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.


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."

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Vacation going well so far...

We have been having a really wonderful time on vacation and the kids are doing pretty well. C.'s parents joined us for part of the time and my sister and niece spent 10 days with us. That gave us a great excuse for spending as much time on or near the water as possible. We all MISS the ocean so we are trying to store up as much water time as we can. The kids do very well on boats and in fact I was noticing how relaxed they all are whenever we board one. I don't know if it is the water that has a calming effect or the fact that we are all together and they know exactly where we all are (no more than 5 or 6 feet away) at all times. I am trying to get a post written about how the younger two are doing on this trip but I just haven't had enough quiet (and alone) time. For now the pictures will have to do!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Will it be bad for the boys?

"Will it be bad for the boys to see me?" This is what Tortuga and Pollito's mother asked me on the phone this week as I was trying to schedule a time to see her. She told me her "counselor" told her she shouldn't be selfish and ask to see the boys because it "could be really bad for them." My heart ached as I reassured her that she should see the boys and that it would not "be bad" for them. I tried  to explain that in some ways it might be painful for them (as she acknowledges that it is for her) but that nothing could change the fact that she is their mother and that they are connected to her and NEED to have contact especially as they work through their understanding of who they are and where they have been. We firmly believe this is true for all of them and we want them to grow up knowing that we acknowledge and recognize  not only the good things about adoption but also the range of feelings and conflict and pain and trauma that adoption also brings.

One of the main reasons we take this trip East each summer is to give the children a chance to visit with their family members (birth) and to continue to help them "integrate" the many parts of their life story. Our two oldest have a general "out of sight, out of mind" tendency and until this past year Corazon would immediately "forget" everyone's name no matter how long she had known them. The trips to Massachusetts help her "remember" and also allow her to gain perspective and revisit some old experiences from a healthier place so she can let go of so much of the "junk" that clutters her perspective of herself. Tortuga has a poor memory to begin with and his perceptions of reality (good and bad) often work against his being grounded in reality. It can get pretty bad because he firmly believes that if he thinks something it must be true and we have to work hard with him to help him sift through what we call the "stories" in his head. Returning allows him to articulate his thoughts and perceptions so that he may work through some of his stuff. Without a doubt being back here brings back old feelings and memories that are both positive and negative so we anticipate that it may be difficult and painful (for all of us) and we prepare as best we can for that. We also strongly believe it is exactly what they need as they continue this process of healing from their PTSD and attaching to us in a healthy way.

As we approached Boston this summer I noticed a visible change in each of the older kids. Corazon's anxiety increased visibly and she got more and more clingy with me. When I tried asking her what was going on, what she was thinking or feeling, etc. I was met with a blank stare and a muttered "nothing." I started talking to her about what I thought might be going on and was normal. She finally opened up a little to say she got a "funny feeling" in her stomach like excitement and happiness but also like she feels at a gymnastics competition. She couldn't put any other thoughts or explanations to the feelings she was experiencing  but it reminded me of how much our bodies can hold memory even if we have no conscious recollection of the memory. We  have started each morning with tapping and rubbing about feelings and her being a "good kid" because I think her strongest feelings are those of being "bad" and "unloveable" which she used to articulate as a four and five year old but doesn't consciously recall these days. The tapping and rubbing are helping her tremendously and have kept her from getting too dysregulated thus far.  We will visit with her mother, brother, and sister (plus niece and nephew) AND most importantly her aunt, who I think was  the strongest attachment figure she had as a younger child. I think this is the person she misses and the one who she feels the most abandoned by. For the first time ever Corazon has come up with questions she has for her family (she tends to pretend she has no interest) and she has expressed a desire to see her 15 year old brother who lives in an RTC.

Tortuga is more challenging and complex. He has romantized all of his experiences in Boston and with his birth mother. In his mind she was the best at everything, gave him everything he wanted, cooked the most amazing meals, played with him all the time, and each fun experience he has with us is not quite as good as the SAME fun experience with her. While these are natural coping strategies for him and stem from the love and attachment he has for her they really complicate his life. These feelings don't allow him to fully engage in the life he has now and he is always comparing it to the romantized one and it falls short. We are working on that in order to help him separate fact from fiction but more importantly so he can give himself permission to love us and not feel like he is betraying her and his love for her in some way. We are working on that. What is worse is that when we do see her he is confronted with a reality that is hard. She doesn't usually look well and he is starting to see some of her challenges which he cannot reconcile yet with the way he wants to think of her. This usually brings us all kinds of feelings (and behaviors) so this year we have been trying to name these ahead of time as the opportunity comes up. So we will see his mother early next week and go from there.  For Pollito this is more complicated and I think I have to write about that separately because he is in a very different place from Tortuga. Pollito also has to deal with Tortuga's overt attempts to influence his thinking about their adoption in ways that Pollito isn't ready to do or doesn't feel. I will have to come back to that later.

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