Saturday, February 28, 2009

Releasing more posts!

I am in the process of posting more of my unpublished posts from January and February so that I can stop fretting over them! I have had some time over the past couple of days to read some blogs written by people with children who have RAD. What a blessing these blogs have been! These folks are so brave and inspirational! When I first started researching RAD I couldn't find any blogs or personally stories (except for several books) of people willing to share the day to day experiences, fears, battles, frustrations, milestones and joys. It felt like such a lonely process for me and the books became my lifeline especially during the times when the therapists weren't working out for my daughter and me. While I knew I wasn't alone, being able to read some of these blogs has given me new-found hope and energy and allowed me to see that others have been in the same place we are now. Thank you to those of you who have had the courage to share so much of your journey. You are a true inspiration and I profoundly thank you.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Less holds barred...

I have been spending some time going through all the unpublished posts I have written over the past month or so and trying to "let go" of some and publishing them without more explanation, editing or whatever it is that my process needs to be right now. I have been moving so fast in dealing with issues for Corazon and Tortuga especially that I get to write in snippets that barely make sense to me. I think part of it is also my decision to make this blog a bit more public this past month. I am a bit more self-conscious even if I don't seem to have any readers yet. I am going to try to get those posts up and out of my head so let's see where I go from there.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tortuga is grounded!

Backdated entry not posted until 3/4/09.

It is really great to be able to SEE the progress and the areas that need work in such tangible ways. Ever since the holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas) Tortuga's negative behaviors and meltdowns have been on the rise. We'd had a break from them for several months and I had almost forgotten what they were like. He reminded me. We have been able to attribute each of the meltdowns to times where he is overwhelmed by the really good things that are going on (visits from beloved family members, more one-on-one attention, feelings of belonging and being loved, etc.). We have also tried naming them for him and trying to get him to see how "being miserable" is still his most comfortable place to be which is why we often "save" the really fun stuff for right before bedtime so he doesn't "blow it" and end up missing out.
Over the holidays he just couldn't keep it together and even though I can usually "talk him down" it was taking tremendous amounts of energy and the results were extremely short-lived. This was causing the other kids to scream for more of my attention and even Corazon was revisiting really old behaviors in attempts to get attention. Anyway, Christmas Day was especially bad and after we sent him to his room to calm down he totally trashed his room! There isn't a lot of furniture there but he managed to break a lamp and two framed pictures. He pulled everything off the bookshelf (good thing it was anchored to the wall) and the drawers out of his very small dresser. He had also ripped his shirt to shreds (second one in two weeks.) So C. and I spent the latter part of Christmas Day taking all of his stuff out of his room except for essentials. He lost his books, magazines, dresser, etc.
As upset as we both were about doing this he had been leading up to this and we just needed to give him a fresh start. We did find the humor in one small factor which is that we were once again reminded of the beauty of having gotten him a metal bed. He used to have a tendency to throw himself on his bed and have an all out meltdown while jumping up and down (while sitting) or rolling around on his bed. That broke his first bed so we replaced it with a metal futon frame that has a bar down the middle (lengthwise). The first time he threw himself on it it hurt him back so that particular behavior hasn't been repeated.
He was totally shocked that we took everything away and immediately asked how he could earn things back. (We were please that the items he was most interested in earning back were the 2 stuffed animals we gave him when he moved in, his pillow, and a framed picture of the two of us--which was one he broke.)
He has earned some things back but we have taken it slow with him and there have been lots of two steps forward, three steps back kinds of incidents. January and February are big anniversary months for them (we celebrate the days they moved in and not formal adoption days) so we have had lots of little celebrations that I know make him happy but are also hard for him. Especially because he always likes to be the first at everything and the order of their anniversaries puts him "last" of the three we celebrate in close succession. Top that off with Valentines Day happening two days after his anniversary and that his school celebrated it on the day of his anniversary and we have had recipes for disaster. That said, we have had MISERABLE weekends for the past 5 or six since New Years and have been besides ourselves because he has fought us every step of the way. Frankly we got really tired of having to cancel plans, neglect the other kids, etc. without any break. (We just moved here so the only person we know locally is my sister and she tries to help but dumping all 4 of our little cherubs is tough on her.) Instead, C. and I have been trading off being the one to stay home with Tortuga while the other one takes the others out on errands or to the library or other fun activities. That means we haven't done much "as a family." Valentines Day weekend solidified it for me when I saw how relaxed the other children were without him around and I had to confront the unfairness of it all.
Anyway, the past three days there have been more tantrums and meltdowns and vile things coming out of his mouth. We have notice that what is also going on is that he is working really hard to get himself worked up as quickly as possible. He is using this as a strategy to get out of doing things he is expected to do and needs to do and for whatever he has decided he doesn't want to do. So, we decided it was time for drastic changes and tonight we GROUNDED HIM from the family for a week!
What that means is that he is excused from any family activity and responsibility (with the exception of 1 of his regular chores) including Family Chore Day on Saturday (usually a fun time for us), shopping trips (fun for him), family dinners, family story time and/or video, or even being in the same space with other family members except for riding in the car. He is exempt from having to work hard at the things that cause him so much difficulty these days (being nice to us, being respectful to us, being responsible to the family, our belongings and our space, etc.) His response was "That's great. I don't want to be with the family for a week." He also loses out on playing in the family play spaces, which he replied he didn't want to do either. So, we start this tomorrow. I sure hope we know what we are doing!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Happy Half Birthday Baby Girl!

Milagro turned 18 months today. Where does the time go? I can still remember the moment she was born kicking and screaming as she announced her presence in this world! She sure had a nice set of lungs and she still does but we don't hear much kicking and screaming just chatting. She is an absolute delight to be around even in her current state of needing to be no more than 2 feet from me at any given moment. I have so much I want to say about her to capture all the amazing changes in the last six months but the words are escaping me right now.

Speaking of words, they don't escape her. She has lots of signs and lots of words she is trying to say. She is a friendly, loving and affectionate little girl who waves hello and goodbye, blows kisses, gives kisses and hugs. She signs "more," "milk," "cheese," "butterfly," and "fire" ( no RAD comments please) in ASL. She has made up her own signs for hat, cat, food, book, shoes, socks, mittens, jacket, candy, chair, brushing teeth, balloon, sticker, chapstick, and table. She has some word that she says in English (pretty clearly) including: "mom," "mama," "bye-bye," "oh, " "wow," "oh-oh, " "hi," "thank you," "juice, " "book," "teeth," "nose," "book," "yeah," "tissue," "shoe," "balloon," "bellybutton," "diaper change" (really!) and only yesterday added "No" to her vocabulary plus she tries to say a bunch of other words. In Spanish she asks for her stuffed dog, water, more, and yes. She also calls her sister, her cousin and my sister by name.

She is a smart, active, and sweet little girl who bring us all such tremendous joy. Even during hard times she seems to know just what to do and treats her siblings with kindness and sensitivity. Whenever they are down she comforts them by rubbing their backs, offering hugs and kisses and the wonderful thing is that even in the midst of his crying Tortuga doesn't refuse her. She is truly our blessing.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Friends with "normal kids"

My closest friend from college has 2 amazingly wonderful daughter who are 9 and 10 years old. They live in New York and were visiting us for the past 6 days and left this morning. My friend and I went to college together and reconnected around the time Corazon came home to me. We introduced the girls to one another when they were 5 (Corazon), 6 & 7 years old at our 20th college reunion. They were instantly like three peas in a pod. Carrying on like they had known each other forever, calling each other sisters, and Corazon even let the oldest girl boss her around. Over the years we try to get together 3-4 times a year and the girls always have a great time. My friend has to explain to her girls why I sometimes intervene in their play, pull Corazon out of an activity or send her to "practice patience" (strong sit). They have not usually understood but they work hard to help her not "get into trouble" with me and so I can trust them to do things that I normally cannot let Corazon do by herself or with other kids.

During this visit I had alot of time to watch the girls, especially my girl and I had to marvel at how wonderfully APPROPRIATE she was MOST of the time. She worked really hard, had only minor slip-ups, and thoroughly enjoyed herself without going "over the top!" The best part was that she didn't have that usual crash she has after having so much fun. When we said goodbye to the girls this morning, Corazon cried real tears. I was in seventh heaven!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

So how IS school going?

Backdated entry which I didn't post until 3/3/09.

Corazon has been attending school for a month. Today I spent some concerted time trying to assess how it is going for all of us. I am not sure if I have enough information to gauge so I am probably just going to jot down some random thoughts and observations and see if I can make sense of them later.

For me:
  • I am really enjoying the break from schooling her. I couldn't have done this much writing in the past few weeks if she were home.
  • Milagro gets my undivided attention from 9:30-2 and I have been able to take her for walks (big deal cause I don't really like to go walking), play outside with her, cook and eat a leisurely breakfast or lunch with her, and generally watch her grow and change in the ways that toddlers do.
  • I have time to do some housework during the day rather than after everyone has gone to bed.

For the other kids/family:

  • I already talked about Milagro although she misses Corazon a great deal during the day which has turned into her missing C. (my partner, who I need to come up with a name for on this blog) a whole lot more.
  • Tortuga and Pollito get to spend time with me in the car without her around at pickup times and on the three days of the week when she has gymnastics after school. On those days they get me through dinnertime without her. This is especially helpful to Tortuga who is extraordinarily jealous of Corazon. He doesn't argue/fight as much during dinner or during homework time. However, the two days of the week that she does come home afterschool are usually harder for him.
  • We only get family dinner time as a whole family on the weekends. C. isn't home until after 7 on four of the five nights of the week.

For Corazon:

  • Increases in overall drama, interrupting or interjecting herself in other people's conversations, correcting me (or other familiar adults,) asserting control over information that comes from school (e.g. she changes the requirements of an assignment to suit her interests, etc.,) slacking on routines that have been integrated into her daily life for months or years (e.g. brushing teeth, getting ALL her clothes ready, skipping cat chores, etc.), and bossiness towards her brothers and sister.
  • Homework is getting done and usually happily. No resistance to doing it except occasionally when something is too hard and she gets frustrated.
  • Chores are getting done, albeit not always efficiently but she is doing them without complaint. However, she is doing them at a snail's pace which is why she is up at 6 a.m.
  • She is TALKING about her fear of failure in gymnastics and nervous about starting to be a competitive gymnast. (I think this is positive. She has usually been invincible, fearless and has never before talked about being nervous about anything.
  • She actually notices that people are ignoring her and seems to want to do things differently to change this. (She never used to notice.)
  • That I know of, she has had no meltdowns, tantrums, outbursts, disrespect, stealing, etc. at school or home.
  • She is hypervigilant about adult conversations at home and school and this continues to be the case.
  • Her feelings seem genuinely hurt if someone says something to her that isn't nice.
  • Academically she isn't as challenged as she was with homeschooling.
  • She is resistant to doing some of her homeschool work which was part of the agreement for getting to attend school.
  • She is picking up some of the "entitlement" behavior that some of her peers have but when checked she seems to be OK.
  • She seems to genuinely miss and appreciate me, tells me so and offers to help with my evening chores even when not prompted and without trying to avoid work she doesn't want to do (most of the time).

So at least for now we seem to be doing OK. I do find myself "waiting for the other shoe to drop" but I am going to enjoy this as long as I can.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

I am not feeling the love...

... this Valentines Day! I usually LOVE Valentines Day. My mom always made a big deal about it so I have done the same with the children. This year it feels like a much bigger effort. I got up determined to change my mood so I pulled out all the leftover bananas that Tortuga's class had not used for their banana splits during their Valentines celebration and I started baking. I made 2 banana bread loafs, then I made a dozen heart-shaped banana muffins (with chocolate chips!) and another batch of banana muffins. The spells brought all the family downstairs smiling and ready for a treat. All except Tortuga. I found myself dreading his joining the family after last night's meltdown which has become a regular part of our weekend.
Given our busy weekly schedules of school dropoffs, pickups, gymnastics practice, scouting, football, etc. these Friday nights to Sunday afternoons are precious. Lately we have spent way too much time working on getting Tortuga through his reading, chores and simple interactions with the other kids. As soon as he gets to do one thing he really likes or enjoys it is total HELL the rest of the day/night! The celebrations starting during Thanksgiving and then having so much family visiting made things worse. I know part of it is that he has to sabotage anything good that happens to him (or anyone else) because he doesn't feel like he deserves it. Part of it is his jealousy and he cannot stand to have any of the other kids do/get something good which includes my attention. He still hasn't distinguished between positive and negative attention so if his small acts of disrespect or meanness don't dominate my full attention he has to have a full-blown tantrum. I mean full-blown! For the past three weeks we have seen a renewed increase in his meltdowns. He screams, yells, howls, rolls on the floor, tells us how much he hates us, threatens to run away, tells us to never speak to him again, not touch him, etc. All the while he has tears, drools, snot, etc. dropping off his face. Talking to him or holding him don't help right now and sending him to his room sets him off so much that nothing in his path is salvageable. These rages are nowhere near as bad as they were two years ago and we can tell that he is actually working really hard to set himself off whereas before it seemed to just happen and be out of his control. I have concluded that I need to figure out what it is that he NEEDS that only gets satisfied by a meltdown. I know it is a kind of release for him and cathartic but I don't know if that is it. If there is something else we could do to help him get the release without the meltdown then we could work out that but right now I am at a loss. I have been charting my behavior and his as he gears up for one of these tantrums to see if I can find a pattern. So far it is the weekend, down time with the family, someone else getting my attention, doing something really fun and/or his having to do something he doesn't want to do. I have been able to talk him down sooner each time but not until he has the full meltdown. His words have been very vicious of late. Not just the "I hate you" and "you are mean" but the venom with which he spews his anger, the look on his face and even the use of words we haven't heard from him before. Anyway, right now I am just tired.
Tortuga has been tremedously defiant, rude, disrespectful, and downright mean to everyone in the family for the third weekend in a row. I incur the bulk of his wrath but that is to be expected since I think the happier he get the harder it is for him to reconcile that this much "fun" never happened or isn't happening with his birthmom. He misses her in a viceral way although I think part of the problem these days is that he actually forgets about her and then feels bad about it so the cycle begins again and again and again. We know that when he catches himself "loving" us, he feels guilty and like he is betraying her.
Because I was not ready to deal with him I decided that I needed to have some time without him. I went upstairs and told him he could read in bed. He had taken away family time from the rest of the children last night and so he "owed" that time back to them. I would bring him his breakfast and then he needed to show that he could stay calm in his room without interrupting me until we were ready to have him join us. He didn't like it but he didn't complain too loudly. I went downstairs and had a wonderful time with C. and the other children. We ate the muffins along with other treat, talked and just enjoyed each other's company. Even Corazon was in great form. She really has made so much progress plus when Tortuga is at his worst she is usually better. They must have some unwritten pact about this. Of course, this was short-lived but I savored it anyway.
Once Tortuga was able to join the family it took less than 30 minutes before he was set off again and banished to his room for the rest of the afternoon and evening. I felt so bad that I let the other kids eat as much of their Valentine's candy from school as they wanted and then I popped a movie on the DVD player for them to enjoy while I went off to clear my head for a while. I am tired, tired, tired today. C. and I didn't even exchange cards today. I have one for her but I haven't even had a chance to sign it! I am off to finish making dinner.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

It has been two years!!!

I cannot believe it has been ONLY two years since Tortuga joined the family! Today we celebrated his anniversary with a wonderful strawberry cheesecake. We also gave him an "indestructable" digital camera so he can start documenting the world as he sees it.

I love this kid so much! He is still the child of my mind, who is the first one I think about in the morning and the one who fills my head as I go to sleep. He is a great kid in so many ways. He still loves to read and draw, eats me out of house and home, enjoys helping me with household chores and football is his new passion. His favorite activity is still to spend time with me one-on-one which is no small feat given he has three younger siblings. I am so proud of him. Two years ago, at almost 8 years of age, he couldn't write his name and could sight-read maybe 10 words. Today he devours books, is reading at the 4th/5th grade level and manages to amaze his language arts teacher with his ability to do analogies and get to the heart of any story they are reading. He is still a special education student BUT he is in a regular 4th grade classroom. This is the first time he hasn't been in a special education classroom and he is struggling with the transition but academically I cannot complain. While he still has gaps in his knowledge base and has to learn many of the skills that he missed over the past four years of schooling he does really well. He has mostly A's and B's and he takes great pride in learning something new. (Today, I won't discuss the battles we go through to get some of that schoolwork done...:)) He even aces most of his spelling tests with fourth/fifth grade words!!!
Emotionally and socially he is still very far behind but he has made strides. Tortuga is a very hurt child and a seriously neglected child. He still acts like a 3-4 year old in many instances but he has learned most of the self-care routines that he didn't have when he arrived. While I still have to supervise his play with Corazon and Pollito, he actually is quite wonderful in playing with the baby. He seems like a pretty typical big brother as he watches out for her, lets her take things away from him, or "mistreat" him without missing a beat. He couldn't do that with any child a year ago.
Unprompted, I get "I love yous" and "glad you are my mom" from him although the "I hate yous," "you are the meanest parents in the world" and "I don't want to live here" haven't gone away by any means. He offers affections in appropriate ways and he is working hard to remember all the things he has to keep track of. I love talking to him about what he learned in school today and what he wants to study. After a big battle to get his science fair project done, he came home and asked if I would give him another one to do? He will read a new book and ask if I can "assign" him a book report! This from a kid who still struggles with grammar and syntax. Even when he has those horrific meltdowns and rages, he seems genuinely sorry and distressed that we might actually believe the ugle things he said. If this isn't progress, I don't know what is.
As I write this I am aware of how many changes he has undergone and I am thrilled that it is so tangible. I am also cognizant of the fact that we are in the midst of a really difficult time with him and that last night I was pulling my hair out trying to strategize about where to go next with him. But for this moment, I am basking in the progress and hanging on to my hope that one day he will come into his own and grow into the happy, healthy adult he deserves to be. I am so very, very, proud of my son.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Happy Anniversary Corazon!

We celebrate the fourth anniversary since Corazon has been in the family. I wrote and reflected a bit about the way our relationship got started a few days ago and today my head is filled with the progress we have made. In the past four years she have experience such a wide range of emotions that she has never expressed (and recognized) before. This year I have seen her acknowledge fear, frustration, disappointment, anxiety, jealousy, sadness, sorrow, and embarrassment (newly). None of these would have been expressed as anything but anger and rage in the first two years of being together and now she can actually distinguish them and for the most part respond appropriately. We no longer feel like we are regularly on the brink of despair and on a regular basis she behaves as though she cares about being a good and fully participating family member and she tries. I can honestly say that there are several times a days when I look at her and think "wow, she is acting like a 'normal' kid" even if she is exhibiting behaviors I would usually associate with her RAD. This isn't to say all is well but a lot is really good. She still struggles with transitions, sneaking, control issues, and getting attention. We no longer have the rages, the tantrums and the massive meltdowns. She gets angry, pouts, refuses to cooperate, but she doesn't destroy anymore. We no longer have the big toileting problems (urinating in public when she didn't get her way, refusing to use the bathroom only to scream at the top of her lungs that she has to pee when we are as far from the bathroom as possible, peeing in her bed, floor, closet, shoes, toyboxes, etc. instead of going to the bathroom at home, etc.) and last June (a month or so before her 8th birthday) we used the last of the pullups and have not had to go back to them day or night. She still tell lies but much of the time it is to avoid "getting in trouble" rather than what I called "for fun." She used to lie because she could get away with it and it gave her a sense of CONTROL. She lied about the big things and the little things without making any distinctions. In fact, it was the compulsive lying that ultimately led me to find the RAD. That's is a long story I will save for later but suffice to say that she would sit in her bed at night (at 4 1/2 years old) and recount to herself ALL of the lies she had told and gotten away with that day. She has not stolen (that I know of) in almost a year although we still see "sneaking" of forbidden items to and from various places whenever we drop our vigilance. She is still stubborn and wants to control things but for the most part those times when she would refuse to write an apology or in her journal and spend up to 7 hours NOT doing it have diminished. She can still take 3 hours to get ready for school, finish an "unpleasant" chore, or to do her writing journal entry in the morning but those happen a couple of times a week rather than every day. Her need for ADULT attention is still very present but it is no longer focused on strangers. She has begun to distinguish the desirability of "positive" attention over "negative" attention although there is still a good deal of slippage in that area but she has learned to tell the difference even if she cannot make the right choice as often as she could. She no longer tries to triangulate her parents but on ocassion will still attempt to do it with other significant adults in our/her life and she still tries to get "sympathy" from those people. She does not do it with strangers at all anymore but she did recently tell her new teacher that the reason she was tired and working slowly on her schoolwork was because she has to get up at 6 a.m. (school starts at 9:30 am) to "take care of ALL the animals" and do all her chores. (Her morning chore is to check the cats' water dish, see if dry food needs replenishing and change the litter box if it needs changing!)

As I think back on the past four years and even the last year I am so impressed with her progress. It has been a very long road and we aren't where we need to be but I am really proud of her and the progress she has made and she really has worked hard at it.

I feel as though we spend more time enjoying our daughter than knocking our heads against the wall about how we are going to get through to her (there are still those moments.) We have come a long way and I am so blessed that I get to see the "real" Corazon on a more regular basis and I can even say that to her without her having a complete meltdown. She is a caring and generous little girl who has wonderfully handled the changes in our family over the past two years (she went from being an only to one of FOUR kids in that time). Getting an older brother with significant emotional, developmental and behavioral issues has actually helped her make progress and see where she can be a resource and a help to him. Getting a younger brother and sister (one as an infant) has opened up conversations about things she missed when she was a baby, toddler and preschooler and how she feels about that. She is a terrific big sister!

I cannot imagine my life without her and certainly cannot remember my life before her. The "sacrifices" I have made to help her on this journey seem small in comparison with her progress. It all seems worth it as I think about how hard it was to keep my job and my sanity for the two years after I realized she had RAD and the work we needed to do to "find" the real person in there and as I pulled her out of school and began homeschooling her while working full-time and transitioning her brothers into our family. Even my decision to give up my career and become (at least for this year) a stay at home mom (not just for her but the rest of the kids too) seems worth it when I see her heart smile, or when she says she missed me and genuinely seems to have done so, or when I see her playing with other children and she seems to be having fun even if she is not "in charge." It is worth it when she can crawl into my lap and I feel her full 54 lb. weight on me and know that there is no other place she would rather be. It is worth it when she says "you are the best mom in the whole world!" and she means it!

I love you Corazon and I am so very proud of you! Happy Anniversary!

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