Sunday, March 15, 2009


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?


Torina said...

I am trying to tackle something similar with my boys who both came a month before their sixth birthdays. Like you, I have nearly nothing. I pestered the social workers like crazy to get more pictures or information or ANYTHING and was able to get about a dozen pictures for my Toby from an aunt that was going to adopt him but changed her mind. These pictures were amazing. Yet, before I had the pictures, I found out the city he was born in, printed out some pictures from the internet...and I also did a timeline, showing time with birth family, time with foster families and relatives (I wasn't given a breakdown of when and where and with whom because there were so many so I chunked these together), then the rest of the timeline for the rest of his life is with us. It really shows how much longer we are here for him than anyone else.

With Tara, her last social worker, though an idiot, did a really good job keeping a lifebook for her that I continued. With my newest, I have yet to tackle that...but I have been gathering information wherever I can.

Good luck! I find that I always learn more about my kids when I am trying to help them learn about their pasts.

SocialWkr24/7 said...

How right you are!! I actually just applied for a job as a "Lifebook Specialist" to try to promote more information being passed on when children have to move. Have you asked for access to your children's DCFS files? As adoptive parents you SHOULD be allowed by law to access them. Otherwise, I would try to be diligent about tracking down people/caseworkers who worked with the children - or even ask if the agency you worked with could get into contact with previous foster parents. You may have to be persistent (like everything else in FC!) but its worth it for the kids. Keep up the good work!

Dancing on the Edge said...

Ok I will try to make this make sense. I went to a conference a few years ago by Katherine Leslie. She suggested doing a lifebook, that tells the child what you would have done if you had been their parent. We were able to send a photo to a company online that was able to do a 'regression' of our son, to what he would of looked like at six months and another at age 2. These are the only younger photos we have of our son, who came to us at age 4.
The life book uses internet photos of things like baby blankets, cribs, bottles, etc. The story starts with the facts such as date of birth, current events when he was born, birth place, etc. It then progresses to how we would have cared for him if he was ours. It is a love story to him. We would have held you, rocked you, fed you when you were hungry, etc.
He actually helped me pick out some of the pictures from a parenting magazine also. He liked the pictures of a mom rocking a baby and a baby with a messy food tray.
It was the best we could do for him with limited information. He also has numerous memories of what life was really like with his birth parents, so this helped him believe that we would have cared for him and what happened to him was not his fault.
My two cents, hope it helps.

Dia por Dia said...

Thank you to all of you! It gives me a lot more to work with that I had. Y'all have such great ideas. My son was so doped up for so long that even though he has memories of his first 7 1/2 years they are all jumbled up. Much of his time was of him going back and forth with his birthmom(9 reunifications!)and he is very loyal to her. I have NO pictures of him before 7 1/2 and there were none in his file. But I do have a list of all the foster moms he had so I am going to try contacting them. Please pass along any other ideas!

Alyssa's Mom said...

I was lucky enough to get a copy of Alyssa's birth certificate. I then called the hospital where she was born and they were able to send me her footprints!

Even though it wasn't a picture, she still had something from when she was born!

Alyssa's Mom said...

I awarded you the Lemonade Award!

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