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.