Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Urine, Urine, Everywhere

What is it about going for days and days and days (or weeks) without peeing in odd places or in bed that makes my kids feel like they have to "make up" for it. This morning I discovered that Pollito peed in his sock drawer overnight AND in his bed. I actually should say ALL over himself and his bed. The pillow, sheets, blankets, his pj's FRONT AND BACK all the way into his hair. How is that even possible? I opened his door to wake him and recoiled from the stench. I had to take time to shower him this morning. He had 2 peeing accidents at school and his only defense was that he didn't feel like peeing in the potty. He lied to his teacher when she sent him to the bathroom and told her he peed.

Then this morning Tortuga, who has also managed to be dry for about a week was all out of sorts. He was rude, defiant, and forgetful. He had a tantrum when I sent him upstairs to put away some clean laundry. C. drove Tortuga and Pollito to school and when she hugged him goodbye she thought he smelled terrible. She thought it was his breath because we have had trouble getting him to use toothpaste when he brushes his teeth in the morning. She told me about it when she came home and something told me there was more to the story. I went upstairs to his room and the stench was unmistakable. Everything reeked. His bedding, pillow, pj's which were on the floor, bath towel and even his dirty laundry which was in his hamper. It was gross.

So this afternoon, when they got home I sent each of the boys to strip their beds and bring them to the laundry room. Usually they have to hand wash their clothes but not their sheets. Tortuga tried to challenge me about why he needed to strip his bed but I just smiled and told him we both knew why. I am thinking this might be why he was out of sorts this morning. For some reason, he decided to hide the peeing but it must have messed with him. I suppose that is progress.

On a separate note I wanted to thank Lisa from Life in the Grateful House for the strong encouragement to read about Guided Imagery in the book Invisible Heroes - Surviors of Trauma and How They Heal by Belleruth Naparstek. I got my copy a few days ago and it is really wonderful! She has given me lots of helpful suggestions for my kids and I have tried a number of them so I took her word for it that this was a must read. It is! If you want to know more she references it here and here and here. She also references it over here. While Lisa has the links to the book on Amazon directly in her posts, if you decide to order I kindly suggest going over to The Accidental Mommy and search Amazon from her site. She is trying to raise money to go to a Beyond Consequences training and every little bit helps. (It's on the right side about 3/4's of the way down.)

How little I really know.

This post is just me rambling about something that has been in the media of late and has consumed my waking thoughts over the past couple of days. I feel like there isn't much more to say and there is too much to say to adequately address it anywhere. I am writing this mostly to get it out of my head. It really is ok if no one else reads it. I have other things to write about that might come more easily if I try to put this to rest.

A mother in M*lton M*ss*chusetts will bury three of her children this coming weekend. For the rest of her life she will live with the grief, the guilt, and the unanswered questions that will likely see no end. Her daughters aged 17 and 5 were killed by her 23 year old son. Another daughter, aged 9, witnessed the tragedy and was also injured by her brother. I cannot begin to understand what this mother is feeling or thinking. I cannot guess how she will make sense of this incredible tragedy. I cannot imagine how she can continue living. I cannot begin to conceive of what she will do to help her remaining daughters (the injured 9 year old and a 21 year old) cope and heal. Everyone who has heard or read about this story, including myself, has an opinion about this. I see some of the comments on the news stories and details of the tragedy with comments on people's blogs. Some are drawn in by the tragic details, horrified by the tragedy, and/or relieved that it did not/could not/would not happen in their communities. Most of us believe it could not or would not happen in our homes. Yet it does. It did for this family. I am sure that mother went to work that day not realizing nor imagining how her life would change forever in a few short hours.

I find myself thinking how fragile this all is. How important faith (not necessarily the religious kind although that might be there too) is. I find myself wondering, does a mother really know when her (troubled) children will or will not be fine. Where is that line? How do we bear witness to the problems our troubled children have and the behaviors they exhibit (aggression, violence, substance abuse, whatever) and know if they will be OK or not? How can we tell if/when we and our other children are OK? How do we know if we have done enough or if there is more we should do? The simple (but inadequate) answer is we don't know. Yet, we have to believe that we will know otherwise we couldn't continue to do the work we do to raise our children right. We have to go through our days and make choices and decisions as if we do know because if we, as their mothers, don't know, how can we expect anyone else to know and to care? I don't know if this is making much sense but I guess what I find myself thinking is that when I watch my troubled children's behaviors and aggressions towards themselves or others, or hear their hateful words and threats I am still convinced that I can reach them. I can help them. I know them. It is not them but their issues that make them do and say such horrible things. I can explain (to myself at least) why these are just words and I can believe they won't act upon them beyond a certain point. After a particularly intense meltdown or outburst I watch my child calm down and seem genuinely remorseful and apologetic and I view this as progress and renew my vow that home is where they belong. Even so I alarm the children's rooms and lock my bedroom door with my youngest safely inside (just in case.) It's different I know. My children are little. They have documented diagnosis and explanations for their violent behaviors. They have PTSD. They have documented histories of abuse and neglect and are products of that environment and experiences. Her son was a 23 year old adult. He made bad choices, got in trouble, went to jail, smoked pot and drank. So it is all very different I tell myself. Yet I also ask myself, at what point do we have to see our children's problems and behaviors differently? And more importantly, can we? Can I?

I am not completely sure why this has haunted me so much that I feel compelled to write about it. I have been unable to push it from my mind after several days. I think part of it is that to a small extent I do know the community where this tragedy took place. I lived minutes from it and frequented it often. I have friends who live there. It is a well-established and very affluent suburb of B*ston (where we lived until recently). In fact, one of my former teenage foster children (who has RAD) came from that community. She was a classmate of the 21 year old surviving sister who is a really nice girl from what little I know. My partner C. was their high school teacher AND also taught her 23 year old brother who committed these violent and atrocious acts. She knew him as well as a teacher who really cares can know her students. I met him once, after he graduated high school. He helped us find an MP3 player. We were in a huge electronics store and he was so proud of his new job. He smiled as he warmly hugged my partner C. and reminded us she was one of "the good ones" who "really helped" him in high school. Her first words when I told her the name of the people involved was "No, not ____. It couldn't be him." She recalls a polite, smiling, great kid even though she knew he was troubled at times. She has cried on and off since she heard the tragic news. (She isn't a crier, I am.) She wonders aloud about what we (the collective we) as educators should know and do to help troubled students and our troubled schools. I wonder how we prepare teachers to work with these issues. How do we prepare parents? I wonder where his issues began. I wonder if school helped or hurt. I wonder what could have been done differently. I wonder if I want my children going to school. I wonder what signs were missed or never sent. I wonder if even when we see the signs we can make different decisions that are also painful and difficult. I wonder if those decisions help or hurt. I wonder and I wonder and I hope and I hope and yes, I cry. And I hold my children tighter.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Milagro




She has a bunch of new words:
"Croc" (the shoes),
"paahhkk" (park)
"dina sauuur," (dinosaur)
"toot-toot," (trucks, busses, trains, etc.)
"caahhr" (car)
"I peeeeed!" (lots of pee talk in our house-makes sense this would be her first phrase... :) That's our girl!!!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A good weekend so far

We often dread weekends around here because Tortuga's mood tends to hold everyone hostage and lately he has been particularly difficult EVERY weekend.

To my surprise, this weekend got off to a good start and for the most part we are holding steady. C. and I have so little time to spend together and because we still don't have many friends (any friends really) in this town it is hard to get a night out without kids. My sister lives here and is one of the reasons we decided this was a good move to make but she has her own life and the kids are a bit much for her to handle. She takes a couple off our hands at different points but we have only left the four of them with her on 2 occasions and for short periods of time. We decided that we were going to aim for 2 Fridays each month when we would go out to breakfast after school drop offs and have a chance to catch up with each other without constant kid interruption or drama. Of course, we have Milagro with us but she is a relatively easy going child so it is almost like being by ourselves and the closest we can get right now. We also don't know lots of places to go out around here so breakfast "dates" are helping us get to know the area. We had a nice leisurely breakfast where we didn't talk about the kids and then ran a couple of errands to find clothes for this weather since our New England winter wear is no longer needed around here. Milagro was in fine form, chatting with every baby she saw, trying out her new words "park" and "car" along with this new mischievous grin she has developed and uses every time she is about to do something she isn't supposed to.

When the boys were home (Corazon had gymnastics until 7) my sister called and informed me I was cooking stir-fry for her and her daughter because her husband was working late. We usually eat one weekday dinner at her house so it is only fair that I reciprocate. I agreed and told her we had splurged and bought the movie "Bolt" while we were out so we could screen it for the kids (and adults) after dinner. We don't do much TV around here because the two older kids cannot handle it but movies work pretty well. Tortuga was being very disrespectful towards me and using some bullying behaviors every time he addressed me. We have an issue with him because he is a tall kid for his age and I am not tall. I am probably only 3 inches taller than him so he will try to puff himself up and tower over me anytime I talk to him about something he doesn't want to hear. He does this all the time with smaller kids, especially girls, but he has been trying it on for size with me. I checked him about it a couple of times but he seemed hellbent on spirally down. I was trying to cook a nice dinner and was getting tired of redirecting him.

Then I learned that Tortuga had a bad day based on his behavior contract in school because he was disrupting the kids and teacher. I informed him that meant he would have early bedtime and he got really mad. I sent him to do some tapping (thanks, Lisa) so he could reign himself back in before he missed out on a wonderful family dinner.

While I don't usually consequence him at home for every bad behavior at school our expectation is that he is supposed to be actively working on a couple of things at school that are also issues at home. Currently he is working on not bullying girls (school and home), not interrupting when others are speaking, (home and school) and staying where he is supposed to stay (his seat, room, etc.) without constantly disturbing and distracting other people who are doing what they are supposed to do. If he has two or more "bad days" at school for the same reason he gets early bedtime on Friday. His behavior since he got home suggested he really needed to spend some quality alone time anyway.

We had dinner with my sister and my niece and Tortuga held it together nicely although he started to spiral downward when I reminded him he had early bedtime. I gave him the option of reading in bed for a little while but that just made him angry so I changed my mind and announced he needed to go and call it a day. He started to fuss but I gave him "the look" and told him he could do the extra bedtime tonight or he could pay me tomorrow morning by staying in his room until lunchtime. He LOVES Saturday morning breakfast and family chore time (yes my children are weird) so that settled him down. The rest of us enjoyed the movie "Bolt" (nice to see one that doesn't have over-the-top adult humor embedded in it) and Tortuga didn't try to interrupt/disrupt it.

Yesterday, we did family chores in the morning then realized we had invited one of Corazon's teammates over to play with her. She is the daughter of our new(maybe) friends. The dad called to say his wife left town for a funeral but he would love to bring her over and hang out for a bit. They ended up hanging out for the entire afternoon and having dinner with us. The girls played together but I could tell that Corazon was a little off. Tortuga was playing with Milagro outside and Corazon's friend (who is 6) was more interested in playing with Tortuga than with Corazon and Corazon didn't seem to mind which was unusual. I had to redirect her quite a number of times and remind her she had a friend here. Since this was the first time they were in our house I was trying to keep things in check and not freak them out about our rules with the kids. Corazon really tested it. She took out items that were off limits, didn't put anything away after they played with it, played with running water and made a mess, grabbed toys that belonged to her brothers then pretended she "forgot" she wasn't to touch them, etc. I was really annoyed with her but held back. The friend's dad, M. was really easy-going, very interested in the kids' stories, and it turned out the daughter is adopted and he was raised by his grandmother in some pretty crazy circumstances with 4 of his cousins who all have big time issues. He seemed genuinely interested in hearing about adoption issues, saw one of my books about RAD and asked some pretty good questions. I tried not to get too excited about the fact that he didn't seem shocked to hear about RAD and that our kids had some "issues." I tried not to share too much and I think we did OK. It was really nice to have someone who didn't seem to dismiss some of the stories (mild to moderate ones) we told. We even discussed the fact that we don't let our kids go to friends' houses without our supervision and he didn't think that was strange at all. C. cooked a lovely dinner and everyone had a really good time.

Since the kids had done pretty well and Corazon even did all the sentences she earned without too much drama we did a rerun of Bolt (first time for Tortuga.) They loved it and asked to see it again. This is one of the things I like about our kids, they get hooked on one movie and can see it a dozen times and still not get tired. Probably because we limit so much of their TV watching because it really sets them off.

I stayed up late (past 1 a.m.) catching up on my blog reading. Actually one particular blog that I have been trying to read from beginning to end all week. The kids have football today and I have cooking for the week to do but I am going to try to post some football pictures later today.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Things I learned today...

Corazon had a really hard time this morning. She had written her 3 apology letters to her teacher, her coaches and her teammates last night. This morning all she had to do was copy them neatly onto another sheet of paper and address them to the people involved. She just couldn't get herself to do it. I got her up at her usual time and she did her usual slow motion morning of doing cat chores and copying the letters. We usually leave at 9 to get her to school. It was 9:30 and she still wasn't done. I had decided that if she couldn't pull it together I was keeping her home today. When she realized she wasn't going to school she cried. Real tears. She was very disappointed and tried to convince me that other girls go to school late because of doctor's appointments, etc. I reminded her that she was late because she chose not to not be productive during the 3 hours she had this morning to do everything to get ready for school. She cried some more but not drama, no tantrums, just disappointment. I asked her what she was feeling and she said "sad." I said that was appropriate and reminded her that disappointment also feels like sadness.

While she was sad to not go to school, Milagro was thrilled to wake up and find that Corazon was still home. Corazon is her absolute favorite sibling these days and she kept calling out to her and asking her to play. Our rule around here is that if you miss school it is because you are too sick to go to school so school hours have to be spent in bed. I think this is partly why my children love to go to school and will do just about anything to not be kept home. Showing disrespect of teachers and the privilege of going to school has been known to earn them the label of "too sick to go to school" and they hate it. I figure when they are nasty to their teachers or disrespectful of their schoolmates then those people deserve a break from my children's attitudes. I suppose that is the teacher in me.

I was in a quandary because I should have put her to bed but I knew Milagro would be terrible disappointed. I pulled Corazon aside and told her she had two choices. She could go to bed or she could show me how good a big sister she could be and play with Milagro whatever Milagro wanted to play with. She chose to play and I must admit it was a good decision on my part. While they played I checked my email and had another detailed email from Corazon's teacher. Her teacher is wonderful. She really seems to have Corazon's number. It is a small classroom with girls in grades 3-5 and the teacher seems to work hard to make sure she is consistent. I haven't given her much history on Corazon because my experience is teachers don't believe me when they meet my charming daughter and I end up looking like a control freak. All I said to the teacher is that my "charming daughter would eat her alive if she thought the teacher wasn't in control of EVERYTHING." She is an experienced teacher and parent and she seemed to take me at my word on that and has made it clear to Corazon that she is fun, fair, and fearless and that she ALWAYS wins in whatever battle a child chooses to have with her. So far, I haven't heard much that the teacher doesn't seem to be able to handle and Corazon is thriving. Of course, I know she is getting away with a whole bunch of stuff that she wouldn't get away with at home but right now it is working for her. Anyway, the teacher informed me that the outburst in school had been a power struggle with Corazon talking back to her in a disrespectful way. I knew that from the first email but in this second email the teacher pointed out some things that were new information for her (and me.) The first was that in redirecting and reassuring Corazon her teacher had told her she was "smart, beautiful and talented." Corazon blurted out "I'm not pretty!" The teacher pushed the question and Corazon told her she was the only black girl in the class and one of the girls treats her like "dirt" and always makes faces at her. Corazon has worked hard to try and get this girl to like her but it doesn't seem to make a difference. This is the first time in school that Corazon seems to genuinely care about making friends so she has been working pretty hard on this. The other thing the teacher found out is that Corazon claims to not like going to school and doesn't want to be there. News to us!

I thought about how to broach this with Corazon so I started with the comment about being pretty. I asked her if she thought she was pretty and she said "no" (she is a gorgeous kid and I cannot tell you how many modelling offers we have turned down on her behalf.) I asked why and she said that when she looked in the mirror she could see her face "wasn't pretty." I asked her if this was because she was black. She said "no." I asked her why she told the teacher that was why and she said she felt the other girls (all white) see her differently because she is black. We had a conversation about this as I tried to tease out the self-image and its connection to race. I have a good deal of personal and professional experience dealing with all kinds of cultural and racial issues (it is my life's work some would say) so we covered a good deal of territory. She has ALWAYS been proud of her African American and Puerto Rican heritage and culture. We are a multiracial family and we speak openly of race, ethnicity and culture because trying to piece it all together for each of them is a challenge. All of the kids are multi-ethnic with the three older being half Puerto Rican and half something else and the baby is half African American. One mom is White and the other is Hispanic/Native American so we cover the waterfront on this. I was able to tease out the fact that this isn't just about race although it is her first time in a school that isn't racially diverse so she has to negotiate the culture a little differently. That and every single girl in her class has blonde hair so she definitely stands out a bit. Not kidding.

The other interesting thing I learned is a little more complex. She announced that she wants to come back to homeschooling for two reasons. Her first reason is that she misses me and being with me and her second reason was that I am a more interesting teacher. I almost fainted on a couple of levels with this one! She complained to anyone who would listen that she HATED homeschooling. I was boring. We didn't do anything interesting. All I made her do was write. She wanted peers. She wanted "a real teacher." We didn't do recess. Etc. Etc. Etc. After a bit of probing she seems to be bored with the academics, especially the lack of social studies and history which we did a great deal of. She is also daunted by the social scene. And yes, she really wants the security of being with me. By the end of our talk she agreed she wanted to keep trying going to school but she wants me to consider homeschooling her for 4th grade next year. She was very mature in expressing her opinions and I was proud of her. We could NEVER have had this conversation even 6 months ago. She is becoming a much more self-aware little girl.

On another note I did wait until this morning to look at report cards. Corazon did brilliantly. Her lowest grade for the term was a 94. She also got commended on the state 3rd grade TAKS test having scored a perfect score! Pollito is in Pre-K and except for listening got 3's & 4's on everything which is great and right on target. Tortuga had a poor report card last marking period when his grades went down in almost every subject but he brought it back up this time. His lowest grade was a B- in reading and given that this is his first time every in a regular education classroom I think he did fabulously.

I am treating them all to dinner out tonight (yes, on a school night) to celebrate their good progress reports in school.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

One of those days...

It has been one of those days... The kind that start with missing the alarm in the morning so I had to forego coffee. I rushed out of bed to get the kids out the door for school and managed to wake up the only child who doesn't have to be up... first. I should have crawled back in bed right then and there. I took Milagro with me as I did my morning rounds of waking kids up. I woke up Corazon because these days she is in super, super, super slow motion mode and although she doesn't start school until 9:30 it takes her 3 1/2 hours to change the cat water, check that the cats have dry food, change a litter box, if needed, get dressed, and have breakfast. She screamed that she didn't want to get up. I said "OK, stay home!" That usually gets her because missing school is one of the worse things she can think of. She slowly dragged herself out of bed and then stood there in the middle of the room. I said "NO! Not today! You RUN downstairs and start those cat chores or I will lock you in your room right now!" She knew I was serious as she eased her way down the stairs. Due to unsafe behaviors I cannot leave upstairs until there is only 1 child up there. I rushed Pollito out of bed, told him we were late and sent him to use the bathroom while I gathered his clothes. Of course, he had wet himself overnight so I had to quickly shower him (while he cried) and with Milagro on my hip. Once dried off I sent him downstairs in his underwear to finish getting dressed then I woke up Tortuga with a shout that we were running late and he needed to move quickly or miss school. I rushed downstairs to pull lunches together, help Pollito finish getting dressed, feed Milagro breakfast and wait for the rest of the kids to be ready to eat as well. As I am doing this, Tortuga comes down in his underwear (not allowed) to announce that he wet the bed. "Of course, you did" I said nonchalantly. He yelled at me "don't say of course!!!!" and I just shooed him upstairs with a declaration that they could all stay home since they have 10 minutes before it was time to leave for school. I suddenly realized that I hadn't heard anything from Corazon and she was sitting in the middle of the sunroom (where cat chores take place) with the poop scooper in hand (piece of cat poop in it) staring at Tortuga in his underwear. I couldn't deal with her then since the rest of the kids needed to walk out the door soon.

10 minutes later C. came downstairs to me telling Tortuga that I wasn't signing anything of his this morning if the trash wasn't emptied before he left (it is his daily chore) and he proceeded to yell back that he didn't think he should do his chores since it was "my fault" I got him up late. I glared at him and pointed to the trash can. Ultimately, Pollito and C. went to the van (she does morning drop-off for the boys) and Tortuga was no where to be found so she started to drive off very slowly to give him time to catch up. He came into the house crying hysterically, drool and snot flying everywhere, that she was leaving him and it wasn't fair and all my fault and he shouldn't have to do chores, etc. I shoved a glass of milk, granola bar, and his vitamins in his hand and told him to run and catch up with her. He left dragging his backpack, jacket (it was 74 degrees) lunch box, crying hysterically as he ran screaming down the street waking up anyone who wasn't already up at 7:15 this morning.

Milagro was crying into her morning yogurt and insisted on being carried everywhere I went this morning. I went back upstairs to finish getting dressed and to get Milagro dressed for the day. Poor thing had such a rude awakening that I guiltily carried her around as I finished up my morning routine. When we came downstairs at about 8:10 Corazon was still sitting in the middle of the sunroom with that poop scooper in her hand. I suggested she could do that all day long if she wanted since I was happy to stay home and not take her to school. She gave me one of those "cha" faces (half scowl, half smirk) and walked over to the litter box and out of my sight line. At that point, Pollito's school nurse called to tell me he couldn't return to school tomorrow if he hadn't had his most recent shots which her records showed were past due!

After Corazon got dropped off at school (still wearing pj's and carrying school clothes) my day was relatively uneventful. I realized around 1:00 pm that I had missed my morning coffee so I took Milagro through our neighborhood St*rb*cks and treated myself to an iced coffee. All the things that had been on my to do list for today fell by the wayside as we sat in the toddler park and I watched her enjoy having the climbing structure all to herself. I was hoping the kids had better days but that was wishful thinking.

Pollito has 2 peeing accidents at school and ran away from me when I picked him up. Tortuga announced he was sent to the principal's office for "no reason." I later learned he was "fighting" with a boy at recess and that he was now banned from playing football during recess for the rest of the school year. Corazon had gymnastics after school today but I usually visit with her for 30 minutes or so between school and gym. She was off but wouldn't say why. I got home to an email from her teacher telling me she had "an outburst" in school today and a full blown tantrum because the teacher asked her to do her math while wearing headphones.

Meanwhile Tortuga decided to be as fully ODD as he could tonight so I sent him to bed at 6:30 pm just after dinner. I could not deal with him anymore tonight. Just then C. sent me a text message from Corazon's gym to give me a heads up that Corazon got kicked out of her gymnastics class tonight (I know, I jinxed myself with yesterday's post!) for disrupting the last practice of the night. Corazon came home tonight at 7 pm and burst into tears as she "confessed" what had happened in school and gym today. She actually wouldn't give me any details so I sent her to write detailed apologies to her coaches, her teammates, and her teacher. She did it in record time (yay!) and had 20 minutes for dinner before I sent her to bed with no reading time.

Somewhere between Tortuga going to bed and Corazon coming home I sent Pollito to bed because he decided to take all the crayons off my desk and decorate the sunroom. (He has never done that before.) C. has a fever of 102 so she went straight to bed when she got home. Milagro, who was still hanging out on my hip this evening, finally fell asleep in my arms around 8:30 so I put her down to bed.

I looked at the pile of papers the kids left for me next to my computer and realized I have sealed report cards for all three kids sitting right in front of me. I had an important choice to make--open the report cards or write this post. Guess which one I chose?

And...how was your day?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

How gymnastics (and ice skating) saved our lives

Corazon does gymnastics 3 days/week for 3 hours each time. She is turning into a very skilled gymnast. I credit gymnastics and ice skating with saving our lives by giving us hope. This child has always been physically strong and very athletic although she is a tiny by most standards. From the day she came it was clear that she had no fear especially if it involved any physical activity. We tried to channel it by having her try a range of organized activities.

First there was soccer. At almost 5 years of age she was the only kid on her team who could move the ball down the field while most of the other kids seemed to be there for the snacks. She got bored and so her RAD self became fixated on getting the attention of the coaches. She was good at turn-taking and willing to try anything so she did well during all the skills and drills time except that while she waited her turn she monopolized whatever adult happened to be near her. And given the high cuteness factor, it left her moms pretty frustrated.

We also tried a ballet/tap/tumbling dance class. That worked pretty well in that it helped her to concentrate and focus and learn more about how to control her body. It also let her enjoy music which she already loved and she actually made a friend. The downside was that it was only 1 hour/week and not enough physical exertion for her. She wanted to dance all the time and wanted me to help her. You don't even want to imagine what I look like doing ballet.

We kept the dance but then thought we would try swimming. A good skill for anyone to have and C. was a swimmer so we thought we would give it a try. A local university has a large family fitness program so we enrolled her in a beginner's class. She was so excited to be in the pool and she was fearless so it was a good match. Until she got to be pretty good and moved up a couple of levels. Suddenly she realized that the kids who got attention were the ones who couldn't do anything or who were afraid. All of a sudden our drama princess emerged in swim class. Ultimately she did something really unsafe and scared the heck out of the instructors. We think they were relieved when we didn't return.

We continued on our quest. Memories of soccer kept us from trying that again but we still wanted to have her try a team sport so we signed her up for baseball. She was now almost 6 and again we encountered the athleticism problem. She was a strong runner, good hitter, OK catcher but there was too much down time out there on the field waiting for the ball and well there were these nice adults standing out there with the little ones and they were so much more interesting.....

Living in New England at the time we thought it would be nice if she learned to ice skate. She agreed and begged to try it. We bundled her little 6 year old self into her snow pants and took her to her first lesson. We found one of those massive, relatively inexpensive, no frills classes where about a hundred or more kids are taught the basics of ice skating. We lucked out and she ended up in a small group of 15 beginners with a teacher who spoke very little English. These instructors were serious about getting those kids comfortable on the ice. Day one they taught them how to fall and how to get up by themselves. And boy did she fall! She would fall and sit there on the ice waiting for a nice adult to come by and help her up. When they did they were efficient in that they picked her up and skated off while she was still trying to get them involved in a conversation. After a while she just sat there and poured on the drama. Someone came by and moved her out of the way. She did it again and someone asked if she wanted to get off the ice and go to her mom. Of course she didn't. She wanted attention and she was used to getting it for her drama. We stood on the sidelines and couldn't believe our eyes. At about the same time both C. and I looked at one another and said "this is wonderful!" We weren't being cruel and thrilled that our daughter was falling but we realized we had hit upon an activity where she might actually have a chance at not charming the instructors. The next week we put her in leggings (no more snow pants) and put her out in the ice. She quickly discovered that if she sat on the ice when she fell she would freeze her behind in the time it took someone to come help her up. She got herself up and slowly but surely stopped focusing on the adults and started focusing on learning to ice skate. She mastered the basics easily and we moved her to a figure skating club to continue her lessons. Each week she worked her little behind off to master the skills needed at each level and for the most part we saw a significant reduction in her need (and ability) to get the instructors' attentions. She started to realize that the more skilled she got and the harder she worked to learn what was being taught the more positive attention she got. While at the time I don't think she was able to consciously decide that getting positive attention was better than negative attention she actually realized that was the best way to get her instructor's attention and my baby loves getting attention. For one of the first times ever we started to see Corazon working and focusing on something other than getting adult attention. We were so excited. She worked her way up pretty far up the basic levels until we relocated to Texas this summer where we haven't been able to pick it back up again yet.

So, where does gymnastics fit in here? I took the long way to get here. At about the time swimming was becoming disastrous Corazon complained that her dance class didn't have as much tumbling as it promised. We found a tumbling class for 5 year olds right after her swim class and we enrolled her. After 2 classes the instructors asked to move her to their 7-8 year old class because she was the only 5 year old who was listening and able to do the stuff they were teaching. We obliged and she joined that class. She thrived but there was no where else for her to go once she finished that class. We eventually found a gym that offered gymnastics for her and it was a serious sacrifice because I had to drive almost an hour each way in traffic, with all the other kids in tow, to get her to the right class. We were seeing success in ice skating so I thought gymnastics would balance things out and give her the kind of physical activity she needed outside of school. I thought that since she was all about control what better way than to have her channel her energy into controlling her body and movement in very focused ways.

They gym was great for her! They were all about form and discipline. While they wanted to teach the kids a love for gymnastics they also quickly recognized her capabilities and strength and learned how to push her even when the drama emerged. She was six when she started at that gym and she did 3 hours/week. It was spread over 2 days which helped because then we had her attending some kind of disciplined physical activity three days each week and then had her doing as much jumping on her mini-trampoline and running around as possible. We even got her a chin-up bar for her room that Christmas and she did those, by choice, almost daily. Gymnastics was the ONLY place (besides ice skating) where Corazon conducted herself in a way that didn't bring up all of her RAD behaviors. She occasionally tried the drama but that usually got her extra work so it didn't pay off. Otherwise she was a nice, focused, engaged, involved, hard-working little kid no matter how long the workout was. She only lost it when there was a substitute coach or someone who was more of a "pushover." She made quick progress and even though she was out of gymnastics for 4 months when we were preparing for and eventually moved she was able to reenter in this new gym at a higher level to make the competitive team and she is handling these long hours at the gym quite nicely.

Those early years of watching her at the gym gave us a glimpse of WHO Corazon could be when all this other stuff got out of the way. We never saw that kid ANYWHERE else and it gave us hope. At the same time she found something she loved and it helped her become more disciplined, self-regulatory, and focused. We began to see it carry over into other parts of her life. Not to mention that she is is really great physical shape so she can help carry all that heavy stuff when we do the grocery shopping. :)

Monday, March 23, 2009

I survived Spring Break!

So, I learned my lesson. I was dreading Spring Break given the kids' roller coaster behaviors and the Creator in his infinite wisdom helped me avoid it by making me ill. I was so sick I couldn't even enjoy the benefits of getting to stay in bed with a good book, the TV, or even my computer. I emerged from sleeping every few hours to referee some important kid squabble to to "supervise" dinner but otherwise much of last week is a blur. I had hoped to use that time to do a bit more "data collection" about what is going on for Tortuga but I only have bits and pieces of information. C. reported he had only 1 meltdown between Monday and Saturday because he didn't want to do his sentences. Otherwise, he had some small bumps but his behavior was better. a little more predictable. Of course, we had him on a very limited schedule. Reading, drawing, writing and physical activity outside by himself were the only things he got to do all week. It was a predictable schedule with each activity punctuated by tapping and practicing patience. He has had a lot of structure, limited interaction with his siblings, and doesn't have to "fight" anyone for my attention. (He always demands my attention when I am interacting with any of the other children and that often leads to problems with him controlling his tone, faces, body, mood, etc.)

I finally was able to drag myself out of bed on Saturday to take them to the rodeo fairgrounds for a few hours. Rides, games, petting zoo, kid rodeo, and pig races. They had a blast! We had hoped to actually take them to see bull riding but I could only muster about 4 hours of energy before I was completely spent. We came home and watched a movie then took them out for late night (8:30 pm) ice cream treats! They teased me that I must really be sick since I NEVER take them out for ice cream after bedtime. I am reminded of all the simple pleasures and was grateful to be able to enjoy them for a few hours.

Yesterday Tortuga and Corazon started flag football again. They love that. Tortuga is on a new team although he hasn't really noticed much except that he kind of remembered one of the coaches who he had in the fall. He also has 3 kids from his previous team but he hasn't seemed to notice. Good thing this league is pretty laid back and they take the kids wherever they are without judgment. In fact this winter season on the next to last session Tortuga managed to play for the wrong team for an entire Sunday (that's one hour of practice followed by an hour of game time) without ANYONE noticing (including his parents....) Corazon is the smallest players but one of the fastest. Her team finished third last season and so they managed to keep an almost intact team for this season. I love her coaches. They have several kids on the team who cannot seem to find the ball even when it is in their hands but these two coaches have managed to turn the bunch into "football" players, a team, all while giving ALL the kids playtime and nurturing a love for the game. You can tell the coaches like winning but boy do they hide it. Anytime one of the kids complains they aren't scoring the coach will ask "are you having fun?" or "are you playing your best?" and then reiterate that "that's all that matters no go out there and play your best!" It is wonderful to see and I almost moved Tortuga to this team but didn't want to infringe on something that is Corazon's. I doubt that she would mind but I think for now they do better on separate teams. His team won and hers lost their scrimmage games. You would have thought it was the Super Bowl the way Tortuga bragged about winning!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Getting extra rest.


I have been sick for the past 4 days with temperatures ranging from 100-103. I always get a high fever when I am sick. My mom jokes that as a kid if I had a hangnail I would get a fever. If I ate something I didn't like, I would get a fever. So fevers don't bother me too much usually because I know it means my body is fighting something and they usually last no more than a day or two. This time I haven't been so lucky. My throat is raw, I am congested, and the chills overtake me so suddenly that I have to dive for the covers. Of course, my timing couldn't be better. Being the considerate mom and partner that I am I waited to get sick until C. and the kids were all home for Spring Break. That means C. has had to take over much of the household and kid duties. I do 95% of these so it is a big deal when she has to. C. is not happy and neither are the kids. I, on the other hand, am enjoying the extra rest and really don't mind a break from the cooking, cleaning, laundry, mediating, refereeing, etc. That is, when I am actually conscious.

Corazon feels my absence from the daily fray the most. She has made me several cards and every time I emerge from the bedroom she is right there to hug me and ask me if I am feeling better. It is very sweet. I remember when she didn't seem to notice if I was around or not. She certainly never noticed when I was sick. This is the kid that used to laugh hysterically whenever she saw me in pain or hurt. Until recently she never got sick. This really must be a RAD thing. They cannot allow themselves to be that vulnerable. This year Corazon has caught two really bad colds. In the 4 years since we have had her she had never been sick before this year. I wonder if we can correlate attachment progress and healing for RAD kids based on how much they get sick? If so, the Corazon is definitely making progress. We have had some short but significant exchanges over the past couple of days because with my absence she is struggling to hold it together. She has lost reading privileges for lying and sneaking and she lost outside playing time with her neighborhood friend for today also for lying and sneaking. Yesterday Tortuga got to play with Corazon's friend instead and usually this would set her off but she handled it really well. When I asked her what she thought of him playing with her friend she told me "he earned it mom and I haven't shown I can handle it." I thought that was very mature of her. Today I asked her why she was playing inside when all the other kids were playing outside. I already knew from C. that she had been disruptive outside, bowling over the little kids as they played on their tricycles and slide, bossing them around, taking things away from them, etc. She told me she was "having a hard time being a responsible big sister" and that she couldn't "control" herself. I asked if she knew why that was and she said she didn't. I suggested she practice patience (strong sitting) and she declared she already had done that several times but it "wasn't working today." I then asked her what she thought she should do and she said she was going to work on playing with quiet things to try and help herself. I told her I was proud of her recognizing that she was having a hard time and that I could see she was working hard to hold it together. Good for her!
Edited: I added one of the drawings Corazon has made for me over the past 4 days.

Lemonade Award

THANK YOU ALYSSA'S MOM!

I was awarded the lemonade award by Alyssa's Mom over at http://raisingalyssa.blogspot.com/ I am tremendously honored because she is such an inspirational mom!

Here are the rules...
1. Copy the above logo and put it on blog or post.
2. Nominate at least 10 blogs that show attitude and/or gratitude (Those who add sweetness to life and/or inspire you by making lemonade.)
3. Be sure to link to your nominees within your post.
4. Let them know they have received this award by commenting on a post.
5. Nominate your favorites and link to this blog.


Most of the blogs I read have already received this award so I don't have 10 but the following sites help keep me sane and make me smile even when I want to cry. I would like to pass along the award to the following:

Sheri at http://sherific.blogspot.com/
Thorn at http://motherissues.wordpress.com/
Socialwrkr24/7 at http://eyesopenedwider.blogspot.com/
Christine at http://www.welcometomybrain.net/
Linda B at http://allcrazyhere.blogspot.com/
Tudu at http://tudusamom.blogspot.com/

These are all wonderful women who are generously sharing their journeys.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Lifebooks

I have been working on Tortuga's lifebook and trying to use Corazon's as a guide. It is still hard to do because I have so much more information about Corazon's history than I do about Tortuga. Thus, my approach has to be different. I don't seem be able to access good resources on lifebooks (beyond the ones that are trying to sell me a prefabricated one and those don't work for me.) I feel a sense of urgency with Tortuga's because he struggles so much with remembering everything including the good times with our family. Corazon used to disassociate from everything and didn't remember anything until we'd gone through it a couple of times. Every time we introduced something new she would declare "I have never had/done/seen....this before!" We often couldn't sort out if it was true or not and even when we knew she had done it before she denied it or genuinely didn't recall. Of course, some of it was also part of the RAD because it was her way of gaining sympathy or attention from strangers. So if someone said, "I'm going to see a movie this weekend." She would declare that she had never gone to the movies as a way of getting attention. She would then argue with us if we reminded her that she had been to the movies. I remember when she had been taking swimming lessons for about six months and one of my work colleagues was talking about inviting us over for a pool party. Corazon excitedly declared that she had NEVER been in a pool and asked my colleague if she could please show her what to do when we got there. I reminded her she had been in various pools and did so every week during lessons. Corazon started crying and screaming that I was lying. My colleague (who was also a friend) didn't know what to say. Needless to say we didn't go.

Behaviors like that were commonplace and I find Tortuga doing this too but I think his is more connected to developmental and cognitive delays. Corazon always lived in the moment and didn't really connect the people, events, activities in her life. People came and went and she just became a new person with each transition. Corazon was a "charmer" and worked hard to become whoever people wanted her to be. Tortuga definitely has trouble putting the pieces together but he isn't trying to be what others want. He just cannot seem to remember much of the events in his life whether they happened three years ago or yesterday. It is a coping strategy for him (it was for her too but different.) But it also means that when he is angry about not getting something he wants or thinks he is entitled to he loses it and really does seem to convince himself that everything in his life is awful.

For Corazon, the lifebook along with posting pictures of her all over her room REALLY helped. The lifebook documented what we knew of her life before us and what we didn't know. We were able to write the good and the bad so that they were REAL. For example, she left one home after a month because she engaged in some very unsafe behaviors and there were other small children in the house. We wrote about that in simple and appropriate language so that she understood that she made unsafe choices (doesn't remember the specifics anymore) in that home but that it wasn't because she was "a bad kid." Corazon described herself as a bad kid for the first two years we had her whenever anything came up about her earlier life and even her choices in our home. We worked intensely to disconnect the bad behavior from the good kid for so very long. She still pulls it out and now even asks questions about it.

When I started Tortuga's he wasn't interested and so I stopped working on it. I just pulled it out this past week and am trying to tackle it again. Anyone with good ideas about how to approach this when we have no photos and almost no information about his life before age 7?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Spring Break.

EVERYONE in my house is on Spring Break as of Friday night. Guess who is the only one who isn't happy about it? Me. I feel lousy that I am not happy to have my kids home for a week but given the recent rollercoaster behaviors of everyone besides Milagro, it is hard to get excited about having them all home for a WHOLE week. I usually enjoy being around them and having a chance to spend more one-on-one time with each of them without the afterschool/evening rush of snacks, homework, dinner, showers, bedtime, etc. Right now I am not feeling it. I guess it could be worse. When I was working, I had to scramble to find multiple sitters and stressed about it the whole time.

The good news is that C. is also on Spring Break. I am happy to have C. home for a week although she does have quite a bit of school work to do (C. is a PhD student and works for the university.) That means we might be able to do some "fun stuff" (as Pollito calls it.) Our hope is to get to one of the history museums that we have all been wanting to go to and to take everyone to the rodeo which started last night. Of course, we are keeping those plans secret because Corazon and Tortuga do so much better with little to no advance notice about anything that is remotely intended to be fun. They still struggle with the feelings that they don't deserve to have too much fun and it destabilizes them so they have to pay us back with misbehaviors (Corazon) or full-blown meltdowns (Tortuga).

I am trying to make sense of Tortuga's behavior, of late and more importantly how to help him take a step forward because I think this is partly what is going on. I can see that he is working REALLY hard to make good choices and in fact many of his difficult and challenging everyday behaviors have diminished considerably in the past two weeks or so. However, his meltdowns have continued to increase as well as his moodiness, rudeness, and his tendency to fly-off-the-handle the moment I say "no" to him or he doesn't get something he wants. It is much like 2-3 year old behavior which he has exhibited before, so maybe he is reverting back to emotionally being a toddler. I don't know. The grounding thing has worked better for him (and the rest of us). It really takes the pressure off of him to anticipate "less" in terms of situations and expectations that might set him off. It also means that I have to keep him away from the other kids as much as possible which also sets him off. I am not sure where to go from here with him but maybe I can try some things out this week that he is home.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I got an Award!

Pollito's classroom is studying birds of all kinds as they anticipate the hatching of their baby chicks. Thank goodness that explains the squawking and parroting behavior. I am now impressed by how long he was able to stay "in character." He is four after all! Perhaps it was a safer place to be than all the craziness that was going on around him. At moments like those I sometimes wish I could videotape all the action because by the time someone else is around to share it with, I sound nuts and of course they are all calmed down or in bed so it's just my word.

We have house guests since yesterday. An old friend from my high school and I connected recently and hadn't seen each other since we were 18 years old--a lifetime ago. We had sporadic contact every few years as she married, divorced, had a child, remarried, had a second child, and became widowed. Over the years our contact had amounted to no more than a dozen letters, phone calls and emails. She is in town with her 18 year old to visit the local university and I offered them a place to stay knowing the financial challenges of single income households with the warning that our house was "unpredictable." She has worked for the Texas Youth Commission forever so I know she has seen her share of "difficult" kids. Nonetheless, I was a bit concerned that we might not have much in common and that my kids (and my parenting) would freak her out. As we greeted each other the first thing out of her mouth was "I really thought you were crazy when you said you would adopt all those kids!" Soon thereafter I asked "Is your mom still planning her funeral?"(some of my most vivid memories of time at her house, from 5th-12th grades, was of her mom announcing she was dying soon and busy making her funeral plans as an explanation of why she was in bed at whatever hour of the day we happened to be there.) We both laughed at the familiarity with which we could greet one another. It made me stop and think about how much things change, how much we can go through, and yet, how some things never change, like the connections we make with some people when we are "in the same boat."

That is how I feel about my first venture into blogging about my family's life, my thoughts, and my trying to help my children become the wonderful people I know they are destined to be. Lisa over at Life in the Grateful House gave me an award! I definitely do not feel worthy, but will accept it with heartfelt gratitude! She is amazing and has been a wonderful support for me! I write because it keeps me sane and I started blogging because I wanted the feedback and the connection with others who were in similar boat(s). [Dancing: when you are ready to take the leap I will be your first follower!] I feel so honored to be along on your journeys so thank you to all of you who have been blogging long before me. I am getting so much support from all of you, your generosity and your tremendous wisdom.

The Dardos Award is given in "recognition of cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values transmitted in the form of creative and original writing. These stamps were created with the intention of promoting fraternization between bloggers, a way of showing affection and gratitude for work that adds value to the Web." The rules:

1) Accept the award by posting it on your blog along with the name of the person that has granted the award and a link to his/her blog.
2) Pass the award to another five blogs that are worthy of this acknowledgment, remembering to contact each of them to let them know they have been selected for this award.

I am a rule-follower much of the time but I am going to have to break the rules here and pass the award along and back to those who have led the way.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Is it a full moon?

I don't even know where to begin. The kids are absolutely crazed today and I don't know what is going on. Maybe there is a full moon? I cooked a nice dinner that no one is eating until tomorrow because I am done with all of them. I served peanut butter sandwiches and/or oatmeal all the way around for tonight and bedtime for everyone by 7 p.m. (Regular bedtime is 8 pm.)

Pollito is pretending to be a parrot. Seriously. He has been perched on the edge of a chair in the playroom for the past two and a half hours copying everything someone else says and squawking. He has never done this before and when I tried to ask him "why?" he repeated what I said and kept on squawking. I asked if he wanted a snack and he said he wanted a cracker. Then he asked for birdseed. I would have tried to deal with it some more but he stayed out of the fray except for repeating everything Corazon said and driving her nuts which she kinda deserved so I didn't intervene.

Corazon had 10 sentences to write to remind herself to stop interjecting herself into adult conversations. This strategy has worked wonders for both Corazon and Tortuga in the last 2 months. I got tired of reminding them to do certain things that they were expected to do and had been reminded to do hundred of times. I finally declared that they were old enough to remind themselves about these things so each time they "forgot" they would need to write reminders 5 times, then 10 times, etc. if they just couldn't "remember."

I assign sentences for all the "little things" that just wear me down and drive me crazy. (It feels like being pecked by a gaggle of geese.) For example, Corazon talks really loudly to herself whenever I am speaking to anyone else or when I am on the phone--only during these times [she used to do it all the time but that has subsided considerably]. She also likes to respond to any question I pose to one of the other children or to C. as though I am speaking to her. She also leaves her pencils, markers and crayons where the two younger kids can find them. She only does this with those items. Otherwise she is a dream when it comes to organizing and putting things away.

Tortuga used to engage in passive aggressive behaviors whenever I was talking to him and he didn't want to hear it. He would scratch his face, yawn, roll his eyes, pout, play with his tongue, and/or rub his nose, head, belly, arm, crotch, etc. He would do this only when I or C. are talking to him or helping him with something. [He hates getting help even when he is the one who asks for it.]

I finally got tired of reminding them to not do these things so I start assigning sentences. I figured the repetitions should help if it is really an issue of forgetting and if not, they would stop once they got tired of writing. In the meantime their penmanship would improve and since both of them have terrible handwriting it was a win-win arrangement. [The teacher in me is coming out in this.] So, all in all I would say that 80% of these behaviors are totally gone and the rest have subsided considerably. Corazon averages maybe 25 sentences each week now and Tortuga gets around 40 which is a considerable improvement.

Anyway, Corazon could not settle down to do her sentences and was doing everything as slowly as possible in addition to trying to get Pollito to stop his squawking. Tortuga had come home with very little homework but I found alot of writing on the back of his social studies work that had lots of bad words and insults about a girl in his class. He has issues with girls because he wants to bully them all and he can be very mean to anyone he perceives as weaker than he is. It is a product of his insecurities and his prior socialization while with his birthmom all rolled into one. Because this is a recurring issue that the teachers and I are working with him on, I couldn't let it go. I told him he had to write that girl an apology if he wanted to go to school tomorrow. He doesn't like to miss school so that usually works to get him to do what he is supposed to but it didn't work tonight. He ranted, raved, cried, screamed, rolled on the floor, insulted me, imitated me, and did his very best to set me off. I ignored him for the better part of 2 1/2 hours which just set him off even more. Then Corazon, not wanting to be left out, started screaming that she had to use the bathroom. She had gone 4 times in 1 hour to avoid doing her sentences and I had told her the downstairs bathroom was off limits until she was finished and she hates to go upstairs to use the bathroom. So, she chose to scream and scream that the "pee was coming" and that she "had to go bad." It really was a ploy to get control and get me to change my mind. I ignored it too. It was kind of amusing to hear Pollito imitating her though.

I set about doing the laundry and cooking dinner while keeping all of them within my sightlines. The poor baby played quietly with her toys at my feet for the better part of the afternoon/evening except when she needed to be comforted because she has two new teeth coming in. Once I finished making dinner I decided I couldn't handle a family meal so I fed Milagro, put the rest of the food away and prepared oatmeal and peanut butter sandwiches for everyone else. By 7 pm I announced that it was bedtime much to their surprise and sent everyone off to their respective beds. Both kids had finished their assigned writing just in time for dinner so they were especially shocked to be sent to bed without reading time or anything else. Today was just one of those day where I couldn't take it anymore and I felt like they owed me the time. When C. got home a few minutes later I had her dinner ready and we had a chance to catch up on the day's events. We rarely get to do that without jumping right into hearing about kids' days, bedtime stories, baths, etc. but for tonight that just wasn't happening. I am exhausted and I wonder what tomorrow will bring?

Monday, March 9, 2009

We might be making a new friend or two

Just got back from school pickups and actually had a few moments to write. Writing is keeping me sane these days (actually, I think it always has.) I went food/essentials shopping with the baby and in the middle of C*stco, which was pretty quiet, I heard someone shouting my name. Given that I don't know anyone in this town I figured someone else with my name was being called. Then I see this woman waving and smiling from halfway across the store as she approached me with a laugh as she asked if I was "ignoring" her already? It was the mom of one of Corazon's gymnastics teammates! In fact, our family had dinner at her home on Saturday evening and we had a great time.

I feel a little like I am in middle school. ("I made a friend...") We have been in Texas for 7 months and in general people have been friendly to us (even considering the comments from the previous post.) Yet, we have not had opportunities to meet or interact with many adults beyond brief exchanges to point out who our kid are. We ended up at their home for a cookout because our daughters had invited each other for playdates. Given the week that Tortuga had been having we had pretty much decided that C. would take the three younger kids and go over, while I stayed home with Tortuga. At the last minute, we decided to all go and it was a good decision. The kids were pretty good and gave us a chance to get to know the parents. He works from home and she just got laid off from her job, so they offered to be helpful with Milagro and Corazon if I have things to do. They have an 18 month old granddaughter who lives with them part of each week. This baby looks so much like our youngest that all of us spent the whole time marvelling at the incredible resemblance. Of course, it gave them a chance to "grill" us about our kids and family ["How long have you been together?" "Do you want more kids?"] but it was actually nice to be in adult company and treated like a "normal" couple, which we are not but they haven't figured that out. :)

The fallout for having so much fun was apparent all day Sunday for Tortuga and Corazon, but I suppose it was worth it. I will have to continue later, I need to go deal with Tortuga who has just stolen some food from the pantry.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

"Does that mean y'all are married?"

I have been in one of my more reflective moods lately and just today was thinking about how our lives have changed since we moved here last summer. We have always assumed that living in Texas would be different from Massachusetts, especially with the configuration of our family. C. and I are both highly politicized people (part of what brought us together.) Probably because of our teaching and counseling backgrounds, we have always given people the room they need to go through whatever process they might need to go through to make sense of us. We are passionate about issues of justice, equity, poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, and so on and we have many years experience in teaching folks of all ages about these issues. Because of all this we figured we would handle ourselves pretty well as we transitioned from a community where families somewhat like ours were visible (whether is was two moms, multiracial couple/family, adopted kids, bio baby, etc.) to one where we would be more of an oddity. And we have done a nice job of handling whatever comes our way.

Since I am originally from this state I knew that Texas hospitality and politeness would likely protect us from most of the potentially negative responses we might get. It has. However, we have dealt with a range of responses (not necessarily positive or negative) and mini-issues that remind us of how we are indeed in a "whole 'nother country!" Some examples:

  • When asked about her husband C. replied "I don't have a husband, I have a partner, she's a woman." Our neighbor stared at her blankly and asked if she owned a business so C. clarified and he said, "Oh, I've heard of those." We haven't seen him since that first week we arrived in Texas.

  • When asked about my husband I reply "I don't have a husband, I have a partner she's a woman." One neighbor, pushing her baby stroller, replied "I am sure that helps with four kids!" and then sent her unruly 9 year old to play the entire day at our house.

  • When asked about my husband, I reply "I don't have a husband, I have a partner, she's a woman." Three different people have begun to talk to me about the challenges of single motherhood and how they couldn't do it.

  • At my sons' school (one is in Pre-K and the other in 4th grade) the teachers have been warm and friendly. Weeks later the Pre-K teacher asked if I wanted to talk to the class about our family. I asked which part I should discuss (two moms, adopted kids, Puerto Rican or Salvadorian culture--my Pre-K son's background--) she said she thought it might be overwhelming and would get back to me. I am still waiting.

  • My 4th grader's teacher has been friendly as we discuss his various issues. At science fair night we waited in a small line of families greeting her. The two kids ahead of us were each encouraged to go in and "show your mom" and "show your mom and dad" their project. She greeted us and then as she started to say "show your..." she turned beet red, paused awkwardly and then said "show them your project." I waited long enough to hear her go back to the "mom" reference with the family behind us.

  • Twice now I have been in conversations with parents of my 4th grader's classmates who have walked away as I disclose that he has two moms. In both cases they literally walked away mid-conversation, without a single word.

  • When we took my daughter to try out for the gymnastics team at her new gym in January, C. and I both went. As we were giving her our basic contact information she noted that both C. and I have the same last name (C. added my surname to hers.) Since we have been here, we have had 6 or 7 people noticed this and we have been asked if we were sisters--she is white, I am not--so we both prepared for another one. She didn't say anything but as we were saying good she turned back and said, "hey, wait, Massachusetts right?" We nodded. She said "does that mean y'all are married?" Again, we nodded. Smiling as she walked away she said "that is soooo cool!"

Yes, it was "sooooo cool" that someone asked and knew that marriage for us was legal in MA. We also realized it was the first time in 6 months that we had told anyone we were married. Although, I suppose by Texas law, we aren't married since Texas doesn't recognize our marriage.

All of these conversations and encounters are part of our everyday lives and even the not-so-positive ones don't phase us much because we have been teaching about these things professionally for many years even before we were together. We never lose our cool. But the other day, C. went into the school to pick up our sons early because we were going out of town. I jokingly said "don't make trouble" for no particular reason since neither of us likes to make trouble. I should have kept my mouth shut. She went into the office and had a difficult time because her name wasn't "in the computer." She does drop-off for the boys most mornings and walks the preK one to his classroom. When we filled out the paperwork we made sure we were both listed as their parents and had to provide the adoption certificates to prove it. We spoke with the principal about our family (we don't yet know if they have other two mom families there but if they do we haven't seen/heard). We both attend all conferences, IEP meetings, etc. The woman in the office made her go back to the car and get her ID while she looked up a "hard copy" of our paperwork. By then, C. was visibly upset so I had offered to go instead or to go with her but she insisted she could handle it. She went back in to work with the woman who was trying to help her and who was explaining to another woman in the office what the problem was. She was doing it nicely, according to C., without using words like "two moms" but speaking about us as though we were a familiar case. C. lost her cool and said loudly "yes, we are those two moms; the lesbian moms!" She said there was such a hush that fell over that office that she had to break the silence by saying she didn't mind if her name was put in the computer as the father as long as it didn't happen again. And it hasn't. I can say that in the couple of weeks we have had to come in for two meeting and as we checked into the office to get our visitor passes we have had our passes (with our names/photo from the computer) printed and waiting. So much for staying under the radar screen...

Friday, March 6, 2009

Just another day...

Yesterday afternoon I was supposed to help Corazon put the finishing touches on a school project. She had completed the various elements over the past two weeks and was doing some final drawings and had asked if she could word-process one of the written pieces for her poster. I reminded her to double check that she had all of the elements. She said she did. Then I reminded her by calling out each one and asking her to find it in her folder or notebook. She again assured me she had all the components except the one she needed to work on which was to be 1 sentence long and the drawing she wanted to add. Tortuga was doing his reading, Pollito was taking an afterschool nap because he had been seriously cranky since pick up time. Milagro was my little cling-on and didn't want to be more than 2 feet away from me but her favorite place was on my chest. So I was content to play with her while Corazon completed her drawing and the last little bit of writing. After 25 minutes I suggested she stop the drawing and work on the 1 sentence so she could type whatever pieces she wanted to type. 45 minutes later she still didn't have the 1 sentence done (not sure what she was doing.) I tried to encourage her but all I got was a pouty face and grouchiness. I reminded her I would need to get dinner together soon and then she was stuck waiting for my help until close to bedtime if she didn't hurry up and finish. Big mistake. It was like I asked her, no, dared her, to go as slow as possible. She was slower than molasses taken out of the refrigerator! I didn't say anything just continued what I was doing and eventually went to fix dinner. After dinner, bedtime for Pollito, and big meltdown for Tortuga I was once again ready to help her. As we were working together I asked her to show me the other elements in her notebook and lo and behold, she had a couple that she hadn't done but had sworn for days that they were finished. I looked her right in the eye and asked her, "Corazon, why do you do it? The lying?" My lovely child looked directly at me, a look of distress came over her face and she said "I don't know mom, I don't really like doing it anymore. (pause) I am trying to stop mom! Really, I am!" Then she broke down in tears. (Real ones.)

For Corazon, this is BIG! She didn't deny lying, make up another lie, change the subject, create an elaborate explanation, blame it on me or my having misunderstood, and she didn't promise to stop. This is how much progress she has made. Of course, when I pushed it and asked her about the slowness in doing the necessary tasks (big problem these days) she acted like I had four heads and was speaking gibberish! Oh well. Can't win them all in one day but I will keep trying!

Then there is Tortuga. What do I do with this boy? It was another night of anger, tantrums, "I hate you" and "you are mean." He got to join the family for dinner for the first time in a week since his grounding. It started out fine but then he verbally attacked Corazon and when I calmly tried to redirect him he lost his temper. He couldn't regroup and he tried to disrupt dinner for everyone so I sent him to his room to get it together so he could finish his dinner when we were done. He just couldn't calm down. He screamed, yelled, jumped on his bed, ran to the top of the stairs to shout at us. According to him we are "awful." We don't treat him right. We are "stupid idiots." No matter what we do to show him how much we love him and want to help him we are wrong, mean, etc. etc. I finally went upstairs, turned off his light, closed his door, said goodnight, told him we loved him, set his alarm and reminded him that this too would pass. Lord, I hope so!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Tortuga's grounding...revisited

We were supposed to revisit Tortuga's grounding on Tuesday but he had a really difficult time on Tuesday while we were at my sister's house and by the time we got home he had really worked himself up. He was rude, disrespectful, and downright mean to everyone who went near him. He had asked if we were going to have our follow-up talk about his being grounded on Tuesday so I think he was anticipating that conversation. I had reminded him that we couldn't have that conversation until C. got home (around 7:15 pm) and if he couldn't hold it together we would have to postpone it. Clearly, he couldn't hold it together even after several attempts to redirect and give him calming strategies and "cooling off" time. I finally told him I was done waiting on him, he needed to go to his room and he had even blown "family" dinner (which meant he was only entitled to oatmeal [as much as he wants] or peanut butter sandwiches as soon as he calmed down or 8:00 p.m. (bedtime) whichever came first.

He quieted down and when C. came home I left her with the other three kids while I went upstairs to talk with Tortuga. I grabbed a sippy cup filled with vanilla milk and figured we might as well do some "baby" time. I am a "touchy" person so I hold hands, hug and hold my kids as much as possible. He has a lot of sensitivities which have made this harder for him but he generally does like to be held. So, off I went upstairs and we talked about anger (for the thousandth time) and other feelings. We talked about his little sister, Milagro, and how we picked her up and comforted her anytime she cried from the minute she was born to this very day. We talked about what happened to him when he was a baby and cried and how no one came to comfort him and how that still comes up for him. His eyes welled up with tears and he cried so I asked him what he was feeling. He said "sad." I made him repeat it to make sure he hadn't said "mad." I was ecstatic! I held him while he cried and then he felt better and we talked about the things that make him happy living in our family and he seemed to feel better. Then I rubbed his back and held him while he had his milk. After that I reminded him he hadn't had any dinner, that he had blown the family dinner, but could have oatmeal or peanut butter. He started to challenge me but stopped himself then he said, "OK, mom. I am not really hungry right now. Just tired." So we settled on half a peanut butter sandwich, which he ate and then happily went to bed.

Please don't think I am crazy for being happy that my son is sad. It is just that he is always such a jumble of raw feelings that always look like anger or over the top giddiness. I asked when the last time he felt sad was and he said "never." Yeah, right. Okay, but at least he is talking about it and accurately recognized his sadness, which is progress. This is one of the problems we are having with him. There is so much anger and frustration inside him that he cannot allow or recognize other feelings. When he is sad, tired, frustrated, bored, or whatever it comes out as anger AND he says he feels anger. We work hard to name emotions for him or to point them out in others. But he does have a hard time getting it.

We waited until today to revisit the grounding. We asked him if he liked being grounded, had he noticed any differences in his behavior, and was there anything he had missed doing. He said he didn't like being grounded, he hadn't noticed any difference in his behavior and he missed spending time with the family (which he mostly spends fighting and picking on whoever is around.) We told him we missed him too but that we had noticed a significant improvement in his behavior since the grounding began. He was more pleasant when he did encounter his siblings, he tried to be helpful to the two youngest children, he didn't yell at me every time I tried to help him with his homework or whenever I sent him upstairs to read, shower, get his clothes ready for school, etc. We explained that we thought it was because it was less stressful for him to have all those interactions or potential interactions.

The other thing we tried to explain (not sure he got it but we are barely getting it) was that because he wasn't expecting anything then he had less to anticipate incorrectly. I don't know if I can explain this but I am starting to think that one of the problems he is facing is that he always anticipates something "good" but unrealistic is going to happen and when it doesn't happen he gets mad at the reality and we don't even know why he is angry. It can be something big or small. There is a nice older woman who lives two houses down from us who often sends us food that she picks up or receives but is too much for her. It might be a loaf of bread or a container of tootsie rolls. If he sees it he might mutter under his breath "tootsie rolls for dessert tonight." When we hear it we might say, "no, that isn't going to happen" or we might ignore it. He will be giddy during the entire dinner and then when I say it is time for him to go take his shower he will storm off in a huff, kick a wall, throw his books or shoes, or scream at the first person in his path. Or I might be cleaning the playroom and leave a board game out or move it to the top of the pile. He will say "yay, we are going to play "Uno Spins" tonight" even though we never play board games on school nights. This pattern is repeated over and over and over again each and every day. This week while he was grounded he was out of the fray most of the time and he did better. A whole lot better.
The other thing that came up in our discussion is that he doesn't seem to recognize if he is exhibiting "good" behavior or "bad" behavior. We try to call attention to all the good choices he makes and compliment him when he is being kind, respectful, responsible and making safe choices. But maybe we are not being explicit enough? Sometimes he rides in the car and fights the whole way with his 4 year old brother about nothing and he makes faces at me, rolls his eyes when I ask him to stop, kicks the seat in front of him with his sister in it and then when we get home he asks me if he can get candy for "being good" in the car. When I remind him of all the things he did that weren't acceptable he just says "oh, so am I getting candy?" or he starts yelling at me and storms off! So, maybe he really isn't getting it.

We ended the conversation about his grounding by telling him he would be joining the family again for meals but the rest of the conditions of his grounding would remain to try and help him. He didn't seem upset about this. We reminded him that the mealtimes require that he do all the nice and respectful things that we expect of all the children and he will get no "warnings." If he does not meet the expectation he will eat at a different table from everyone else for the rest of that meal. He didn't object and today he did fine with breakfast and snack with the members of the family at the table. He asked me after snack how he was doing with his behavior at meals and I told him he had done well. We haven't had dinner so we will see how he does then.

I am not sure we are doing the right thing here but I am fresh out of ideas right now.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Instead of a flower I got a garden and a rainbow!

True to his word, on Monday, Pollito made me a flower at school. In fact, I got more than a flower, I got flowers, a rainbow, and the two of us "hugging" as we "looked at the flowers." Here is the picture he drew:



What a ray of sunshine! I am trying to find time just for him and Milagro given how high maintenance the other two have been. I have about 4 posts that are not posted yet detailing some of that and I am going to try to get them up today. Last Thursday, I started taking Milagro and Pollito to the park in the 45 minutes I have between picking Pollito up from school and getting his brother. I have 3 school pick ups neatly spaced apart but it means we spend about 2 hours doing afterschool pick ups so the park breaks it up nicely. Anyway, I am trying to use that time to give him some fun and attention from me. He is often torn between talking to me about his day or playing with his sister on the climbing structure but it does give him more of my attention than when his siblings are home. I am also trying to have one-on-one time to cuddle with him and tell him a story right before bed but that often gets usurped by someone in more immediate "need" which is why I have been getting him up earlier each morning so we have breakfast together "just the two of us." He seems to really like that although I am absolutely not into mornings! It is hard to find that balance with the four of them but I have been feeling like he is the most neglected of the four and since I still worry about attachment stuff for him I am giving this a try.

That is it for now, Corazon is outside doing jumping jacks and I think she is attracting the neighbor's attention... I will try to post more later.

Monday, March 2, 2009

It must be Monday

Pollito: "Mom you look like you are sad, today."
Me: "I am sad."
Pollioto: "I can make you happy. I can draw you a flower at (s)cool today."
Me: "Thank you baby, that would make me happy."

That was my conversation with Pollito during his breakfast. I had nightmares all night. In my dreams, each of my children really needed me and I just couldn't help them. While I often feel that way while during my waking hours it somehow feels different to have it happen in a dream where I get to "watch" myself not be able to help them and am helpless to do anything about it. In one dream, Corazon was screaming for me to stop her as she wielded a knife at me and her 4 year old brother. In another dream, Tortuga was being dragged away kicking and screaming from his school while I stood on the sidelines immobilized. I don't think I even acknowledged that I knew him. Milagro sat in my arms crying hysterically (which she almost never does in real life except when Tortuga has his major meltdowns in front of her.) I tried to comfort her but she kept trying to pull away and out of my arms to go to her brother. These are just two of the memories I have from my dreams and when I awoke I faced that overwhelming relief one gets when one realizes it was "just a dream." Almost at the same time, I confronted the fact that while these specific incidents haven't taken place, they have the potential to be true.

I went downstairs to get things ready for the day only to discover that one of the cats had done her business on my newspaper circulars next to my desk. I discovered it by literally putting my hands in it! Gross! I flew into my own kind of rage, yelling at any cat within earshot that I was done with indoor cats. We have 4 of them. I went to the back door, opened it wide, and told them all to "get out." Of course, I had no takers. Two of them stood near the door, sniffed at the cool morning air and sauntered away. Two looked at me from a safe distance ready to make a run for it in the opposite direction. I suddenly realized I hadn't washed my hand, grossed myself out and promptly closed the door to go wash up but not before I mumbled that the cats would not be getting any "wet food" today (a favorite) so they would have to settle for their dry food.

I think there is an analogy in this for what often happens with the kids. When Corazon gets on her lying or sneaking thing or Tortuga is being contrary and defiant ( which is a great deal of the time these days), I feel like screaming and flinging the door open like I did this morning. Instead, I can usually manage to calm myself before I remind Corazon that she CAN tell the truth and she has been practicing doing that as a first choice. Or, I tell Tortuga that I know it is "unreasonable" of me to give him two good options, and that I know he is struggling to figure out how to pick the worst one so he can be more comfortable in the that miserable zone he feels safest in. They each look at me like the cats did this morning but it often works to redirect them and diffuse the situation. It also occurs to me that when things start out this way I respond by making a mental note to "take away the wet food." I tiptoe around them, limit the treats (happy times) that I think might set them off and perhaps avoid a major meltdown or showdown. However, by limiting the "treats", I am not giving us a chance to work through the process they need to go through to make progress, even when it is going to be hard for me. I don't know if this makes sense to anyone but me and I am sure I am not explaining it well. I think they need the chance to reach that "edge" so they can practice responding in a better way. Lately, I have not been as willing to go there as often as I could/should.

So this morning by the time Pollito was having his breakfast, I was a bit sad and he noticed it. While this may not be a big deal for some 4 year olds it is for mine. He came to us at 2 1/2 years old having been with his birth mom for 15 months and then with a foster mom for 14 months. He had developmental and emotional delays, and has shown signs of attachment issues (who wouldn't?). I have been working with him on learning how to show affection and receive affection (until recent months he would wipe kisses away.) He still works on being appropriate in how he shows affection. He rarely seems to notice the feelings of other people unless they seem angry. So this morning, my preschooler recognized what I thought was well-masked sadness and he was concerned enough to think about how to change that. This makes me happy.

All this before 7:30 a.m.! I wonder what else today will bring?

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