Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Don't let me forget...

This stage of Corazon's healing is awesome and inspiring but also painful and frustrating and aggravating. I want to shout "HEAL ALREADY!!!!" as though somehow she can just snap out of it. Of course that is far from the truth and while my head knows that my heart has more trouble accepting it. She is full of anxiety and fear just as any of us might be standing at the edge of a cliff ready to leap head-first into an unknown abyss. It matters not that it is the only place she has left to go. A part of her isn't sure she can survive and the unknown is immobilizing. So what we get is a recurrence of so many of the old behaviors. She is sneaking food, even taking it from the trash, just because it is there. She even admitted to grossing herself out this last time she took food from the trash. She is sneaking and lying a little more. She has forgotten how to do things like wash her face, load the dishwasher, hang up clothes. She is following me around EVERYWHERE to the point where I have stepped on her when I made a sudden turn. She has the most ridiculous questions she needs to ask me the moment I am speaking to another child, the neighbor, C. or on the phone. She interrupts constantly for no reason at all. She runs to me from the other side of the house to tell me my phone is ringing ...when it is right next to me. All of these are manifestations of her anxiety and fear. I am choosing to see them as signs of healing BUT they. are. driving. me. nuts.

I haven't quite figured out how to support her through this and I have to work really hard to check my attitude with feeling stalked by her. One good thing about this breakthrough is that we can talk about it a bit more than before. I can name the behavior and even ask her to label a brick with it. It gives us something "concrete" to do about all this. I also found some Reiki music entitled "Chakra Chants" and put it on her mp3 player. She loves it and listens to the first track often. It seems to ground her quite a bit and along with tapping I am seeing her be able to regroup a bit more readily than at other times.  I can only imagine the inner struggle that she is experiencing on a subconscious and semi-conscious level but it is so darn frustrating to not be able to help her.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Healing reminders

It is incredible that Corazon was able to write that entry into her journal. Our conversation was raw, real and painful. I can see she is on the edge of a major breakthrough and she is scared. Scared to take the next step but also scared NOT to. Her articulation of this wall was amazing partly because it isn't language I have used with her. She has a visual now for her RAD and how she can change it. She WANTS to change it even though she is afraid.

I know she is attached to us, especially me, but healing takes a long time and constant work, effort, and vigilance. When I get complacent and forget that she is still healing, I set us both up. That conversation was intense. She was so articulate about her understanding of her experiences, her narrative, so to speak. There were gaps and pieces missing. For example, she has such ambivalence towards her mother because her aunt was the attachment figure and who she felt most abandoned by. She doesn't really have "conscious" feelings to tap into about her mother although I know they are and will be there as she grows. The raw pain comes from her sense of abandonment by her aunt. I believe she will feel some sense of abandonment from her mother as well as she grows and understands more about these feelings.

One thing that helped in our conversation was our ability to use her younger sister, Milagro, as an example. At one point I asked her to imaging Milagro being taken from us and told she had a new family of wonderful people to care for her. I asked her to imagine what Milagro might feel, think, and do. Corazon was quick to point out that Milagro would NEVER forget us and NEVER accept her new family and NEVER believe we wouldn't come get her. I asked her to imagine the pain, confusion, and anger that our not coming to get Milagro would create.I asked her how willing she would be to accept and believe her new family with those feelings.  Corazon argued that "Milagro is REALLY smart. She would find a way to get herself sent back to us and she would wait as long as it took. She would NEVER let them be her family because we are her family." As she processed how this connected to her own feelings and experiences, Corazon "got it." She got the reasons why she had closed herself off and protected herself from the hurt.  Corazon broke down and cried and cried and cried. As she cried for Milagro she cried for herself. It was heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time.

We have started labelling the "bricks" of her wall so that she visualize and make tangible that which she is ready to break down and give up and that which she isn't. She is working on a drawing of a brick wall with all the labels. We have things like "lying," "sneaking," "not trusting mom" and "doing things wrong on purpose" on her wall. She keeps adding things big and small to it and it seems to be empowering her. It also gives her a goal so when I tell her we are "practicing" something she understands a little bit of how it connects to her wall. 

I don't know if this will work or not but right now it seems to be where we need to go. I am so proud of her and how hard she is working on this. I am also proud of her because she seems to understand that this is a "we" issue now. I can say "we" are working on such and such and she smiles. For so long the work has been labelled as "you" need to work on (even though of course we were all working on it in different ways and sometimes different "camps.")

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Healing hurts

On the day that Corazon moved into our family her social worker picked her up at her daycare center and then they went to her foster home to pick up her belongings. Corazon had cut off three braids from the front of her head and had tried to tape them back on with scotch tape. Corazon seemed thrilled to be moving in and was quite happy and excited but I made a mental note of this because in our culture cutting one's hair is a sign of mourning. She was 4 1/2 years old.

Last week, Corazon cut the hair all around the front of her face leaving lots of spiked hairs and a few "bald" spots to frame her face. When I asked her why she cut her hair she didn't have an answer. I was really upset with her because we were scheduled to take our first family portrait a few days later and there was no way any of us would be happy with immortalizing that moment. I told Corazon I was angry and disappointed and I wanted her to think about what she had done because I couldn't talk to her about it for awhile. I was so mad I didn't want to deal with it or her for awhile.

The next morning we were having breakfast, just the two of us, and the conversation led up to talking about one of her friends, T. and my niece, B. who are both her age and are often catty and mean to Corazon. She was trying to understand why they ask to play with her and are nice one day but then are just plain obnoxious the next day. Corazon said she thought part of the reason was because sometimes they didn't like themselves all the time and used their meanness to protect themselves. Her explanation was that "their meanness protects them and wraps around them like their parents' love." I was impressed with her insights and asked her if she had something that protected her like that. She quickly said "Sure! I built this wall around me a long time ago to keep myself from getting hurt."

The conversation that followed had us both in tears but before I write about my thoughts I want to invite you to read her blog entry for today.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Insights from a 3 year old...

I love learning how Milagro's mind works. Sometimes it gives me insights into her personality. Other times it reminds me how children think and process. Once in a while she demonstrates such incredible wisdom that I am convinced she can't be only 3. Then there are times when she works attachment miracles better  than any therapeutic parenting strategy I could use. Lately she has done all of these things and more.

When C. went on a business trip this week, Milagro announced that she was going to sleep with me so I wouldn't "miss Mama." That day she was especially clingy and lovey. In the middle of playing outside with Pollito she would come in and say "mom can you hold me?" then off to play she went. More than usual, she told me she loved me and that she was my "baby." She is so good about asking for what she needs. Sometimes at night when she has a bad dream she comes in from her room and asks to be held and then falls asleep at my feet. Since she had announced she was sleeping with me she also said she wasn't sleeping at the foot of the bed because I needed her to be next to me.

We have a neighborhood friend who has an 11 year old and a now 3 year old. The little boy comes over to play with Milagro and Pollito several times a week. Milagro is convinced that he is still a "baby" even though he is less than 3 months younger than she is. She negotiates playing with him by locating all of her concerns and his issues with his being a baby. If she doesn't want to share something with him she will bring it to me to keep for her and say "I don't want him to break this. He's just a baby." Other times she will tell me he poked her, snatched something from her, or broke her toy but "it's OK because he's a baby." It helps her to navigate the challenges of a playmate she doesn't quite feel she wants to stand up to because he is younger. And certainly he seems younger at times. She would never NOT stand up to her siblings and in fact holds her own just fine. Yet she understands the rules are just a little bit different when she is playing with someone who is our guest.

The other day I was teasing her about something and I joked that she could take the car keys and drive herself to the park. She said "MOM! I can't drive. I would drive crazy!" Then she added "but I wouldn't drive to the park. I would drive to P's house." P. is our dear friend from Boston and "auntie" to the kids. So I asked her what she would do when she got there. She responded "give her a BIG hug!"

This past weekend, Milagro came downstairs and was especially clingy. She announced that she wanted to be a baby again. She has done this numerous times over the past year as she negotiates growing up and wanting to be a "big kid" and still be a "baby." I expected some of the same and was shocked when she said "So Corazon will be nice to me again." She went on to tell me that she thinks Corazon is only nice to her when she is a baby and very explicitly gave me examples of Corazon using mean words, mean tone of voice, and just plain annoyance with her. In her mind she knew that if she was a baby Corazon would not treat her meanly or be annoyed by her. She also said that Corazon "hated" her and didn't love her anymore. It was true that lately Corazon had been shorter with Milagro and even mean, especially in her tone of voice. Milagro had surmised that it was only when she (Milagro) needed help (getting a cup of water, a snack from the top shelf of the pantry, someone to turn the light on in the bathroom) that Corazon was nice. Milagro saw those things as being "like a baby." It made me sad that Milagro was aware of it and I decided to share it with Corazon.

Later that day, I mentioned my conversation with Milagro to Corazon. I wasn't upset or angry with her. I spoke in a matter of fact tone and reminded her that she had a window of opportunity in which she could control what kind of relationship Milagro had with her. Milagro ADORES Corazon and will do anything for her. Corazon recognizes this. As I recounted the conversation with Milagro I could see Corazon's eyes well up with tears. I asked why she was crying and she said she didn't understand how Milagro could be so "perceptive" but more importantly she was sad because she really loves Milagro and it hurt her to know that Milagro thought she hated her. She wanted to know what she could do to explain to Milagro that she loved her and didn't hate her. We then talked about words and actions. Since then I have witnessed Corazon work extra hard in her interactions with Milagro. She has even been explicit about telling her she likes her and loves her. I asked Corazon about this and she said that she thought once Milagro believed "for real" that she didn't like her then "she won't trust me." Big lesson learned.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I know she did something wrong but...

Corazon has had a bad spell over the past week or so. Nothing terribly major but just one thing after another. Today was particularly bad. She was unfocused in everything she did or tried to do. It took her 4 hours to complete a fractions worksheet. She loves to do fractions and math problems but today she found every excuse in the book for not staying on it. When I suggested she do something else, she flipped out. I sent her outside to jump on her pogo stick which usually helps her focus. It worked for a short while but then she was back. She interrupted every conversation I was in with any other child. She corrected me several times even when she was way across the house from me. When we had a package delivered she ran to the door to greet the FedEx person and just chattered away. All of these are old behaviors but I have learned that they mean something important. She isn't feeling safe and she is anxious. I think part of it is that C. is away until Wednesday night. However, I also know that it means she did something wrong and I haven't "caught" her.

I had "forgotten" to set her door alarm for about a week. I was testing her and seeing if she was ready. I intermittently leave it off for a night or two but I hadn't done it for this long. The result was that she thanked me for leaving it off and then proceeded to go in and out of her room several times over the course of the night. She didn't do anything "wrong" from what I could tell so I figured she was trying out her new found "independence." On Friday, she reminded me to set it because she thought that would "help" her. She wouldn't elaborate but I complied.  Then I realized that all last week she was stealing leftover Halloween candy and marshmallows from the pantry. Not overnight but I think that was her "panic" response to the alarm not being set. I noticed she had taken a couple of things and ignored it. Bad Mom Move! She was so upset I didn't stop her that she got bolder with the stealing. On Sunday she stuffed a marshmallows in her mouth and then came over to me just to make sure she got caught. We safeguarded that temptation and she seemed back to normal until today. Until I figure it out we are going to have a tough run...

Of course, Tortuga can't be left behind so we are having a resurgence of RAD and ODD behaviors. Now that I think of it we had a great weekend so perhaps this is also payback after the fun stuff.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Pollito and Homeschooling

Pollito is 6 years old but most of the time he seems more like a 4-5 year old. This is also true where school is concerned which is part of the reason we decided to homeschool. He just isn't interested in learning to read and the pressure near the end of Kindergarten was making him a very anxious child. We try to spend as much time as possible reading to him and he enthusiastically tackles writing (or copying) but the thought of reading just makes him cringe. He seems to put up HUGE mental blocks although it is possible that he may have some learning issues as well. Our plan is to take things easy and let him set the pace this year and if we decide to return him to "regular" school next year so he can get additional services we will have him enroll in first grade rather than second grade.

A month ago I decided to enroll him in music lessons because he loves music. He dances and dances every chance he gets so we had already put him in a ballet/tap/jazz class and a hip-hop class but we decided to add an instrument. He wanted guitar but he is a bit young for that so he chose piano. After 4 lessons we are seeing an interesting development. He is enjoying it and wants to practice all the time but what is equally interesting is that his number and letter recognition and recall has improved DRAMATICALLY. This is a kid who confuses numbers and hasn't been able to consistently count past 12. He also misses many of the letters although he has most of their "sounds" down.  In working with him I saw a little improvement after just 1 music lesson but I can definitely tell there is something clicking for him AND his enthusiasm for reading seems to be growing. Just last week he picked up a book of Corazon's and started to look for the 4 words he can actually read---it, in, is and if. Today he asked me to teach him to read 4 new words. While I am not quite ready to credit all this progress to him music lessons, I do believe they have someone cleared his brain in ways that seems to improve his focus and his enthusiasm. Either that or it is a nice coincidence but either way, I think we will keep those lessons going for awhile. :-)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween Fun

It's been a busy few days filled with lots of fun times. Halloween isn't my favorite holiday but I am in the minority in this household. It it probably C.'s favorite and all the kids have taken after her on that one. :-)  There's something not quite right about getting rid of 3 lbs of candy only to get back three times as much. Although this year we added a twist. We had the kids ask an adult they cared about to tell them what their favorite candy was and part of the "fun" of trick-or-treating was seeing how much of that particular candy they could get. They collected 22 "Butterfinger" candy bars so those are on their way to an out of town friend! I think they were almost more excited about getting that package together than eating their candy.

We still have enough candy to last for months but my general rule is that they can eat as much as they like after dinner for a couple of days after Halloween then the candy is sent away. They don't really consume too much candy even when they have the chance which is good because sugar really seems to do a number on Tortuga and Pollito.


As part of their schoolwork this month, Corazon and Tortuga wrote a Halloween play. They titled it "The Werewolf's Problem" and performed it on Halloween night for a few neighbors and friends. Tortuga played the werewolf and Corazon played the narrator, a ghost, a cat (with Milagro as a kitten), a pirate (with Pollito as a pirate chum), and a witch! They all did a fabulous job. I was so proud of them! Sometimes it is impressive to see Tortuga in a whole new role but it also can be puzzling. That boy can't remember how to sort his socks or make his bed correctly but he can memorize over 80 lines without making more than minor slips!  I am so glad they have found a way to enjoy Halloween here in Texas. It still doesn't compare to the Fall weather, leaves on the ground, old Victorian homes decorated for maximum haunting pleasure and our Boston neighborhood where thanks to C. we had gotten a reputation for one of the best decorated homes in the area! C. continues to add to her Halloween collection each year as she figures out how to make our yard look as impressive as our old porch did! Of course, the kids are all for it and they spend hours plotting and planning how to make it spooky without being gruesome.

The best part of Halloween is that there were absolutely NO meltdowns, tantrums, rages, etc. None. at. all.
(Of course, I think I just jinxed myself....)





Thursday, October 28, 2010

Tugs at the heart...

Last night Milagro was really over-tired but she couldn't settle down. C. and I were trying to iron out a few details before she left this morning for a two day trip and Milagro just wouldn't let us talk. She was interrupting, asking for things and jumping on and off the couch. I had a glass of water leaning next to my leg and had told her she would get a time out the next time she jumped onto the couch. Of course, she didn't listen and she jumped up and knocked over my ice cold glass of water. My pants were absolutely soaked and I got really mad at her. I walked away and cleaned everything up and headed upstairs. She followed after me asking me to talk to her but I was too mad so I calmly(through gritted teeth) said to her "not now because I am very upset with you. Stay downstairs with Mama." A few minutes later she and C. came upstairs and Milagro continued to try to get my attention. I got into bed with my book and ignored her despite her antics. All of a sudden she started crying so C. held her and told her I was still too upset to speak with her so she was going to have to be patient. She started wailing "please Mama please! Is Mom not going to be my best friend again?" Then to me she said with tear-filled eyes "Sorry mom. Please talk to me. I need my best friend!"  How could I stay mad after that?

Then this morning Pollito got up and gave me his usual good morning greeting "Buenos Dias. Did you sleep good mom?"  I replied that I was still tired and responded in my usual fashion "Buenos Dias mijo, did you have any dreams?" He said he had a happy dream (he usually has several nightmares each night or doesn't remember his dreams) so I asked him to tell me about it. He said "There was you and me and we were walking in the flowers." "What else?" I asked.  He was quiet for a bit and then responded "And... and... I just loved you sooooo much and I could feel it mom!" I asked how it felt and he said "Like LOVE mom!!!!" What more could I ask for?

Later today Tortuga and Pollito's mother called. I missed the call but made a point to try to return it as soon as I had a chance. She wasn't able to talk then so we made plans to speak tomorrow. She sent greetings to the boys so I shared them with Tortuga. He asked why she hadn't been able to talk and I said I wasn't sure but she said it was her medication and maybe it was making her tired. He got a disturbed look on his face and said he didn't want me to talk about it and that he didn't want to speak with her tomorrow. I was puzzled so I inquired about what exactly he didn't want me to discuss. He responded that he was "guilty" and "embarrassed" when he thought about her. I asked him to elaborate and his elaboration didn't quite match his earlier word choices. We consulted a dictionary and after going through a couple of different word options (he has lots of language based challenges so often struggles to find the right words for what he means) he suddenly exclaimed "This is it mom! I am ashamed!" I was a bit stunned. He went on to explain that he was ashamed and embarrassed by his mother because of all the things she couldn't do and how she treated him and his brothers. My heart just about broke. I didn't want to negate his feelings but I was concerned about this sense of shame. I asked him to consider why he might ashamed of her but also how understanding her cognitive and emotional difficulties could change his feelings about this. He was puzzled for a moment and then asked me if I was ashamed of his mother. I couldn't quite understand what he meant but I said no I was not ashamed by yer and that while she made many mistakes and did things to hurt them (he has lots of memories about this) I didn't think it was all her fault. I said that I also believe that she has always done the best she could and if we cannot respect people for their best efforts then what can we respect them for. He got very quiet for a minute and then said "I never thought about that mom. I always thought she didn't try her best but now I think maybe she did try hard and it didn't work." I waited and he didn't say anything else about it and changed topics. As we were saying goodnight he said "Mom, I thought about what you said and I don't think I should be ashamed of her. If she calls tomorrow maybe I will want to talk to her. Will you ask me if she calls?" I replied that I certainly would.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Goodbye Lynn

Given the pace of our lives as moms of children with RAD and many other special needs, it's not unusual for one or more of us to "take a break" or get caught up in the busy-ness of our daily lives. So I don't tend to worry too much if I haven't seen a recent post from someone on my blogroll. I like to think that they are ok, just busy and we will hear from them when they are ready.

There is a blog listed near the bottom of my "blogroll" that hasn't been updated in a month or so. I only recently started reading her blog so I don't have much of a sense of the ups and downs of her days. This weekend I found out that we won't be hearing from Lynn (we-are-faking-normal) because she and one of her beloved daughters were killed in a tragic accident last week. I didn't know Lynn well at all but I will miss her.  I do know that she loved her girls fiercely and lived to be the best mom she could be to her two girls with a slew of special needs including RAD and FASD. I will miss knowing that she is out there--fighting to do what was right for her girls and loving them with every ounce of her being.

Mariah, her 8 year old died in the accident and Mellodie, her 10 year old, is on a respirator in a medically induced coma, and unaware of how her life is forever changed. I cannot begin to imagine how she will get through this when she recovers. I am praying for her and her family members as they get through the next days, weeks, months... I am grateful that someone noticed that I was on her blog list and sent me the news even though a small part of me wishes I could have been left with the thought that she was just busy living her life with her beautiful girls.  Goodbye Lynn. You did make a positive difference in their lives.

_____________________________________________

If you were a reader of Lynn's blog here are the links to the new stories about the accident and fund for Mellodie.
 http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/25456672/detail.html
http://www.2thedeuce.com/news/kdvr-neighbors-remember-family-killed-txt,0,1686006.story

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Gotta love it!

A week and a half ago I quit being Tortuga's teacher. I sent a text to C. saying "I quit my teaching job of eldest. As a teacher I feel great! As his parent, we are scr*w*d. Who are we going to get to teach him?" Then I told him that I quit. I was no longer willing to be his teacher and since he wasn't interested in learning anything or doing schoolwork then it was a "win-win" for all of us. I wasn't compromising my relationship with him as him mom any longer by having to deal with his constant ODD when it comes to his studies. He was speechless. We had gone through about a week of his constant need to contradict, compromise, and interfere with his and anyone else's learning not because he doesn't like to learn or even because he hates schoolwork but because he has to be oppositional. I was tired and he was mad because he wasn't being praised for some of the crappy lousy work he was doing. Everything he does has to be done fast so he was making careless mistakes on his work even when he clearly understood what to do. If there was a direction to be followed he wasn't doing it. More importantly he was taking a great deal of time away from his siblings learning time with constant interruption, rudeness and need to "engage" with me, mostly in arguments I wouldn't participate in.I told him that since learning was his primary job and he was unwilling to do it he lost the privileges that came with a successful school day--movies, Wii time, outside playtime after dinner (big deal because we supervise and they get to do stuff all together), etc. He could spend the school hours in his room doing in-room activities (drawing, reading, activity books, puzzles, legos, etc.).

At first he loved it. Of course, I took advantage and used those days to do "fun" school with Corazon. We built a bat house, made a model bridge, tested our volcanos which is our current unit, researched C.'s ancestors on-line as part of our colonial history social studies unit, and for good measure I threw in some hands-on craft and art projects. By Saturday he was begging me to be his teacher again. I told him I wasn't ready. I was enjoying NOT being abused. On Monday, he asked again so I asked him to put it in writing. Here is part of what he wrote:

Dear Mom, I need you to be my teacher. Why? Because if you can't be my teacher who else can? The second reason is because I know you are very smart. I need to have a teacher who is very smart. Other teachers hardly teach me as much as you do. I need YOU. Also, other teachers give you boring work and you don't. All the work that you give me is interesting and I learn a great deal. Another reason is because I like to do homeschool. It's quiet and easy to do things as I relax but also make my brain work hard to learn new things. So, I need you to be my teacher. Understand? Plus it makes me proud when people ask me what school I go to. I say "I'm homeschooled because I have the smartest teacher in the whole world and she doesn't let me think I cannot learn everything and anything I want." ... My last reason is because it it fun to do work and learn things from you. It's interesting. Now that is all I have got to say. I just BEG you to be my teacher once more.  Love, me.(your loving son who like having you be my teacher even though I behave that I don't.)"
Priceless. That child has come so far and even though I know he has far to go I cannot help but be proud and impressed by him. 

Today we did a "test run" and I agreed to "teach" him. I gave him the option of changing his mind with the condition that once I started teaching him again he could not be rude, mean, disrespectful, etc. to me or his schoolwork without it resulting in automatic loss of some serious privileges (library time is the biggest privilege for my geeky kids so that was at the top of it) and I would not longer support his writing/drawing blog (I do all the typing/ scanning/etc.) We shall see how this goes but he has been on his best behavior today--even thanking me for every correction and redirection.  He greets each new assignmentwith a smile and saws "cool" or "awesome." Do I expect it to last? I don't know but I know that I am going to do my best to not let him slip and hold my end of the bargain when he slips. One thing I have learned with this kid is that I have to follow through every single time otherwise he goes downhill fast.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

What I am going to try...

After a lovely night out with C.--hanging out with wonderful, new friends who  gave us lessons on beer and tell the best stories (I haven't laughed that much in a long time), getting real life hugs (and kisses) for the first time from a beautiful toddler I've "known" (thanks to blogland) since she was born, and snuggling a wonderfully smelling 11 day old newborn--I am ready to tackle the challenges around here.

Corazon had the hardest time staying with a babysitter last night. She was up 3 times last night. I owe a big thank you to some folks who have shared some great advice for tackling her current behaviors.The nonsense chatter thing is more under control (not the random laughing--not real laughter) but I took some advice and am now doing the random fake laughter too. She. hates. it. She will run up to me and say "WHAT?!" I just say "what?" back and keep going. She isn't sure what to do about it but I think it might be having it's effect. I also started having her "narrate" my actions for me because one of the things she has started doing again is she follows my every move and if I am out of her sight line she has to follow me around. It wouldn't be so bad if she could get anything done but she can't because every one of my actions distracts her and she is hyper-focused on me. She isn't enjoying the narrating but in the week that I have been having her do it I am seeing a small decrease in this behavior so we will keep trying.

I got a great suggestion from RadMomInOhio that I have started this morning. I am thanking her for her concern that I am doing something wrong and giving her a hug each time she does it. So far, she likes what I am doing and I am getting a high-pitched "You ARE Welcome." I can tell she is enjoying it but I have a feeling it will get old. I shall see. We have had good success with having her recite a mantra that says "I am not the parent and I don't really want to be the parent so I need to learn to trust mom to parent me." That has reduced some of the problem in the past but this has come back with a vengeance and she is just so dysregulated so much of the time.

I did take Mama Drama's advice to heart (the part about the ibuprofen, Mike's Hard Lemonade, and shower) with a night out last night so today we are starting on another part of her advice. She suggested handing Corazon those Highl*ghts-type puzzles where you have to find something wrong because she is in the mood to find things that are wrong. I have printed up a whole bunch of those in addition to some paragraphs that need editing (we are studying this in homeschooling) and I have the stack right where I can easily reach it and hand her one after thanking her for correcting me. I am hoping the combination of these two strategies will break her out of this.

The rest of the kids are doing OK. We have gotten a short reprieve from Tortuga's behaviors (he always does "better" when Corazon is doing "worse." Pollito is still exhibiting some challenging behaviors but his attachment is getting stronger and he has very few nightmares these days. Milagro informed me that she is ready school and asked me to walk her to our neighbor's house so she could play with him "without" me because she is a big kid now and can go to "my friend's house by myself." Even though she is our youngest, I do believe she is close to being our most independent child!

My plans for the rest of the day are to enjoy this beautiful fall day (high temp only in the low 80's!) get outside with the kids and maybe start some Halloween planning.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Gotta love it....

Still struggling with Corazon's inconsistent behaviors. If something is worrying/bothering her, I cannot tell what it is yet. In addition, Corazon in in this stage where she is trying on "normal" kid behaviors (not the nice ones) with a RAD-like, need-to-control-everything, twist. Our biggest current issue is that she has to argue with everything I say because I am "wrong." Dozens of times each day she will find some seeming inconsistency or error in what I say or do and then she will crisply tell me that I am wrong. She will enunciate each of her words with a drama and flair that would be comical if it weren't so annoying. This morning for example she was helping me get breakfast and asked if she should get the yogurt out. I said "no we don't have any yogurt y'all would like." She said "mom, you are wrong. We do have yogurt." I repeated what I said verbatim and asked her to get the toast started. Instead of starting the toast, she went to the refrigerator, opened it, walked over to where I was and put her face right in front of mine and slowly said "Mom, you.are. wrong. We. do. have. yogurt!" I stopped what I was doing and said, "ok, what do you want to do about it now?" She said "I really wanted yogurt and I just wanted to tell you that we have yogurt because you said we didn't and you are wrong." I said "ok. Now what?" So she asked if she should take it out and put it in a bowl. I said "sure." She put the last of the yogurt into a dish while I finished putting the rest of breakfast together for everyone. As they got seated I put the bowl with the last of the yogurt in front of her and walked off. She nearly fell off her chair as she exclaimed "why are you giving this to me, I don't like plain yogurt!" I said "I know, none of you do." She said "I know but I thought you should give it to someone else not me." That made perfect sense to me. Guess who did not enjoy her breakfast?

She has taken to doing certain things that should be no big deal except that they are irritating because she needs me to be her audience. For example, she will chatter on and on about "nothing" just like her friend down the street. When they are together it is silly and fun and annoying and too loud but not atypical of normal girls their age. It's not a big deal except that in Corazon's case it never stops. Never. She does it whenever there is an adult within earshot and she does it really loudly. She will interrupt me a dozen times in a 2 minute conversation with someone else to chatter about random disconnected things. If I check her and send her off she starts talking in nonsensical syllables, loudly, and then laughing. She then gets lost in this and seemingly cannot stop. She will do this for hours until she annoys everyone anywhere near her but she will keep it up as she follows us around because it's no fun without an audience, I suppose.

Then there's the pouting. Her friend "pouts" whenever she doesn't get her way so Corazon has taken to pouting. Of course, she now pouts about everything and at everyone--siblings, parents, other adults. If I ask or tell her to do something, she frowns and pouts. If she has to do something she doesn't feel like doing at the moment (schoolwork), or has forgotten to do (brush teeth), or needs to do (stop yelling at me)... she pouts. If I hand her something she needs to put away... she frowns and pouts. All the while she stands there pouting at me. The more I notice it, the more she does it. I tell her to stop or else...and she continues to do it. So finally, thanks to the wisdom of another RAD mom (thanks Christine) I was reminded that "prescribing the problem" could help. Silly me. I have prescribed the problem dozens of times but somehow I managed to not even think of this in dealing with the pouting and nonsense chatter. So starting Saturday, I gave her pouting time and chatter time every. single. time. she did those things. Guess what....no chatter since yesterday morning. And the pouting seems to be diminishing by the hour. Now if I can just figure out how to fix her need to tell me/show me I am wrong about everything. I am thinking I could prescribe something but just not sure how to do that yet. Suggestions?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

About that shoe...

It dropped. What is it about writing about the good stuff that makes us regret it?  Corazon has been a major challenge since I last wrote here. She is now in a "no thinking required" mode. If it requires any thought, she wants no part of it and she "can't" do it. Doing schoolwork is impossible. She can't remember how to add, spell, write, or read unless it is something that isn't supposed to be her business. She has been at this for about a week. In spurts she rallies and pulls something off, otherwise, it's not pretty. Chores? She can't remember how to load the dishwasher, clothes dryer, make a bed, fill a water bowl for the cats, change a litterbox, etc. She. cannot. do. it. We have tried tapping, rubbing, exercise, brain gym, practicing patience (aka strong sitting), cuddle time, and it doesn't work. She is battling for control over every. little. thing. Even when I don't engage in the battle. She is in battle mode. She cannot brush her teeth, comb her hair, dress, etc. unless she has over an hour and even then she has "forgotten" some important step. Eating a meal takes hours. Seriously. I have asked her what's on her mind and I hit a blank wall. She is clearly distressed but doesn't know why (or won't share). Her tone of voice with her younger siblings is terrible. She is mean, rude, bossy, just plain obnoxious. If there's an expectation she cannot meet it. If I am not supervising her she is getting into serious trouble. I don't know what is going on with her or how to help her snap out of it. She has gotten better about talking about what is going on for her but right now what I get is "nothing" and "I don't know." To make things worse, C. has been away (which is usually when Corazon does better) so I haven't gotten much of a  break. I am at the end of my rope with her right now but we are riding it out as best we can.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Reflecting on Corazon...

We have been home for a little over a month now and the dust seems to be settling. I must admit I have been waiting for the other shoe to drop as far as RAD behaviors go. Corazon has done remarkably well most of the summer and even in the transition home. While we were away we celebrated her 10th birthday with a "luau." The most amazing thing that happened is that she held it together the entire day--throughout the prep, during, and after. There was NO fallout. None. at. all. That is amazing. More importantly there weren't even any "bumps" or redirection. She seemed so happy and relaxed. Of course it helped that there weren't too many other kids besides close family and she was able to "ignore" her need for adult attention. We just had a great time!

She is growing so much and so fast and in some wonderful ways. I am aware of the pushes and pulls that are more "normal" than "RAD" much of the time. She still struggles with trusting us to know what is best and her need to control and dominate almost every situation still surfaces. And the DRAMA and "forgetting" how to do things is still a big issue. Her need for attention (any attention) is still high and she doesn't seem to distinguish between positive and negative attention. There are still days she is so dysregulated that she cannot function but there are many more days when she can pull it back together. Her sense of herself as a "good person" has grown but she still has doubts. She will ask me if I like her or if I think other people like her and she truly cares to hear the answer (although I don't think she always believes that she is quite likable.) When she loses it, there are more genuine emotions and feelings expressed and the fact that she can articulate them is HUGE. Managing those emotions and feelings is tough for her but we are so much farther than we were a year ago. It is possible to see that she is actively WORKING to counter her RAD and be a more typical kid. She asks questions like "do I do this because I have RAD?" or "If I didn't have RAD would I do this differently?" and she will say "I wish the RAD would go away already!" at times when she recognizes the struggle. Her attachment to me is secure (anxiously) and is growing towards C. although she views C. as a threat and competition for my attention.

All in all she is doing so very well. I have been trying to write my usual birthday letter to her but am at a loss for the right words to convey all that I see and feel. My guess is it will appear here whenever I do finish it and hopefully before she turns 11! When I think about where we have been with her and how far she has come I can't help but be a very proud mama.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sometimes it's the little things that they remember...

I have this little book by Forbes (Heather) called "100 Daily Parenting Reflections." I have read it many times and each time I do I usually find some "kernel" to chew on and reflect upon. Today I was reading one entry that read as follows:
"The absolute essence of parenting is being able to step outside of your own emotional discomfort in order to meet your child at his level of emotional (dis)comfort."
I was reminded of a conversation I had with the children a few days ago. We were having dinner and "telling stories." This is one of their favorite things and they beg to hear stories of my childhood or my memories of them. I usually try to get them to tell their own stories and memories of one another which for the older kids usually means telling stories about the younger ones. Since we were about to celebrate Pollito and Milagro's birthdays the conversation naturally gravitated to when Milagro was born and when Pollito first came to us. Tortuga told the story of going to the "Baby" store to get gifts for Milagro just before she was born. I had encouraged each of the children to get a gift for her and for C. and we had gone out in the rain to pick out gifts for them.

At the baby store Tortuga, Corazon and Pollito each picked out a onesie with some clever saying and then they asked to pick out a toy for her so we walked over to that aisle. As Tortuga told the story he couldn't remember what he or the other kids had picked out for Milagro but he did remember something much more important to him. He remembered that as the day it "rained really hard on us" and he got his "baby keys." He also recalled "how happy" he felt. He was 8 1/2 years old. I had forgotten that I had allowed each of them to pick out a baby toy for themselves. I recalled curbing my impulse to say "no" because they were too old for those toys and deciding to let them pick something out. They were all so excited to pick out baby toys for themselves and they spent a long time making the decision. Ultimately two kids settled on those "baby keys" and the other chose a rattle. They still have those toys in their dressers in the top shelf where they keep other "special" things. None of them came to us as babies so they didn't come with baby toys so this is all they have.  I am so happy that I let them choose these toys and got over my own embarrassment at the checkout when each of them pointed out to the cashier which toys were for their baby sister and which ones were for them. I do remember her quizzical expression but I had forgotten how special these things were for them.

Tortuga's retelling got me thinking about the ways in which I have, and have not, been able to step outside my own "emotional discomfort" to meet them exactly where they are emotionally even if it doesn't match who they are physically, chronologically or even cognitively. Corazon went through a phase when she was about 6 years old in which she would "show me" everything she could do--walk, crawl, roll a ball, eat with a fork--and at first I was puzzled and even annoyed by this until I read somewhere that this was sometimes part of how a child behaves when they are starting to "feel" the connection to a caregiver. In some cases they re-live some of those critical milestones that they (we) have missed out on. I learned my lesson. When Pollito started doing this I had learned my lesson and tried to respond with the glee and excitement that I would with Milagro.

I also started trying to be more mindful of things they had missed out on that could help us build emotional security and maybe fill in some gaps. When each of our children came we got them three "bed toys." Each one got a stuffed animal of a cat (we have cats) and another animal. They also each got one of those baby blanket toys with a stuffed animal head at the corner (sounds weird but I think people know what I mean.) We also started working on their lifebooks and collected pictures and stories from foster parents and social workers. Over time I realized the importance of collecting mementos for them that might have greater meaning as they got older. This included pictures of them in the outfits they wore when we first met them, their first drawings,  a lock of hair from first haircuts and first tooth lost while living with us, etc. Over time I have added "baby items" that they have expressed a desire to have or that I hoped would help them connect to that part of themselves.

When Milagro was born, Pollito asked if he had a "baby blanket" so I gave him two receiving blankets with ducks on them that he loves to this day. Soon afterward, Corazon asked for a baby blanket for her doll so I gave her two and they quickly became blankets for her "bed toys." She still keeps them on her bed. Tortuga decided he also needed blankets for his "bed toys" so I gave him two and one has been reduced to shreds because he slept with it on his face every night and used it for all kinds of other things. The other one "accidently" makes it on every trip we take. We are now at a stage where the two boys use "baby wash" and "baby shampoo" when they shower because they claim to like the smell of it. All of them have had baby mobiles hanging in their rooms even though we bought them based onthemes of interest (moon and stars or fish) and not because we thought they needed the mobiles. When we took Milagro's hand and foot prints for her baby book I bought card stock and took the older kids handprints which we framed and labelled. All of the younger kids have had "footed" pjs at one time or another. These now hang in their rooms. Tortuga noticed that he didn't have any and after my initial response of "you are too big for them" I went on a serious hunt for footed pjs in a size 12/14. (I found them and he loved them!)

I have tried to remain open to "noticing" when baby or toddler things catch their attention and whenever possible have tried to support their desire to have or participate in play related to this. I think all of these things have helped foster attachment and emotional security. This summer we travelled with Milagro's current favorite blanket which C.'s mother made for her when she was born and we were talking with her about how much Milagro loves that blanket. She mentioned that she had thought about making them for the other kids but thought they were too old. A little lightbulb went off in both C's and my head at the same time and we simultaneously exclaimed "No! They aren't!" We laughed and now she is going to make "baby blankets" for each of them as a Christmas gift.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Home

We got home about a week ago and have been settling into a routine as we prepare for a new homeschooling year. I have been vigilant as I watch the kids for signs of trouble since these transitions are usually the worst for them. Milagro is happy to be home. She walks around talking about all the things she missed and recounting tales from our time away. She misses a few things from Boston and still goes on and on about Monticello, the Liberty Bell and the Statue of Liberty. In fact, a book about each of these is on her birthday list which is coming up this weekend. Pollito seems happiest to be home. He goes back and forth between giddy-ness and goofy-ness but mostly he is just happy to be here. Corazon is more subdued but so far has settled into her usual routines and is actually anxious and happy to be doing her morning writing prompts. (Her blog should see some post soon I think.) Tortuga is also subdued. We haven't seen any of his "old" behaviors but I think there are a couple of storms brewing.

Last year it was after this trip that things got really bad with Tortuga and we made some pretty drastic changes which I first wrote about here. We have been anxious about what might happen but have optimistically been giving him more "privileges" as "tests." To many of you these won't seem like privileges but based on what we have been doing to try and help him (and the rest of us) they are things Tortuga has had to show he is ready to do. One of these is that he now has almost all of his meals with the family. In the week we have been home he has only had one meal away from us. This is huge! Mealtime is a high-stress time for him because he has to negotiate a wide range of feelings and competing interests including what we call "hating-on" Pollito and Corazon combined with competing with them for Milagro's, C.'s, and my attention. He also has to manage appropriate table manners, eating behaviors, inappropriate talking, (not)making faces, impatience, jealousy (comparing portions of food with other kids) frustration, and that is before any topic of discussion comes up. So far he is managing pretty well except for trying to dominate and/or be involved in everyone's conversation. We have also given him more "unsupervised" but structured time playing with Milagro and Corazon (He cannot handle doing this with Pollito yet because they are reduced to warring pre-schoolers in pretty negative ways.) So far that works for about 30-45 minutes before he starts to escalate and needs to go back to "quiet" activities. He has also picked up most of his old chores again (we had removed them when he decided to not be in the family last year) and for the most part that is going well. He asks to do chores and seems disappointed when I turn down his requests.

Yet, I do think we have a couple of big storms brewing.  The first is over the fact that we did not see his mother while we were in Massachusetts. To say we tried would be an understatement. I made over 25 phone call and did speak with her and set up meetings numerous times. She didn't show up but since this has often been a pattern we didn't tell him we were supposed to meet her and just played off being at the designated meeting spots for some other reasons. Eventually we did have to tell him she wasn't showing and that she was no longer answering her phone/returning phone calls. He has seemed okay with it but I don't think he really can be.

One very sweet thing that happened that might be mediating this happened right before we headed home to Texas.  We had scheduled another visit with Corazon's mother because her brother, sister, niece, nephew and grandmother hadn't made it to the previous visit. This time I left the other kids with a sitter. At the end of the visit with Corazon's mother in which we made plans for her to visit us in the Spring, she asked about the other kids interests so she could get them "a little something." She is always concerned about Tortuga and feels very bad about what she knows of his circumstances so she once again expressed her sadness about his not seeing his mother. She asked me to relay a message to him if I thought it was appropriate. She told me to tell him she would be happy to be his "birth mom substitute" if he wanted. She offered to talk with him about why she thought his mother might be conflicted about seeing him and offered to be his "punching bag" (her words) if he just needed to get mad at her. I thought about it and decided to share this with him. He was genuinely touched and actually thrilled. He wanted to call her right away and so we did. She was wonderful! She told him he could plan on visiting her next summer (whether or not he saw his mother) and told him a few things about why she thought his mother couldn't make visits. She also encouraged him to let her (Corazon's

The second storm that is brewing is that he is testing and trying new behaviors on "for size." He has made a few choices that were inappropriate and a couple that were unsafe. I think he is trying to see if all the "old" expectations still apply and probably his awareness of his new "privileges" around here are fueling this. A couple of his new behaviors have been "nipped" quickly but a couple of others might be linked to budding adolescence. Speaking of which I think we are reaching the onset of puberty with him. In the past week I have had more conversations about penises and body changes in boys that I had the entire time I was counselling middle schoolers over a decade ago! I think I am actually getting pretty good at this. :-)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Because you asked...

I think I have a couple of posts brewing sparked by some of the questions raised in the comments on my last post. Right now I want to answer a few of the questions that I think I have ready answers to. GB's mom asked if I was going back to work. I think the short answer is not in the near future. I have mixed feelings about that because I miss working, having work colleagues, planning my courses, and adult conversations (in real life ones that is :-)) The plan was for me to stay home for a year. I have now been home for two and most of the time I like it. The "work" feels so much more meaningful in many ways and certainly I think the kids benefit from it. As an educator I see the academic and social progress my oldest have made since they stopped attending regular school with the pressures that they aren't able to manage and I know it is the best choice for them. It satisfies some of my need for course planning, too! So most of the time, I am happy being home and homeschooling and therapeutic parenting.

Lynn asked something that I have been thinking an awful lot about. She said "don't you think the "cycle" of parenting for anyone is that you start out totally dedicated to your child(your life goes onto the back burner) and as they grow and become more independent then you slowly get to return to your relationship time?" I think there is much truth to what she says. This was especially true for us because we got three kids in 8 months (in 2007) so our lives centered around the needs of a new high special needs kid (who wanted to kill us!), a toddler who didn't speak, a newborn plus our daughter with RAD who had to do a whole lot of adjusting in a pretty short time frame. The whirlwind of all that activity and transition and getting to know their needs certainly dominated my life. However I was still working full-time so I still felt the "split" loyalties and responsibilities. In a funny way what helped is that C. and I also got married in the middle of all that and we joked about our "shotgun wedding" (she was 8 months pregnant) and "newlywed" status in the midst of all of the happenings. There wasn't much dedicated time for our "relationship" but we viewed it as "stolen moments" and focused on keeping our communication as clear as possible (essential for our triangulating kids) and it worked. There are times we think they are becoming more independent and we may have more time for ourselves but then they surprise us and don't seem to be ready for that independence. Somehow we foresee needing a babysitter for our son even when he turns 16-17 so we have to find another way to make time for our relationship. I think this is where babysitters come in but our kids have only recently been ready for that. (The two oldest rarely make up stories to get us in trouble anymore so we have a little bit more trust that we won't come home to social services/police investigations which has been a significant fear for a long time but especially since our move to a new state.) I guess in theory, I do hope it is true that they will become more independent and we can go back to the things that are for just us (together and individually) at some point but for now it seems far on the horizon so we work to make it happen now as much as we can.

Bryna is still struggling to fall into a routine with her foster son. We can certainly relate to that especially when we first got Corazon (pre-RAD diagnosis) because each day was like a huge surprise in terms of behavior, attitude, needs, railroading efforts, etc. We created a routine that served our realities (schedule and priorities) and her needs (schedule, safety, physical, emotional, etc.) and moved from there. C. was less comfortable being alone with Corazon for long periods of time and she certainly was most dysregulated when I wasn't around and once I was around she raged and raged and raged. Even now, we have certain things we won't do unless the other parent will be around so it means having to postpone doling out consequences and/or privileges because we understand enough of what might happen and what support looks like for us.The key for us is to keep talking with each other about our fears and concerns and needs and not let the parenting stressors take its toll on our relationship.

Bryna also asked about finding babysitters and preparing babysitters.  I don't know how helpful I can be because we have only recently started using babysitters that weren't very close to us and who knew (really knew) what we were up against especially with Corazon. Recently we have hired two different young women to babysit and they both work for us but are quite different. One of them really doesn't "like" kids very much and that works for us with the two oldest because they do worst when the sitter tries to engage and interact with them. The other LOVES our two little ones and enjoys keeping up with them so we can have her babysit those two and ONE of the older ones by giving her clear direction on what to do with each of them. I think we found that what works best is to give sitters very specific guidelines about what the kids are expected to do and have no wiggle room otherwise. It helps our kids feel safe. For example, we would say "While we are gone Corazon may only be in this space, she has all the activities she can do right here so she doesn't need to go to any other part of the house. If she tries to suggest it is time for bed." In our case several of our kids can never be in the same space together for safety reasons so we tell sitters that and require direct supervision if something necessitate their being in the same space (meals, for example.) We will sometimes vary our routine so that the kids feel safest. For example, we might postpone bedtime if it will raise anxiety and allow in bed reading time until we come home of they fall asleep. Or vice versa. We might declare early bedtime and move up dinner schedule, reading time, bath, etc. I think consistency is key for any child with special needs and we don't try to leave too many rules as "rules" but as "needs." That helps our sitters follow our expectations even if they might not agree with them.

Ohchicken, who started all this reflection on our parenting, asked about finding time to be a couple and not feel like we are just co-parents. I think we struggle with this because we have this sense of being a couple as having to do with "alone time" in which just the two of us are doing something together. That's not often possible when the kids needs us right there and then or when one of us has to supervise a raging child while the other gets dinner on the table or keeps the other kids from freaking out. By the time we are done with the day to day we are tired and just need to go to sleep. I think we were friends and colleagues for so long before we had children that we have those connections together so I can still help her with her work and she can support my efforts at homeschooling with insights from those other "lives." That helps. It also helps that we can say to each other what we are missing or needing or worried about even if the other one cannot fix it. We try not to react in anger and frustration and when we do we quickly acknowledge it even if it cannot change at the moment. It helps us keep other dimensions (friendship, colleague) of our relationship alive which helps our relationship as a couple as well. We are getting better about taking the time alone together outside the house by hiring babysitters more often and we find that we may or may not end up talking about the kids when we go out but it is fine either way.  I think what has also helped us is that we view our time with our kids as part of OUR time and relationship as well. I don't know if that makes sense but for us spending time "with the family" can also feel like time for us because the kids are happiest, and have fewer issues and meltdowns when we are all together than when left to their own devices. Plus it helps that in TX there are restaurants with attached playgrounds which has made it easier to all go out to dinner and know that we have a half hour of time to chat while the kids are engaged and safe. We can still supervise but use that time to talk, dream and reconnect. I think we try to create as many "moments" like that throughout our days to get us to the times when we can actually spend more substantive time alone together and for us that works. Of course, we always want more time together, we get frustrated when we can't find it and we miss not having that but when it comes down to it we wouldn't trade what we have for anything in the world. We feel so very blessed to have what we have and we try to show our gratitude for that every chance we have.

I am not trying to paint a rosy picture because it's way more complicated than that but I guess I would say that we are very much in love and in like with one another and we seem to have a philosophy that allows us to live as fully as we can in the moment and make choices that we won't regret later. Sometimes that means putting kids above everything else and other times it means leaving them in bed or in their rooms longer so that we can have time to check in and be on the same page or at least what page the other dragged us to!


P.S. for Lynn.   Corazon has that lava lamp in her room so I think it must still be in style. :-)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Well orchestrated flying by the seat of our pants...

A while ago Ohchicken asked how C. and I balance parenting and how we make it all work. I am not sure this will answer her question but I thought I'd try to respond just because she asked so nicely... :-)

C. and I generally see eye-to-eye on most of the big things (values, expectations, priorities, etc.) and have a very high regard for the other's perspective on just about anything. We have been professional colleagues, friends and partners for long enough that we trust one another's decisions even if we wouldn't always do it that way ourselves. We don't tend to second guess one another nor do we engage in blame (except self-blame) when we screw up. We each know that we are our own worst critics and tend to be highly reflective in nature so when we screw up we seek each other for support even if we know the other one would never have made that same mistake. Another thing that influences many of our interactions (consciously and not) is that C. could have lost her life a few years ago in a freak accident that turned our world upside down. Ever since then we both have a greater appreciation for the frailty of it all so we try not to waste time on stuff we cannot control or change and thus we work hard to accept each other as we are and trust we do the best we can at any given time especially stress producing times. :-)
I think we have a pretty good system of parenting/household managing. I can get really caught up in the parenting for the kids' specific needs, keeping the older kids regulated, gauging their moods/ability to handle stuff at any given moment, etc. and she infuses more of the "fun" into our daily lives. We seem to see eye-to-eye on most things and where we each have blind spots/gaps the other has a strength.  Generally speaking I am the "final word" on most things but that's because I am home with them, the "therapeutic" parent, and have more patience (or so she says..)   The kids view me as the "final" authority on the day to day but know anything major goes through both of us and if they try to triangulate us (which they have) they don't get very far. It's works probably because we have good communication and make all big decisions together.

People we have met in Texas work pretty hard to "figure us out." Some of it is that we are the only same-sex couple they know with kids and some of it is because we seem to defy most of the stereotypes they might have about lesbians. A few months ago we were chatting with one of our neighbors about our household tasks for the weekend and she started to say "oh, I get it. You are more like the woman and she is more like the man." Ugh. No. We nicely pointed out she shouldn't go down that path and she caught herself pretty quickly. But that brought up what I think gets confusing for folks who see us together and don't automatically "guess" that we are together because we both look pretty "girly"although don't let C. know that I wrote that.

Up until a year and a half ago we were both working full-time and living in Boston. At that time I had most of the running around duties (pick-ups, drop-offs, appts, sports, etc.), cooking, shopping, etc. She and I shared the housework pretty evenly and seemed to have a good balance of joint skills, likes and dislikes. For example, I tend to do most of daily household upkeep but she does vacuuming and cleaning bathrooms. She did grocery shopping and I did the other shopping. I did the bulk of cooking, daily chores (which kids share), and based on work schedules dealt with the bulk of kid "care." At the time she worked a nine-to-five job and I was teaching at the college level so I could juggle my teaching schedule to accommodate our children's needs. That was ideal when Milagro was born because after C.'s parental leave ended I took mine and then was able to take her to work with me while the other kids were in school/daycare. Since I taught masters level students I could schedule my classes in the late afternoon/evenings so for over a year I had one "hell" day (7 a.m. - 10:15 pm) of work but the rest of the week I was flexible enough that I could come and go as needed or work from home. I taught on one other night so when I wasn't there she could be with the kids then. On my long day, I still ran out to do school pickups, dropped all the kids with a friend for 1 hour then C. left work early to manage them for the night. That gave her a sense of their routines, etc. and a little appreciation for the rest of my week. She SWEARS I do the harder job! :-) Overall this worked well for us. I tended to do the morning/getting ready stuff and we split the bedtime stuff (I did baths, homework, etc. while she did stories, tucking in, etc.) When we had to be up in the middle of the night I tended to do the bulk of it because she had the 9-5 job and because I need less sleep and can go back to sleep more easily after multiple interruptions. I should probably say that we were lucky enough that the baby slept through the night from day one!!! Seriously. We woke her to feed/change her and she went right back to sleep. I can count on one hand the number of times I have needed to be up with her at night and every single time it has been due to illness. Before you start hating me I should note that the OTHER 3 kids would wake me up several times each (bathroom, nightmares, drama, sneaking, etc.) so I didn't quite get the break I would have liked. Generally, I tended to do all the "emergency" stuff just because of my more flexible schedule.

When we were moving to Texas we decided that I would stay home for the first year to help kids with transition stuff and then we would reassess and figure out how that was working for all of us. My going from full-time work outside the home to being a stay-at-home mom gave me more time to focus on the kids' needs and on the day-to-day household stuff. However we found that many of the habits we had cultivated around the household stuff still made sense for us (I still hate vacuuming and toilets!) so we haven't really changed much of it except to accommodate schedules and needs. She has a less predictable schedule because she isn't working a 9-5 now. She is a doctoral student and works 2 part time consulting jobs that add up to more than one full time job. She tends to have one day working from home and 4 days with changing schedules. I do the day to day but we split certain things up. For example, last school year Pollito was the only one who didn't homeschool. I would get him up, dressed, fed, and make sure he has everything he needed for school and I did the after-school pickup. She tended to make his lunch, drop him off in the a.m., and go into his classroom whenever we have a question/issue/etc. With Corazon's gym, I did drop offs and she did pickups and meetings at the gym but I do ALL the corresponding with coaches and "fundraising" booster club. We generally take turns doing appointments (e.g. parent conferences or doctor's appointments) depending on schedules or who has the more relevant information. (For example, I ALWAYS do Tortuga's doctor's appointments because I have his history and meds info committed to memory.) I still do the daily household upkeep (she vacuums and does bathrooms). If we need to do work around the house she tends to do much of the physical labor (lifting and carrying) but I tend to do the actual "work" (plumbing, electrical, etc.) although we both enjoy putting things together so that one is dependent on who has time, opportunity or desperately wants the thing put together. :-) Generally she will run errands to places like H*me D*p*t but I have made the lists and have a better sense of the specifics we need. She tends to deal with workmen if we need something done around the house that I can't do although I generally am the one home when they come by. Right now, she makes the money but we both handles the finances.

When she is home she spends as much time with the kids as she can. There are things she does with each one (nightly walks with Milagro), reading to the two older kids, biking with Corazon, basketball with Tortuga, grocery shopping with Pollito and Milagro, reading with Pollito, etc. It's a big deal when one of them can do their "schoolwork" with her at a coffee shop when she has to get away from the house to write/grade papers. Tortuga and Corazon will usually get the privilege of going with her to "work." We try to reserve our weekends for "family" time as much as possible. These days that looks like Saturday morning "family chores" and then "family errands." We try to reserve almost ALL of our errands for Saturdays and sometimes we divide and conquer and other times do them all together depending on what needs to get done. She can usually run important errands that need to happen during the week (post office, bank, dry cleaners, etc.) if we need so that I don't have to take all 4 kids shopping just for milk, bread or whatever. That is the biggest challenge when we really NEED something and I have to take all 4 of them. Saturday afternoons/evenings and Sundays we tend to do stuff as a whole family as much as possible because we both enjoy it.

We try to have a plan of what needs to be done overall and we each are willing to take over the other's role if one of us is too tired, has other work to do, etc. Her line is to not have all 4 kids by herself but she will if she had to. Share professional relationship so we talk over her work stuff pretty often. Finding time for ourselves is hard and that is something we don't do as well as we could/should but we are working on that. We try to have good routines for the kids so that we have time together and we are getting better at going out now that we have found a couple of babysitters who seem to follow our rules. We try to talk about things other than the kids and work but those figure prominently in our lives so we aren't as successful at that. :-)

Do we bump into each other occassionally. Sure, nothing can go that smoothly with four kids and all the special needs ours have! Mostly we try to focus on the stuff that matters and the stuff that brings out the best in each of us because it is what allows us to give our best to our kids and each other. Questions?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

What we have been up to...

We have settled into a nice routine in Boston and I can honestly say it has been a really good time. We will start making our way back home sometime this week. We are ready to head home. They are good travellers. Our car trips (the long ones) are generally smooth unless they just aren't. Then they are hellish. Our original plan was to visit friends in CT, NYC, NJ, MD, D.C. and GA on the return trip. Some of that hinges on how long we stop in NJ to see C.'s family and how well the kids do. We probably won't be able to make the D.C. and Maryland stops since C. has a work commitment next week. The kids are starting to show signs of anxiety and sadness about leaving. I don't know what kind of parents actually enjoy seeing their kids be sad but I think some of you will understand when I say I am thrilled to see them be sad about leaving people here. These are new and genuine expressions of connectedness to family and friends here especially from the two oldest and I am cherishing them (not the accompanying behaviors but I can't have everything I want...) We have had some good talks about these new feelings.

We have had some good moments that I haven't had a chance to write about which have me it a special and wonderful summer. We have seen and spent good times with our dearest friends and had genuine quality time with them. It has been very satisfying and thus leaving is more difficult too.We have celebrated two birthdays and if we stay any longer it will be four birthdays! My sister and niece spent their first time on the East Coast with us and we had a wonderful time being "tourists."  We can call ourselves Indigo Girls' "groupies" having now seen them in both Austin and Massachusetts during their current concert tour!



We have also had some bumps. No visit with the boys' mother. I have made many, many attempts to schedule a meeting and we have been stood up. Now her phone is not working. I am sad that we won't make the visit especially because Tortuga will be very disappointed. We had two visits with Corazon's mother who is having a hard time these days but who was very thoughtful especially to Tortuga. (I have been working on a whole post about the visits with Corazon's mother and Tortuga's near rage response to that.) We have seen some slippage in Tortuga's progress over the past several months but the true test will be when we return. He is mouthy and rude to me, questioning all of my decisions, challenging my authority, and refusing to cooperate. Since this has increased with C.'s departure and Corazon's visits with her mother I am thinking it is related to the changes and increased anxiety but we shall see.

Our travels these past few weeks took us to CT, RI, NH, upstate NY, Maine and VT. The high point was getting a chance to visit with The Other Mother and Mama Drama x2!


The kids had "fancy" pizza, played in the water, got pushed on the swings by The Other Mother, and had a grand time as we "closed down the park!" We talked and talked and it was wonderful to be with folks who not only "get it" but who are so gracious and wonderful to be with. As I said to Mama Drama sometimes it is often her blog that brings a smile to my face on those days where I wonder if I can keep going without losing my sanity! As much as I love her blog it was even better meeting in person. There's nothing like the feeling of being with people who don't miss a beat as you navigate the tricky waters of traumatized kids having too much fun while feeling unsupervised. The kids held it together nicely except for Tortuga who melted down almost immediately after we got in the car after saying goodbye to these wonderful women! Corazon was over the top having met one of her blog readers "Mama Drama" which I believe is the only name she remembers and getting some wonderful book recommendations from The Other Mother. She can't remember what I asked her to do 10 minutes ago but she does remember the books she referenced!

We are both looking forward to hosting them on their Fall visit to Texas!!!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Smitten Mama

Note:  I wrote this when Milagro reached the 2 1/2 mark. She is almost 3 but I am just getting around to posting it.

Milagro,

Wow you are two and a half already! Where did the time go? You are an amazingly gentle, loving and thoughtful little girl. You give hugs and kisses spontaneously and say "I love you, mom" several times each day for no reason at all. In the mornings after you wake up you snuggle and say you missed me and at night you say "buenas noches" and "I love you" several times until you fall asleep. Your brothers and sister are never far from your thoughts. You make sure they get treats when you get a treat and you always "save" stuff for them.  At night you get upset if they go to bed before you get a chance to say goodnight. Your new thing is that at Corazon's gymnastics' drop-off you insist she hug you and say goodbye specifically to you. Before you used to cry as soon as we arrived at the gym because you didn't want her to go. Now you seem ok with leaving her there but if she forgets to say goodbye you cry the entire way home while wailing (literally) "she DIDN'T say gooooodbyyyyye to me!"

You have taken a serious interest in becoming a little jock. You have asked for dance class (ballet), soccer, football, ice skating, gymnastics, and after watching the winter olympics you have decided you want to learn to ski and snowboard. I have told you that it is not gonna happen little one but you think I am kidding. When I say "no you cannot take snowboarding lessons" you put on your most serious face and say "mom, you're so funny."

You are working hard to become more independent but I can see the struggles that lie beneath the surface. One minute you say "I need help" and "I'm just a baby" and then the next you let me know "I'm not a baby mom!" or you say "I can do it myself mom..." You want to do everything by yourself--get your own water from the dispenser on the fridge, put on your clothes, tie your shoes, sleep in your own bed and set up all your "bed buddies," night light, musical mobile and night lantern.  Other times you announce you "have to" sleep with us because you are "just a little kid." I must admit that it is with mixed emotions that I push you towards independence and pull you to be a little baby just a bit longer. I love when you crawl into my lap and say "hold me like a baby." I also love when you march yourself up to bed by yourself or announce "I think it is time I went to bed mom."

Your language is absolutely amazing. While I try hard to not compare you to any of your siblings it is hard when I remember Pollito at this age. He's the most recent 2 1/2 year old I have lived with and it is such a different world. He had only a handful of words/phrases at this age. You pretty much can out talk him (and every one else in the house!) and it reminds me of how much difference a child's beginnings make. You have been nurtured, cared for and loved from the moment you were conceived and we have worked to show you that love in every way we could. You mimic everything and you remember most things. You use full sentences and even paragraphs to discuss and describe things. You even know how to use your words to "argue" back if you don't get your way. "BUT, I really need to...." or even "you can't say no cuz I want it!"

You have started remembering your dreams. You don't totally "get" the concept of dreaming so we have had a few not so funny moments when you woke up upset at mama because you thought she threw your baby doll outside and we have to take you out there to see it isn't there. Just yesterday you woke up telling me that you were with a babysitter and you were crying because we went "shopping" without you. You wanted us to take you with us but we left you with "Ms. Kaypin" instead. Sometimes these dreams are based in reality (we did leave you with a babysitter named Caitlyn) but you fill in the blanks and attribute it to a dream. This morning you told me you didn't have a dream. This is the first time you seemed to have acknowledged that you understood what a dream might be.

You have a sense of humor and make jokes at our expense sometimes. You laugh easily and often and you make us laugh. When we look down you dance and twirl around for us and if we don't give you the appropriate response you tell us it is funny and we should have laughed. You are still doing the "talk-sing" that you and I started when you were a little over a year. It is so funny. We sound like the "W*nder P*ets" as we sing our way through a normal conversation. You love doing this and usually sing "Mom why don't you sing so I can talk to youuuuu?" as a way of getting me into it. I wouldn't do this with or for ANYONE else!

When you were about to be born Tortuga and Pollito had only recently arrived (with us 7 and 6 months home) so we each promised that we were all going to make your babyhood the best one ever and all of your brothers and sisters shared that they wanted yours to include things they never had.  I can honestly say they have done that for you and in return you love each of them unconditionally. You accept them wholeheartedly and enjoy being with each of them. When one of them is sad or upset you quickly go to them and hug them, comfort them and reassure them. You hug them spontaneously and are the only one who can bring a smile to Tortuga's face when he is in a total funk. You are such an incredible blessing!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

How to traumatize my kids...

Our vacation had gone really well until I jinxed it by saying so. And then I pushed things. On Sunday C. left to go back to Texas on business. On Monday, I left 3 kids with a sitter and took the other one with me to visit with my best friend from college. I had five hours of mostly uninterrupted time with my friend while Corazon had the swimming pool all too herself and talked my ear off for the hour-long drive each way. Heavenly. Then there was "pay back" time. Corazon had to pay me back for getting to have too much fun. Tortuga and Pollito had to pay me back for leaving them with a sitter. They were nightmarish from the moment I got home. Did I learn my lesson? Of course, not.

On Tuesday we went to the social services offices to visit their old social worker, her supervisor and one of Tortuga's former foster parents (who now works at the same office.) They were crazy. I can honestly say they have never been as poorly behaved in public as they were for the 45-50 minutes we were there. I couldn't even finish my meeting with the supervisor regarding services for Tortuga, the whereabouts of his older brother whose adoptive parents have relinquished back into foster care, our scheduled visit with Corazon's brother in RTC and a whole slew of other things. So I had to reschedule the meeting for another time and I was so annoyed with the kids that I cancelled all the fun stuff we were supposed to do after the visit. While I realized that being back in that office where they went for visits with birth families and waits for the next set of foster parents might bring up "stuff" for them, I underestimated the impact because they have never responded like that before. (That's an understatement!) The older kids were so bad that even good-natured Milagro was a basket-case. She whined, cried and clung to me as though I was going to leave her there. She never behaves that way.  We headed home and dealt with meanness, rudeness, yelling, door slamming, stomping, (and you should have seen the kids' behaviors! Just kidding...)

Then on Wednesday I left 3 of them with a babysitter and Tortuga and I went driving all around town (literally) in Boston traffic looking and taking pictures at places he lived and went to school in while he was in foster care. He had requested this last summer and we only managed to get to a few of these but this time I had promised. He seemed excited and had only pleasant memories of the places he remembered and thanked me profusely for taking him around. After two hours the sitter called to say Milagro was having a hard time so we rushed through the rest of our stops to get back home. We were supposed to head out to see my college friend and her kids (from Monday's trip) and the kids assumed that meant they were going swimming since Corazon had gone swimming. We started out heading in that direction, heard severe weather warnings for the area, turned back, got caught in traffic, and by the time we got back the kids were starving. It was my fault since I forgot to feed them lunch. We stopped at their favorite pizza and sub shops. I was trying to make up for starving them and gave them free reign to choose their food and let them pick a soda. (Can someone say "dumb move"?) It was all too much for them. Their behavior left much to be desired and Corazon put me over the top by shaking her soda bottle and spraying it all over the other kids' food. I marched everyone home and relegated them to their quiet spots while I tried to deal with everyone's individual dramas. They two older ones were dysregulated and pretty ticked off with me and had no qualms let me know it with their behaviors (that's how I found out they were mad about not going swimming.)

I guess I now have a perfect formula for traumatizing my kids.

1. Have one parent leave town.
2. Leave them with babysitters.
3. Take them to places that raise their anxiety.
4. Let them have too much fun.
5. Have them miss out on fun I never thought they were expecting.
6. Let the child who has not experienced trauma spend time in strange places with 3 dysregulated kids who are freaking out so she can join in the "fun."

Honestly it has been horrible but some good things are and will come out of this. I will try to write about that part soon. Can you imagine how relieved I was that I had not told Corazon ahead of time that on Monday we were supposed to do a visit with her birth family since they did not show?

Monday, July 19, 2010

"But I feel like I grew in your belly."

Pollito is almost 6 but in many ways is so much younger so he seems more like a 4 year old. Over the past few months he has begun to show interest in his adoption story and has wanted to hear it again and again. Our return to Boston has brought up some memories for him so he has begun to ask more about his life "before Texas." On the trip here he was very concerned that he could remember his crib and his toddler bed but he couldn't remember his old room or the color of the walls. As soon as we got to our old house he was excited to see the room he slept in (although he actually slept in our room much of the time for safety reasons) and he also remembered sleeping in our room. Since then he has called up some memories from the past and we have pointed out important places as we see them (favorite park, pond, daycare center, grocery store, etc.) He seems to remember some of this.

I had some pictures I needed to add to the photo album we put together for his birth mom in anticipation of our visit with her. He offered to help me and we reminisced about where the pictures were taken and how old he was. As we talked he asked me who the pictures were for and I told him they were for his and Tortuga's mother. He seemed puzzled so I stopped and repeated her name asked him if he remembered who she was. He said he did not so I pulled out the pictures from our visit with her last summer. He looked at it for a few minutes and said he did not remember her or our visit with her. I told him it was OK. We kept working with the pictures and he asked me his mother's name again. Then he said "I think I am supposed to love her.  I don't remember her and I don't think I love her." I told him whatever he felt was fine. I also told him that she loved him very much because she knew him since before he was born, had him in her belly,  gave birth to him, and was the first one to meet him and take care of him when he was a tiny baby. Since he dd not remember much of this he might not remember loving her and that was fine. He then said his brother, Tortuga, tells him he is supposed to love her and also tells him that she is his "real" mother because he "grew in her tummy." Then he said, "I think I am confused, Mom." I asked him to elaborate and he said "I think Tortuga is right .... BUT, I feel like I grew in your belly.  Is that OK, mom?" I assured him it was perfectly fine to feel what he was feeling and that as he grew up he would understand more and more about his birth story, adoption, and all his mothers. He smiled and said he would dream about being in my belly because that made him sleep "good."

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