Thursday, October 29, 2009

Not a linear progression

I don't want to give the impression that Tortuga's progress is linear in any way. There is usually some backsliding and there is also some regrouping but overall he continues to improve dramatically. We are starting to have issues with his schoolwork. When he is bored or frustrated he will act out and allow himself to get very out of sorts and out of control which can still lead to his getting angry at me. When he doesn't get his way he gets mad. There is still some forward steps and backward steps. Lots of them. But for today I want to write more about the improvements.

One significant change that we have seen has been with his "need" to belong to the family and to show his "caring" for us. He has always had a little bit of a sensitive/sappy side but it shows itself mostly around special occasions. In the past he has genuinely not "missed" us when he is away from us and in fact we only provide an audience for him. We have been there for his entertainment purposes. So, when we removed him from the day to day activities he was clear that he did not miss us except when he wanted a captive audience and that was clearly one of his greater frustrations. While he has his meals I generally keep him company and basically he talks my ear off. He doesn't listen to anything I say and in fact, he doesn't seem to notice that I don't really say much. Yet lately he has asked for more time with others in the family or he has shown genuine concern for his siblings. Today he told me he had changed his mind about girls and that the next four kids we adopt should all be girls because girls make better siblings. I am not touching this one right now!

As I noted before I also spend about 2-3 hours with JUST him each day which is a significant time commitment given there are 3 other kids but I felt it was important to maintain some of the connections we have had. During that time I DO structure what we do and I reserve the right to leave if he isn't cooperative or if he shows me disrespect. During that time I might help him with schoolwork, listen to him tell me what he is reading about, play a game with him, do a puzzle or activity from one of his workbooks, read to him, or other bonding time (foot, hand massage, tapping/rubbing, listen to music, etc.) These are hard for me (and him) because what he really wants is to just talk my ear off which I allow to some degree. Each day I work in at least 15 minutes of what I consider a "structured" conversation. This might be me asking him specific questions about thoughts, feelings, ideas, experiences, memories, or working through something that he has done well or not so well. When we started this whole "togetherness" time it usually didn't last. As soon as I tried to make it a two-way, reciprocal interaction he got belligerent, bored, impatient, or mad and I would just bow out and try again later. My goal was to have him get 2-3 hours of time with me but that was hard and full of starts and stops. Then I told him there would be no more than TWO times each day that I would do this. If he chose to ruin it in some way then it was over and we would start again the next time. He blew it a few times but actually not too many. So for the last month or so it is rare that we don't get that time together.

What I have noticed is that the quality of those interactions has changed. He seems to "hear" and remember what I say. He has started to ask me questions or for me to share a story. He will share something and ask what I think. He seems genuinely happy to see me and greets me with a real hug and a smile. We can joke around a little bit without his becoming completely disregulated. It has usually been the case that anytime he is having fun, laughing, or joking he loses control quickly. He would drool, spit, get very loud, boisterous, fall to the floor with fake laughter, throw himself against the wall, snort, etc. You get the picture. It was usually not very pleasant and often times seemed fake or forced and his "silliness" would degenerate in inappropriate ways quickly. Once he did this he would get mad if he was redirected or checked and he couldn't be reined in without some kind of meltdown or issue. In the last week or so he has started to be able to rein himself in most of the time. I can joke with him and I still have to check him before he gets out of control but generally he doesn't get mad or sulky about it. This is a big deal because when we have let him play with the other kids and he isn't fighting with them he becomes inappropriate and unsafe and cannot be reined in or redirected. He is starting to show the ability to check himself or at least accept redirection.

This week I also noticed one other thing. He is talking to both Milagro and Pollito like they are younger kids. This is HUGE. He uses that voice that some adults and older kids might use when talking with little children. He has NEVER done this before since most of the time he has dealt with Pollito as though they were peers. I don't know what to attribute this to but I like it.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Meet Fuzzy Bear


This is Fuzzy Bear. He was my Pollito's homework for the weekend. As the kindergarten "Star of the Week" he had the privilege of bringing this cuddly little bear home and hanging out with him. It was MY homework to bring him along everywhere we went and write about our "adventures" in his (the Bear's) travel journal. How I wish I had the interest and energy to do this. I faked it. Pollito was happy.
The rest of our weekend was relaxing. I took the kids to a Halloween party at one of the universities who host this every year. Lots of candy, games, crafts and activities. They got to wear their costumes and had a grand time. They each handled it remarkably well and I was quite grateful since C. couldn't join us because she was on her way out of town again. We came home exhausted, ordered Chinese food, and had a picnic in the family room. Tortuga was able to manage the stimulation, togetherness and family time with very little redirection. I am so very proud of him. He got it together after Saturday's challenges which I need to write about but don't have the energy right now.
Today hasn't been so good for any of us. Milagro is clingy and whiney (rare for her), Pollito seems to have issues remembering just about everything, Tortuga seems to think he doesn't have to follow rules, routines or expectations since C. is away and Corazon is just one unregulated mess. To top it off I have a short fuse today and the kids have been setting it off quite easily. Not my best parenting day.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Continuing our work with Tortuga

I hope folks aren't tired of me writing about what we are doing with Tortuga which I wrote about here and here but I had a couple of questions which I am going to try to address in this post.

One of the things that has been at the bottom of everything we have been doing with Tortuga is that we have been highly cognizant of his basic physiological (food, water, bathroom, shelter, warmth, sleep, etc.) and safety(security, stability, protection, freedom from fear, anxiety, and chaos, need for structure, order, and limits, etc.) Everything we have done has been to try and get these basic needs met and "overmet" if that is possible. We have seen very little from him until recently that indicates any desire for other things like love, affection or any sense of "belonging" to the family. While this is sad and hard to acknowledge I do believe it is true for him much of the time. I know he has formed some attachments to us (me, especially) but they are a source of confusion, frustration, guilt, and anxiety for him too. So this is where we are.

As I mentioned in my previous post, we started adding to Tortuga's routines as he was ready. Someone asked about this so I will give an example. Tortuga is currently not having meals with the rest of the family so most of the time I feed him before everyone else (and I keep him company sometimes but I do not eat with him.) Originally his "routine" was as simple as possible. 1.) I call him to eat. 2.)He goes into the bathroom and washes hands. 3.) Comes downstairs and sits in his spot and waits. 4.) I give him his food, drink, and vitamins (depends on meal) 5.) When he finished he would wait. I would ask if he wanted more food or not, etc. 6) When totally finished he left plates, cup, napkin right there and go upstairs to wash his hands and go back to what he was doing.

We never changed this and variations on his part had consequences (usually sentences or early bedtime). It may sound mean and rigid but this was a huge trouble spot for him. For example, as part of his control issues, his favorite thing to do in the middle of eating was to announce loudly it wasn't enough food, he wanted more, he didn't like it (even favorites) or he'd wait until I was talking with someone else to yell that he was ready for more food or that he needed to pee. As he internalized this routine we added some pieces by either "slipping" them in or announcing they would be "tests." Now he can ask for more food or let me know he is done without waiting for me, he brings his plate/cup/napkin into the kitchen and leaves them in the right place, he can go to the bookshelf to get a new book for bedtime reading after dinner. These may seem like baby steps but all of these were MAJOR sources of contention for us and we have successfully added these things to his routines so that the breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner routines are each slightly different but he is handling them well.

The most unpredictable aspect of our lives is when we go out. An errand to T*rget can quickly become a nightmare if I have all 4 of them. I mentioned before that I will tell him ahead of time the things that will be a challenge--glaring at your sister, talking my ear off, lagging behind or walking off if I redirect you, hiding, telling your siblings what to do, nonsensical chatter and fighting in the car, etc--and remind him he is working on improving these. When we return I tell him how he did on his "test" if it wasn't obvious and we have sentences for any serious slips.

Every week C. & I have a "check-in" meeting with him to give him feedback (mostly positive) and for him to share anything on his mind about what we are and aren't doing. We also ask him what he "misses" about not being with the family and what "tests" he would like to try. For the first 6 weeks he did. not. miss. a. thing. Nothing. We were sad but it reinforced that we were on the right track with him. In her book, Coming to Grips with Attachment, Katharine Leslie talks about how a family environment is "permeated with love and intimacy" and she points out that is too stressful for some of our kids. I think this is definitely the case for him and so I just removed all those expectations and as many situations where he witnesses this or is, by default, participating in this. And I think removing these stresses really has calmed him down TREMENDOUSLY.

After about 6 weeks(we have been at this for about 3 months) he started naming things he missed and the recurring theme was dinner with the family and getting to do his schoolwork downstairs with the family. We took it under advisement but felt he wasn't ready for either of those things. I directly linked his readiness for meals with the family to how he treated his siblings when we were out on errands and amazingly that started to change. He has started to check himself before he gets baited by Pollito (the usually sit near each other in the car) and he has attempted to be civil and even nice to Corazon. As he has made steady progress we determined that he might be ready for some mealtimes with the family.

So, during our meeting last Sunday we informed him that this week (the one that we are in now) we would select two nights (our choice, no advance notice) when he could join the family for dinner. He would also get Pollito's company at night on two occasions. He was thrilled. He was also terribly upset that we would not budge on his doing schoolwork downstairs with the family and we were supportive and reminded him there are too many unpredictables for him to manage that yet. One of his triggers is whenever I give any other child my attention he MUST demand attention right then and there and then flies off the handle when he doesn't get his way. He cried. Real tears. Real sadness. And he said he missed the rest of the family's company. This is HUGE for him. Remember he gets mine for 2-3 hours each day. I hugged him and held him and told him he was feeling appropriate feelings about this and our goal was for him to experience success and he just wasn't ready. Over the past several weeks we introduced several new "tests" and have adjusted accordingly but he has handled them really well. This week these are some of the things he had as "tests."

I wanted to begin to address his expression of "loneliness" and wanting to be with the family. First, Pollito slept in their room on 2 nights this week. Second, he had dinner with the rest of the family on Tuesday and Friday (yesterday). Third, he got to play with the baby outside twice for about 40 minutes each time. Fourth, he got back one part of one of his family chores. He takes the trash can(s) out to the street on Sunday. ALL of these have been on the list of things he has missed and wanted to try again. He did wonderfully with each of these things. I think I only redirected him once. But this morning, he is not in great shape. He has been angry, rude, defiant, disrespectful, etc. and it is only 10 a.m. I have sent him back to bed to "rest" and I will check in with him later to see how we can "fix" this. I guess some of the week has caught up with him but I have every hope that he will turn it around today. In the past, once a day got started like this it was a lost cause. I am hoping that isn't the case today. Questions?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Where has the week gone?

I cannot believe it is almost Friday. My week has flown by partly because we spent the entire weekend (Friday 4-8:30, Saturday 7-6 and Sunday 7-8:30) working at Corazon's gymnastics meet. I think it is almost pathetic that in a strange way that was the most fun I have had in a long time. Partly that was because I got to spend most of that time without any of the kids and in the company of adults. I think this is also part of the reason I miss working. I don't get much of a break from the kids, especially homeschooling, and as much as I love them and our life, it gets exhausting. I got to know a couple of the parents a little better and didn't have to focus on all the little dramas that play out throughout the day at home. Of course, they paid me back for this "desertion", especially Corazon. She was an absolute nightmare on Saturday night and nothing could get her regulated. I finally just sent her to bed early but of course, the behaviors didn't stop. I was up at least a half dozen times throughout the night dealing with all 3 of the older kids!

Corazon was competing on Sunday and I was a bit concerned about what behaviors we would see from her but she did amazingly well. In fact, it was her best competition, earning her two blue (scores of 9.0 and above) and two red ribbons (8.0 and above).

The rest of the week has been filled with field trips, practices, errands, schoolwork, Kindergarten homework :-) and nothing else out of the ordinary but the week has just flown by. We did get Pollito's report card and C. went to his parent conference. It appears he is "far" behind the rest of the children in the expected Kindergarten skills. Not a big surprise since we continue to see him as more in keeping with a 4 year old than a five year old in most other areas including his speech and language which is one of the areas that will impact much of his Kindergarten performance. We are keeping an eye on it but not panicking. He is simply NOT interested in learning his letters, numbers, etc. yet. Even though schools begin to panic about this stuff since many now expect kids to be reading by the end of Kindergarten we suspect it is going to take him longer than that so we will just keep encouraging him without the pressure.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

It's moments like these....

In the car yesterday afternoon as I pulled out of the driveway.

Me: Tortuga, we are late to pick up your brother! You did not do what you were supposed to do and you are going to have a consequence for that.

T: But Mom YOU put the books on the table and I didn't....

Me: I am interrupting you... [pause] You were supposed to put the books on that table after lunch. You left your lunch without finishing it and told me it was because you wanted to get the books on the table before you forgot. After lunch I asked you and you said you had done it. I believed you and didn't check on you. My fault. Now we don't have the books ready to take to the library and you will have to pay a fine. That is part of your consequence but there will be more.

[short pause]

T: Mom, can I tell you something?

Me: Sure.

T: Thank you for giving me a consequence for the books. You are right. It is my fault.


I think I heard right.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Picking up where I left off--Tortuga

This is a continuation of yesterday's post about working with Tortuga's ODD. There are some aspects of what we have been doing that I don't write about and there are also many details about his behaviors and responses that are not noted here. I don't want to give the impression that it was all smooth sailing. It wasn't. Anytime there is a change there is going to be resistance. However, the resistance in this case has been no worse (and actually better) than what we have usually seen from him.

I want to backup a little bit to clarify a couple of things. Tortuga did fight us on the changes at the start because we made this shift when he still "owed" us sentences that he had refused to finish. We use "writing sentences" (like some of us had in school) as a way to address behaviors and attitudes that violate family values, expectations and rules when the behavior is continually engaged in. In many cases they serve as a "reminder" to change or stop the behavior and we have been using them as a last resort when reminders and redirection from C. & I. doesn't work. Unlike most of our other consequences which are given immediately and swiftly (we use natural consequences as much as possible) these are "saved" for Saturday or Sunday and must be done before they can participate in other "fun" activities. When Tortuga or Corazon "earn" sentences we might say "That means you have forgotten about ____ That's ok. Writing some sentences will help you remember. Let us know if you need more." This has really worked for Corazon and especially Tortuga and has gotten rid of 75-80% of the "small" behaviors that he constantly engaged in such as rolling his eyes or sticking his tongue out at us EVERY time we spoke to him. (Corazon would cross her eyes at us, teachers, coaches or any adult who annoyed her or checked her for something.)

The other thing I want to clarify is that we started acknowledging that Tortuga ALWAYS needed the safety and structure that one would use with a toddler/preschooler. We weren't being condescending and never belittled him for it. We just recognized that the gaps in his learning and his behavior were such that sometimes he responded like a 2 year old while other times he was behaving like a 5 year old or an 8 year old. That wasn't his fault but it made it hard for us and him because when he behaved in a more age-appropriate way we started treating him and expecting him to do so and then in a similar situation he would act like a toddler. From our vantage point, there was no rhyme or reason to this. We decided that we needed to recognize and take stock of as much as we could which is why we treated everything as a "test." We might say, let's see if you can _____ and if not that is ok, you aren't ready and we will try again later." Most importantly, we have stuck with it.

At the end of the last post I noted that things started to change. It was most noticeable with the eating and bathroom behaviors. Once he started eating more normal portions I started teaching him to say things like "mom, I am full" or "mom, I got enough to eat." Yet, I continued to fill his plate beyond what he needed and I started hearing him say things like "I don't need to eat the rest of my food" and "I don't want the rest of my food." I felt it was important for him to be able to articulate and control his response to the food and acknowledge that his need was being met. He has had food issues for as long as we have known him and I didn't want to make the mistake of treating this as something that he was "over" so I have maintained the extra food thing because each time he turns down a snack or leaves food on his plate he gains more confidence that there will be more than enough food, that he has some control over something so critical to him, and that I will take care of this need. (I think it is also important to note that in our house we always prepare and serve the kids' food. We don't let them serve or help themselves because it reinforces that we will be there to meet this need.) Sorry if I am going into too much detail here.

The other thing I did was I NOTICED when he started using a strategy to calm and control himself and I played it up. For example, in the last post I also mentioned he started saying "yes, mom" and "thank you for helping me, mom" when I was redirecting him or telling him to do something. He started saying this on his own and sometimes through gritted teeth but I could tell how hard he was working to stay in control and his "yes, mom" helped him do this. I pointed out that we all use strategies like that to help us not get mad, lose our tempers, or stay in control and it was good for him to try new ones until he found one that worked. So far this strategy has worked and we are seeing that he needs to use it less and less.

The next thing I did is I identified a "routine" that was important and listed all the steps for him. He read it and could decide to change the order and I would rewrite it in the agreed upon order. Then he had to rewrite it for himself and post it in his room. He was then expected to follow that routine as agreed upon. It may sound rigid but it provided safety, consistency and structure for him while giving him control. Initially we didn't allow any exceptions/explanations (RAD and ODD issues) until he would show that it was internalized. When he couldn't or wouldn't follow it we had him rewrite the routine as a "reminder." So far he has "nailed down" routines for mornings, mealtimes, riding in the car, laundry, errands/shopping and afterdinner/bedtime prep. We are now working on a routine for his schoolwork. We will also work to add things to his routines as he is ready. I think the routines really provide safety and security for him. Plus he is generally pretty disorganized and has some ADD issues on top of that so they help him in other ways. We are at a point where small deviations from the routine are ok (give him choice and control) but we have to be careful that we don't let that slip too far because when we gave him too much control it was a disaster. We learned our lesson.

When we had to go out I would prepare him for each outing by identifying the challenges he would face, reminding him what was expected, telling him he would mess up and get sentences but it would be ok and he could do it, etc. We would review the routine, if he had one, and when we returned if things hadn't gone well he would go straight to his room and we would talk about it as he was ready. If things had gone really badly we had him practice patience (strong sitting), yoga breathing and tapping/rubbing before letting him go up to his room. There have been some bumps but this has been working thus far.

Again, this is getting too long so I will stop here.

Tackling ODD with Tortuga

We have been seeing real progress again with Tortuga. I have written some of this before but I am trying to piece together what we have been doing lately because a few of you have asked for more details. Sometimes it also helps me to write things again because I read them with new eyes even if it is something I already know. Sorry if this is a repeat but then again isn't that how this rollercoaster ride goes?

About 3 months ago we reached a crossroads with Tortuga. There were good days and bad days as with all our kids. We had reached a plateau in his progress and we were experiencing some serious downsliding. I realized we were spending much of our time redirecting him and cancelling most of our summer outings because he was so unpredictable. He would only speak to me in a disrespectful tone. He ignored me, argued constantly, didn't make eye contact, didn't follow even the simplest directions, "forgot" all of his routines (shower, teethbrushing, walking in the house, bathroom use, laundry, bedtime prep, getting dressed, etc.), yelled at me for seemingly no reason, and every request was met with contempt and non-compliance. Whenever I spoke to him he interrupted me constantly and "forgot" everything I said. He would ask for help and then get mad when I tried to help. He shot hateful looks at Corazon and Pollito every chance he got even when they weren't dealing with him. It was always "their" fault or my fault that he was being rude, obnoxious, mean or disrespectful. We were his triggers. He was also deliberately mean to both of them no matter how nice they were to him and he started making up stuff about how "bad" Corazon was. His demeanor toward me was especially "hateful" in every sense of the word including trying to physically overpower me and "bully" me with his words, tone, attitude, and demeanor. While I was non-plussed by most of it I was also getting scared for him. He is 10 and quickly approaching an age where hormones and social pressures and peers will become more influential and I needed to try something else.

Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD) is certainly one of Tortuga's "diagnoses"and many of his behaviors "fit the bill." When he first came to us he had ALL of the behaviors associated with ODD. According to the Mayo Clinic and other sources kids with ODD exhibit Negativity, Defiance, Disobedience, and Hostility directed at authority figures. For him it meant we were subjected to temper tantrums, excessive argumentativeness with his teachers and his parents, refusal to comply with adult requests/rules, deliberate annoyance of others at home and school, blaming others for his own mistakes and misbehavior, easily annoyed especially by parents and siblings, anger and resentment, spiteful or vindictive behavior, mean and hateful talking when upset, aggressiveness and spite toward peers and revenge seeking (for real or imagined offenses), difficulty maintaining friendships and academic problems.

But he also had other "diagnoses" (12 or 13 to be precise) that had symptoms that overlapped with ODD. Over the years he had been diagnosed with ADD, learning issues, depression, anxiety disorder, RAD and even a suspicion that he might be bipolar. It was difficult to figure out what was connected to these other issues but in all honesty I wasn't particularly interested in the labels. I was concerned with how to help my child. We took him off all his meds because we wanted to know what we were dealing with plus he had been medicated since he was 3 and I figured his brain had to have been affected by all this. One of his therapists determined that he didn't have ODD he just needed to be heard and understood. She worked hard at building a trusting relationship with him via play therapy and he triangulated us to no end and made our lives a living hell for the 24-48 hours after each session. We eventually gave that up because it just wasn't helping and it was eroding all of our quality of life.

As we worked on helping him become a part of the family and address his many needs and issues I read everything I could on all his potential issues and worked to integrate them into our lives. Because the ODD behaviors has always been obvious and prevalent we have tried to use as many of the recommended parenting strategies as possible including these:

Limit consequences to those that can be consistently reinforced and last a limited amount of time
--Give effective timeouts (time ins in our case as we tried to build attachment)
--Avoid power struggles
--Remain calm/unemotional in the face of opposition
--Recognize/praise good behaviors and positive characteristics
--Offer acceptable choices to your child
--Give him some amount of control
--Establish routines and schedules
--Have specific activities to do with the child

All these things have helped but as I said we were plateauing and I was hitting the wall trying to figure out what to try next. So I spent a few days taking another "inventory" of what was happening with him, what issues he was having, triggers, when he was regulated, when he wasn't, etc. When he was in a decent mood we had a "heart to heart" about a few things so I could gather more "data." I finally concluded a few things that made sense only to me. The most important of these was that I needed to make his world very, very small. Ideally this would have been keeping him close by like I would with a toddler/preschooler (because that was what many of his reactions reminded me of). This was almost impossible because I do have a toddler and a five year old who contributed to his issues. After a few days of trying the "sticktight" approach with him things got worse. It was just too much. Anytime he saw Corazon or Pollito he lost it. He dominated ALL of my time and he was stressed and upset throughout the day and I wasn't able to serve him or any of the other children.

C. and I sat him down and told him he was showing us that he wasn't able to honor our family values--respect, responsibility, safety, obedience and caring/kindness. We told him he either didn't want to, didn't know how, couldn't do it because it was too hard, wasn't interested in doing it consistently, wasn't ready to or all of the above. It didn't matter to us what was causing it but we loved him and we knew things had to change. We told him he would no longer be expected to do any of those things and he would no longer be expected to spend any time with his siblings (Corazon and Pollito) since he vows that he hates them and the writing in all his notebooks/ papers/folders/etc. affirms this. We tried to remove all of the stressors from his day to see what would happen. I informed him that he would be taking a break from the family for an indefinite period of time. We would check in after a week and reassess. I certainly wasn't sending him away or telling him we didn't love him but I was letting him know he wasn't behaving in a likeable or loveable way to any of us.

I took away all the things he couldn't handle consistently and appropriately. No responsibility. No routines. No chores. No schoolwork (it was still summer.) No expectations. Nothing. It was similar to our earlier strategies of removing TV, video games, and other high stimulus activities. We focused mostly on meeting his most basic needs. I "overdid" all the basic "necessities." I overfed him at every meal (we still have food issues) and increased his snacks. He could go to the bathroom as often as desired, stay in there as long as desired as long as he didn't destroy anything, and made sure he had plenty to drink throughout the day. I gave him really comfortable bedding, pulled out his favorite tshirts and pjs for him to wear, got the temperature in his room "just right" for him, and played "soothing" music in his room. Each morning and each afternoon/evening I spent about an hour with just him and no interruptions (chatting, rubbing, reading to him, listening to him.) With three other kids it was really challenging to carve out two hours of uninterrupted time with him but it was essential. Our goal wasn't to isolate him but we had to take him out of all of the stressful situations that seemed to set him off.

At first he was happy with all this. He could spend hours in the bathroom, get 5-8 snacks a day plus 3 very large meals, and he was content to lie in bed and do "nothing." He was pleasant during our time together and seemed to enjoy it. When we checked in he said there was NOTHING he missed about being with the family or the other kids. He also had a few options for activities (drawing, writing, reading, puzzles, legos) or he could just lie in bed and do nothing. After about a week of this he started to "look" for reasons to be oppositional, defiant or just plain mad at me. He initially destroyed puzzles, legos, paper, pencils so we just took them away. The only consequence was that the thing he destroyed didn't get replaced. He took his meals alone or with me keeping him company but I didn't eat with him. He ate before the rest of the family so he wouldn't have to listen to the rest of us while he ate. (Being first at things is really important to him.)

He asked for schoolwork so I said we would try it as a "test." Over the next few weeks everything was a "test." If he couldn't handle it we just went back to the way things were without it. He did continue to have some meltdowns and we ignored them. When he was calm I asked him to come up with something to do to help him calm down. We settled on the shower. Whenever he would go off he would be sent to shower. The shower was an interesting experiment and has really worked for him. The water provides stimulus for him that is both positive and negative, it also muffled his screams so he could scream more freely AND it literally chilled him out.

An interesting thing started to happen about three weeks into this--he spent noticeably less time in bathroom, less need for constant water breaks, refusal of snacks and more normal portions of food. I still "overfed" him but he couldn't/wouldn't eat it. The meltdowns decreased to maybe 2-3 per week and were short-lived. He would ask to take a shower as he felt himself getting worked up AND in one of our conversations he noted (unprompted) that he had realized that hitting and destroying things made him angrier and didn't make him feel better. He even recounted conversations with his therapist (the one who didn't think he had ODD) where she told him to just hit his pillow when he got angry and he had realized that those things did not help him. Other things started to change. He stopped talking to me with an attitude, stopped interrupting me, and started saying "yes mom" and "thank you for helping me mom" each time I redirected him and I could SEE him working hard to keep his attitude in check. Yes there were slip ups but it was worlds better. So I decided to continue to "overmeet" his basic needs but increased the work on meeting more of his "safety" needs.

This is getting really long (no surprise for me) but I am going to stop here and continue this later in another post.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wednesday Already?

I cannot figure out where the weekend and week have gone. Except for cooking, cleaning and working on Kindergarten homework I had a pretty relaxing weekend where I didn't have to go ANYWHERE! No gymnastics meets, football practice, mad runs to the grocery story or anything except home based projects, reading, catching up on sleep, and hanging out with C. and the kids. Of course the kids weren't as appreciative of my time at home without errands, activities, etc. To them it meant I was a "captive audience." :-)

Tortuga seems to be doing better but of course, I didn't say that since we all know what happens when we "notice" positive change. Corazon was out of sorts and engaging in all kinds of destructive and attention getting behavior so she earned early bedtime by 3:30 pm on Saturday and then got sent back to bed to "rest" right after breakfast on Sunday. I wasn't going to let her put a damper on a potentially relaxing weekend at home. She did manage to turn things around a bit so she was able to rejoin the family for some Sunday afternoon football. Pollito and Milagro seem to be doing better (he isn't hitting her as much and she is choosing to not play with him if he is mean) since their exchange earlier in the week.

I cannot complain. Our lives have gotten so hectic lately that it was nice to have a little down-time. The kids are doing well with homeschooling because they are putting finishing touches on two major projects in Social Studies and Science. Corazon is working on a report about bats and building a bat house while Tortuga is finishing up his report and second (and hopefully stronger) model of a suspension bridge. Each of them is working on a social studies project that they chose for themselves. Corazon's is on Women's Suffrage and she is preparing a report about 3 suffragists--Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone. She still LOVES the biographies. Tortuga has read up on "Peace Movements" and is now researching the Vietnam War and the corresponding Peace movements here at home. They are also both writing book reports on C.S. Lewis' "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."

As soon as they wrap up the Science Project we will move onto a more involved Math Project. Sometimes I still marvel at how engaged Tortuga is with school these days. This is the kid who couldn't engage with anything. He couldn't play with a toy unless he was destroying it (doesn't really count as playing), using it to annoy someone else or "fighting" with it. Nothing helped--puzzles, legos, blocks, cars, etc. His saving grace was that he could draw although if we suggested he do that his ODD kicked in. These days he is excited about his school work. On one of his social studies packets he wrote "Thanks Mom for giving us social studies" and decorated the whole thing with hearts! He is doing so much better and even his peeing issue seems to be ....shhhhhhh.... under control.
Someday soon I will start to write more about what we have been doing differently with Tortuga over the past 3 months because it seems to be helping him. Baby steps but so far there has been very little slippage (of course when he does slip it is highly dramatic!)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

I am "Over the Top"



I don't think I have ever been called "Over the Top" before. I like it and I will graciously accept this award given to me by TWO wonderful people, BT and Reighnie, who reside here and here.
It comes with a few rules:
  • Answer the survey below…you can only use one word answers!
  • Pass this along to 6 of your favorite bloggers!
  • Alert them that you have given them this award!
  • Have Fun!

I don't usually do surveys but since they asked so nicely. So many wonderful bloggers I read have already received this award and I want to pass this along to a few others who also brighten my days so here are some of my favorites. Please go visit them and say "hello."

Carmel at On Our Way. She and her partner are foster parents and hopefully soon to be adoptive parents. I always appreciate her zeal, honesty and passion.
Brie at My Rad Family. She doesn't blog too often but when she does it's great to hear where she is on her journey with her daughter and RAD.
Ohchicken at We are Fambly. This is the first blog I ever read when we were moving to Texass(as she says). She and her partner have a gorgeous 15 month old and I greatly enjoy being able to just hear about their lives with just one and hopefully maybe a second one in the near future(?).
Ashley at Ramblings of a Rolladyke. She's a young woman and college student who is just living life with all the energy and spirit that I wish I'd had at her age. Don't let her blog name fool you ... she's not rambling...and she is also "using" (in the best sense of the word) all us moms for her research purposes as a future therapist or some other helping professional.
Corazon, my daughter, at Finding my Heartsmile. I am genuinely curious about what her answers might be to these questions plus I do follow her blog much more closely than any others. :-)

Here are my answers:
Where is your cell phone?- Here

Your hair? Graying fast
Your mother? Amazing

Your father? Gone
Your favorite food? Peanut Butter
Your dream last night? Private

Your favorite drink? Coffee (Margaritas, a close second.)

Your dream/goal? Vacation
What room are you in? Office (aka Playroom)
Your hobby? Sleeping
Your Fear? Drowning
Where do you want to be in 6 years? Here

Where were you last night? Home
Something that you aren’t? Jealous
Muffins? Banana Nut

Wish list item? Beachhouse

Where did you grow up? Texas
Last thing you did? Started dishwasher
What are you wearing? Black
Your TV? Underutilized

Your pets? Cats
Friends? Blessings
Your life? Full
Your mood? Content

Missing someone? C.
Vehicle? Odyssey
Something you’re not wearing? Make-up
Your favorite store? None
Your favorite color? Blue
When was the last time you laughed? This Evening

Last time you cried? This Evening
One place that I go to over and over? My head

One person who emails me regularly? C.
Favorite place to eat? Thai restaurant

Empathy

This evening the two little ones were playing with each other in the family room while I helped one of the older ones with schoolwork. As has become his habit, Pollito looked over to me and when he thought I wasn't looking he pushed Milagro who fell on her behind and started crying. I asked Pollito what he had done and after some hesitation he said "I pushed her not very hard." The look on his face said he knew he was in big trouble. I called him over and calmly asked him if that was a nice or mean thing to do? He said "mean but I didn't push her too hard." I explained that pushing was pushing and sent him over to apologize. In our house everyone is allowed NOT to accept an apology because "sorry" spills out of people's mouth way too quickly without any real sentiment behind it. The older kids have been taught to say "it's not ok please don't do it again" or "it's not ok because...." or "it's not ok to treat me like that."

Anyway, Pollito (age 5.1) goes over to Milagro (age 2.1) and says "sorry for pushing you." She immediately stands up and puts her hand on her hip and says "You push me in fire [place] on my bum. Toucha my belly and pushy me on the f[l]oor. I hu[r]t my bum on the f[l]oor you pushy me. Da fire [she tends to sign fire as she says it] no good... hu[r]t me." The she looked at him sternly and put her hands on his belly. She looked like she was about to push him but then she threw her arms around him and hugged him! He started to cry and she said "is ok ...my b[r]other...is ok." Then she wiped the tears from his face. I asked him why he was crying and he just stood there for about a minute then he said "because I was mean."

I love these kids and moments like this!

I am going to fail Kindergarten. Seriously.

I can't keep up. I never knew how much work being a Kindergarten parent could be. Pollito attends a public school that is one of the largest (well over 1000 kids in PreK-5) and also so-called "better" schools in the district. It has become clear to me that they assume that each child has a stay at home mom who LIVES to make sure her Kindergartener has and does everything he needs, wants, and his teacher deems essential, for Kindergarten success. Between the things I am explicitly told to do, send, bring, and be, and the things I am just supposed to KNOW I am failing miserably.

For example, they are learning independence (as is the theme of just about every early childhood education program I have ever encountered). In the mornings parents are supposed to walk children to their classroom but let them take off their jackets, empty their backpacks, hang up jackets and backpacks (in different places), put lunchbox and snacks away (also different places), return reading folder, library book, Tuesday folder, and poetry folder (ALL in different places) say a "quick goodbye" and then leave. If we help them with any of this we are politely reminded they need to learn to be INDEPENDENT. So in the spirit of supporting his independence I taught my child to walk by himself to his classroom in the mornings. (Yes, I am an overachiever!) Plus, he went to this school all of last year so he is familiar with the place. His classroom is not too far from the front door of the school where I can drop him off. He makes one left turn and then finds his classroom. We practiced for weeks and he wants to do this. If I drop him off I don't have to leave 3 kids in the car (a big no-no) or bring 3 other kids in with me when we drop him off. Last week I got an email telling me he is "too little" to walk to the classroom by himself. I should be walking with him. Huh?

So far in the past couple of weeks I have managed to NOT send his baby picture to school on time, FORGET to send the order for his school pictures (although I did remember it was picture day and dressed him appropriately), NOT replaced the extra set of clothes in his backpack after his latest peeing accident on the playground, NOT signed up for a parent conference on Columbus Day because I don't have childcare for all 4 children while I attend this 30 minute meeting in the middle of the day, and NOT signed up to volunteer in the classroom. I have also managed to NOT read him the poems in the poetry journal as instructed nor have I read the latest of his nightly books as sent home in his reading folder because I am sick and tired of bats, bugs, lizards, snakes, alligators, crocodiles, and monkeys which have been the subjects of every.single.book. he has brought home in that folder since school began 6 weeks ago. There has only been one exception--"My first 100 ASL signs" which of course he really wanted to sit through. Bless his heart he looked at the book and said "mom, we already know all of those since both C. and I have some basic ASL knowledge that we have tried to pass along. Talk about "gendered" reading lists (which I know because we accidently got a girl's folder last week and she had stories about families, people and ponies)! But of course, I haven't had time to address that with the teacher yet.

Monday he brought home a HUGE blank posterboard with a note saying he was the "Star" for the Week in mid-October and the poster has to be decorated to represent "all about" him. Those were the full instructions. There are also two SEPARATE sheets to fill out about our family (with questions like this: Tell us 5 things about your mom, 5 things about your dad, your favorite memory, best thing to do with your dad (for boys), etc.) Also during that week I am supposed to go to school and have lunch with him (at 10:49 a.m.), send him in with special snacks, and oh yeah, that weekend he gets to bring home the classroom stuffed animal (which has been in the classroom for at least 5 years, and most recently would have had stays at 7 or 8 other children's homes. How gross is that?) We are to take the stuffed animal everywhere with us and photograph it as it spends time with our family and then send the pictures in the following Monday. Did I mention that is the weekend Corazon's district gymnastics meet and we are there Friday night for set up, all day Saturday for mandatory "volunteering" and then again Sunday morning for more "volunteering" plus she competes Sunday evening? I may just take the thing to the gym and leave it there for the weekend.

On Tuesday, his "Tuesday folder" had no less than a dozen fliers about field trips, PTA dues, fundraising responsibilities, book order form, book FAIR expectations, talks by child development experts, math club, and the container of white frosting I have been assigned to sent to school for the Halloween celebration. Then there was the overdue notice from the library along with a stern note about how this was the last time he would be allowed to check out another book without returning the other. That would be fine with me.

As I checked my email yesterday morning there were all kinds of responses from parents about who was bringing juice boxes, pretzels, fruit snacks on Friday and at first thought it was related to that container of frosting memo but realized the dates were off. Suddenly it dawned on me that I forgot to download the teacher's class newsletter (it gets uploaded each Friday afternoon/evening). I went to the teacher's website. Lo and behold there it was! They are having a party this Friday as part of their study about "color." And it was a good thing I looked at that newsletter because today he was supposed to dress all in red and tomorrow he is suppose to dress entirely in his favorite color so he can share why he likes it so much. It's pink. (I have written about how some at the school has responded to having same-sex parents in their midst before so can you imagine what this will do to our reputation?)

Now I am off to cut out a pumpkin (thankfully they supplied the sketch so hopefully I can find it) onto fabric or felt or some other material so that when he gets home from school he can decorate it with "buttons, beads, feathers, glitter, etc." because it is due tomorrow. In all fairness they did send that notice home LAST week to give us plenty of time to do it.

So if you wonder what I am doing when I don't post for a few days......

Family Needed

I believe we are all in the same boat. When one of us is suffering, struggling, and/or fighting for the lives of our children and our families, we are all suffering, struggling and fighting regardless of our individual stories. THIS FAMILY is in serious pain and need of support. They are searching for someone to help them find a family for their child. Read their story. Pass it along. Maybe you hold the key that will open a new door for them. Or maybe you have just the right sentiments to share to hold them up, make them stronger, and carry them further along on this journey.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Homeschool Book Reports

As part of their language arts work Tortuga and Corazon do a monthly book report. They are two very different kinds of learners but they both enjoy doing book reports. This month their products were quite different but excellent nontheless. They had so much fun presenting their book reports and they were so proud of themselves. I was worried because even though Corazon is younger and technically in 4th grade, her skills are more in line with a 5th/6th grader. Tortuga is extremely jealous of Corazon and his skills are more in line with a 4th grader. I let him go first, gave him lots of praise, and even Corazon gave him lots of positive comments. Nonetheless as soon as she started he had an attitude! It makes homeschooling challenging because we can do very few activities with the two of them together without his being threatened by her, interrupting her, making faces at her, etc. Even so, I cannot complain too much. He is an enthusiastic and engaged learner and ASKS to do schoolwork in the evenings even when he doesn't have to! I think having two teachers/educators as parents has begun to rub off on him!





Monday, October 5, 2009

More ramblings on "home"

Yesterday comments from ldw, motherissues, Essie the Accidental Mommy, and Mama Drama Times Two got me to thinking even more about this idea of "home"and the role of culture. Mama Drama noted how funny it is that a place can "feed your soul" and I definitely agree with that. I struggle mightily at times with being a SAHM these days mostly because I miss my work as a teacher and educator on a broader scale. Yet I wouldn't have it any other way and am so lucky to have the option to do this right now both because I enjoy it and my children need me to be here for them. I cannot imagine living as easily as a SAHM while living in my "old" world where most of my friends were academics and I was constantly running into my students and former students. Yet, being away from all that and in a place and space that feels so right and makes me feel at peace and at home makes all the difference in the world. I believe I am exactly where I am supposed to be and doing what I am supposed to be doing at this point in time. All of that "feeds my soul" and much of it is due to being "home." I just didn't realize how much this place did that for me but I can certainly feel it despite the challenges :-) Of course, it isn't just the place itself that does that since we cannot separate place from people, experiences, memories, etc.

For all the time I lived East whenever I said "home" I generally meant South Texas. I remember when I realized I had lived away from for a longer period than I had lived at "home." I still couldn't bring myself to call the East Coast home. I loved many aspects of my life there, especially in Boston, and I certainly had all of my friends and community there. It was home, especially once the children came. But it wasn't home. In my work with college students I often taught courses about culture and ethnicity and one of the activities we did was having students uncover the key aspects of their cultural identity. In setting up that activity I always found myself describing my "Texan" culture as a significant part of who I was and I am not what anyone might consider a serious "Texan" by many standards. I certainly don't fit many of the general criteria that would characterize someone from Texas as imagined in the minds in and out of Texas. If I were I probably wouldn't have left but I don't think I have ever had much of that so-called "Texas pride." I have some, of course, otherwise I couldn't call myself a Texan! :-)

Maybe that is why I don't come across as a Texan when in Texas or as an East Coaster when on the East Coast. When I left for college I felt like I was someone else trapped in a Texan's body and I just couldn't relate to all that seemed to be a big part of being Texan. I know that sounds like a huge generalization and it is a generalization but one that I think is true of many places. We are products of the multiple cultures that influence us and we knowingly or unknowingly accept or reject elements of each of these cultures that still influence us no matter how "individual" we believe ourselves to be. We aren't growing up in a vacuum after all. So I internalized so many aspects of this "Texan" culture even as I was rejecting it but it took a 25 year trip away and back for me to begin to make sense of it and yes, be changed by it so there is a little bit of the the East Coaster/New Englander in me after all.

As I began raising my children in Boston which is their first home since they were all born there and they have important elements of their life there I began to recognize experiences they might never have if we stayed there. It may have been a bit nostalgic but I also knew there were things we couldn't do living in the city where we did. Even my kids notice it now. They notice that the people are "different" here and "friendlier" here even as we notice there aren't other families like ours here. They notice that kids are "nicer" to them here even as kids tell them they think that it is impossible to have 2 moms (you can imagine what happens when mine say they have 3 and start talking about birthmoms too!) They notice that people (including us) aren't rushing around they way they did in Boston and they notice that some things are really slow here. Then we start to notice the differences and miss the beautiful fall colors and of course, they miss playing in the snow!

So, yes, it is great to be "back" and "home" in Texas and when we moved here a part of me felt like I could exhale. And Essie, I think you may be on to something that explains my current fixation on the skies...the sky certainly does seem bigger in Texas than it did in Boston. :-)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Random thoughts on coming "home"




It's funny that one of the things I missed most when I left home to go to college was the sky. The New England skies NEVER seemed familiar. My memories of looking at the sky when I was younger was that the skies were always so interesting. I never quite felt that same way about the skies in CT, NY and MA. No offense to anyone from those parts :-) !These days I find myself LOOKING at the sky every time I am out of the house and it almost always brings a smile to my face even if I am staring at storm clouds. I have even started taking pictures of the sky although I am not sure why but it just makes me feel better.

I originally grew up in Texas and went to the East Coast when I left for college. I never thought it would be "forever" and I actually expected to return soon after finishing college. I didn't. I made a life for myself away from "home" for the next 25 years. At some point my thinking went from "I am going back soon" to "I will never go back" to "I need to go back." That need intensified as I watched my nieces get older and as my own children arrived. The desire to have them grow up in a "quieter" place away from the challenges of urban living in Boston and the desire to have them connected to the culture(s) I was raised in grew stronger. When everything fell into place for C. and me to make this move it seemed right. We have been in Texas over a year and while we miss many things and especially some important people in our lives but this is definitely the right place for us to be at this time. The kids have continued to blossom here and while we still don't have much of a community it is becoming "home."

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