Monday, February 22, 2010

Someone is officially Two and a half....

Someone wondered why everyone else has been having celebrations lately (gotcha anniversaries for all 3 of the other kids in the last 5 weeks) and wanted a celebration of her own. She announced that today was her birthday and in a way it was since she is officially 2 1/2 today. We haven't made a habit of celebrating half birthdays except for her 6 month birthday but we may just have to start that tradition. I cannot believe how grown up she is. There are almost no signs left of this little one below... Where did the time go?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

I hate mom....

"I hate mom so much I don't even want to look at her." So this is what is written on many things--notebooks, worksheets, journal, jeans, shirts, wall, bed-- get the picture? Tortuga has had a rough series of days punctuating about 2 weeks of big steps forward and small steps backward. I think he is overwhelmed by his own recognition of his mixed emotions and this is leading him back into familiar territory. He forgets simple steps in routines, ignores small "rules," grates on everyone's nerves and just tests, tests, and tests. Cannot put his clothes on correctly. Writes on his clothes, floor and walls "by accident." Doesn't remember that the bar of soap shouldn't be left on the floor of the tub (with a dripping faucet). Forgets not to shout at the top of his lungs to ask me silly questions (e.g. "did you bring the broom upstairs mom?") during his morning routine WHEN HIS SISTER IS STILL SLEEPING! It is continuous right now. Nothing totally major in and of itself BUT incredibly disruptive, annoying, and indicative of higher stress levels for him.It must be so scary to be in his shoes right now.

Compounding the problem is that the more understanding and caring I show, the meaner he gets (but interestingly not usually to me unless you count all that writing he is doing.) He fixates on Corazon. Cuts his eyes at her. Yells at her. Growls at her. Stares at her. Bores holes into the back of her head with his eyes when she isn't looking. Tattletales on her every misstep ("MOM! She touched the window!" or "MOM! She is thinking about stealing!" or better yet "Mom, you didn't see her but she was thinking about making a mean face at me."--when she is not even in the room with us.) It is utterly exhausting for all of us. We need a break from him but cannot get it because the payback is just too high.

A few weeks ago C. and I went out without the older kids for a couple of hours leaving Tortuga and Corazon with a new babysitter. Two hours later we dropped off the little ones and left for about an hour. We were gone for a total of 3 1/2 hours. I cannot begin to describe the incredible meltdown that Tortuga had that night. It was the worse one we had seen in months and took both C. and me hours to help him calm down. The next day he was "mommy focused." I went to run a quick errand without kids and he was beside himself before I even left. Then he wanted me to "promise" I was only running ONE errand. He has never asked me to promise anything. It bothers him that I leave him to run errands because I refuse to deal with his behavior anymore which is much better than it used to be but still unpredictable. C. reports then when I am gone he asks about me multiple times and seems thrilled when I am home. These are good signs of attachment, I know.

His oppositional behavior is up and it is a bit comical at times because he has to oppose every single thing and I just smile and say "ok, honey." He doesn't know what to do with that and continues to try ways to be oppositional. I need to video one of these soon because mostly they aren't about serious issues. So how are we dealing with these "slip ups"? We have been here before and several things have worked (sentences, writing down his routine, even removing the responsibility.) I am thinking of having him keep a list of all the things he has "forgotten" and "doesn't know" if he cannot self-correct remember after I try the usual "who does know? the cat? the wall?" etc. which sometimes works. I am not sure what we are going to do with the list but the interruption in his plans to have to stop and write it down will hopefully serve as a deterrent. Any other thoughts?

Other than that, I suppose I should find the good in the possibility that he hates me but he misses me.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Don't let me fool you...

I have written about the major steps that Tortuga has taken in the last weeks around recognizing and naming his emotions. It is excellent progress indeed and I certainly don't want to make light of it. Yet, it doesn't mean we aren't having issues. We are. Big ones. There are still soooo many behaviors and attitudes that terrify me--for his future and for ours as a family. He continues to just be mean and hateful to Corazon and Pollito whenever he can be so we really have to continue limiting his exposure to them and the rest of the family. He doesn't understand why he cannot be around them. He truly doesn't and of course he feels it is unfair. We have explained that the downstairs of our home is "family space" where everyone needs to feel safe and comfortable. In return everyone is expected to work hard to honor our family values--respect, responsibility, niceness, safety and obedience--especially in this space. He has noted he doesn't believe in those values and doesn't want to have to live by them. We have not done anything to try and "force" him to change that but it means he doesn't get to "hang out" in these areas with other family members. It is tough because he literally begs to spend time with the family yet within minutes of being anywhere near these two he is mean or rude to one of them. He can hold it together for small periods of time (e.g. dinner) but pretty much any small thing (real or imagined) will set him off.

Our days still change at the drop of a hat. From one moment to the next I have no idea if he is going to be able to handle anything even if he was able to handle it just fine the day (or the hour) before. The unpredicatable nature of it all makes things challenging and frustrating. This weekend we had several moments where we wished we had a neighbor who could just pop over and watch him while we did simple everyday things with the other kids. Instead, we took him along and I kept him close to me (even though I really wanted him as far away from me as possible) and tried to let the other kids (who had each had great weeks in their own ways) enjoy themselves. It was challenging to juggle but we managed it and I survived having a very unruly and unpleasant apendage for the duration of our "family time." It is sooooo hard sometimes.

Another factor that I am becoming aware of is that as we have peeled back some of the ugly layers (e.g. very disruptive behaviors) we are able to actually see some of the underlying and equally annoying/disruptive issues and behaviors. It feels like these are new behaviors but in fact I realized they have always been there just masked by the crazy, outrageous ones. So I am on a mission to tackle these behaviors AND the underlying causes but am failing miserably thus far. Our life is quieter and calmer but it feels like we are in a rut and I haven't figured out a plan for moving us forward. I will.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Valentine fun

C. says I am ruining my reputation as a "non-crafty" person. It does seem like having little ones brings out some elements of "craftiness" in everyone so while I am not fully embracing this part of my experience if I tell the truth I would say that I am enjoying it a tiny bit more these days. :-) We made these really neat crayons for Pollito's valentines and he hand wrote ALL of his classmates' names plus signed his cards. His letters are coming along so nicely after a complete lack of interest in letters or reading for much of this school year. I got inspired enough (and harassed enough) that I made an additional batch once all the kids had gone to bed so I could surprise them with a set of their very own heart-shaped crayon for Valentine's Day.

The little ones also made some heart-shaped flowers and handprint cards for C. They miss her so much when she is away and she was gone for a couple of days this past week so we had time to make these. The older kids were on their own this time around. Corazon had some clear ideas about what she wanted to do for her teammates at gymnastics and had made plans to work on her valentines when her schoolwork was done. She is learning to manage multiple responsibilities so much better these days.Tortuga really has no friends or classmates and given his attitude towards us, I gave him the option of NOT doing any valentines this year. He asked me for supplies on Saturday. Mine prominently featured "I will always love you" statements throughout along with other heartfelt sentiments. Absolutely lovely!

Friday, February 12, 2010

We need a little sunshine around here...

Rainy days have made for stir-crazy kids and a stir crazy mom. My kids would live outside if I let them and that was part of the reason for moving to warmer climates. Of course, we move when this place is having it's worst winter in 15 years! Then again, I look at Boston and think of how glad I am to be missing all that cold and dreary weather. Although I do lament the fact that the kids don't get to play in the snow. We left our sleds and snow stuff with C.'s parents but the kids watch the weather reports and wish they were there. So I find myself wishing for a little more sunshine and then J. does a lovely thing and passes along the Sunshine Award! Thank you J. If you aren't reading her blog please head on over to Stellar Parenting and say hello.

The rules are:
1. Put the logo in my post or within my blog.
2. Pass the award onto 12 fellow bloggers.
3. Link the nominees within my post.
4. Let the nominees know they have received this award by leaving a comment on their blogs.
5. Share the love and link to the person who gave you the award

I think this award has made the rounds but I am happy to pass on a little sunshine to some wonderful folks who I think may not have been singled out yet. But honestly, all the folks listed on the right column deserve as much sunshine as they can get (especially those getting inundated by snow and rain.)
Carmel at On Our Way
Amy at My Life is Funny Like That
Laynie at My Sweet Chaos
Ashley at Ramblings of Rolladyke
Matryoshka at Our Maine Life
Reighnie at Monkey Trouble
SocialWrkr24/7 at Eyes Open Wider
Here's hoping everyone gets a little real-life sunshine over the weekend!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Still working the feelings thing...

When I pick up Pollito after school I always have the 3 other kids in the car. Milagro often naps during this time and I have to park a little ways from the pickup spot so I have to either leave kids in the car or bring them all with me. Neither of these options is pleasant but I change it up regularly to keep them on their toes. Yesterday I also had my 9 year old niece in the car. As we were approaching the school there was a father in middle of the crosswalk with his 4 or 5 year old daughter walking slightly behind him. I slowed down and came to a complete stop as I asked my kids what they saw. No sooner had Corazon noted that the dad wasn't holding his daughter's hand than the man jumped back into the street and waved his fists toward my car and yelled some expletives. The kids were taken aback and I just brushed it off because it was unclear why he was angry at me.  We found a parking spot and a few minutes later the same man rapped on my window and started yelling at me. I opened the window a bit as he screamed at me for going too fast and not waiting for them to finish crossing the street. In fact, I wasn't going too fast and I had come to a complete stop but he was hell bent on chewing me out for it. Initially I tried to point out that I had stopped well before reaching the crosswalk but he just kept on yelling. Eventually he said "what if my daughter had run back into the street?" I commented that was the reason I came to a FULL STOP way before reaching the crosswalk but then I realized he wasn't going to be able to handle the truth so I asked him what he wanted. He said for me to drive more carefully (not in such nice words) and I calmly said "Fine, I will." as he stormed off. The kids were very upset that he spoke to me the way he did and they couldn't understand why he was yelling when I hadn't done anything wrong. They got even more upset as they recalled that he hadn't been doing the safe thing in letting his daughter cross without holding his hand. AHA! There it was! He got scared!
I asked them to speculate on why he would get angry at me when I didn't do anything wrong. They got it. He was the one who did something wrong but he put the blame on me. Why would he do that? Corazon said "because he got scared when he saw that he had done something unsafe."  It was a perfect opportunity for them to connect to their own experiences. Corazon got it. She quickly recounted times when she does something wrong and then tries to deflect blame on others and even finds herself feeling anger toward others. Tortuga had a harder time making the connection but he did speculate that the man might be embarrassed by his own mistake. I was so pleased to hear them make these connections to their own behaviors.

Immediately on the heels of this experience (as in a few minutes later) we had an "incident" in the car.  I had gotten out with Corazon to get Pollito and left my niece, Milagro and Tortuga in the car. (I cannot leave Corazon AND Tortuga in the car.) In the few minutes we were gone (about 5-6) in which Tortuga (accidentally) scratched my niece on her chest leaving a pretty obvious mark. I got really angry when  I discovered what he had done. They (Corazon and my niece) didn't tell me until we were home and to his credit he did not deny it. But he did try to blame it on her (she wouldn't do what he told her) and then on me (I let her do more than him). Tortuga was 100% wrong in everything he did and he just couldn't/wouldn't "get it." He was quite self-righteous in his defense of why he did what he did (which was to yell at her and grab her but in the process he scratched her chest) and HIS belief that she was doing something she wasn't supposed to do (she wasn't) and that it was HIS RIGHT (his word) to stop her. After unpacking the incident and his responses he was able to acknowledge that he was feeling jealous that my niece could have more responsibility in the car and frustrated that he couldn't engage her in playing around with him so he resorted to trying to control her actions and bully her. He got angry when I told him he would need to apologize to her but he was quickly able to acknowledge that he did not want to apologize to her because he was embarrassed. We had to sort out that the embarrassment should be about doing what he did and not about having to make restitution and apologize. I think he is starting to get that. Even though this was a pretty serious issue I was really impressed with his ability to identify some pretty important feelings underneath the anger AND he was able to have this conversation pretty soon after being confronted without losing his cool.  Hard work but definitely seeing some important steps in the right direction.

Side note: Someone asked me about what meds he is on. Right now he isn't on any meds (I am not completely opposed to them but have taken a "no meds right now" stance.) He does take fish oil and niacin supplements, a multivitamin, and a small dose of melatonin to help him with sleep issues and nightime fears.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Signs of progress

Since our "intervention" with Tortuga we are seeing glimmers of progress. He is really TRYING to do better. I have caught him stopping himself from making faces and doing mean things. When it does happen the other kids are really good about telling on him and we stop everything to help him make it right. He gets really mad sometimes about being made to thank them and apologize BUT he hasn't let the anger get the best of him except for once. We also had a different kind of breakthrough with him recently. He has a very, very hard time whenever someone else is having fun or getting attention or getting presents. We have usually managed this during birthdays by having the birthday person get presents for the rest of the kids. This usually helps all of them get through the event itself a little better BUT it doesn't eliminate his jealousy. He ALWAYS  has some kind of meltdown or issue that draws attention to him whenever we are focusing attention on someone else. We celebrated Corazon's homecoming day (5 years ago) last week and did alot of prep with him. We always give him the option of opting out if something is going to be too hard. He wanted to participate and he planned to make a card. At the last minute he decided he wasn't going to make a card and I started to get a little worried. Our anniversary celebrations are usually "low-key." I do something special that is just between us and they like to keep to themselves. They get to pick out a special dessert and I get a small gift from the family. Usually these are themed and everyone gets a variation on the same gift since all 3 older kids have homecoming anniversaries very close together (Tortuga's is this week.) We had our special dessert and as we were winding down I pulled out Corazon's gift. This year's gift is a personalized pencil bag and a dozen pencils with their full names on them. Their bags/pencils are different so the "surprise" is with the color/style. Milagro asked for her gift and since she isn't adopted like the other kids (well actually she is adopted but that was strictly a legal necessity when we moved here) she doesn't have an anniversary. We get her the same gift and call it a half-birthday present since she will have that near the end of this month. That was the impetus for Tortuga's meltdown. He was upset because she got a gift and "it wasn't even her anniversary." Forget that he is almost 11 and she is 2! But, there was good news! His meltdown consisted strictly of tears. No screaming, mean words, faces, slamming things, etc. As soon as I noticed I leaned in close to him (he was sitting next to me at the table) and asked him why he was crying. He said "because I am jealous!" Yay!!!!! He didn't say "mad" which would have been his usually word. We have been working hard on naming feelings (sadness, disappointment and jealousy are our current ones) and separting them from anger and HE DID IT! That was huge for him. I praised him for recognizing it and reminded him his anniversary was coming up, etc. He did cry for quite a while and we tried to wrap up quickly and sent the kids off to do their nighttime routines. He did try to move to an "angry" place but we were able to diffuse it and call attention to his "need" to do this when he has had a good day. All in all it was as good as it could be and it was great to see some serious signs of progress.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

It's the little things

Milagro is growing so very, very fast. Maybe because I am with her all day I get to see it but I don't actually see it until it almost slaps me in the face. We are at a point in her language development where she only has to hear a word or phrased used once and she has to try it on for size. Sometimes I don't even notice it because I am not paying attention or I still think of her as this little baby which at almost 2 1/2 she isn't anymore!

A couple of days ago we were driving downtown where the roads are sometimes on small hills. She saw a bus and exclaimed "Mom! That bus is tipped over! And that one is tipped over too!"

Today Milagro looked at my shoes and said "Mom, your shoes are brand new!"

When we were getting ready for bed tonight Milagro said "I need to brush my teeth mom." I told her she would be fine until morning to which she replied "Mom! That's not nice! My teeth are dirty and I need to brush my teeth!"

Yesterday at Pollito's school pick-up time she yawned. Then she said "Mom. I think I need more sleep!"

Her other insight for yesterday was the following: "Guess what mom?  I blow my nose. I get the boogers out. I feel better, mom!"
Milagro: I made something.
Me: What?
Milagro: A picture. Look.  ...   I drawed it.
Me: What is it?
Milagro: Mommmmmm! I already told you! It's a picture!
Me:  Oh.

On Tuesday we had to take her to the doctor who suspected she might have a hairline fracture in her foot. She couldn't put any weight on her left foot without screaming in pain but there was no swelling or bruising. We waited for a long time but she finally got her foot x-rayed. C. took her in and when she came back to me she said "Mom! I saw my bones!  My bones are pretty!"

 The picture above? Those are the newest additions to her treasure box. From the time she was 11 months old C. tried to take her on a daily walk to explore the neighborhood and pretty much since that time she has brought me something back. Usually it was a flower or a pebble. Lately she goes out on her own and explores the backyard but she still brings me something back EVERY single time. This is what she brought back to me on her latest walk.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

5 years ago...February 3 (a little late)

Five years ago today Corazon joined our family. For all my years of foster parenting and experiences with all kinds of children I had NO idea how much my life would be turned upside down and right-side up by her arrival. We met on January 25 and 8 days later she moved in at the age of 4 1/2. My life has never been the same!

Corazon is a precious and wonderful soul--generous, kind, stubborn, intelligent, engaging, charming, easily frustrated, funny, athletic, thoughtful and loving. She has had elements of all this from the moment we met but she has had a bitter struggle with issues of trust, trauma and RAD. It has been a difficult battle but she is so much closer to being the amazing person I know she has been destined to become.

This year has marked tremendous progress for her. Her good days consistently outnumber her "bad" days. She still struggles with trust, control, hypervigilance, lying, sneaking and stealing but the last three happen mostly when she is feeling unsafe or vulnerable. Yet she is also very attached to me and shows genuine care and feeling. Her moods are much more stable, rages are non-existent, and meltdowns are few and far between now. This is a big deal for her because 3 years ago we still had regular rages and almost daily meltdowns! There are still days when she cannot get it "together" no matter what and she will spiral downward without any way of bringing her back up. Most days, redirection helps her get back on track. But most importantly, she can TALK about it. It's funny to think that a mom can feel "proud" when her child feels embarrassment, hurt, sadness and just plain disappointment, but I do feel proud of her at these moments. These are feelings she has had a hard time feeling and naming and perhaps most importantly these are feelings that used to manifest as anger and rage and were completely debilitating. Now, we can usually process them and move on without it ruining both our days.

Corazon loves reading and books ... reading and books... reading and books and oh yes, gymnastics. She will read ANYTHING and EVERYTHING but her favorites are still biographies and historical fiction. She also loves mysteries--Nancy Drew, Goosebumps and Hardy Boys-- plus anything by Lois Lowry, Jerri Spinelli, Andrew Clements, Pam Munoz Ryan, Wendelin Van Draanen, Erin Hunter, Jean Craighead George, and Christopher Paul Curtis. A trip to the bookstore or library is like Christmas morning for her. Her eyes light up and her brain starts racing. She begs for more and more books and is grateful for every book she gets. She is easily lost in her books and will read and re-read them countless times! Corazon's excitement about learning is contagious. Dozens of times each day I am "interrupted" by her need to share something she has learned or to ask a question about something she has read. She absorbs information quickly and will recall it at the drop of a hat. She is currently carrying on a love affair with fractions. She loves everything about them--equivalent fractions, dividing fractions, mixed numbers, etc. A few nights ago she had about 45 minutes before bedtime and she asked me to give her some math problems with fractions. I asked her if she was feeling ok and she said "MOM! I love fractions!"

She loves her little sister Milagro and if given a choice would probably be torn between playing with Milagro and reading. They can play together for hours and engage in conversations that only the two of them can follow. Whenever she hears Milagro express even the smallest need, Corazon is there to try and meet it. There is a gentleness and a genuineness in her manner with Milagro that just melts my heart. Milagro loves Corazon back. There are days when I have an unconsolable toddler because we just dropped Corazon off at the gym and Corazon "forgot" to hug Milagro goodbye! She currently "tolerates" her brothers who do much to drive her nuts. Despite the fact that her older brother is usually mean and rude to her she works so hard to help him and include him with tremendous patience and kindness.

Corazon still loves her heart pillows (she gets one each year) and this year reminded me countless times to make sure I wouldn't forget it was the first present I ever got her. She loves playing with her stuffed animals and baby dolls, board games, horses, drawing, writing, making cards for people, activity books, country music, her bike, scooter and skateboard, being outdoors, most sports, the Dallas Cowboys and New Engalnd Patriots, her MP3 player and Amelia Earhart. She can entertain herself for hours and has developed a silly side. She is most serious about her gymnastics and still emerges from the gym after a 3 1/2 hour workout looking energized, relaxed, and happier than ever! She recently started taking trumpet lessons and after 7 sessions her teacher told me she now knows 20 notes which apparently is a big deal for a beginner. She now wants to try volleyball and tennis and told me yesterday she wants to start collecting stamps.

It is hard to remember the kid who didn't really know how to play with toys without destroying them and trying a new sport/lesson/activity usually meant doing something unsafe, harmself or minimally attention-getting. She could join a team or class and not know anyone's names but could tell you much about the teacher/coach's business because her total and complete focus was on the adults. It is wonderful to hug her now because she just melts against me. We can now spend time in the same room doing "quiet" activities independently without her constantly needing to get my attention. I treasure our nights just before bed when everyone has headed off to bed and we "close down" the house for the night. She seems most calm and at peace when we are together and she has become my best "helper" around the house. There are honestly days when I could not get through as easily without her help. There are times she walks up to me and just touches my arm or kisses my hand and the look on her face is full of love. I trust that she really means it when says she missed me and doesn't want to go to the gym because she would rather spend time with me. All the drama and trauma we have been through these past 5 years seems so worth it when she crawls into my lap or cuddles next to me on the couch and I know that there is nowhere she would rather be. All the work we have done and all the pain we have experienced have brought us to where we are today and I completely believe her when she says "I love you more than anything, Mom" or "You're the best mom in the whole world!" How did I get to be so lucky?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Corazon tidbits

A few weeks ago we had another series of "episodes" in which Corazon decided to deface our furniture. She has carved things into some of our wooden furniture in the past and has written on all kinds of surfaces over time. We finally got her this writing table to use for her work and periodically have her clean it. She takes great pride and ownership of this surface and is known to spend a good deal of time pretending to not know how to do her work while at the same time doing it correctly on her table (think multiplication.) Anyway, the other day she wrote all over the dining room table as a way of showing us that she shouldn't be trusted to work there yet. My mistake. I didn't say anything about it but a few days letter I took some sharpies and wrote all over her work table. At first she insisted it was because the anniversary of her joining the family was coming up. I told her she was right. But she KNEW there was more to it and couldn't figure out how to confront me without fessing up to writing on the dining table (where she asks to work at but then defaces). After two full days she just came up to me and said "Mom I need to know WHY you wrote on my table!" She wouldn't accept my answer of "because I love you." So she finally came right out and said "MOM! I know why you wrote on my table. It is because I wrote on the dining table and you want me to know that you still love me!" I smiled but didn't say anything. Then she started writing in all the white spaces and when I didn't say anything she said "I am writing on my desk mom. Do you know why? Because it gets tiring to read all this love stuff!"  Hmmmmmm.

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