Thursday, December 30, 2010

Where has December gone? An (almost) photo-essay.

It's probably a good thing that I haven't written since the beginning of the month since it usually means we are well and just busy leading our lives. This month has flown by! We have had many ups and some downs but I want to focus on the good stuff. Some of the things that have kept us busy...

Dance classes...





Making Christmas presents...


 Arts and crafts...





Putting up outside decorations....


Visit with Santa...

Christmas Texas-style....

Santa's "Ranch"





Choosing a Christmas tree... we had a little difference of opinion...


Decorating the car...


Decorating the tree...


How many kids does it take to put the tree in place?




Reading lots of Christmas stories...


Getting the "perfect" Christmas picture for our holiday cards... (just went out today!!!!)

They looked like peeing reindeer in some of our best shots. Given the relevance of pee to our special needs kids we toyed with writing something like "Hap-pee Holidays" on our cards but thought our family and friends just wouldn't understand...



Cleaning the house for grandma's visit...


Made Christmas fudge...




Celebrating adoption anniversaries....and getting some family jewelry...




Each of us now sports one of these.



Leaving treats for Santa...
Cookies, Fudge, Chips, Guacamole, Milk and Beer...
Christmas morning.

We do lots of shared gifts and family gifts.


The big hit was baby blankets from their grandma in PA. She made one for the youngest when she was born and that has been a big favorite. We mentioned to her during our summer vacation that our three oldest kids didn't have something like that and she took the idea and ran with it. They are among their most treasured items and all three insist on sleeping with them every night!



Comment of the day from one of our geekier children... "If we had one more kid with a name that started with a "P" then we could spell "PARTY" but instead we are a "TRAY."


Then right after Christmas someone had a birthday...



 We plan on quietly ringing in the new year...

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....)





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