Monday, December 5, 2011

Happy December...

December already! This is usually one of my favorite times of the year but I have started it with a really bad cold and a root canal that I cannot go back and complete until this cold is gone. One good thing we managed to do before I got sick was get our Christmas tree. I even put the lights on it during one of my more lucid moments with this cold. The kids are over to top with excitement about the upcoming holidays, making Christmas lists and gifts (this year all their family gifts have to be "made"), and getting immersed in our advent calendar tradition. We started this a few years ago and they just love it. Each day we pull a slip of paper from our calendar that tells us what we will do that day "eat dinner by candlelight and listen to Christmas music" or "do two good deeds "secretly" for the same member of your family." They just love doing this. Of course, this cold has sent me scrambling to change some of those slips of paper when it involves something a little more high maintenance than what I am up for.

Overall the kids are doing pretty well given the changes in routine and the visitors coming and going. Right now Corazon is the one having the hardest time or maybe I am having the hardest time with her. Most of her issues seem to be what others would classify as "normal preteen behaviors" but there is still enough "hint of RAD" to be truly annoying. Lots of drama, attitude, rudeness, and opposition. She starts pretty much every sentence with "no" and her tone of voice is obnoxious at best, mean at worst. This is particularly apparent in her interactions with her two younger siblings. It has been especially bad with Pollito so she is no longer allowed to say his name. She must call him and refer to him as "my wonderful little brother" and each time she fails to remember to do so she must either put a nickel in his piggy bank or give him one of her belongings. Since we started this a few days ago she has managed to only lose 20 cents and one bookmark. Her tone with me is even worse. So bad in fact that I have declared days when I am not speaking to her at all because I refuse to use her tone back with her and no matter how much I have tried to diffuse the attitude or tone by ignoring it, calmly discussing it, or joking about it she hasn't been able to snap out of it. She absolutely hates for me to not speak to her so that seems to help at times but her behavior is nowhere near under control and more importantly it is driving me nuts because I just don't want to be around her much (and neither does anyone else.)

I think she is also struggling because she is having many more "normal" days and when she actually realizes this it seems to terrify her and she quickly has to dive back into her RAD behaviors. That said, it is a bit comical because her "heart" isn't really into it anymore. The other day I sent her to tap because she was behaving in a totally disregulated way. She went outside and I could hear her trying to work herself up. Then all of a sudden she stopped and her whole demeanor changed and she did her tapping. When she came back inside she said "Mom, I noticed something when I went to tap."

I asked her what it was and she said "I didn't want to tap and I was really mad and I was stomping my feel and just standing there and then I thought about that sign you put up in the window (long story) and I said to myself 'What ARE YOU DOING? This is so DUMB. You are just wasting energy and missing out on stuff when you know tapping will help you." I asked her what happened next and she said she just did her tapping and everything was better. Imagine that! She said this with such an incredulous look on her face I almost laughed (but I didn't. At least not until she was out of earshot.)

On another note, I am so grateful to Lindsay Mama to Nine for suggesting the journal idea for Tortuga. He is really into writing and has taken that idea to heart. Since I gave him the journal he has written a couple of entries to his birth mom and he is so happy to have that outlet. I don't know if that will be the case for long but for now it seems to be helping.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Where did November go?

Every month I have these wonderful intentions to write more so that I can reflect back on what is happening before I forget. Clearly I didn't get to write much this month. It has been busy and hectic and mostly really good. We had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend. My mom and my brother and niece came to town as did C.'s parents so we celebrated the weekend with everyone here. It has been 20 years since I spent a Thanksgiving with all my siblings and my mom so that was pretty special. Generally speaking we get along well so being together was easy and comfortable and our children got along well despite their age ranges (4-16.) My 16 year old niece was wonderful with Milagro and Milagro found a new "best cousin" in her. The weekend was spent eating too much turkey, hanging out, watching football, playing board games and spending time with good friends. Even my mom seemed to mellow out a little more with all of her children together in one place. Of course we took advantage of having company to try out new places around here and we discovered a pretty awesome barbecue place that we went to on our last night together this year.

I am still in awe of how awesome my children are. Milagro is growing by leaps and bounds. About a month and a half ago she decided she really needed to learn to write her name. She is 4 years, 2 months old and doesn't go to any type of school so we haven't pushed her to do much in terms of academics. Within a week she was not only writing her full name but had pinned down the names of her siblings (with a little assistance) and a few important phrases "I love you" and "Please don't leave." She writes all the time (for fun) and she asks to spell everything.  She is also thriving in her new one day a week morning program. She gets to be around kids her age, dance, play and do art activities that she enjoys. Plus she is in love with her teacher. Last night as we reminded her she needed to get to sleep so she could get up in time for class she said "Oh yeah, I love Ms. M. I really care about her!" And that she does.

Pollito continues to make progress in his reading and math. Until a few weeks ago he could not recognize or write his numbers past 15. All of a sudden something has clicked and he is regularly recognizing, counting and writing his numbers to 100. He is also making connections between numbers in one setting and those in another.  Until recently this was something that totally escaped him. He could see the number 22 on the calendar and write it but then when asked to write the number a few minutes later he acted like he had never heard of the number 22. He also seems to be making strides in sounding out words. It is still very difficult for him but it is getting better. He still loves books, stories and going to the library and I am optimistic that he will get where he needs to in the near future.

Corazon held it together pretty well all weekend and was an AWESOME helper as we readied the house for guest. She helped set up her room for her grandparents since we had both mine and C.'s parents staying with us and she gladly moved into Milagro's room for the week. She even helped with much of the Thanksgiving meal prep which she usually cannot do because her excitement and anxiety make it impossible to count on her to be truly helpful.  Except for a few small bumps she was absolutely wonderful.

Tortuga did well also. This was our best Thanksgiving yet with him. He took to heart our "thankful tree" activities all month and wrote some heartfelt gratitudes. I had originally planned on throwing the tree away once we done but they are so attached to it I think I will bring it out next year so they have a chance to reflect on what they wrote about this past year.

Tortuga is clearly struggling but more importantly he is working hard to keep it together and not get mad when we redirect him or ask him to use his tools and strategies for calming down. He still struggled with transitions from family time to alone time but all in all he did really well.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What to do...

Tortuga has had a mixed week. Two days of really dysregulated behavior that involved him spending a good deal of time away from us because he just couldn't hold it together. I think it is a combination of more sugar, more "fun times" (Halloween and a block party), and the beginning of his "traumaversary" time (which will go through February). I think there is something else going on that I just don't know how to deal with yet.

We have a decent relationship with his birth mother. By "decent" I mean that we get along very well, we communicate well, we are open about why the boys don't live with her, and I think she trusts us. That said we don't hear from her regularly and her contact information changes often. When we schedule meetings with her she will often not show up without letting us know. She has multiple challenges that complicate her life and her desire to see the boys and we try to respect that. This summer we tried and tried to see her and she wasn't available and then her phone was disconnected.  We told Tortuga that we were trying to see her and he was adamant that he did NOT want to see her. This is a regular part of his process. He misses her, thinks about her, wants to see her, doesn't want to see her, and when we do see her he is anxious to not be there. When we didn't get to see her he seemed relieved and expressed this relief in both verbal and behavioral ways.

Once we returned from MA he asked if I had spoken to her and I mentioned that I still couldn't reach her. He said he didn't want to know if I talked to her unless it was "bad" news. I explained that he could choose to hear or not to hear and I would respect that BUT he couldn't be selective about what he heard because it left too much room for the imagination. We have had episodes of "you didn't tell me you talked to her" when in fact we always tell him. (She does not always wish to speak with him or his brother but she always sends her regards.)  I reminded him that he could choose to hear or not to hear. He chose to hear if we spoke to her and he wasn't sure if he did or didn't want to talk with her. I noted we would cross that bridge when the call came. In the meantime I have tried to find out what is going on. A friend has tried all her last known addresses and I have her former social worker trying to track down whether she has received any services that might allow us to get a message to her. I am concerned about her and hope she is well but I also know this is a typical pattern so I am trying not to be overly worried.

In the meantime, Tortuga is thinking about her and I know it. He will not admit that he is thinking about her which is fine. What isn't fine is that he has a tendency to tell himself "stories" in his head when something is on his mind and reality and fiction blur quickly for him. So this has resulted in his accusations to me that I am keeping him from talking to her and/or withholding information about her because it is "not good." I know this is his fear. I have tried to create room for him to express this and once in a while he does. Right now though, he is just lashing out at us and we have to "talk him down" from that place where he believes the fiction in his head rather than the reality. Any ideas?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

It begins...

Most of Tortuga's "trauma" times (moves from birth mom, moves to foster homes, move to RTC, move to our home, etc.) took place between October 30 and February 20. This is our hell time with him. Each and every year it is as if a switch has been flipped as October 30 rolls around and his behavior starts to spiral downward. He will become easily dysregulated and angry and aggressive and violent. Bad times all the way around.  This year, we have been trying to prepare for it a little differently. We started talking about it in August and we started to call attention to the behaviors and feelings that often emerge around this time of year. We also pointed out that we are going to be extra sensitive and extra vigilant to try and address these as soon as they arise. We have reintroduced tapping and practicing patience and alone time under his weighted blanket in anticipation of all of this. Each week I plan on introducing a new guided imagery and a new set of journal prompts to help us all get through the process and document it for him.

Today, as if on cue, his dysregulation was palatable from the moment he got up. He was agitated and "off" throughout the day BUT he held it together for the most part.  We have started a "chart" in which he will track each time he finds himself feeling "off" or doing something he should. We have made it a "family project" to help him through this time without letting him blow it for the rest of the family. In previous years we have cancelled many activities because he couldn't handle it but we aren't going to do this this year and he will be writing about each of these in his journal. So far, he seems "on board" with the idea and I think it is helping him feel a little more in control. I don't know if it will help but it may give us some insights as we move forward.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Puberty and RAD

Puberty and RAD. Any advice out there?

Please don't say "run for cover!"

That's not working.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I am listening to you dear boy...

I hate that it's sometimes so easy to miss things that are right in front of my face. For a long time now Pollito has been telling me (not in so many words) that he needs to be near me and closely supervised. I ignored it and just refused to listen. So he screamed louder and louder with behaviors that were worsening by the minute.

Last week I (finally) put my foot down after the umpteenth time of his willfully destroying something.  I told him I heard him! I heard that he didn't want to play in the play area unsupervised. I heard that he didn't want to play outside unsupervised. I heard that he didn't want/know how to be nice to younger children if he wasn't supervised. I heard that if he was told to be mindful of something, it was an invitation that he break it, damage it, destroy it,  or get it stuck in something. I heard that he needed to be near me at all times.

Then I took away "everything." Playing outside with the toys. Playing inside with the toys. Playing with the other children. For a week. It doesn't matter what he did or if the offenses meet the "punishment." (They do and they don't. ) It matters that I took advantage of an opportunity to make his world a little smaller (which I actually didn't think was possible) and take away the anxiety that all those choices, all that responsibility, all that "choice" creates for this little boy.

It has been a week (and he asked for me to extend it until this weekend by telling me that if I let him play in the play area he was going to break something of Milagro's) and he has had the BEST WEEK EVER in homeschooling. He has finally learned his numbers up to 35 and can write them accurately without looking. He remembers how to write his first AND last name. His handwriting has improved. His drawing and coloring are absolutely breath-taking. His decoding includes actually remembering consonant blends--th, sh, ch, bl, st, etc. and the sounds that oo, ou, ow, aw, au, and ing make. When he sits with his books to "read" he actually tries to sound out the words and remembers most of the words he knows.  When he plays on his mat with a few choice toys he mostly plays with them appropriately. His voice stays in the normal range for volume AND we actually understand his speech a whole lot better.  Most importantly, he seems happier. Yes, we still get the defiance and the opposition. Yes, he still tries to do the opposite of what he is asked. Yes, he still pouts and cries when there's a big transition (like bedtime) but it is so much better. And he is genuinely smiling more often.  Today he happily did  Corazon's chores because she isn't doing so well and he smiled all day long.

He was letting me know that he needed ME. I have resisted this with all of my being because he doesn't have RAD. Yes, he has some attachment issues and probably some form of ODD coupled with language development challenges. But since my other two with RAD need CONSTANT supervision and monitoring, I had let this go on for way too long. So now we are making his world a whole lot smaller and we are making gains quickly and steadily.

I hate it when I don't listen to what my kids are really saying.

Lesson learned.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Musings by Milagro

Milagro is obsessed with all things Sc**by D**. She, Pollito and our 4 year old neighbor can play for hours making up and solving Scooby and the gang mysteries. She is also a chatterbox. Sometimes this makes for an interesting combination.

 This morning she came downstairs and announced that we had a new mystery to solve because the ghost on the zip line (one of our Halloween decorations) was going off "more than usual." I hadn't noticed. She came over to hug me good morning and continued.  Her theory was that "onalarity" was happening. Having no idea what she was talking about I asked her what that meant. She announced "ON-A-LAR-ITY!" Still unsure about what she was saying I asked her to explain. "Onalarity means that one ghost is controlling another ghost, even if one ghost is real and the other is pretend like ours on the zip line!", she said.  I asked her where she got this word and she said she made it up. ("I always make up words mom, I am smart like that!")

Then she announced "Mom, our house has a lot of mysteries."
"It does?", I asked.
"Yes, mom. LOTS of mysteries. First there's the mystery of where Grandma Ginny is up in the sky." (C.'s grandmother just passsed away last week.)
"Then, there's the mystery of why my closet door doesn't close all the way when we slam it shut.", she continued.
"And, there's the mystery of where is my wallet."
"And, now there's the mystery of "onalarity" and the zip line ghost." she concluded.

After a short silence, she asked "which mystery do you want to talk about first--closet, ghost, Grandma Ginny or wallet? Come sit next to me so we can have our talk." as she patted the seat right next to her on the couch.

All this before my morning coffee.

Friday, September 23, 2011

More on feelings

I continue to work to remind myself about the ways my son experiences his world. I am pretty aware of how we experience him and when we are in the midst of dealing with one of his huge outbursts I can lose sight of what he must feel everyday. Last time I wrote about this I was focused on hurt, hurting, angry and scared. I think those are the "biggies"  for him but I think there are a few other things also going on for him and other children who have experienced trauma.

For both my children who have RAD I think one of the states they are often in and/or feelings they experience are of being completely out of control. This stems out of constantly being in survival mode and so many things trigger them all day long that not only are they constantly in the throws of PTSD but they have no control over their reactions and feelings and often times can't even figured out the what or why behind their responses. They are in a constant state of reacting to whatever is triggering them and sometimes everything else goes out the window.

Many, many years ago my 3 year old niece was killed in a freak car-train accident and my brother was driving the car. He walked away with a few scratches and she lay in a hospital bed for a couple of weeks fighting for her life. When she died my brother was out of control in all areas of his life. He couldn't function in any area of his life-work, marriage, etc. which was perfectly understandable. Not only was he wracked with grief but he also suffered from a severe case of survivor's guilt and he relived the experience over and over again-in his waking hours and while he slept. During that time I spent hours talking to him about nothing and everything until he would pass out on the living room couch. Sometimes I would watch him sleep or I'd wake up to his screams in the middle of the night. It was awful to see/hear his pain, fear, hurt, and helplessness and over time we were able to talk about what was going on for him and get him the help he needed. Whenever something brought up these feelings he was usually able to pinpoint why something triggered him and try to work through it. My brother was a relatively well-adjusted, healthy adult when this incredibly traumatic experience happened. My son was/is not and his trauma doesn't have the "story" behind it that can help him and/us identify the triggers and possible avenues to work through them in the same way.

Something that compounds things for Tortuga is that for so long he was medicated for all kinds of things. Starting at about age 4 he had meds to calm him down, put him to sleep, reduce his aggression, and even get him going. At a time when many so-called normal kids are just learning to distinguish between some pretty big feelings-frustration, sadness, disappointment, anger, anxiety, etc.-my son's ability to even have these feelings was ...dulled-for lack of a better word. It is no wonder to me that he learned to express anger and rage and nothing else. He didn't have many of the more traditional ways and guidance of learning about these very big and overwhelming feelings. We have spent years working on distinguishing how disappointment feels as opposed to anger; how frustration and anxiety are similar, yet different, etc. etc. It is hard work for him and it takes time for the "lessons" to sink in when he is used to following a different "path" in how he responds to whatever brings up these feeling for him.

When he cannot figure out what the feeling he is having is, he would quickly spiral downward and out of control and meltdown or rages. I think the emotions are so huge and so raw and so overwhelming that he gets lost in them so quickly. When he gets this way he cannot see past those overwhelming feelings and so he just has to give in. Of course, once the dam is released it all comes pouring out until he exhausts himself which takes a really long time because not only does he need the release but there is something that is oh-so-powerful in expressing those primal feelings.  Sometimes this is the only time he feels "in control." He is now at a point where he recognized that this has happened so when we talk about it afterward he kind of smiles because he realizes that we have "caught on" to what is going on and he can recognize it too. We are working on helping him recognize what is happening before he loses control rather than after the fact. But it is HARD work and we don't always succeed.

I have to remember that he is trying and he is working hard and it doesn't always go the right way and it doesn't always end well but he. is. trying. He is also exhausted and for us it means we have to make his world really, really, small and very predictable and very routine (sometimes boring could be substituted here) and very structured with lots of "time out" thrown in.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

RAD still lives here...

After a summer of fun, back-to-back birthday celebrations, down-time with family, etc., there is ALWAYS fall out. Actually "fall-out" doesn't begin to describe what our last three weeks have been like. While both older kids did better before and during the celebrations, their feelings of jealousy and need to prove to themselves that they don't "deserve" to have this much fun made for some very rocky times.

Tortuga has packed his backpack and planned to run away, has verbally assaulted his younger brother when he thinks we aren't listening, has refused to do his schoolwork correctly, has been rude, disrespectful, testing boundaries, BUT he has not raged, threatened to kill us, drawn pictures of mutilated bodies. He hasn't even had a meltdown.  Progress I think.

It has been almost 4 years since we adopted him and in that time he has made progress. Lots of it. It has been hard for him, for us, and for the rest of the kids. When I let myself think about it too much I feel guilty that our other children have had to live with so much of what they have had to live with in our own home. Yet, I also think about where my son has been and how hard all this has been for/on him. Each time I think I cannot do "this" any longer I think about what he has had to do and how much longer he has had to do it. Then everything comes back into perspective. Yes, it's not fair-to any of us-to have to put up with all that we put up with but we are family. We are on this journey together and family does what family needs to do to make it work.

I try to remember that my son is hurt and hurting. He carries the impact of the harm that was done to him in utero and in those early formative years. He has the cognitive and learning scars of this harm and he carries the emotional and developmental scars as well. But mostly he carries the hurt. The incredible hurt and pain of losing his birth mom who despite his intellectual understanding of what happened he still loves with all his might in the way that a five year old loves their mother and wishes for their mother and idolizes their mother. It's visceral and primal and so very real despite everything he knows and understands about why he cannot (and often does not want to) live with her. I cannot even imagine what it must feel like to walk around with that hurt every single day.

I try to remember that my son is scared. He has learned the the world is a scary place full of scary things real and imagined. Years of watching late night horror flicks (think Chucky, Freddie and Michael My*ers), being left alone for days with only these movies for company, being locked out of his home, wandering out into busy city streets in the middle of the night, have all taught him that the world in not safe. He hasn't had years to learn to trust and believe that someone will be there to protect him from this. He has learned to trust only his own ability to keep himself safe (and he doesn't feel all that confident about this either.) Add to it the constant moves to new homes, new people, new schools, new caregivers, social workers, and foster parents, he learned to always be afraid. No wonder he is hyper-vigilant, constantly on edge, lashing out first, always tense, always ready to fight. Danger is possibly at every turn and despite the fact that I think he should know by now that we are keeping him safe and aren't going to let harm come his way he doesn't yet KNOW that for sure. His guard isn't completely down yet and who knows how long it will be before he can truly believe we are going to keep him safe. He may never do so but it doesn't mean we can stop trying.

I try to remember that my son is angry and he has good reason to be angry. Sure his anger is misdirected but who else is he supposed to be angry at? I am here and right in front of him every day. It's much easier to be angry at me than at all the other not-so-tangible people and reasons that he has a right to be angry about. The thing is he probably doesn't even really know what is angry about. Sometimes I see that his anger is at himself --for being "bad, " for trusting, for caring, for trying, for not trying, for making mistakes, for doing things wrong, for doing them "right" and it not making a difference, for loving and not being loved in return, for caring, for destroying things, for wanting to destroy things, etc. He has so many reasons to be angry and he has seen first hand that when someone is angry they hurt and destroy so that is what he does. He directs this anger at us, our family, his things, but mostly at himself. My job is, and has been, to help him channel his anger. To honor his right to be angry but to teach him how to not let his anger destroy him or those he cares about.

Each of my children have a "treasure" box in which they keep special tokens and reminders of things that are important and irreplaceable. For Tortuga one of the things in his treasure box is a plastic ziplock bag with all the pieces of the cards we gave him and friends and family gave him when he first came to our family. They used to hang on his bulletin board but in a rage one day 3 years ago he tore them to little bits. I picked them up and saved them in a bag with a note reminding him of what they were and how they got damaged. For a long time he wanted to throw it away so I kept it. Then he wanted to tape them back together but I wouldn't let him. Recently we put them back in his treasure box and he said he thought he understood why I wouldn't let him tape them back together. He said "because it is there to remind me of what I did and what I never want to do again." When I asked him what he meant he said that he thought that whatever he did never mattered. When he sees that bag he remembers that it matters to us and to him because he regrets it. He says it reminds him that he never wants to destroy something that irreplaceable ever again.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Milagro is a child who knows her own mind. She knows what she wants and what she likes. In many ways she is spoiled in the manner of youngest children. In other ways she is neglected because she has a maturity beyond her years and always seems to be fine when the older children need more attention. She is the only one of our children who can entertain herself for long periods of time without engaging in destructive or unsafe behaviors. So when she asked for a "Fairy Birthday Party" I wholeheartedly embraced the idea and set out to plan one. As the weeks passed she articulated her desires for such a birthday--tutus, fairy wings, fairy dust, fairy foods ("ALL sweets ands sugar mom!!!"), and lots of fairies and fairy music. Her only birthday present request was the same as every year--a green bike! Would this be the year?

At the same time Pollito asked for another Dinosaur cake.  Anyone who knows me knows I am NOT the cake-baking type. I am good at lots of things. Making and decorating cakes isn't one of them as my first attempt for his 3rd birthday would clearly illustrate. At first I tried to merge the dinosaur birthday theme with the fairy theme. ("Why could he have chosen dragons?" I asked myself.) Then I realized that maybe it was time for them to have separate birthday celebrations. Their birthdays are 7 days apart right at the end of the summer/beginning of school. With the temperatures in Texas reaching well over 100 degrees each day and all the other things going on at this time of year it is always easier to plan a joint celebration. Against my own instincts I broached the question to Pollito. "Would you like to have your birthday party with Milagro or separately?" His response, "My own. ... and can I wear a tutu and fairy wings for Milagro's party?"

Tortuga, Corazon and I set out to plan their celebrations. As part of our summer schooling Tortuga and Corazon were given the tasks of planning fairy and dinosaur related activities. They engaged in learning about these creatures, planning out games, finding books to read to the littles, and driving me nuts for weeks as supplies were found and activities were planned. All in all I am so proud of these two. They struggle mightily with need for attention (being the center of it) and jealousy. Yet, they threw themselves wholeheartedly into planning, learning, and teaching the littles about fairies and dinosaurs. Their knowledge about fairies and dinosaurs continues to astound me. Milagro and Pollito had memorable birthdays and even more than a week later, Milagro will crawl into my lap, give me a hug and tell me "thank you mom, that was the best-est birthday ever!"

Monday, August 29, 2011

Pollito turns 7!

Dear Pollito,

My beautiful boy you are growing up so fast. I cannot believe you are now 7 years old! When I look at you I still picture that 2 and 1/2 year old toddler with a head of curly hair. Your hair is not as curly and we keep it cut short so the curls only make an appearance to let us know we should cut your hair soon. Although if you had your druthers you would like to grow it long like your sister Corazon. I am afraid your hair would likely grow up but not necessarily down. You still ask for barrettes and bows in your hair and we do try to accommodate you. 

This year you have grown by leaps and bounds in every way although you are still a "little guy." You just made the weight requirement to move out of a booster seat, with harness, and that makes you very happy. However, the rest of us prefer the harness because keeping still and to yourself in the car is a major challenge. You have earned the nickname "annoying little brother" from everyone and while trying at times, your annoyances are generally intended to make people laugh. You demand attention at every turn and will do anything to get a laugh--dance, sing, make funny faces, etc. You are a performer and even though mama and I get frustrated with your behaviors we have to work hard to keep from laughing out loud when we are redirecting you. You ARE FUNNY! You also have a knack for pushing everyone's buttons, including ours.

You have enjoyed a year of ballet, tap and hip hop classes. You LOVE these although you always approach them with a tentativeness and hesitation that makes your teachers wonder if you are enjoying yourself. They don't realize that from the minute you get home until the next class we are entertained by your demonstrations of all that you learned in this week's classes. Anytime good music comes on, your hips and your shoulders start to move and you couldn't stop yourself from dancing if you tried. You are also trying out soccer for the first time and we think you are a natural. Your coaches would agree and even after just 2 sessions they have already commented that they are ready for you to "explode" on the field. You haven't hit your stride in this yet but it is coming. You also started piano this year and while I cannot tell if you really like it or not I think it is helping you in other areas, such as reading.

Reading has been an incredible challenge for you but mostly because you are barely interested in it. You love books and listening to stories but you aren't yet interested in reading the books yourself. You have all the building blocks for reading but you don't usually try to read. I think something clicked for you with music though because it was soon after starting piano that you read your first book out loud. You worked hard at it and were very proud of yourself. Since then you have read about 7 books and then announced you didn't want to learn to read yet. As with other things, we aren't worried. We know you will get there when you are ready and I secretly think that will be very soon.

You still love trains and this year we saw you develop a new "eye" in your ability to set up trains. You build elaborate scenes with your tracks and trains and your attention to detail is incredible. None of your siblings can do this. You are also able to do this with your dinosaurs, cars, block, and other animals and can entertain your sisters for long periods of time as you narrate what you are doing. You are still prone to take things apart and "destroy" things (sometimes deliberately) but you are getting better at putting them together again.

You are our most affectionate child and if we let you, you would spend a good chuck of time on our laps or sitting right next to us. Your favorite place to be is still right next to me or at my feet. Speaking of feet, you give the best foot rubs of anyone in this family and you are the only kid I know who gets upset when I turn down an offer for a foot massage.

Your creative abilities have also grown tremendously this year. Your drawings show wonderful use of color and detail--way more than even 6 months ago. It feels as though you opened your eyes and saw a brand new world filled with color recently. We used to wonder if you were color-blind or simply didn't like color (beyond orange, pink and red) but clearly that isn't the case.  You make at least 2 drawings a day (one for me and one for mama) and we are running out of places to keep them.

You still have many fears--the dark, loud sounds, dogs, being alone, quiet, Elmo(I think he is creepy too)--but your ability to handle these has improved a great deal. I am relieved that you have finally stopped having nightly nightmares AND night terrors! Your body seems more relaxed when you sleep and this is a huge change from even last year. You still want to be cuddled at night and I will be one very sad mom when you decide you are too "old" for this. I am hoping it will be many, many years from now before this happens.

I enjoy our conversations when we have "coffee" together in the mornings. Usually we can only manage to do this a couple of times each week where it is just the two of us. Don't tell any of your siblings but those are my absolutely favorite mornings because you come up with such insightful observations and thoughtful questions. I often marvel at how rarely you let any of us in to hear those ideas of yours.

Never doubt how much we have loved you since the first day we set eyes on you. You are a sensitive soul but also so much stronger than you know. I have so many other things I could say when I think of this past year but I will stop. You are a sensitive, smart, silly, funny, bright, caring, and fun child who brings a smile to my face every single day. I thank the Creator each day for bringing you into my life. Happy Birthday, Pollito, and I hope you will always know how much I love you.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Milagro is Four!

Dearest Milagro,

I cannot believe you are four years old today! The time has passed so quickly. You are such an incredibly joy and every day I feel such gratitude for the gift that you are.

You are the child of my soul. Sometimes it feels like you are years wiser than your young age and your sensitivity to those around you is impressive. You are definitely a night owl and even though I deny it and complain when you keep me up at night with your constant chatter, I secretly love it. We share this in common and often stay up together well after everyone else has gone to sleep. Sometimes we make up stories and our current series features "Queen Meridian" (our oldest cat) and all of her helpful antics around the house. 

Your heart is so great and each time I think you cannot get any sweeter you surprise me.  You are fiercely loyal and protective of your siblings and I hope someday they realize how much your love has helped them heal. You have loved them unconditionally from day one and even though you now get into tiffs with them you still are their greatest fan. If Pollito gets in trouble you jump to his defense. You will even go and sit with him in time-out and reassure him that he is ok. You do this even when the reason he is in trouble is for hitting/being mean to you. When Corazon gets upset or angry you work your hardest to make her laugh. Your current strategy is to sing Beyonce's "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)." Every night you crawl into my lap and tell me how much you love us. It usually starts with "I'm gonna love you forever and ever and ever and ever." The we trade "I love you mores" and you run through the litany of your favorites-strawberries, peanut butter, cheese, ritz crackers, mac&cheese, blueberries, popsicles, ice cream, etc.. Then we culminate with "I love you more than rice and beans AND EVERYTHING!" You say "I love you" at least a dozen times each day to me and Mama and I pray that this never changes.

You are a quirky kid and come up with some funny ideas. You call Corazon "Twin" these days and recently someone asked you why. You explained that one day she dressed like you and you told her she looked like your twin. So you decided to call her twin. You both do it now and sometimes in public one of you will exclaim "Twin!" and the other responds "Twin!" leave everyone around wondering what is going on between you. You have a special bond with Corazon and want to do everything she does. You are so lucky that she will drop everything to play with you. I hope someday you realize how lucky you are to have your 11 year old sister truly enjoy spending time with you. She indulges you and caters to you and loves you more than either of you realize.  

Your current favorite song is Lady Gaga's "Telephone" and as tired as I am of hearing it I will put in on in the car the minute you ask because hearing you sing ALL the words always brings a smile to my face. Your bedtime teeth-brushing routine is would make any dentist proud and makes us wonder about your future profession. You currently own 7 toothbrushes and you use all of them (not every night.) We must sound ridiculous when we try to talk you OUT of brushing your teeth on the nights we forget and you remember after we have tucked you in. We have even bribed you into not brushing your teeth a few times and I hope you don't hold that against us in the future. You are all about whales and Scooby Doo these days. You and your siblings make up Scooby and "the gang" mysteries and have gotten several of the neighborhood preschoolers coming over here daily to play "Scooby" with you. Mama's desk is littered with "clues" that you have collected throughout your day. Each time you find a "clue" you get so excited and your face lights up. Speaking of collections, you are still into collecting "special" rocks, sticks, leaves, and other garden treasures. We have a shoebox that is about to reach capacity and even though I sneak some out and put them back I swear you find the same exact ones and return them.  You also like to bring me flowers. When you and Mama go for a walk or do the grocery run I usually end up on the receive end of a beautiful bouquet or the sweetest single flower you have managed to find even when nothing seems to be blooming around here. Don't tell anyone but I have pressed quite a few of these small blossoms in my monthly planner and they make me smile each time I come across one.

This year you took dance classes--ballet and tap--for the first time. I will have to admit that we chuckle at your lack of grace we are greatly impressed by the seriousness and commitment with which you tackle every class. You LOVE dance class and have begged to take another one this Fall. You tell anyone who asks that you will be taking hip hop too because you want to do everything Pollito does. You have also taken a tremendous interest in school and reading. You can count to 29 easily and you know all your letters and recognize most of them in print. You will even make the letter sounds for many of them when you read your books. It sometimes frustrates you that you cannot read yet but you use that to your advantage whenever you want us to read you a book. When you ask us to read you a story and we encourage you to read to yourself  you make us feel guilty by saying "but I can't read!" then you turn each page and say "blah, blah, blah.... SEE! I can't read." It works almost every time and guilts us into reading to you. You are a smart one!

You are truly struggling with becoming a "big kid." You have wanted this for a long time and lamented the fact that you are "too little" and "can't do anything." However you aren't ready to be a big kid and lately you have started talking in what you call a "baby voice" so that we "don't forget I'm your baby." We could never forget. Nonetheless we cannot convince you of that. Mama and I laugh because you never had a "baby voice." In fact, when you are in classes or groups where adults use that "sing-song" voice that many people use when talking to kids your age you ask why they "speak funny"? You don't understand why they won't speak "regular" and why they are talking to you like a "baby." You have taken to telling us that you don't ever want to get big and that you want to "stay little for a long, long, long time." Even so, you are growing up and you are wise beyond your years.

I could go on and on about who you are and who you are becoming but I will pause here to say that you are a happy, healthy, caring, joyous, thoughtful, and loving little girl who makes me feel like the luckiest mom in the world. Happy Birthday sweet child. Thank you for being you.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

My children's future and other thoughts...

As C. and I drove through CT earlier this week she turned to me and said "Yay! We're legal again." It is a running "joke" between us each year as we return to MA. Our MA (and even our TX) friends wonder what the heck we were thinking moving to TX where we could not enjoy the benefits of having our marriage legally recognized. We don't have a very good answer to that beyond the call to return "home" and be closer to my family (who isn't too keen on same sex marriage anyway but who, for the most part, loves and supports our family.)

My mother won't ever talk about it although this past year she acknowledged the significance of our relationship by giving C. a birthday card in which she wrote to C. that she "know(s) how much you mean to my daughter and how happy you make her. I also know you are the best thing that every happened to her." And later this year for mother's day she sent both of us a sappy card where she added and "s" to the word "daughter" and wrote how much she values everything we do for her.  As a regular church-goer who has great faith in both her God and her religion, I know she must struggle with this. She has never said the "M-word" about our relationship and she probably never will. I also know she loves us and supports us and was outraged when we told her we had a very hefty tax burden this year due to the feds not recognize our marriage. (Long story. Pain in the b*tt.)

It has been raining in MA since we arrived so except for attending the Ind*go G*rls concert Thursday night we have stayed in. It's given us a chance to settle in as we take over our friend's home (which was also our old home) for the next month and a half. As I was unpacking and sorting through clothes we left here last summer Pollito came across one of Corazon's dresses from last summer. He asked to try it on.

He has recently been very focused on wearing dresses although he has always leaned towards things society deems as "girls' things." His current favorite color is pink, he loves to play house and with his baby dolls, he talks about his "husband." He regularly shares dreams of wearing dresses and bathing suits. A couple of weeks ago he asked me quite seriously if I would let him wear a dress "in the house, not outside." When I said I would he beamed. He then explained that he would not want to wear it outside because boys don't wear dresses and other people don't like to see boys wearing dresses. The he asked, with what seemed to be a hopeful tone, if maybe he was wrong and boys did wear dresses. I explained him that most boys do not wear dresses but some do. He was happy and said he was excited to wear one. I promptly let go of that conversation because it is one of many we have had. Since he was three he has claimed that when he grows up he is going to be a girl. Lately that has changed to him wanting to be a boy who sometimes wears "girls' clothes" and to having a husband when he grows up if he doesn't live with me FOREVER!

So when he asked to try on the dress I said "Sure!" and passed it to him. He was so excited to wear it that he had to show everyone and kept it on for the bulk of the afternoon. He also wanted to paint his fingernails and toenails to match his dress. We did all that and he was beaming. In fact I haven't seen him this happy is a really long time. He is still only six years old and who knows what will come of this but yesterday I knew for sure that despite his desire to wear dresses giving me pause, there was no way I could say "no" to him and feel good about that. Especially not after seeing how happy it made him.

Late last night New York became the sixth state to legalize same-sex marriage. I stayed up to watch the coverage because it is important to me. Very important. This decision makes me happy. Very happy. It means that our country is one step closer to living up to its promise of equal protection and rights for all its citizens. It means one step closer to stopping the denial of 1138+ federal rights to our non-hetereosexual couples. I know this decision is controversial. I know that some people's personal beliefs are challenged. I know that many cannot reconcile same sex marriage with their religious conviction that only heterosexuality is "right" in the eyes of God. I know that when my children grow up, should one of them be gay or lesbian, I want them to be able to love whomever they want, marry who they wish to marry, and be protected by law wherever they may choose to live.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Our Summer Vacation Begins...

We have had a full couple of weeks as we prepared to travel back East for the next month and a half or so. C. had several business trips and ended up being away for the 4 days leading up to our departure. The kids were amazing. Despite the fact that Tortuga, Pollito and Corazon's behaviors were a bit erratic (due to the anticipation and anxiety of taking this trip), we pulled it off. We managed to get cat sitters lined up, mailbox keys to the right people, the van packed, the house closed down, and leave only an hour behind schedule after Milagro peed ALL the bedding on my bed that morning! I could NOT leave without washing those out so we had a more leisurely breakfast than planned and just waited for the laundry to finish. Although I did leave a load in the dryer which I am hoping to get someone who is checking on things to take out of there.

Once we departed we drove to Dallas to pick up C. who was wrapping up some work. Our hope was to head out for a couple of hours in order to make some headway. We have to be in Boston no later than the morning of the 23rd and we have many places and people we want to see.  The kids anxiety seemed to dissipate as soon as all of us were in the van and the past three days have been relatively smooth (I probably just jinxed myself.) We drove through Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and into Georgia and managed to visit some historical sites. My kids are still such "geeks" and they have a huge list of historical sites they want to visit. We studied civil war and civil rights this Spring so those are high on the agenda. They also have requested to visit colonial Williamsburg so we are doing our best to get there. They are having so much fun and I am especially proud of Tortuga who is working hard to keep it together. We even had a chance to visit a college we hope will make it onto at least one of the girls' list when the time is right...

The highlights of our trip thus far were a visit with two trauma moms who have daughters with RAD and getting to see Corazon's birth family. I have so much I want to say about both of those visits but I need to be up early tomorrow so it will have to wait until my next window to write.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

So happy April is over...

Of course there was payback from that wonderful birthday celebration for Tortuga. In fact, I can honestly say this was the worst month we have had in almost a year. Each and every day there were issues--little ones and big ones. The little ones pale by comparison to the big ones. We had three distinct days where C. and I seriously considered calling the police. On one of those we did talk to the police and made contact with a "mental health" police officer. Things had gotten so bad that C. had actually packed some of his clothes in a bag and had it ready by the door. We were THAT close to hospitalization for that kid. In all honesty the only thing that kept us from following through is our lack of familiarity with those systems here in TX AND the fact that we always have concerns about how our family configuration will be dealt with.

On one of those day he not only issued his usual threats of hating us and wanting to k*ll us. He also articulated a pretty detailed plan of what he would do, when and how. One thing that threw C. off was that he called attention to waiting until she was on one of her business trips so he could get the rest of us while she was gone. He generally "fears" her physical strength although he has never had much of a physical altercation with her. Usually the physical attacks are reserved for me. At this point he is almost my height but I am still physically stronger than him but he seems to now have a "plan" for doing us in at night. Of course he is also terrified of the dark and the night and won't even leave his room if it is dark in the hallway which was somewhat reassuring. He also threatened to tell the police about how "horrible" we were so that they would "take the rest of the kids in(to) foster care."

Much of this incident happened while I was out running an errand and apparently what set him off was that I told him he couldn't play with his transformers until after guitar practice. Poor C. had to handle it by herself until I got home and by the time I got back he was a puddle of tears and fears because she had told him she was calling the police and sending him to a hospital. He is TERRIFIED of both of those things so no matter how off he is it usually settles him down if we even suggest he might need to go see a doctor. Nonetheless, it really took it's toll on C. and she ended up having to reschedule a business trip and the next time she went out of town she didn't want the kids to know she would be gone overnight. This whole incident made me wonder about how desensitized I may be getting to these threats. In our time with him I have almost always been the one who has to deal with these physical and verbal assaults and I have a way of "interpreting" what he says and what I think he means so sometimes I think I don't take them at face value or as seriously as she does. I suppose sometimes that provides balance but other times it makes me wonder if I will miss the real warning signs.

This past week I was in the upstairs bathroom dealing with one of his meltdowns(very close to a rage) and C. was keeping the other kids busy. Our oldest cat, Meridian, sneaked in and I didn't see her and accidentally stepped on her in such a way that I lost my balance and fell onto the floor. My screams, the cat's screams and Tortuga's cries of concern (even though he was in the middle of a meltdown) brought C. running up the stairs so fast. I could tell by the look on her face that she thought he had hurt me and I even had the presence of mind to make him step far away from me because my first thought was that if she saw him standing over me she would think he had done it.  He was crying real tears of concern and the meltdown/rage dissipated really quickly. I assured her I was fine (twisted ankle, bruised knee, and what I think is a serious bone bruise) and that she should check out our cat who was still lying down licking her wounds.  This incident really brought to light some of the fears we all have and even the two little kids thought Tortuga had hurt me. I was more focused on how quickly his meltdown ended when he thought I was hurt and I must have gotten no less than a dozen inquiries from him about my well-being over the course of the next few days.

I think this is where our current issue lies. I have banked on the fact that he is attaching and he does care about us and that most of the "trash talk" is just that--talk. I think I still believe that to be true. C. has asked that I consider what happens when he "sees red" and acts on impulse and out of anger. While he is always remorseful and embarrassed by his behaviors once it passes there is no doubt that when he is in the middle of it he isn't thinking at all and all he wants to do is hurt us/me. It is clear that despite the tremendous progress he has made we still have this lingering fear that we have to work with/through. How do we do that?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Next Day...

The day after Tortuga's celebration he woke up completely dysregulated. He went into the bathroom to do his morning routine and got upset because I gave him a new bar of soap instead of body wash. (He has always used soap.) He started screaming that he hated me and that I never give him what he needs. He went on and on about how he was going to hurt me and how miserable I made life for him. That was the beginning of a pretty terrible day. There was no way to diffuse or redirect him. By dinnertime I was exhausted and had sent him to bed.

On the plus side, he didn't lose it the day before. I also knew enough to expect that there would be payback for so many reasons--celebration, fun, friends, sugar, being the center of attention, new toys, feeling so incredibly loved. The range of feelings he must have experienced are far beyond anything I can imagine. On the plus side, he didn't rage or meltdown. Yes, he was vicious, rude, mean, disrespectful, and all of those are intolerable and hell to deal with but he didn't rage or meltdown. I am hanging on to that. On the negative side, it made for a horrible beginning to our week and this threw everyone off.

Corazon handles other kids getting attention pretty well now when we have parties, etc. Including her in the planning and preparation certainly kept her attention-seeking behaviors to a minimum. BUT, once it passes, she starts to act out too and ACT. OUT. she did. So there I was dealing with both of them needing constant attention and pulling out all the stops to get it in negative ways.

In addition, Corazon has been struggling with some of her "normal" kid privileges. We have always had issues with her sneaking and lying. Mostly now they are in the more normal range. When she does sneak it is usually something innocuous like reading. However, she behaves as though it is one of the worst things in the world if she gets away with it. I had noticed that she was "sneaking" reading when she was supposed to be doing other things (putting away her clothes, getting dressed, doing schoolwork, cleaning her room, etc.) We only recently let her have a bookshelf and books in her room and this is causing her some angst. The more she gets away with sneaking reading the worse she behaves.  I have told her that she is going to have to figure that one out. I am NOT going to take the books and shelf away and she is going to have to figure out how she manages that responsibility because she is READY.  It is hard for me to stick to this but just like she has needed practice with other things she needs practice with this. So we do this dance. She sneaks and wants to be punished in some way. I refuse to "catch" her at it and give her consequences. She gets frustrated and anxious BUT she does stop herself for a few days. I know it seems torturous for all of us but this child desperately needs to know that she can STOP herself from doing things that aren't in her best interest and that I won't always be there to catch her. Of course, I am cheating because I can do this about sneaking books whereas I don't think I could do this about a whole host of other things. Anyway, the good news is that she is able to go longer and longer without sneaking reading and I am hoping this transfers to other things. However, the process, is so NOT fun!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Birthday Celebration

Earlier this month we celebrated Tortuga's 12th birthday. It has been a month of ups and downs for this child. We have had some wonderful moments and some pretty awful ones too. I think I have about eight different posts that I want to write or have started to write but I get sidetracked by the goings on around here. Right now I want to focus on Tortuga's birthday.

We had planned a surprise party for him in hopes of diffusing some of the fallout that normally occurs. We told him we would be celebrating it a week after his actual birthday due to some work travel for C. In actuality we planned the party for his actual day. Corazon was in on the surprise and she helped me tremendously as we made plans and preparations for the weeks leading up to his day.  He wanted a "Lego" day so we had ordered a cake, goodies for the party, and even a special shirt for him. When the day came, we were ready and he had held it together beautifully up until then (which has NOT been the case in previous years.)

We started the day with our usual birthday greetings, special breakfast, and a few presents.

 Then we sent him off to do his usual post-breakfast morning routines and activities. While he was in his room the rest of us went to work getting the place ready and decorating for the party. By the time our first guest arrived we were sent and he was none the wiser. It was perfect. By the time he realized we were celebrating his birthday he didn't have time to anticipate and mess thing up for himself.

The party was an overwhelming success. We tried to keep it low-key by keeping the kids outside playing with their bikes, skateboards, roller blades, hoops, and basketballs. We had never been able to pull off a "party" for him that included more than our immediate family, but we managed to entertain 16 kids ranging in age from 6 months to 14 year on what turned out to be a beautiful day! Tortuga really looks up to Christine's sons and Corazon was thrilled to spend time with her daughters so it was especially wonderful to have them join us. Overall the day was a huge success. Here are some of the highlights.


 Hula Hoops...

 T-shirt decorating...


Bikes, roller-blades, scooters, and skateboards...

 Lego car kits, bracelet making, sidewalk chalk...

The best part of this day, besides seeing Tortuga thoroughly enjoy himself, was that he HELD. IT. TOGETHER. After everyone had gone home we let him open his presents and hung out. He still didn't lose it and he was feeling pretty good about himself. He even thanked us for a great day and for "loving me so much."

The next day...that's another story...

Monday, April 4, 2011

The look of progress...part 2

Tortuga was very happy to have me home from Orlando. He wanted to be near me all the time. We went out to lunch when I returned and all he wanted to do was hug me and sit at the table with me rather than go play with the other kids at the playground. He genuinely seemed happy to see me and was quick to articulate that. He was also really angry at me for leaving and I could sense that just under the surface. He held it together until we got home and THEN it started. My usual statement of "Please go do your nighttime routine" was met with a GROWL, a stare-down, a stomp and muttering under his breath. A reminder to put away his clothes was met with open hostility and a resounding "NO!" A request that he change his tone resulted in him turning his back on me, yelling that I was "mean" and that he "didn't care." Before it escalated further I called him downstairs and like any smart mom asked him what was going on. Of course he responded with "Nothing!"

So I changed my strategy and said I knew what was wrong. I told him he was mad. He denied it. He was mad at me for leaving. He denied it. He was mad at me for not being home. Denial. He was mad at himself for missing me. "No!" he yelled. He was mad that he even cared. He started crying. Big tears rolling down his face. So I told him, "I know why you are crying. You are crying because you are RELIEVED. Even though you heard me say I would be back and I am always here, a small part of you was WORRIED. Even though you knew I would come home, You were worried." He kept crying and finally told me he had dreamed on both the Friday and Saturday that I was gone and he couldn't find me "no mater how hard I looked". He said he kept thinking about what would happen to him without me if I didn't come home. Poor kid...I felt so sad for him. Yet this was also huge progress. Of course I have know he misses me even when I leave him home to run an errand. But this was for 3 whole days and even though C. was home and he feels safe with her he was still worried.

The next couple of weeks were filled with ups and downs for him. He stayed mad and had to work extra hard to keep himself in check. Sometimes he has succeeded but other times...not so much. I know his anger is fear based but it doesn't make it any easier to deal with. I know he is healing and I know he is attaching but he still has much to work through.

A week or so ago they were all having an especially difficult time. I had spent ALL day trying to keep the older two regulated, the younger boy from hurting the youngest, and the littlest one out of the fray. By 4:30 p.m. I had the three oldest in bed for the night. I hadn't even fed them dinner! C. and I were putting together a meal for a family whose dad was seriously injured in a biking accident. We were focused on trying to be helpful and the kids were feeling "neglected" because our attention was focused on someone else.  By the time I was finished preparing the meal and C. was ready to go deliver it, I had had enough interruptions to last me for the rest of the week! So I put them to bed. When C. returned she lit into the three of them for their behavior and attitude. She was upset because she had seen the kids, their mom, and grandparents and they were so worried about their dad because he had a head and brain injury and still didn't recognize them. She reminded them how precious life it and how wrong it is to take things for granted. Tortuga was the first one to burst into tears and he wanted to apologize for his "selfishness" as soon as she finished speaking. He is most definitely our most selfish and entitled kid so this was a huge deal for him as well. After that I fed them dinner and put them back in their rooms to read before bed so C. and I could have quiet time together.

We are seeing a wide range of expression of feelings from Tortuga. We are working hard with him to name these feelings and the thoughts behind these feelings. We are working to help him match his thoughts, behaviors and feelings because often there is a serious mismatch. For example, he will frown when something good happens. We have also found that writing is an excellent way for him to process his feelings and even though he complains at times about writing it is a strategy I highly recommend for kids who get triggered by verbal interactions. In fact sometimes I will "script" much of what took place and leave blanks for him to fill in the feelings, thoughts and actions. It is a little bit like a mad lib. This strategy has really helped him piece together some of what he is feeling and thinking.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Just because there is progress...

Just because there is progress doesn't mean there won't be h*ll to pay. I have been home for 3 weeks since my trip to Orlando and it feels like a lifetime ago. C. reported that the children did quite well while I was away. That should have been my first clue. While happy to see me they were mad. Really mad. They wasted very little time in letting me know that.

Corazon has "forgotten" how to do just about everything. Schoolwork is impossible.Chores require direct and constant supervision, reminders, threats, reminders, threats, reminders, etc. The "RAD sock" has turned into the RAD spoon, plate, chair, book, pencil, etc.and happens no less that  Around here the "RAD sock" is what we call her wonderful little habit of leaving ONE thing behind just to make sure she gets my attention. She sorts clothes for laundry and ONE article is left in the middle of the family room floor. She takes her clean clothes up to her room and leaves ONE article on the floor at the bottom of the stairs. She unloads the dishwasher and ONE fork is left in the dishwasher. She does her math and ONE problem is left undone. You get the picture. Well now instead of this happening 7 or 8 times each day, we are at dozens and dozens of times each day. We had been steadily making progress in reducing this habit by having EVERYONE else get attention for the "RAD sock." I would find the item and call out Pollito/Milagro/Tortuga/C. (anyone but Corazon) can you come here and get the "RAD sock" for me and then thank them profusely, offer a treat or hug. All the while I might start singing the "RAD sock" song as loud as possible. Right now, if I give the attention to someone else she just escalates the behavior.

Corazon is also immobilized when she is by herself. She always keeps a close eye on me and finds a dozen reasons to need my attention. It is much like a toddler/preschooler who constantly needs to check in "I just used the bathroom.." "I washed my hands." I finished putting my book on the shelf." Etc. Etc. Right now she does it ESPECIALLY when I am talking to anyone else. It didn't help matters that C. has been home for much of the past two weeks because of Spring Break and a slow work week. The minute C. and I are engaging in a conversation Corazon is RIGHT THERE with a question, comment, or not-so-subtle intrusion into our conversation. 

Corazon has also started talking back to me about everything. While hormones might be part of the reason and peer influences might be another there is still alot of ANGER in this. In a way I see this as progress not because I think "normal" kids talk back to their parents around this age (I don't buy that argument but that is another story.) I think she is showing her anger in much more appropriate ways. She wants me to know she is mad at me for leaving her and that anger comes out when she feels I am not giving her attention she wants. In the past her ANGER was raging and melting down. 

However, we have also had two interesting regressions. The first one happened a week after I was home. She worked herself up into a TOTAL meltdown. She had not had a meltdown in a really long time. I don't even know the reason for the meltdown but while she was on the floor in a puddle of anger and I was sitting next to her just waiting for it to pass she started hitting her fists against the floor and yelling "I hate RAD. I don't want it anymore." She did this 4 or 5 times then let me comfort her. In the past it would have been "I hate you. Leave me alone. I am leaving. Etc." Big progress for her. We have had the conversation about why I don't hate RAD just the behaviors she has learned to use to keep us at bay. We say that we "hate" the way RAD has made it hard for her to trust and let herself be loved but we also have tried to get her to see that RAD served a purpose for a long time. It kept her from getting hurt. The other thing we had was an "almost" peeing incident. She hasn't done that in well over two years. However, to her credit, she was able to reign that in before it became a "full-blown" peeing incident.

Despite all this acting out we tried to do a few family outings and "fun stuff" while C. was around. The kids enjoyed themselves tremendously but had a really difficult times regrouping afterwards. Pretty much the usual behaviors after they have had "too much" fun. All it all it has been a difficult re-entry for them and for me. There have been so many good and bad moments but we are plugging along. I have to write about Tortuga's response to my return in a different post because this is getting too long.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The look of progress...and a few thoughts about Orlando

When Corazon joined our family she was four and a half. At the time she was a charmer who invited everyone to be her new mom or family. I quickly learned not to leave her with anyone except C. and one friend who struggled with keeping Corazon in check but who trusted my parenting enough to report everything that happened while i was off to work so I could address whatever needed my attention. Otherwise Corazon and I did everything together. I mean everything. I was working full-time and so was C. so when I was presenting a workshop or paper at a conference, she was right there with me. That first year she got to Montreal, Phoenix, San Francisco, Connecticut, New York City, and a whole bunch of other places with me because I could not trust what she might do or say. 

During those first two years she was home I never left her with a sitter and every night I was there to put her to bed and to wake up with her at least half a dozen times each night. It was exhausting but necessary because the consequences of her sneaking out of her room at night would have been disastrous--trust me--we had several really close calls. When the boys came the pattern continued and I just stayed close to them (I now had 2 kids with RAD and a toddler). Then a few months after the boys came I had to attend an out of town funeral. I would be gone three nights. C. was 6 months pregnant and the thought of leaving her with a toddler and two raging kids was almost too much. How could I justify leaving her with them? Yet there was no way I could justify NOT going to this funeral. My friend needed me there and she was the only person in my life who could watch Corazon in short stints (while I taught my evening class  or emergency school pickups.) There was no way i could leave. I did the best I could to leave things ready for C. to manage the kids and the night antics. I only hoped they would save their rages and payback for me. And save them they did! There was hell to pay and I SWORE I could never do that again. It was so much worse than I had anticipated.

A few short months later we learned that C. would need to have a c-section to deliver Milagro. We had a "plan" for when she went into labor and had coached 3 of our closest friends about how to manage their behaviors and needs. I had pages of notes for each caretaker and each kid's bag had been packed to minimize problem behaviors I am not kidding. Each article of clothing had been chosen because it didn't have pockets (stealing), string(choking, tearing), buttons (swallowing, pulling off, opening to display specific body parts, etc,) matched everything else in the bag (in case of accidents), met sensory needs, etc. etc. We were as set as we could be but now we would be away for three nights. We toyed with me staying home but decided that we both wanted to be at the hospital and share that experience fully in addition to providing whatever support C. might need as she recovered from surgery. With mixed feelings we sent them off with their respective caretakers but managed to see them daily during the time we were in the hospital. Neither of the older kids missed a beat as they waved goodbye and smiled as we said goodbye. Corazon behaved as though she was THRILLED to be away from us except for one time when she let slip that she "missed" us. Tortuga reported he was having the time of his life and urged us to stay away as long as possible. However, both of them were captivated by Milagro. They couldn't get enough of her during that hospital stay. When we returned home there was hell to pay AGAIN. It was an incredible blessing that Milagro pretty much slept through the night since the other kids kept me up all night long. We had rages and meltdowns and all kinds of unsafe behaviors and I once again vowed that would be it. Never again could I do that to them or to myself. And I didn't spend a night away from them again for the next two years.

Fast forward to last Spring when I went away for two nights to a K*therine L*slie workshop. This time I could see the signs of attachment. When I left (I wrote about it here) and when I returned (look here) there was real evidence that they felt something. Corazon still "disassociated" and C. reported that as soon as they pulled away she drifted off to sleep and then buried her head in a book. When I returned she smiled a greeting, said she missed me, then paid me back for days because I left her. 

I have just returned from Orlando where I had the most amazing time with almost 70 incredible and courageous women who live this life. Women who get it when we say our kids are different. Women who get it when we share parenting strategies that would get us banned from most "mother's groups" and even our churches, schools, and parts of our extended families. Women who get it when we express our pain that the people closest to us--our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and even best friends-- think we are crazy and are causing our kids' troubles. Women who get it when we say that come hell or high water we are going to travel hundreds of miles to spend a weekend in houses with a bunch of "strangers" we met on the Internet because we NEED them. Women who rushed into the arms of said strangers in airports, driveways, villas, and exclaimed " I have been waiting for years to hug you!" and who cried at the thought of saying good-bye to these people they had only met 72 hours ago. Women who pinched pennies to make this trip possible, donated money on the internet to make it happen for another mama who was here, and put money in another woman's bra at dinner Sunday night so that someone else can have this kind of experience thousands of miles away this May! It was like coming home to a place where people don't need to know you, don't need to remember your name, don't need to hear all the details of your struggles and your pain, yet they can CRY your pain, SHARE your fears, FINISH your thoughts, LAUGH with you about your mistakes, TELL you you are a good mother when you have heard the opposite so many times you have started to believe it and CELEBRATE your victories with you. How often do we find solidarity like that with a bunch of strangers we would never be in the same room with if we didn't share this thing called trauma and the over-powering love we have for our kids who may not even know how to love us back? Amazing.

There was another kind of amazing that happened when I got home that these women can understand and celebrate. C. and the kids picked me up at the airport and we decided to go out to a late lunch/early dinner. They all told me they missed me and were happy to be home. Corazon sat behind me with her head buried in her book and tried to fall asleep. When we got to the restaurant I gave each of them a hug and told them I was happy to see them and sent them to the playground while they waited for their food. C. took this picture of Corazon and me.

She came over to hug me and started crying. When I asked her why she was crying she said she was "so happy to see me" and insisted those were "happy tears." I don't think I have ever seen her cry "happy tears." Ever.

Monday, February 28, 2011


When Tortuga first came home 4 years ago he was on a serious drug cocktail. He had meds for everything--getting up, sleeping, pooping, mood, attention, aggression. Just prior to his leaving the RTC to come home I insisted that his medications be reduced to those deemed essential for his health and well-being and that he be taken off anti-psychotic medications because they were given to him without court approval (required in our state at the time.) He came home taking 7 different meds at 5 different times of the day with an incredible array of side effects. Based on some new school transition issues and delays we somehow managed to "miss" several doses of meds that were required during the school day. By the time that was sorted out we had effectively reduced his meds to 4 and to 3 different times of the day AND he was functioning better in terms of side effects and staying awake at appropriate times. A few of his drugs literally knocked him out mid-sentence or mid-meal or minimally reduced him to a semi-catatonic state. I spent countless hours researching the various meds, side effects, alternatives, and options. As I reviewed his history I also realized that he had been on some of his meds since he was 3 and a half. After a semi-productive meeting with his psychiatrist where we came clean about the meds we had "inadvertently" weaned him off of and his role in not providing the appropriate paperwork to the school on time we agreed to a "trial" period in which we would wean him off of ALL of his meds and re-assess what was going on with Tortuga. Within several months we had a drug free kid who was emotionally bouncing off the walls. He could express almost no emotions beyond being overly happy/excited and sudden anger/rage at the slightest things. (Bipolar was one of 15 possible diagnoses.)  He didn't show other emotions and even though they were present he didn't recognize them, his facial expressions didn't match them, and they easily overwhelmed him and reduced him to a raging mess.

It was so difficult to figure out where to begin and we second-guessed our choices regarding medications on a regular basis. However we were also convinced that we needed to figure out what his "real" issues were before we started treating symptoms with drugs. This was NOT because we were particularly anti-meds but because we just felt like his 7 1/2 year old body and brain needed a break and we needed to see what was underneath all of those drugs. We also were informed by the experiences C. had post a significant brain injury in which she constantly underwent med changes that severely affected her mood, behavior, personality and well-being. Where problems had never existed before, she suddenly had diagnoses for all types of psychological issues so we knew much of it had to do with her brain injury (both physical and emotional).  I started researching diet and herbal supplements in hopes of giving him the best possible chance to heal his heart and body.

We knew for sure that Tortuga had PTSD--his behavior screamed PTSD. We also were pretty confident that he either had ODD and serious attachment issues and some form of RAD (RAD was his diagnosis.) Taking him off all the meds was hard. Very hard. Yet keeping him on the meds was also hard.  We had been pretty successful with Corazon's poop-withholding issues using an herb ("Cascara Sagrada") that my parents had used occasionally when I was growing up (as a tea not a pill).  We had tried everything with her and had resorted to suppositories on a semi-regular basis until we started using this herb. It worked well for her. He was on two different meds for this issue although his problem was compounded by the other medication he was taking. W tried the pill form of this herm with him. It worked considerably well although we had a long haul because it worked slowly and steadily making it harder for us to initially tell if it was actually working. We never told him the purpose of this "med" since that probably would have been counter-productive. :D

Both Corazon and Tortuga have had severe sleep issues. Corazon was so hyper-vigilant that she rarely slept. When she first came home at age 4 1/2 she would be awake no matter what time I checked on her. She would doze but insist she didn't sleep. In fact there were times she flew into an absolute rage when she realized she had been asleep! For years we put up with her response to the question "how did you sleep?" being "I WASN'T sleeping!" Even better if we accidently woke her up and said "Sorry, were you sleeping?" she would SCREAM "I WASN'T sleeping!" even as she rubbed her eyes and worked to get reoriented. As she began to attach we saw this behavior disappear although she still slept in spurts. When we discovered the herbal supplement "mel a tonin" we hit the jackpot. She slept. She actually slept! I cannot stress how significant this is on so many levels--ALL of us were better rested, she lost her anxiety about letting herself fall asleep, it "chilled" her out at night in ways that her usual bedtime routines didn't, and overall her "stress" levels seemed lower.

Both she and Tortuga suffered from what we called a "night phobia" and who could blame them given how scary nighttime had been for both of them in previous homes, especially for Tortuga. In addition to their being afraid of nighttime (I won't say the dark because Corazon was a serious night wanderer even in a pitch-dark house) I cannot imagine how stressful it must have been for them to know they would be awake and alone at night given all their traumatic experiences as very small children.  As soon as it started to get dark both of them would start what we termed our "warning system." They'd say things like:

  • "It's going to get dark soon."
  • "The dark is coming." 
  • "Are we going home soon?"
  • "We need to get home before it is dark."

Of course they adamantly denied being afraid of the dark and they denied having bad dreams (or any dreams at all for that matter.) For Tortuga his nightmares were more like the night terrors that toddlers experience and he never acknowledged having had a bad dream or even recalling that he was screaming and crying out. Corazon said she didn't dream and stuck to that story for years. The mel*a*tonin changed all that. Corazon began to recall her dreams. We are now at a point with Corazon where she is on a very small dose and we use it only a few times per week when her anxiety and stress levels seem higher. Mel*a*tonin helps slow down cortisol production at night so our bodies can rest. Cortisol levels are higher during the day and that gives us increased energy so we maintain a normal day/night rhythm. With my kids this rhythm was pretty non-existent and their stress levels (high cortisol  production times) were through the roof . The mel*a*tonin dramatically improved their rest which positively affected them throughout the day. We have had to adjust Tortuga's dosage numerous times because he had a high dependence of prescription medications for sleeping. Once we weaned him off those and replaced it with mel*a*tonin we were also able to reduce his dependence of ben*a*dryl as a sleep aid. We have also been known to use it on occasion to help him chill out during the day when he has a particularly hard time (often after a poor night's sleep.)

A few weeks ago I decided to wean them both completely off of their supplements with the exception of their fish oil supplements (good on so many levels and for Tortuga dimishes his rages/aggression). I had begun to believe that Corazon might be ready to eliminate the mel*a*tonin and reduce her ni*acin and I have always tried to keep Tortuga down to the least number of vitamins and meds (he has severe allergies). I slowly reduced their supplements over a 10-14 day period and tried to chart any changes I noticed in their awake/sleep patterns. Then I kept them free of the supplements for another 10-14 days. (This partially explains why I didn't have time to write! :) )Finally I reintroduced their supplements at a lower dose to try and determine if these lower doses worked better. For Corazon it has meant that she only occasionally needs the mel*a*tonin but the ni*acin still needs to be a daily deal although we are trying a lower dose. For Tortuga, his state of being was incredibly thrown off by the initial weaning and his sleep patterns and stress responses, moodiness, aggression, etc. were completely out of whack. Once I reintroduced the mel*a*tonin and the ni*acin I found that he still seems to need the doses we have been at for awhile. This suggests that we are where we need to be with him at least for the time being.

Working with supplements is such a challenge because there is so much information out there and depending on who you work with (doctors, psychiatrists, etc.) we get such a mix of information. I know that I believe these supplements work for my kids. I also know that I prefer them taking these to so many of the other drugs that they have taken which have had significantly greater side effects and risks compared to the supplements we are currently taking. Of course we have also balanced these with dietary changes--no milk for Tortuga for example--that help serve their needs and improve their brain's chances for healthier development.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Someone is officially 3 1/2....

Milagro is such an incredible treasure...and she is mine. Ever feel like you must have done something right to deserve the happiness you have? That's how this little one makes me feel. Every. Single. Day. She will be in another room doing her thing and suddenly call out "MOM!" When I ask what she needs she will say "Nothing mom. I wanted to tell you I love you forever and forever and forever."

These days our goodnight routine these days is as follows: I tuck her in. She says..."You are supposed to say 'I love you." I say "I love you." She says "I love you TOO!" I say "sleep tight." and she responds "Sleep tight and don't let the bedbugs bite." I say "I love you to the moon and back." She says "I love you to the moon and back and more than rice and beans!" I repeat what she says and she adds "AND more than strawberries, blueberries, chocolate, milk, mac & cheese, tacos, and lollipops!" Every. Single. Night.  If she comes into my room at night because she had a bad dream she leans in close to me, tears falling down her face, and whispers "mom can you hold me?" As I take her in my arms, I ask why she is whispering and she says she doesn't want to wake C. up! I think that even though she thinks it's fine to wake me up in the middle of the night this still qualifies her as a thoughtful child... :-) I cannot imagine what I did to deserve such amazing love from this little being.  Happy 3 and 1/2!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Random thoughts about cravings, compulsions, dependence, addiction

Our youngest (now 3 1/2) discovered "sweets" when she was about a year and a half.  C. has a SERIOUS sweet tooth and Tortuga has an incredibly adverse response to sugar so we have tended to keep sweets around in moderation except when they "sneak" into our lives--Halloween, Valentine's Day, etc.  Milagro quickly discovered that she loved candy and would literally "beg" for it if she knew it was in the house. So when she was just shy of age 2 we taught her to say "My name is Milagro and I have a problem. I am addicted to sugar. I love it. I want it. I crave it. I need it. Please give me sugar...sugar...sugar!" It has become a sort of "game" around here and she still engages in saying this whenever she wants us to indulge her. I think her body and mind really do "crave" sugar and if it is around she cannot stop thinking about it.

C. claims to be the same about chocolate and other sweets and describes the cravings as intense and overwhelming at times. Does this make them compulsions? As I understand it a compulsion is a powerful and  irresistible impulse to act in a certain way no matter how (ir)rational it is. People act compulsively usually to  reduce anxiety and/or worry. Sometimes I think Milagro's cravings for sugar are compulsions because they turn an incredibly pleasant, easy-going, and rational child into a tantruming "monster" and she will cry that she "needs" a piece of candy. Then there is dependence which I think of as a "compulsive" state of being in chronic need and/or reliance upon something in order to meet an overwhelming and perceived need. In essence that something is required in order for the person to "function" at whatever level they are used to functioning.

I have often viewed Corazon's need for having chaos around her (internal/emotional and external) as a dependence. She counts on it in order to function. I see Tortuga's need to be miserable in the same way. We often tell Tortuga that he is most comfortable when he is miserable (comfortable does not equal happy). Lately, I have been wondering if Corazon's constant need to be in "chaos" (physical, emotional, etc.) functions more like an addiction. It's not just about clutter and mess it's about chaos. I think her emotional state is so frequently in chaos that when it isn't for awhile it totally freaks her out and she spirals downward. In many ways she "hates" the chaos but she also "needs" the chaos because it is familiar. She knows how it feels, smells, looks, and plays out. When she isn't in chaos the world is a much more confusing place and it is very hard for her to find her place in it. She depends on it and she is driven to create it in order to restore "balance"  even if it means she is in a state of chaos. Clearly it doesn't make sense for a happy existence as I see it but I think for her it as necessary as other addictions are for others. I think this state of chaos helps to distract her from some of the more painful emotional problems she experiences and in a weird way it provides a way for her to "organize" her everyday experiences. In many ways, I think this helps meet the criteria for "addiction." Usually an "addiction" includes behavior that is motivated by cravings and/or compulsions, continued participation in the behavior despite negative consequences, and a loss of control over one's behaviors. In some ways I see her (and Tortuga) as addicted to these behaviors that maintain chaos and misery in their daily lives.

How does this help me help them? When I have tried to help them overcome these issues I tend to treat them as "bad" habits motivated by cravings much like Milagro's sugar cravings. I indulge them occasionally and I "preach" the virtues of not having these things. I also encourage them to resist the cravings and to replace them with more "positive" behaviors. Yet, if they are more like addictions, how would my strategies and support be different? One of the main reasons addictions are hard to break is that there is such as strong and powerful combination of positive and negative consequences. My children's "addictions" are no different. Their behaviors cause them great anxiety, anguish, pain, and frustration to say the least. Yet they are familiar, predictable, and in some ways provide protection and security from their other incredibly painful emotional problems. If I view their issues as "addictions" how will that change what I do to try and help them? I am not sure yet, but I am mulling this over.

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