Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve With You

When you are waiting for your child to come home you have plenty of time to fantasize about the holidays with them. And like so many of our children, we have these unrealistic visions of what our first Christmas should be. You might tell yourself over and over again that your child is not capable of appreciating the gifts being showered upon her. You prepare for tantrums as best you can. You think you are ready, but then the excitement takes over and you start to anticipate that this Christmas might just turn out how you dreamed and then it all comes crashing down. Sweetie, like so many other children coming home from foster care is having huge issues during the holidays. We have been dealing with daily defiance on just about anything. I am trying to create as many moments of joy as I can. Even if it is just for a minute, we need these moments! Sweetie had another rough day yesterday. So I decided we should do a little baking therapy and made some gingerbread cookies. There is always a way to make a mess and a get a good laugh while making cookies! While we were decorating our gingerbread cookies I dabbed frosting on my nose and then Sweetie's nose. This turned into a frosting fight! Sweetie was laughing so hard she pee'd herself. It was awesome to chase her around the house trying to rub frosting in her hair and on her face! It was really awesome to see her so happy. She really is like a toddler when she drops her guard. I love to spend time with this Sweetie. She is the one who yells "Mommy and comes running to my bedroom door the minute she hears me up in the am". Now the "controlling Sweetie" is the one that was slamming the bathroom door repeatedly to wake me up just 2 minutes earlier. But at this stage of development emotionally she does not realize that 2 Sweeties are one in the same. And developmentally this is right on target for a toddler. It's called Permanency. To believe something exist even when you can't see it. It is the most basic of developmental benchmarks and so many children in foster care have a weak version of it or non at all. I do not believe Sweetie has it at all. Out of sight is truly out of mind. As if it never existed at all. I could go into her room any day and remove half her toys and she would not even know that anything was missing. I know because I have done this. When she was in the hospital, Shelli came over and we cleaned up and purged so many toys and clothing. Sh has never even asked about it. Even when she was at Shelli's house and was playing with one of the toys we cleaned out that I gave to Shelli to have at her house for her nephew to play with, she just said "I used to have one of these". This is really important because when she can't see me, it is almost as if I don't exist or as if I am not coming back. She is genuinely excited every time I do come home. She cheers and has a genuine sense of relief. Can you imagine feeling in your core that every time your loved one walked out the door they were not returning. Take that one step further and now imagine that it has happened so much that you are not upset by the fact that that person may never come back. Everyone else goes away and doesn't come back, so why expect that loved one to? That must be a scary place to live. We have been giving a gift or two a day to limit the number of gifts under the tree. Having a ton be here on Christmas morning would completely throw her into a tantrum. She will either love everything, feel unworthy of the gifts and sabotage the or she will feel she didn't get enough and will be mad about that. So either way we are sitting on top of a ticking time bomb. This really was not how I envisioned Christmas at all! These are the real things that adoptive parents face that you don't hear about. We had a wonderful service at church tonight. It was so nice to share that time with Sweetie, to sit with my arm wrapped around her, her head on my shoulder as we sang various Christmas songs. That has been the highlight of my Christmas season. I was so proud of her for sitting through the whole service. She grabbed a program and asked if we could scrapbook about it. My hope and prayer this Christmas is that the seeds that were planted in service tonight will grow and blossom in her. That she will know her worthiness. That she will come to know true unconditional love.That her heart will fully heal from the trauma and be filled with love and compassion for others. It is almost midnight on Christmas Eve and all the presents are wrapped and under the tree. I am sitting here in the glow of the Christmas tree and I reflect upon the crazy year that has passed. What a year it has been. It started as the most incredible year, followed by the greatest heartbreak of my life. But tonight I sit here a mom. Our family may be broken in ways that may never be fixed, but we are a family. We are a family full of love and laughter. That is all I could ever ask for any Christmas.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

How Do You Hug A Porcupine?

I know the cartoon above is cute, but it represents our life. Anyone that gets close enough for Sweetie to begin to love is struck down with quills. I have a child who craves love and affection, but only when she wants it. When she wants it she demands it. Just like a 4 year old,she will interrupt you in the middle of making meatballs (you know hands covered in goo). But then when you want to give her a hug she rejects you and turns her back and says I don't have to hug you, I don't have to love you. Holidays are rough for kids coming out of foster care. And just like all the rest, Sweetie is no exception. Her behaviors are starting to regress. She is at war with herself. I believe that at times Sweetie wants to do the right thing, but it is just so much easier to just do what she wants. During therapy yesterday she is yelling at us that we can not control her, she can do what she wants. She doesn't care what we think and she doesn't need a family. We are stupid and we are liars. All great stuff to hear, right? She continued to try to get a rise out of us in the car on the way home and was unsuccessful. I just turned on my Christian music and sang poorly. Then Sweetie began sobbing and saying that she hates herself, that she an awful human being , that she does not deserve to have us as a family and does not deserve to live. Luckily we were a minute from a gas station, so Cris pulled over and he went in to get a drink so I could work with Sweetie. The rage and the sadness is just her fear coming out. She is so scared I will leave her. So she tries to push away so that she can control when it happens. The thing is, we are not going anywhere. We will always be her family whether she is home or in residential care. We will always love her. Our attachment therapist has prepared us for another potential hospitalization. She actually will be more surprised if she can hold it together and does not have to be admitted again. Sweetie's behaviors have been escalating to involve incidents at school of throwing things, pulling a girls hair and yelling at a teacher in after school care. I am praying that she can hold on to just get through the holidays. I know if she can, she will level out again. So for now we are having to be on top of her for everything. It really sucks, she is beginning to say things like " I can't do anything right". I make a point to praise her for everything I can. Little things like saying "thank you for listening, you did a good job". This form of parenting is exhausting. But we do not have a choice. She needs this to succeed. I have reflected a lot about the tragedy in Newtown,Connecticut. Like most people, I was deeply saddened by the news of all of those innocent children losing their lives in such an awful event. I cried many times for them. But unlike the majority, I wept for the gunman as well. Here was a young man,who obviously had mental issues that were known. The few things i have read about him make him sound as if he had Reactive Attachment Disorder. Especially the symptom of not feeling pain. Sweetie is like that. She will act like she lost a limb if she bumps her arm, but if there is major pain, her body does not even register it. This is a sign of significant RAD. I found myself wondering what his home life was really like. Not the picture perfect picture that the mom was trying to convey. These kids do not just develop RAD, it is the product of not having their basic needs met. Just the fact that a single mom had these weapons sends up red flags to me. Please do not get me wrong, what this guy did was absolutely insane. I can not help but feel if we had not come into Sweetie's life that she could escalate to such acts of violence. However, I do not live in fear. We did come into her life before it was too late. We most importantly have God to navigate us to her recovery. We have safe guards in place. We do not own guns, I do a knife count every night, I keep cleaning products and lighters locked up. We are aggressively treating Sweetie's RAD with medication as well as intense attachment therapy. She is beginning to see right from wrong. She doesn't have it mastered yet, but she at least cares if I am disappointed or not. For that, I am grateful. Do I think my child is capable of such a horrific event? Now that we are involved in her life I can say no. If we had not come into her life, there would have been potential for Sweetie to do similar horrific things. But we did come into her life. Yes, we have our issues with her, but she is developing some empathy for people. She showed some empathy for the families of the children that were killed. She could recognize that their Christmas was going to be awful. But there was no real sorrow for the lost lives. She was business as usual. So tonight like every night, I pray that Sweetie can feel our love for her. That it will make a difference in her heart and she will heal! Here is an article of another mom dealing with the same things we are... I pray for all moms like me out there, that felt that twinge of anxiety of thinking if only for a second that our children could do something so horrific. I am glad God erased that doubt quickly from my heart. I feel awful for feeling it in the first place. But I am not one of those moms with my head up my bum. I know what the situation is with my daughter and I am doing everything humanly possible to help her. A song from the perspective of someone with Attachment Disorder.

Christina Perri "Arms" from Nicole Olson on Vimeo.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

We are not going to lose Christmas!

One of my favorite adoptive moms out there is Christine Moers. She is amazing in her zany therapeutic parenting skills. Her videos have grounded me more than anything. I can't tell you how many times I have used her technique to "out crazy the crazy!"
Again God has used her to message to me. I am sure there are other adoptive mommas out there who need this message too. It is easy in the heat of the moment to take away things like the holidays. I know I was considering toning Christmas down this year out of fear of what will happen. For every good event we have something equally bad happen. But I can't let my fear get in the way of creating good holidays. If I cancel all of my plans out, we lose Christmas! So what,Christmas may be a chaotic mess? We will still have it! A real Christmas!
Here is the blog entry by Christine, found at
You Can't Lost Christmas, Ralphie!

We have a law in our home. It applies to all persons, regardless of their history of trauma and endless list of survival behaviors. It was created by dictators with no democratic hope for change or removal. It goes a little something like this:

You can't lose Christmas.

That's it. No details. No exceptions. Period. Finito. That's that.

The same goes for birthdays.

I have literally said to my children, "You can burn the house down. We will move into a hotel until the house is rebuilt. We will collect insurance money, rebuy gifts and still have Christmas. Because you can't lose Christmas."

"But what if they broke their brother's DS?"

You can't lose Christmas.

"Wait. There is not an inch of our house NOT covered in urine and/or feces!"

You can't lose Christmas.

"My son called me a b****!"

Yup. One of my kids called my husband that last night (um, yeah - we couldn't help chuckling). You can't lose Christmas.

"You don't get it. My kid actually poisoned the dog."

It is horrific. Yes. Their trauma is horrific. And repair work can and should be done for the sake of their hearts. Part of that? It goes like this:

You can't lose Christmas.

Of course, this goes for whatever your major celebration is: Hanakah, Kwanza, Solstice, birthday, fill-in-the-blank.

Before I go any further, let me state that for you as a parent it is going to rip your guts inside out. You are going to hear a voice echoing in your head from some family member (or yourself) that says, "If I had ever done something like that, I wouldn't have been able to sit down for a week or would've been grounded for a month of Sundays!" You are going to feel like you are letting your child get away with something.

In those moments there are a few things I keep in mind to help me calm and remember what is truly going on.

Trauma has jacked with the brains of our kids. In a stressful moment/week/season they get stuck in a part of their brain that was meant to only be visited on occasion, in extreme circumstances. Our kids also find themselves regressed emotionally and developmentally in those times. They can be, quite literally, a three-year-old in a 12-year-old body.

Imagine a three year old kicking and biting and hitting two days before Christmas. Throwing toys and scratching up the family dining room set. Having a massive tantrum. Would we take Christmas away? Nope. That's crazy talk. A three year old cannot understand the magnitude of what they're doing when they feel out of control. We would redirect in the moment. When they are calm, we would reconnect with them and give them an opportunity to do the same. That is how we heal and guide young children. Our kids need the exact same thing. There is a reason they do these crazy things that are just so beyond description. They are camped in a part of their brain that wanted to kick them out long ago.

Family celebrations and holidays are an opportunity to imprint into their minds and hearts: you are a part of this family. Period. Finito. You can never lose that.

Personally, this makes me angry. If anger is a miscue for what is really going on inside of me, then I have to admit that it makes me feel ... hmmm ... powerless? As though I lack authority in my own home? I have this overwhelming desire to make sure that my kids know just how BAD their behavior was. So (in my head), my reaction to cursing should be somewhat extreme. My reaction to destruction of property or violence should be over-the-top. That is my default. That feels like the right thing to do.

You can't behave this way and cause such utter havoc in a home and still get Christmas? Right?


It's the way almost all of us were raised. It's the way our parents were raised. It didn't cause more damage to many of us, because we received and maintained that vital nurturing and connection in the earliest years. We could handle some very authoritarian and militant responses from parents, because we had a trust in them. We believed we would be taken care of. We were functioning on top of a base that had been built years before.

Our children are trying to function on quick sand.

They don't believe they deserve celebrations. They don't believe they deserve a family and stability and genuine love. They assume, all the time, that the bottom is going to drop out again. So, they take what little control they do have. They go ahead and try to sabotage the good. At least they can decide when it happens. In their minds, that's something.

"But if we do this, we aren't teaching our kids right from wrong. They'll think what they did was okay."

Really? When was the last time your child became dysregulated and gave you a back rub because they didn't know right from wrong? They have got the right-from-wrong thing down to a SCIENCE!

"But they'll think I'm okay with it!"

Again ... why do you think they did it in the first place? They KNOW that most humans are not okay with it. When you stay therapeutic, stay calm and in control, continue to create a space where they can be heard even when speaking through behaviors ... you are finally teaching them the thing they don't believe. Some adults can be trusted. Some love can be safe. THAT is where the magic happens.

Otherwise, when we enter that battle and begin the snowball of consequences, we are feeding the shame. You are not a bad person for doing that. You are HUMAN for doing that. I've done it a gazillion times, myself. Because I'm human, too.

And do you know what makes it even harder? We don't see the shame. We don't see the hurt many times. We see anger and narcissism on crack. It looks like our children don't care. They don't care what we give them. They don't care what is taken away. Or we see rage. Manipulation. Sass. Or we see ALL of that, depending on the day!

The more aloof your child appears, the more they are trying to hide their pain. The more angry your child appears, the more they are trying to hide their fear. The things your child yells at others is a direct reflection of the very things they believe about themselves. Sit with that. For your own sake, and to keep breathing right now, just sit with it. Do not beat yourself up. Just sit. Absorb. Take a moment to take care of yourself before you move forward, even in your reading and thinking.

When we know better, we do better. And messing up in parenting is like GOLD! Sometimes it does more good than if you'd rocked it in the first place. No ... really.

If you have already told your kid they have lost Christmas, just fix it. Walk in and say, "Ya' know, I've been thinking. I realize that you have been feeling stressed. You're actually trying to talk to me with how you are behaving, and I have been stressed too - so I wasn't listening! Geeez. What a mess, huh? Well, I'm sorry. I totally messed up. Did you know grown-ups mess up? Well, you do now. Cause I blew it. Could I have a do-over? When I said you lost Christmas, I made a mistake. In fact, I would like to make a law in our home: you can't lose Christmas. Is it cool with you if we make that law?"

When you mess up and fix it and reconnect, you do amazing things toward healing in your child. It. is. gold.

Okay, okay, okay. I say all of that to also say this:

I get it.

This sucks.

So, what are you doing for you? "Do not focus on your child's behavior all the time. Do not become obsessed." Find you again. Take care of you. Keep Christmas in place, and find a way to love on your own heart and your own mind. Step away from the trauma. Let it carry on while you carry yourself. Five minutes here and there.

Minutes well spent.

Make sure everyone has their Christmas, everyone has their family ... even if it doesn't look like what we always dreamed.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Let me love you...

One of the hardest parts of loving a hurt child is when the can't receive love. I mean really accept it and take it into their hearts. There are times when I doubt that I am really getting through to Sweetie's heart and there are other times when I believe that I am. I have to believe that I am! There is no other option. 
I know so many adoptive moms. And each has such different obstacles to overcome to be able to have their child accept that they are without a shadow of a doubt loved. Sweetie has been here for almost 6 months and we have been communicating with her almost 8 months. It seems so short and yet it feels like forever.
Even with being here day in and day out, through everything Sweetie still believes we will leave her, that I will leave her. No matter what I say or what my actions are, there is still a deep seeded fear that I will abandon her. Sweetie is bonding to me. I can see it. It scares her to death. She has begun to open up in therapy about the horrors of her life. When she does share things she always looks at me and says " I thought you wouldn't love me if you knew". It really saddens me that she feels afraid to tell me things because she believes I will not love her. That must be such a scary place to live. I will continue to love her as I have. I continue to have a very structured routine with her, but I also try to have fun and laugh. She has the most wonderful laugh when she really does laugh. There are many tears in our house lately. Sweetie is really starting to process the many events of her life that landed her in foster care. With each new secret she is met with more love, more understanding and absolutely no judgement. I love her all the same. Part of why she can start to move on is they found a home for Sweetie's sister Angie in Florida. Someone willing to take her and the baby she is carrying. This has taken a load off of Sweetie's shoulders. She is very happy about this. She understands it is what is for the best. She says she is happy now that Angie has a family too. 
Now we can really work on healing. Thanks to a friend sharing her awesome experiences with EMDR I discussed it with Sweetie's therapist and we are going to add that to her therapy. Sweetie seems really interested in this process as well. She wants to be able to get the flashes of memories out of her head. She has them several times a day. The best way for us to understand  is to imagine a movie of the worst events of your life replaying in your mind over and over again. I do not doubt that this is what causes children like Sweetie to seem like they have ADHD. They are trying to keep the movie from playing, and as long they are moving or talking (Singing) the movie stops for that moment. But the minute quiet settles in they are left with their thoughts and the movie starts up again. I am praying that this will be a key to her healing. If she can stop the movie from replaying and reopening old deep wound then she will have a better chance of absorbing all the love I pour into her. 

I always hear music that is so appropriate for what is going on in this moment in our lives. God really has a way of messaging through the arts. Even though this song is not original made for a relationship between a mother and daughter, it is perfect for us. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Great article ...

Combatting the Holiday "Gimme Gimmes" with Foster & Adopted Kids - Part I

Do the holidays transform your foster or adopted child into Veruca Salt?

Those of us who parent adopted or fostered younguns have all probably been exposed to this commonly held idea that somehow our children should be "grateful" to us for "saving" them from a life of [insert something awful here - poverty, addiction, homelessness, abuse, neglect, etc.] Most of us who have taken the time to learn more about foster care and adoption roll our eyes at people who tell us how lucky our kids are. We either tell them "No, we're the lucky ones", or we regale them with a lecture about how even though adoption or foster care can be positive things they are also rife with grief and loss. Or we grit our teeth and just move on. We certainly do not expect our kids to be grateful towards us for "saving" them, we don't expect them not to feel grief or resentment about their being with us instead of their birth family, and we try not to expect them to be any more grateful than a non-adopted child would be. But what about when our foster or adopted children actually act the exact opposite of this myth of the grateful adoptee? What about when they act downright spoiled and entitled?

I have noticed with my older foster son that the holidays bring up all kinds of issues. One challenge for us is that he starts to get the "gimme gimmes" (also known as the "I wants") and seems more than a little like Veruca Salt from Charlie & the Chocolate Factory:

No matter what we buy him, it isn't enough. It's not the right thing. It's not as much or as good as what he should have gotten. In fact, a full two months before Christmas and Chanukah, he was telling us that he already knew we weren't going to get him anything and that the holidays were going to suck. He even tried to tell us we didn't get him anything last year (um, yeah, right!)

It's early November and I can see the selfishness rising, rising, rising like a tide that is about to attempt to flood our family life emotionally. But is it really selfishness? Sure, it's bratty, spoiled, and entitled behavior... but I have some suspicions about why this is the case with so many foster and adopted kids:

Kids who really did not have enough when they were with their birth families, whether they were short on food or were not able to celebrate the holidays due to poverty, have anxiety about scarcity. Even though part of them knows things are different now, they are trying to prepare themselves ahead of time for the massive disappointment of going without. The holidays were always a let-down, so it's better to prepare themselves for another let-down than to let themselves be hopeful. Therefore, they start to focus on all the things they want but that their parents won't get them.
Foster children or children adopted at an older age may worry that they are not going to get treated equally to biological family members when it comes time for the holidays.
Kids who had scarcity in their previous lives may have a really obsessive relationship with the few things their birth family did provide (such as presents at holidays, or having nice clothes even if they went without meals). Kids who had scarcity before but in their adoptive or foster homes have since gotten used to having lots of "things" may have developed an unhealthy level of investment in material things, combined with lack of confidence that they will always have their needs met. Their self-esteem may be greatly based on what they own.
Foster kids and kids who live in group homes or orphanages rarely get to own much of anything that belongs exclusively to them and that they can trust will remain with them. If this is part of your kid's history it may cause them to seem over-attached or under-attached to belongings.
Children may miss what they remember of their birth family's holiday traditions, even those that have nothing to do with gifts. Perhaps a child who's acting like an entitled brat about what they expect to get as gifts at the holidays is actually a child who is simply mourning the loss of the smells, sights, tastes, and feelings of holiday celebrations with their birth family and hoping to get some solace through extra attention from you or from material comforts like toys or candy.
I've been told many times that kids who have been through a lot of loss and trauma often get what is dismissively referred to as a "victim complex." As they enter puberty and beyond they start to feel like the world owes them something - Maybe a lot of somethings. They may feel like having money or material things they want can help provide restitution for the ways in which they have suffered in their life.
Those of us whose foster or adopted kids have behavioral and emotional issues may be more than a little tempted to help quell the child's outbursts with material rewards (toys, treats, etc). This may lead them to expect that an outburst or causing a scene at the store will result in them getting what they want. Also, some kids may have had birth parents who were unable to set limits with them, resulting in kids experiencing that the way to get their desires met is to act demanding.
Foster kids, in particular, may be very aware of the ways in which their lives are different than the lives of their peers. Having the toys and clothing their peers have, or even more and better things, may help them feel like they'll fit in better or be able to override any stigma that comes from being a foster child.
Let's face it, we may bring some of this "gimme gimme" awfulness on ourselves by overdoing holidays and buying too many toys when our kids first arrive, as a way of making up for not having a lot in the house for them yet, or as a way of helping them not feel as sad about not being without their birth families for the holidays. We may unconsciously buy them more than they need in order to make them like us, inadvertently teaching them that the holidays are all about their every want being fulfille.
And let's not forget, foster and adopted kids are children first and foremost. Most kids just get crazy around holiday times, just ask any parent you know. Selfishness is a trait all parents have to teach their children to overcome because children are inherently ego-driven creatures and most of us are raising them in a very consumerist culture. This is not exclusive to children from trauma backgrounds or who are fostered or adopted. But there are many ways to teach children to question consumerism, to feel empathy for others, and to engage in acts of charity.

An upcoming post will focus on how our families can find meaning in the holidays beyond gift-giving. You can help me build that post by answering these questions and encouraging your friends to do the same!

How do you battle the "gimme gimmes" around the holidays?

How do you instill in your children, whether biological or non-biological, a sense of holiday meaning that goes beyond gifts?

How do you teach altruism, charity and sharing to children whose histories have led them to have a fear of scarcity?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Little Victories

When things are bad around here they are really bad. It can wear you down, leaving you exhausted and nerves exposed. It makes you feel you can't handle one thing. And then you find peace. I am glad we have been experiencing some calm with Sweetie. It is so easy to get caught up in the chaos and not appreciate the little victories that are occurring all the time. Things that most parents just expect out of their children become our little victories. When she can for even just a moment, trust that we are going to take care of her needs, that is a victory. When she can get pushed by a kid at school and not hit back that is a victory. When she chooses to study for a test instead of playing a game that is a victory. These are all things that Sweetie's diagnosis say she can't do. But she is doing them! Yes, for every big step forward we take a step back, that is why specialist refer to it as the dance of attachment. The important thing is there are these steps forward. When I am at my wits end I remember these victories. I remember that just 2 months ago the littlest thing would set off tantrums that resulted in broken doors and holes in walls. I could not even breathe without her making a nasty comment. Now when she gets frustrated she cries, and she gets over it. That is a HUGE victory! So I know in my heart of hearts we are getting through. We may be exhausted, but we are changing her life. I pray daily that it is enough. It has to be enough.
Tomorrow is National Adoption Day. We have been invited to participate in Charlotte National Adoption Day events at the Charlotte Courthouse. This should be a great thing. I have no clue what emotions that may surface from this. But we will deal with what ever comes our way.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Just when you think it will all be ok...

There are times that being the mom of a kid with a severe case of Reactive Attachment Disorder sucks! There I said it! It is exhausting, trying and most of all it is heartbreaking. You lose everything that you hold close to you. This week it was one of our dogs who paid the price. Sweetie was outside with the dogs and the kids next door were outside. She asked one of the girls if they wanted to pet our dog and lifted her up over the fence. That is when their dog jumped up and latched on to Darlings paw. It's owner had to tackle the dog to get it off. While they were trying to get the dog off Darling she bit Sweetie and the neighbor in the hand. Sweetie's injuries were minor as were the neighbors. Darling was not so lucky. She has broken bones and the paw was almost torn off. Since Wednesday we have had to keep her pretty sedated and on multiple pain medications. She had to go in 3 times so far for procedures. They were finally able to suture up the site yesterday. We now have to take her back weekly. She will have to wear the splint for at least 8 weeks.
To most they see this as an accident. To us it is a symptom of the much deeper issues of Sweeties Reactive Attachment Disorder and Oppositional Defiant Disorder. First, the incident happened because she would not listen. My husband told her 5 times with in 5 minutes of the incident not to pick up the dogs. The neighbors told her not to put the dog to the fence and then she lifted her up over the fence. Sweetie does what she wants to do because she can and more so because you told her not too. She has no concept of what she did as being wrong. She also has no empathy or sympathy for Darling or for Cris and I. It is really hard for me right now to still love her unconditionally. I have to remind myself  that she does not know of empathy because no one showed her any. All of the years of abuse and neglect and no one cared enough to do anything about it. How do you learn right from wrong when those that are suppose to be protecting you are hurting you? We have had to make some major hard choices around here. With the direction of our attachment therapist we are removing our dogs from the home temporarily, to give them a break from Sweetie. She torments them daily. She chases them, yells at them and now this. This is awful for me. This is the hugest sacrifice of my life. I love my dogs as if they are my children. The worst of the consequences of Sweeties actions came today when animal control showed up because our neighbors reported Darling for biting the neighbor. ( I know messed up right...). They informed us that she needs to be quarantined for 10 days away from other animals,kids and anyone she does not already know. Then we realized the worst, Darlings rabies vaccine had just expired while we were going through all of the stuff with Sweetie at the behavioral health hospital. The law states if the rabies vaccine is not current that she would have to be quarantined at Animal Control. This broke my heart. I am serious. I have not sobbed this hard since Leah was taken from us. All I could do is pray. I knew that there was no way that anyone at animal control could keep up with Darling's care for her injuries at animal control.
God answered my prayers and the officer came back to say that because of her injuries and medications they would allow an in house quarantine. Shelli has agreed to take her for the week.
So for the last night Darling is here with me as I type this blog. She is heavily medicated with pain meds and a sedative. I am praying for God to help me forgive Sweetie for this. I still pray for her healing. I pray for her to feel our unconditional love and start to believe that we are not going to fail her like everyone else has. For her to believe that she does not have to control everything to be safe. That we will take care of her and that she only has to worry about being a kid. We need her to feel that it is ok to follow what we say because we will not put her in harms way and we are trying to protect her. I pray for her to really feel for others. We are working on trying to help her be a family girl. But it is uncertain if she is capable of living in a family. Our therapist believes that residential may be the best for her. The program that she recommends is an attachment program that has weekly family therapies and works on teaching her to be a part of a family. There is normally a long wait for this program, however there is an immediate opening now. I am so torn on what to do. I did not spend almost 2 years fighting to gain a daughter to just send her away. But I do not know how much more to take. When is it too much? I do love Sweetie in a deeper way than I have ever love another person. I just don't know if that is enough. Part of what weighs on my heart so heavily is that this is the holidays. Our first holidays together. She already knows due to the vet bills that will be well over $1000, Christmas is going to be very slim compared to what we had planned. But this is also our first Christmas, the first one I would have my own family for. Am I being selfish to want to have this? Lord knows that Sweetie will most likely sabotage the holidays because she does not feel worthy of having such good things.I will wait and see how things play out.
The harder it gets the more I know we had to do this for Sweetie. We were right to adopt her. She deserves to have a family. She deserves to see right from wrong and most importantly, she deserves to be loved, no matter what.
I am sorry if there are a ton of typos, I have only gotten a few hours of sleep in the last week and I am exhausted. I wanted to make sure I got this down in my blog. I know there are many of you who follow along, but this is most importantly a place for us to go back and see where we were. We can see how far we have come! At times I need to look at that. We have come far! The last few days have been tough on Sweetie. We now do line of sight parenting as you would a 3 year old. She has to have permission to do anything at all. She has had to talk and talk and talk some more about the events of Wednesday. She is not allowed to touch the dogs if they are in the house. We have had to become ultra strict with her. And she has not had one tantrum. I am proud of her for this. It is not in my nature to be overly strict, but we need to be. And she seems to be responding well to it. So, if you see me with Sweetie and think I being harsh, please know that right now she can not handle extra excitement or a ton of gifts. We are concentrating on things that do not involve gifts. So,this holiday season we will be working more on traditions and on giving to others.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Orphan Sunday

Today is Orphan Sunday. A day that brings awareness to the millions of children around the world that are without families. Everywhere else in the world they are known as orphans, but not American children, they are called fostered youth fostered youth is less traumatic than being orphaned. As Americans, we like things neat and pretty. We push aside and hide things that we deem undesirable. We rename things to make them sound less harsh. But the reality is there are still over 500,000 orphans in this country, with 100,000 of them being legally available for adoption right now. In this country, with all of our resources, this should not exist!
I have experienced first hand how broken this system is. I know families that have worked hard for months and even years to adopt, to just get frustrated because the process to become an adoptive parent is too difficult. I have had to give back baby Leah after we nursed her back to health, to her drug abusing, neglectful parent who continues to get herself in to domestic violent relationships. And now I am the mom of a special needs child who went back and forth between a abusive and neglectful family and foster care. My heart breaks to know that most of these kids become damaged emotionally to the point that most people would not even try to parent them. And they then eventually age out. These are the kids that we have failed. Kids like my Sweetie's biological sister. She is only 14 and has become so damaged by the years of abuse and neglect that she would rather live on the streets than be in a foster home. Can you image you have been hurt and failed by every adult in your life? Who would you trust? How could you trust? If Cris & I had not been led to adopt her, Sweetie would surely follow in her sister's footsteps. I can not bear to think of this long. To think of Sweetie living on the streets, having to do what ever is needed to survive makes me sick. But the harsh reality is that many of these kids do end up this way. Those who age out of the system have no where to go and noone to call family. Can you imagine having noone to come to your high school graduation? To have nowhere to go on Thanksgiving or Christmas? With noone to love and noone who cares? How do you survive that?
I will not lie and say that parenting Sweetie is not challenging. It is the most difficult thing I have done in my life. I am tested daily on how much can I love unconditionally. But, how can I not love her with all that I am and even with what I am not? I often hear from people how I should be commended for adopting her, as if she was not worth being adopted. Like she is a lesser person. This is really offensive to me. Yes it is hard, but it is I who receives the blessing. I am the one who has gained from this relationship. She has opened my heart to love more than I ever imagined possible. I have spent years protecting my heart from getting too close to anyone. Yes, I am a "good person", yes I will do anything for anyone, including perfect strangers. But when it comes to truly deeply loving someone and letting them completely into my heart, it just does not happen that often. But she has done it, she found a small little crack in my wall and wiggled her way right in. I will be grateful to her forever for allowing me to experience this kind of love. A true mother's love.
With all my heart I know this is something that I need to do again. I know now is not the time. Sweetie It may be years before we can do it again. Sweetie needs individual time and affection right now. It might even be once Sweetie has gone off to college or where ever her path may lead her. I have a longing to be the mom of the children who have been deemed unfit for a family.  I would adopt them all, just so they had a place to belong. Someone to call family. To just not be alone in this world.

- I started this blog early this am when I could not sleep and stopped because I finally got sleepy.I am glad I did stop. The message today at Warehouse 242 confirmed this for me. Our message in service today was this... "To care and not do something is not caring at all." That God's opportunities to care for others are never convenient and always come at a cost (money or time). The opportunities are all around us. It may be helping a neighbor, feeding a stranger or it may be a greater sacrifice and opening your heart and your home to a child or children with no family. I know this is not a calling for everyone. And I do believe it is a calling. But if it is something you have been called to do, I promise the blessings in the little things make everything worth it.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Feel Again

Driving down the road, Sweetie sitting next to me in the car singing these lyrics. These are the moments that I live for. It has been one month since Sweetie was hospitalized and the difference it has made is remarkable.
I am not sure if it is the medication or the fact that she knows that I am here no matter what that has made such a huge impact on her. Perhaps it is a bit of both. We had a big breakthrough in therapy this week where she started to share things about her past for the first time. Things she has never shared before, with anyone. She was worried that I would not love her if I knew. But I love her all the more. I know she is now starting to feel the unconditional love I have for her. She has become extremely attached to me. She does not like me to be out of sight and has become even jealous of others who receive my affection. This is good because now she cares if I am disappointed in her or if I am upset with her. I am most likely the first person she has truly cared about in many years. I am still trying to gauge how much we can do outside of the house. This week was too busy with Disney on Ice and going Pumpkin Picking. At Disney on Ice I was actually brought to tears when I looked over and saw how genuinely happy she was. She was cheering and clapping and having such a good time. This was the first time she had ever done anything like that. It kind of breaks my heart to know of all she has missed out on her childhood. I am trying so hard to recreate 12 years worth of memories that we didn't have together. I am so glad that emotionally she is younger and that she does not yet realize that she is older than most kids doing the things we are doing. I am hoping that it continue to last.
We had sure a wonderful day Saturday up to Riverbend Farm. She picked out her very first pumpkin. She really enjoyed all of the silo slides they had there and loved playing with Nia, James, Parker and Max. It was so awesome to see her running around for hours just being a kid!!! A kid with no worries. It made my heart so happy! I know we still have so far to go, but just the fact that she is able to go and start to really enjoy herself is all the encouragement I need. Seeing her really happy makes it all worth it!
Sweetie's new favorite song :)

Friday, October 05, 2012


1 year 8 months 3 weeks and 6 days...that is how long it took to adopt Sweetie! What an amazing journey!  One that has truly changed who I am as a person. Almost 21 months ago we knew we wanted to be parents. We had no idea of what a test it would be to become parents.
But today we sit here the parents of a 12 year old special needs child. To say that we went into this wanting to adopt a child with such severe needs would be a lie. Honestly, I did not realize the extent of the wounds that so many of these kids have. But as I started to review bios of children and see the extent of damage to almost all of them we knew that parenting any of these children would be a challenge. Cris and I had many discussions on what we thought we could handle. And as our journey progressed and I educated myself more, our window of what we could handle grew. Most of you who have been following know of the heartbreak we faced during this journey when we lost Leah. There is still not a day that goes by that I don't see a baby and think of her. I worry for her, that she will end up lost in the system and end up a lost soul like so many of the children like Sweetie. I pray that our brief time with Leah made a small impact on her life. Even with all of that pain, I know in my heart that we were not meant to be her parents becasue we were meant to be Sweeties. I do not remember what life was like before her. All I can say is life was quiet before and now it is anything but quiet :)
So, let's get back to the adoption ceremony. (which I attached a link below to watch...the proceedings start around 3 minutes 20 seconds on the video...the rest is just us nervously chattering). It only last for about 5 minutes or so. At first Sweetie didn't seem phased by the fact that the adoption was final. But when she did, she broke down and cried. I can not imagine how much relief there must be for her. After years of disappointments and noone looking out for her, Sweetie has us. When everyone threw in the towel, we held on and pushed through. We are staying no matter what. No matter how bad it gets, she will have us to love her. This does not mean that her issues are magically solved. I wish it were that easy. Now we start the real job and the hardest part, helping a child mend a heart that has been pulverized by every adult she has ever know. How do even begin to try to fix that? I am not even sure it is possible. But I am going to give it all I have to help her have the best life she can.

Link to Our Adoption Video

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Start again

So Sweetie came home from 10 days of inpatient treatment. Leaving her there was the hardest thing I ever did in my life. But I know in my heart it is what had to happen. I am hoping that this has us on the road to helping her heal. While there she was put on Risperdal which is used to treat bipolar and schizophrenia. It has mellowed her out quite a bit. It gives her a bit of a cushion before she hits her boiling point. Her boiling point is still lower than the average child, but it is still a big improvement. It allows us to actually be able to get past just being mad at therapy to be able to actually participate. We have also been able to actually do home work together. I love helping her on her homework...I am amazed that she is actually letting me help her.
Now we have to start the hard work of working through all her demons, so she can get to a healthy place.
There will be many hard times to go through this with her. But she will not be there alone. I will be there.
No matter how awful it gets. I will not lie and say that I do not get frazzled at times. Lord knows, there are times I am wondering how I am going to do this and I doubt that I will ever be enough. But then there is that quick moment of hope. The times like when she ask me to read her a bed time story makes it worth it.
She never had those moments of bonding as she was growing up so we are doing it now. These are also the moments I missed getting to have with a young child. So this is a good thing for both of us.

This week should be a big week for us. Our petition for adoption was filed Friday. We are aiming to finalize Wednesday! I am hoping that now that Sweetie will have a permanent family to call hers will give her a sense of stability that she needs so desperately. One of the neat things that they do is reissue a birth certificate with us as her parents. Sweetie thought that was pretty cool. She hasn't really said anything about the adoption lately, she acts like it isn't that big of a deal. But tonight when I tucked her in she asked "It's Wednesday that is adoption day, right?". I told her we hoped so and I would know tomorrow. She said she hoped so too.
So hopefully this Wednesday we will officially be a family... even though in my heart we have been a family since the first phone call.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

I know this is for teachers... But great info on RAD

If a parent has given you this to read, you are teaching a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder. The family of this child has apparently decided to share this information with you. That sharing is a big step for this family and one you have to treat gently and with the respect it deserves. This family has been through traumas you cannot even imagine. I will describe a few of them here below so that you get the "flavor" and perhaps even begin to understand why this child's parents sometimes seem so harsh or harried or even depressed.

Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is most common in foster and adopted children but can be found in many other so-called "normal" families as well due to divorce, illness or separations. RAD happens when a child is not properly nurtured in the first few months and years of life. The child, left to cry in hunger, pain or need for cuddling, learns that adults will not help him or her. The child whose parent(s) are more involved in getting their next drug fix than they are in nurturing the developing child learns that his or her needs are not primary to adults. Children born of drug or alcohol addicted parents learn even in the womb that things do not feel good and are not safe for them. In severe cases, where the child was an abuse or violence victim, the child learns adults are hurtful and cannot be trusted. The RAD child therefore develops habits of dealing with the world in a way she believes will keep her safe. He manipulates in order to control a world he literally thinks will kill him if he does not control it. Without therapy RAD kids never develop the attachments to another human being which teach them to trust, accept discipline, develop cause and effect thinking, self-control and responsibility for their own actions.

RAD children are often involved in the Juvenile Justice System as they get older. Left untreated, such children can maim, kill and torture without conscience or feeling. They can start fires, kill pets and terrorize their families. It has been said that untreated RAD children grew up to be such persons as Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, Adolph Hitler, the teenagers who shot up Columbine High. They feel no remorse, have no conscience and see no relation between their actions and what happens as a result because they never connected with or relied upon another human being in trust their entire lives. They attempt to become their own parent with predictable results.

What you will see as a teacher is a child who is, initially, surprisingly charming to you, even seeking to hold your hand, climbing into your lap, smiling a lot, you're delighted you are getting on so well with him/her. At the onset of your contact with the child who has been reported from prior grades as "impossible" you will wonder what those previous teachers did to provoke the behaviors you have not (yet) seen but which are reflected in the prior grade reports. A few months into what you thought was a working relationship the child is suddenly openly defiant, moody, angry and difficult to handle; there is no way to predict what will happen from day to the next; the child eats as if he hasn't been properly fed and is suspected of stealing other children's snacks or lunch items; the child does not seem to make or keep friends; the child seems able to play one-on-one for short periods, but cannot really function well in groups; the child is often a bully on the playground; although RAD kids typically have above average intelligence they often do not perform well in school due to lack of problem solving and analytical thinking skills; they often test poorly – often deliberately.

RAD kids will climb into your lap and pretend to be affection starved. RAD kids often talk out loud in class rooms, do not contribute fairly to group work or conversely argue to dominate and control the group. Organizational abilities are limited and monitoring is resented. There may be a sense of hypervigilance about them that you initially perceive as no sense of personal space and general "nosiness". They seem to want to know everyone else's business but never tell you anything about their own. There is no sense of conscience for their actions, even if someone else is hurt. They may express an offhand or even seemingly sincere "sorry", but will likely do the same thing again tomorrow. These kids thrive on having made you lose it. They are not motivated by self or parental pride, normal reward and punishment systems simply do not work; kindness, sympathy or concern only exacerbate their poor behaviors – you are simply a sucker to be exploited.

They will deliberately omit parts of assignments even when writing their names just so that they are in control of the assignment, not you. When assigned a seat they will choose an indirect, self- selected path to reach the seat. When given a certain number of things to repeat or do, they often do more, or less than directed. They destroy toys, clothing, bedding, pillows, and family memorabilia then feign complete innocence even when the shredded materials are lying at their feet. They will blame parents or siblings or others for missing or incomplete homework, missing items of clothing, lost lunch bags, etc. RAD kids sometimes feign fear of parents when in a public place simply for the reactions it elicits from other adults. They are masters at triangulating parents and teachers with any number of half or completely false stories. They destroy school bags, lose supplies, steal food, sneak sweets, break zippers on coats, tear clothing, and eat so as to disgust those around them (open mouth chewing, food smeared over face).

They often inflict self injuries, pick at scabs until they bleed, seek attention for non-existent/miniscule injuries, yet will seek to avoid adults when they have real injuries or genuine pain. RAD kids will have multiple falls and accidents and frequently complain about what other children have done to them ("he started it!", "Suzi kicked me first"). RAD kids can walk around in significant physical pain from real injuries and will minimize the injury until it is detected, at which point they may be able to exploit the delay occasioned by their own failure to complain appropriately. They will not wipe a running nose or cover a mouth to sneeze or conversely will overreact or exaggerate a cough or mild illness. They accept no responsibility for their actions and do not have any sense of why everyone can get so aggravated with them. They often have scrapes, bumps, bruises and will claim abuse by an adult in order to obtain attention and seem to be "accident prone".

They are in a constant battle for control of their environment and seek that control however they can, even in totally meaningless situations. If they are in control they feel safe. If they are loved and protected by an adult they are convinced they are going to die because they never learned to trust adults, adult judgment or to develop any of what you know as normal feelings of acceptance, safety and warmth. These children often slur words just to make you ask them to repeat themselves or speak more clearly. Their speech patterns are often unusual and may involve talking out of turn, talking constantly, talking nonsense, humming, singsong, asking unanswerable or obvious questions ("Do I get a drink any time today?"). They have one pace – theirs. No amount of "hurry up everyone is waiting on you" will work – they must be in control and you have just told them they are. Need the child to finish lunch so everyone can go to the playground – he will eat five times slower than usual. Need the child to dress and line up, he will scatter papers, drop clothing, fail to locate gloves, wander around the room – anything to slow the process and control it further. Five minutes later he may be kissing your hand or stroking your cheek for you with absolutely no sense of having caused the mayhem that ensues from his actions.

You can begin to understand what this child's parents must face on a daily basis. The parents are often tense, involved in control battles for their parental role every minute they are with the child, they adopted the child thinking love would cure anything that had happened to her before the adoption. They have only recently learned that normal parenting will not work with this child; that much of what they have tried to do for years simply fed into the child's dysfunction. They are frightened, sad, stressed and lonely. Many feel unmerited guilt for their perceived "failure" with this child. The mothers often bear the brunt of the child's actions and the child is often clever enough to make certain none of it occurs in front of the father. Hence they even triangulate the parents – because it puts them in control of the situation, which makes them feel safer.

It takes a tremendous amount of work and therapy to turn these kids around so that they can experience real feelings and learn to trust. Parents who have embarked on this healing journey for their child need support and consistency from other adults who interact with the child. This diagnosis is a relatively new one in the Pennsylvania mental health community despite widespread acceptance for years in other states.

What can you do as a teacher? CALL THE PARENTS. They will likely not be real warm about this child and can be perceived as too harsh until you get to know them better. Have them in to talk with you about this issue. They are often hostile to outside commentary because no one without RAD information really knows what these folks are living with every day. Call them and talk about what you see in the classroom and ask if they have any other strategies for managing things. Parents who are in counseling and therapy with this child will eventually open up to you and you'll all be able to help the child get healthy or at least not contribute to his dysfunction. Remember the child's primary objective is to triangulate you from the parents so that he controls the relationships on his terms, not yours. He may also seek to triangulate you from other supervisory or authority figures at the school.

Parents will tell you if time is precious on a particular occasion due to ongoing therapy, or whatever, don't feel put off or shut out. They will talk to you when they have time and time is one of the things RAD parents often run out of as they work desperately to save their child's future. The therapy and home parenting techniques are exhausting and time consumptive. Try to respect that if it seems they are not focusing on your goal of home or class work. Do not trust schoolbag communication or expect things sent in a "communication envelope" to be as complete as when they left the school with the child. Many parents develop alternative communication methods once they realize why they feel so out of it where the school is concerned – they are out of it because that is how the child wants it and the child will hide or destroy notes, information sheets, partially reduce the contents of communication envelopes so that it looks like you simply have an unresponsive parent on your hands. Use the phone and regular mail – it works.

Don't feel you need to apologize if you have believed this child and blamed the parents. If they have given you this information they already trust you and do not blame you for not having the information you needed – likely they only just recently got it themselves. Make it perfectly clear in your interactions with the child that YOU ARE THE BOSS of the classroom or activity. Remind the child, unemotionally but firmly, that you are the boss, you make the rules. You can even smile when you say it if you can get the "smile all the way up to the eyes", just remember to get the child to verbally acknowledge your position – "yes, ma'am, you are the boss". Do it every day for a while, then use periodic reminders. Insist upon use of titles or prefixes (Miss Jane, Teacher Sarah, Ms. Philips), they establish position and rank. Structure choices so that you remain in control ("do you want to wear your coat or carry it to the playground?", "you may complete that paper sitting or standing", "you may complete that assignment during this period or during recess"). Remember to keep the anger and frustration the child is seeking out of your voice. Try to "smile all the way to your eyes" if you can, otherwise simply stay as neutral as you can. Structure and control without threat.

YOU ARE NOT THE PRIMARY CAREGIVER for this child. You cannot parent this child. You are his teacher, not his therapist, not his parents. Remind the child that her parents are where she can get hugs, cuddles, food and treats. You will only have responsibility for this child for one school year at the most – understand that this child will consider moving into the next grade as your having abandoned him. The only way to avoid that is to remain in your teacher role and support the process of helping this child learn to be a whole human being as best you can in the time you have. Teachers are left behind each year, its normal. These children need to learn that lesson.

Establish EYE CONTACT with this child, insist upon it as often as the opportunity presents itself. Do not be deceived by the child's focusing on your forehead or chin. RAD kids do not like eye contact and will do just about anything to avoid it unless they are lying or trying to manipulate you, at which point you will be hard put to avoid a staring contest. Be firm, be consistent, be specific.

Try to remember to ACKNOWLEDGE GOOD DECISIONS AND GOOD BEHAVIOR ("I see you made a good choice and finished your homework last night", "I see you decided to sit out the game rather than get into a fight with Sally, that's a good choice".)

CONSEQUENCE POOR DECISIONS AND BAD BEHAVIOR. Poor decisions and choices like incomplete homework, wrong weight jacket for the weather, also need to be acknowledged ("I see you chose to have incomplete work from this activity period. You may finish it at recess while the other children who chose to finish their work go outside and play. Better luck next time.") Nothing mean or angry or spiteful – it's just the facts. Remember they have difficulty with cause and effect thinking and have to be taught consequences. Normal reward systems like treats and stickers simply do not work with these children – you will continue to see Jekyll and Hyde from day-to-day with absolutely no correlation to standard reward systems. Standard behavior modification techniques do not work with this child – she doesn't think the way nurtured children think. Her entire being is centered on being in control so she can be safe. If anyone else is in control she is anxious and certain she is going to die – no kidding, it's that serious.

Consequencing is a good teaching technique for adults involved with RAD kids – there is a consequence associated with each good behavior, each poor behavior – teach them what those consequences are – they will not think of or recognize them without your direction.

BE CONSISTENT, BE SPECIFIC. The RAD child will be "good" for you one or two days or even weeks just to watch your incredulity at his or her misbehavior the next time. No general compliments like "you're a good boy!" or "You know better". Be specific and consistent – confront each misbehavior and support each good behavior with direct language. "You scribbled on the desk – you clean it up", "You hit Timmy, you sit here next to me until I decide you may play again without hitting." "You did well on the playground today, good for you!" "You chose to complete that assignment, that's a good choice!" Be positive when you can.

DO NOT ACCEPT POOR MANNERS OR INCOHERENT SPEECH. The child must say "May I please be excused to use the restroom?" Not "I gotta pee". And yes, they will wet themselves rather than ask appropriately just to upset you and make you think you're responsible for making them stand there too long. "I see that you wet yourself. That must not feel very good." And go back to whatever you were doing. His embarrassment (maybe) or even just the discomfort is a NATURAL CONSEQUENCE of his choice to wet himself rather than ask for excuse to the restroom properly. Feel free to not respond to slurred or incoherent speech. The child will learn she cannot manipulate you into asking for a repetition or clarification. If you feel you must, tell the child you will not be able to hear him until he makes the choice to speak clearly and then turn your attention elsewhere. The child should say, "Yes, Miss Janice", "No, Mr. Sayers". "Yeah" and "nope" and "I don't know" are no longer part of the child in therapy's vocabulary – do not tolerate them in your classroom, they are disrespectful.

This NATURAL CONSEQUENCES thing is important. Do not permit this child to control your behavior by threatening to throw a tantrum (let him, out in the hallway or in another room -"You can have your tantrum here if you choose to"), wetting her pants (let her, then make her clean up any puddles or stains, "I see you've wet the rug, here is a rag and bucket to clean it up"), or puttering around doing his own thing when it delays the class' departure for a planned activity ("I see you've chosen to fool around rather than get ready to go, you can wait here in the supervisor's office until we get back").

Time-outs do not work for these children – they want to isolate themselves from others. Bring the child near the activity he has had to be removed from and have them stand with or sit in a chair along side you. It's called a "TIME-IN". If you can take the time, speak quietly about how much fun the other children are having and how sad it is that she cannot join in right now. No raised voices, no anger. Don't lose your temper if you can avoid it, remember he is manipulating you to do just that. If you are going to lose it, seek assistance from another adult until you are back in control of yourself.

DO NOT SYMPATHIZE with this child. Feeling sorry for her will only give her power over you, usurp your role as teacher and prevent you from being effective in your role. Remain consistent in your expectations, do not lower them for this child. The RAD child has even more to learn than "normal" kids.

SUPPORT THE PARENTS. The child who is losing control at home and in the classroom because folks are "on to him" will get a whole lot worse before he gets better. Listen appropriately. Absolutely redirect this child to her parents for choices, hugs, decision-making and sharing of information you believe is either not true or is designed to shock or manipulate you. Follow up with the parents.

REMAIN CALM AND IN CONTROL OF YOURSELF. No matter what she does today. If she manages to upset you, she is in control, not you. Remove yourself or the child from the situation until you are able to cope.

AVOID BEING ALONE WITH THIS CHILD. They learn, shockingly early in life for some of them, that such situations can be manipulated into abuse claims for which there is no "witness".

If your classroom is out of control because of this child, get help. Many school counselors and administrators have not had exposure to the RAD diagnosis or how to handle it in schools. There are many resources available. Don't give up. These children are inventive, manipulative and very much in need of everything you can offer to help them get healthy. Remind the child you will be speaking with her parents on a regular basis. Report to the child's home as often as you can without feeling burdened by the effort. Expect notes to be destroyed. Use the phone. If you do not get a response to written communication and the parents seem to be out of touch with general information, do not blame them. Chances are they never got the message, never saw the right number of papers and have no clue what is going on because that is just how the child likes it. It takes control from the parent. Give it back by communicating directly whenever possible.

This child can and will be helped to get healthy and you can be a part of that process with the right tools. Keep in touch with the family. Remember that what you see in school is only the tip of the iceberg – family life is terribly threatening to these children and what the parents have to deal with every day is nearly unimaginable to other uninformed adults. Blaming the family or failing to communicate with them adds to the dysfunction and puts the child at greater risk of never getting healthy. This child is learning in therapy to be respectful, responsible and fun to be around. It will take time, it will be an effort, if in the end it is successful it will be because the adults in her life were consistent and the child decided to work in therapy. Your contribution as his teacher cannot be underestimated or undervalued – his parents will be grateful for the support and the therapist will have fewer inconsistent venues to sort out while helping the child to heal.

Used with permission from the author.

Not more than we can handle, just we need help

I am angry! I am angry at the system for failing her. For so called therapeutic foster care homes that just compounded her problems. I am angry at a therapist who taught her that she didn't have to talk if she didn't want to.
For foster parents who ignored her pain and her dental/ medical needs.
I was angry at her bio family for hurting her in ways that are unimaginable.

I do not want pity for what I am to share. I do not need pity. We chose this road. We were aware of Sweetie's issues before she came to live with us. We did not know the severity, but we did know the potential of her becoming unstable. This is why we prepared. I can not stress how much this has helped. This and prayer have helped me to be able to calmly handle the events of this week.

Over the last few weeks, Sweetie has become more and more agitated with me. Like constantly verbally abusive towards me. But the more abusive she becomes the calmer I become. I know she is trying to push me away with all her might. I am getting through! Does it hurt when she is cussing me out,telling me I am the worst mother in the world and she would rather be back living with her bio family being raped? Absolutely! Does it hurt when she throws things at me or destroys my stuff? Yes! But what hurts more is knowing that my daughter deep down in her core does not feel worthy of my love. That she feels so awful when I do nice things for her that she has to sabotage them. That she is always afraid that she will not have food to eat, even though she has a box of food stocked in her room at all times. It hurts that she is waiting for me to fail her like everyone else.

Cris has been in Ecuador for his annual trip. I just knew that him being gone would not be good. Sweetie has experienced so much change in the last 8 weeks. She moved here, she started 6th grade and then Cris left. In addition we found out that Sweetie's 14 year old sister who has been living on the streets of Florida was arrested and 5 months pregnant. Her sister wanted to talk to Sweetie and Sweetie wants to talk to her. The social workers thought it would be good for me to tell her because her sister would tell her and she has glamorized poor behavior in the past to Sweetie(like gang and drug actively).
All of this was simply too much for her to handle. So Thursday we went to therapy like we always do. When we got there she seemed to be in a fairly ok place. So Ms. D (our attachment therapist) took me in like she always does first for 20 mins) Sweetie hates this. That 20 minutes was enough to put her into a rage that lasted until 2 in the morning and than started up again at 5 in the morning. She then ran away. She had never before, but with her sister's history that scared me.
I found her about 1/2 mile down the road from my house carrying her fuzzy blanket, fuzzy pillow, book bag and eating a pop tart while walking in the dark. I had to resort to threatening to call the police to get her in the car. It was hard but I made the decision to bring her to the hospital Friday am. We are still here and she will be admitted to an inpatient facility for 1-2 weeks to start. While in here they took her off her ADHD meds and she has been significantly better. I have been feeling that her anger is much more intense when she takes her medication.
It will be tough tomorrow to transport her to the inpatient facility. They have a police officer take her. She is going to freak out. But she needs this. My hope is they can help her get on whatever medication she needs.

So here is my plug again to educate yourself!!! If you are adopting... Even a baby.. Educate yourself on attachment issues! It makes all the difference. You can get free resources from the Utah Adoption Exchange Lensing Library.
They have an amazing selection of books, CDs and DVD's.
Check out Christine Moer's videos on You tube. Sign up for some of Heather Forbes webinars. These will help you.
There are thousands of children out there just like Sweetie who deserve a chance. But we need to be prepared to help them heal or we are just part of their problem.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

7 weeks

Well, we survived our first week of school. Things have been trying, but we are still here!
We have been extremely chaotic since last week...Sweetie has been able to keep it together in school. Yay! This means she can keep it together! Once she gets home though is another story. She has been extremely argumentative, arguing over just about anything. This is where all my reading and listening to CDs about attachment disorder are paying off. She really has no clue how to deal with me. 
Every other adult in her life up until now has either hurt her, failed her or left her. The pain from that has caused Sweetie to build this huge wall around her heart to protect her. Every time I get one brick down, she quickly fills that hole with another one. Kim is great about reminding me that these defense mechanisms are the reason she is still on this earth. 

I have been working on getting Sweetie's dental needs taken care of. Dr. Kelly is going to come in on her day off so we can do IV sedation on Sweetie to take care of her root canals and fillings. 
I finally received Sweetie's dental records yesterday. I was shocked to find that one of the root canals were diagnosed over 2 years ago. She has been in 2 foster homes in that time and no one took her to address these issues. I am grateful that we can still save the teeth. It is amazing that she is not in agony!

Well, next week will be rough as well... All week I have to take Sweetie to Kim's at 6 am.The good part is is I can pick her up from school all week. The bad is most nights we have something going on, she has therapy one night, her physical with shots another. 
There always seems to be something now a days. 

Well, I am beat so I am off to bed!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The New Normal

I wish I could say that life after bringing Sweetie home has been great and everything I dreamed it would be. It is not what I dreamed, but it is mostly what I expected. My child lives in a world of constant hurt and fear. She mask this fear and hurt with rage.The years of abuse and neglect have taken such a toll on her little soul. Her body is stuck in the constant state of hypervigelence, where she is always waiting for the next attack. She doesn't yet know that the attack isn't going to come. She lives in a world where EVERY adult has hurt her or left her...until now. So why would she expect us to be any different?  Sweetie has been here a little over a month and we have had some pretty intense times. The longer she is with me, the more I see the Reactive Attachment Disorder (R.A.D.) and the more I realize that she has some pretty major sensory processing issues, that have never been addressed. So many of Sweetie's needs have not been met. She has been diagnosed with needing 2 root canals on adult teeth and needing several fillings. There is absolutely no excuse for this!!! Her dental care has been 100% covered for her. We now need to pay for an anesthesiologist to come into the pediatric dentist to do IV sedation because she will be unable to handle having the dental work done. A huge THANK YOU goes out to Kim for taking Sweetie to the dentist for her cleaning. I know it was not easy!!! All of Sweetie's visits to doctors/dentist have been awful.Like it is when you take a toddler to get shots, only my toddler is 12. Her control issues create a world in which she is confrontational & defensive constantly. There is so little joy in her. But there are moments. I try to create as many moments as I can. This past week, I drove home wearing a faux mustache beeping the horn and waving at people. She was laughing so hard she almost pee'd. These moments are so far and few. But they are awesome when they do happen.
When I started this journey to become a mom it was all about filling my needs. Now my needs are non-existent. I truly see this as a life or death situation for Sweetie. If she was not matched with us I truly believe she would fall into a life that would surely end her life at a young age. I know that there are going to be many bad days until we can help Sweetie heal.
Today was one of those really really bad days....
We had attachment therapy scheduled, like we do every week. I prepared her like I always do. This morning I tried to make it extra special by having her help me make sugared donuts. She seemed to enjoy this activity, but then refused to eat. Like I do for every time we need to leave the house I give her the 30 minute, 15 minute and 5 minute announcement. At the 5 minute mark she announces that she is not coming. So, I take a breath and pull out some "Love and Logic" parenting and state you have 2 choices, you can either get dressed and walk to the car or I can carry you. I waited 5 minutes and she did not move and repeated that she was not going. I then grabbed a blanket and proceeded to attempt to pick her up. I am glad to say in the last month Sweetie went from weighing 69 pounds to 78. But sadly that 9 pounds had made her more difficult to pick up. When I attempted to pick her up it started a rage that kicked through her bedroom door , put a hole in the wall and broke her phone. The thing I came to realize during today's rage is that when she is in one she is reliving the past traumas of her life as if they are happening right now. An example of this is while she is on the ground thrashing around she is screaming bloody murder for me to stop kicking her, even though I was several feet away from her. Eventually we were able to get her into the car where she continued to verbally lash out, calling me every name in the book, telling me that I am never meant to be a mother and that is why I could not have children, she called me a child abuser and that I was going to hell for what I am doing to her. It took her several hours to get completely regulated after this. I was glad in therapy that our therapist agreed that I did the right thing by attempting to pick her up. 
I know that the closer she gets to feeling loved the more her defenses go into overdrive. This is the stuff they do not prepare you for in MAPP classes. They don't show you the real pain behind the children's cute faces. 
But after it all there is still HOPE! God, is really showing me that in my journey with Sweetie. It is in the small things but HOPE is still there. It is when tonight she sat on the bed with Cris & I and with tears in her eyes said that she wishes we could see how sad she feels for what she has done today. That she knows that saying sorry does not fix things. But she wants to fix it. This is my HOPE!!! Many children with RAD have no remorse at all. They do not care if they broke something or hurt someone. Sweetie does!!! For that I am grateful. I am also grateful that she learned her lesson from this that I do follow through on what I say. While we were sitting on the bed, I asked so next time I give you a choice to walk or be carried what do you think you will do. She responded that she was absolutely going to walk. 
Sweetie will be working hard to earn the money to repair the door and the wall. She feels the need to fix the damage. Before we even had a chance to discuss with her our plan to pay for the door, she brought it to us that she knows she needs to repair the damage and was asking about what we thought it would cost. 
The day was exhausting as most are now a days, but in the end we had growth. That is what matters right?

Here is a video for Kelly Clarkson's newest Dark Side. Music is a big part of how I get through to Sweetie. I have very intentionally picked music playing most of the time. I love when I hear her singing part of the songs. I know the messages are sinking in. 

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Week 3

You know what is amazing? That I can not remember my life before Sweetie right now. All of those moments that I was freaking out over something that wasn't going how I expected during the approval process seem almost as if they may have been a dream. I can't even remember what specific things had me upset. Every moment of everyday is now about meeting her needs. This hole of needs that will most likely never be filled. But I will keep trying. This week was a trying one at times, but fun at others. Adjusting to being the mom of a special needs teen is most definitely a difficult one. But this warrior mom is in for the long haul and we will get through this. We are taking it minute by minute around here.They do not tell you of these things in your adoption training classes. But than again if they did, how many of those people would have still done this?
The good news is no violent tantrums this past week. So we are better than the week before!
Her needs are becoming more and more evident every day. And every day my heart breaks a little more.
My daughter is so wounded that she is in a constant place of mad and sad. I have probably only seen her really laugh 3 times in 3 weeks.
As I have mentioned in previous post my daughter has been diagnosed with RAD. From our initial contact, I thought it was a misdiagnosis. But the longer she is hear, the more I see she is textbook. Unfortunately for RAD kids (sometimes called RADishes) have the need to have control of everything around them or they feel as if they will perish. It is such a primal response and extremely unconscious to them. If they are in control, they feel they can't be hurt. We had a lot going on this week with her constant battle for control against anybody or thing. To be honest it is exhausting. But with God's grace we make it to the end of each day.
I sat in church this am listening to the music as I rubbed Sweetie's back and it just hit me, how much hurt she feels constantly. It was a bit overwhelming to even just think about. I can not imagine how she can even function, with the constant feeling of not being safe, always feeling like I am going to hurt her or send her back. I can try to reassure her all I want, but it doesn't change the fact that many times people have said exactly what I say and they sent her away. During therapy yesterday this came up. How everyone sent her on to the next family because she was a bad kid. It is so sad that she really believes that she is bad and she perceives everything as being an attack against her. This makes parenting a challenge. I have to be so deliberate in every word I say and every action because it is being watched and she is just looking for me to fail her, just like everyone else has.
We head to NY Friday to visit family. I am excited and scared all at the same time. I worry about the airport being overwhelming, I worry that she may not be able to handle meeting a bunch of new family, I am am afraid she will be jealous of other people and have a huge tantrum at my parents 25th Anniversary party this weekend. But I can not live in fear. I have to face it and overcome any challenges that arise.
I hope this does not come across as a rant. I knew what I was getting into and I am still here. And I wll remain here.
As always I am grateful for my wonderful support system. I am especially grateful to friends who have been helping with child care and for the wonderful meals that Warehouse ladies have been bringing us!
Great song that they performed in service today.