to have natural consequences for their actions. We try our best to meet them with love even when all they want to do is argue with us. We will demand respect, and model it through our own actions.

Most, importantly, we will prove to them that we are not like their abusers. We will help them practice kindness and obedience. We are firm with their limits, but we are also nurturing. Parents shouldn’t be scary to children who have come from scary parents. Instead, we should be teaching them about working together, and building family through love.

Let me say again that we will not hit our children. Under any circumstances. We will not meet violence with violence. We will not teach them that aggression is necessary to get what you want. Nope. It is not time to hit our children. That time is long past in their lives. And it will never, ever happen again.

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

 

FTTWR

 

Advertisements
Standard
adoption

The Month All the Mommies Leave

cblankie

It’s March again, and I can never stop this month from coming! This is the month our children were removed from their biological home during a drug raid. It was a particularly warm March the year they went into foster care. I know this because I looked it up. Carl is 11 now. After living with him for a few years, we’ve noticed that his fear and/or misbehavior increases drastically every spring. As soon as it gets warm, Carl’s “traumaversary” kicks in.

In all honesty Carl’s been cranky in a pre-teen sort of way so far. He yells at us and stomps around, slamming doors. He reminds yells at us for being “stupid,” or “aggravating.” Then my sweet boy runs to me, head hanging down, for a hug or a snuggle. He admits that he is very angry and can’t figure out why. I’m hoping this is the worst of it. things seem to get a little easier every year. I really hope I’m not jinxing myself by writing this!

Anyway, as things get easier for Carl, we are noticing some significant separation anxiety in Mary. I’m not sure if this has happened every year or not. Have we overlooked her because Carl’s reactions were so extreme? Are her reactions more extreme this year because she has started puberty and gone through some medication changes?

All I know is that when I am out of sight, Mary starts to become agitated. At a recent doctor’s appointment my husband brought me to, they sat in the waiting room. When the nurse came to get me Mary started kicking the seat, trying to bait Carl into an argument, and being defiant to Luke. These are all signs that her fear is increasing. Her fight or flight response was taking over.

Luke took her outside to the car, where she could safely tantrum, and get all of her screaming and kicking out. It didn’t last very long and everyone was safe. She just really needed to let her big feelings out. She’s also having big feelings at school about missing me. I sent in a picture of Luke and I that she can keep in her desk, and look at when she is lonely.

Mary has also started to sit outside the bathroom door when I am showering. She is sleeping upstairs outside of our room. We’ve taped a picture of mom and dad on the wall next to her pillow. She’s like an extra cuddly  mom-magnet following me around everywhere. When I do my physical therapy exercises, she does them too. When I sit down, she plops herself as close as she can to me. Short of crawling directly into my ribcage, I’m not sure she could get any closer.

Somewhere, deep inside, they remember this as being the month that they lost a mother. This is why the month of March is a tough one for our kids. As my mom explained to me, this must be the month when our kids feel like “Mommies Leave.”  Every year, I hope their fear eases a little more, as they heal.

Too bad March. I’m not going anywhere! This mom is here to stay!

 

 

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

 

Standard
mental illness, parenting

In-Patient For the Holiday

hospital

I was so prepared this year. I was ready for anything. My husband and I had every therapeutic parenting technique we could think of at our disposal. Coping skills, body checks, sensory diet, check-ins, time-ins, you name it. We had our game faces on. Why? Because it was Christmas time. The worst time of year for many children from foster care. The worst time of year for our daughter.

We were so determined.We had it all figured out. We were on fire with new and wonderful connected parenting skills. I was even feeling a bit cocky, and posting things like, “Looking forward to our first Christmas with no in-patient stays!” on my parenting group. I was so very prepared this year. I was so very wrong.

Here is the hard truth about raising children with trauma and mental health concerns. Sometimes, it all goes wrong. Sometimes bad things happen anyway.  For several months we were working closely with Mary’s trauma team to adjust/change medications, increase therapy sessions, work on therapeutic techniques, etc.

Mary would be laughing one minute, then crying, then screaming. She claimed to hear what other people were thinking. She was lying more often, which is a pretty strong indicator of feeling deep anxiety and fear. Her emotions were spinning around faster than a tilt-a-whirl at the carnival.  She began telling us that she “felt like she was in a different world” at school. She heard voices that told her to hurt me and she didn’t want to. Welcome to the Christmas season.

Luke and I had contingency plans. We kept to a very regimented schedule, with no huge changes in the day to day routines. In order to alleviate anxiety we lightened the mood by having theme nights. One day the children came home and did their homework in a parisian cafe, while drinking “coffee” (mocha-flavored hot cocoa.) We all spoke in french accents while doing math.

Another night, our son yelled, “I wish everyone would stop talking to me.” So we did. We all sang our feelings rock-opera style. For an entire night. He had an air guitar solo, which he totally rocked, and Mary added some dance moves. I couldn’t talk the next day but he had gone from shouting to singing and laughing hysterically. We were having fun.

When Mary came home crying hysterically and told us she didn’t know where her sad feeling was coming from, we rolled with it. We set her up with sensory coping skills in her safe place. I stayed close until she was calm. Then my husband and I snuck into the kitchen to apply fake mustaches, turn on Frank Sinatra, and invite the children to a pasta dinner in our “Italian Bistro.” With accents, of course!

Typically, our daughter’s intense feelings can be acknowledged, named, and coped with. Mindfulness techniques and sensory tools work well for her. Then, as we lighten the mood and get playful, she can come back from the edge and her emotion will flip. It just isn’t always enough.

She began to rage on the evening of the 23rd and continued into the next morning. She claimed she could see people from her past that no one else could see. She screamed, she kicked, she beat her door. She writhed on the floor and yelled at us. She spoke to people that only she could hear. She lifted up her queen-sized bed and dumped it. She smashed everything in her room, or threw it.

All that work, all those skills, and she still had to go in-patient to be kept safe. She went into the psychiatric hospital the 24th and came home on the 26th. We are now referred back to a partial hospitalization program and Intensive In-home Psychiatric Child Services for her. We’ve done these a million times, rinse-repeat. It seems like starting over.

In the end I realize one thing. Our daughter isn’t a renovation project. We will never “fix” her or “cure” her. Mary is perfect because she is Mary. We want to help her heal but we also just want to be her parents.

When she grows up she won’t look back and remember magical parents that swooped in with all the answers and saved her. She will remember parents who cared. Parents who did the one thing that I believe really helped her. Parents that stayed with her. And if I’m being honest, I really hope she remembers the mustaches.

mustache

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Standard
family

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

sickc

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.

 

 

 

 

Standard
adoption, family

The “Do-Over” that Didn’t

horsec2

The closet is getting a vehement tongue-lashing. I can hear the muffled yelling of my 11-year-old son inside the hall closet. His behind is sticking out into the entryway, but the rest of his body has disappeared inside the coat closet.

“Carl? Honey, are you yelling at the closet?” I ask him.

“Yes!”

I am puzzled at best. “Why are you yelling at the closet?”

“Because!” He pops his head out to tell me, “If it keeps dropping things on me, then I’m going to keep yelling at it!”

I nod in agreement “Sounds fair,” I say.

As I walk away he continues to yell inside the closet. He also yelled at his trumpet this morning. He was upset because he had left the trumpet at school. The inanimate object wasn’t even present, and he was still yelling at it. He’s been having a lot of frustration lately and it’s hard for him to manage.

He will become enraged over the tiniest of irritants. He slams his fist on the counter. He throws books, remotes, or toys that bother him. He got upset at the therapists office because she didn’t have another stick of gum for him. He threw a football with force and smashed a picture frame. He didn’t mean to. He wasn’t looking. He just has to move, to do something, to release that feeling.

Carl has come a long way. I’m not worried about the closet, or the absentee trumpet, or even the remote. I have to admit I was a bit worried about the broken picture frame at the therapist’s office.We did offer to pay for a replacement. She refused the offer and said they should get plexiglass frames anyway. Bless that woman!

I know that Carl has big feelings. He works hard to control his body and his actions when he is upset. However, he isn’t directing his anger at people. He doesn’t hit his sister, or push her down. He doesn’t come after me in any way. Not anymore. In fact, despite what he is going through, Carl is the gentlest he’s ever been with me. I have back problems from an accident and I’ve recently had back surgery. Carl refuses to let me push the shopping cart. He brings my basket of laundry downstairs to start the wash.

He won’t hear of me carrying my own items into the house from work. “Don’t even think about it!” he’ll say. When he leaves with my husband he makes sure to open the garage door one my side, “in case I want to go out.” The door is too heavy for me. Six months ago, Carl would be dangerous while working through these emotions. A year ago, it would have been beyond imagining. Today, I am so proud of how he is trying to channel his anger.

During his shower last night a bottle of conditioner fell on his toe. I could hear him scream in anger and frustration. “The bottle did this!” he bellowed.”It hurt my toes!!!”he cried in indignation.

“Toss the bottle out here,” I told him, “I’ll deal with this.”

He popped his soapy head out from behind the shower curtain with a confused look on his face. (Yeah, both of the kids shower with the door half open. That’s a whole other story)

Dubiously he clutched the shower curtain around himself and threw the bottle to me. I snatched it up and sat it down in the corner. I gave it a stern lecture about having safe hands and safe bodies with our family. I told that bottle that it needed to take a break and regroup. I assured the bottle that it could return to Carl’s shower and try again as soon as it had taken some calming breathes and regulated its feelings. I have to say I was a bit tougher on that bottle than I would be on my children.

Carl and Mary died laughing and the tension was broken, if only for a little while. Why did I give a bottle of conditioner a “do-over?” Because that’s what we do around here.  We handle big feelings. We handle past trauma. We handle it like the champions we are!

 

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

Standard
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.

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