Friday, December 28, 2012

Low-key Holidays

Our holidays have been filled with so many small and wonderful moments that I am hard-pressed to pick my favorites. Everyone has had such a wonderful time that I am recommitting to NOT traveling for the December holidays yet again. I missed seeing my mom and brother but things go so much better when fewer people are around. Except for my sister and niece, and our neighbor A. we spent most of this month by ourselves enjoying simple pleasures like Christmas music blaring, reading Christmas stories, making and delivering holiday fudge, doing Christmas crafts, and watching holiday movies, including our kids' and C.'s first screening of "It's a Wonderful Life" which will now become a tradition. I could get used to this. The only thing missing from our lives, especially at this time of year, is church. C. and I both grew up going to church and we have yet to find a church "home" here in TX.

A few years ago we started using an activity based advent calendar that has totally enriched our lives. Each day leading up to Christmas, one of the children pulls out the slip of paper for the day and tells us what "fun" thing we will do that day. The activities range from individual (i.e. everyone has to write a note to someone sharing a compliment or two, have dessert for breakfast, etc.) to group (i.e. read a Christmas story, watch a movie, family game night, sing Christmas carols, etc.) to doing something for others (i.e. make ornaments and deliver to friends/neighbors, do a chore anonymously for someone, etc.) The kids LOVE this tradition and look forward to this each year. It also keeps the focus on family and doing thing together and has become one of their favorite aspects of the holidays.

This is Tortuga's major trauma-versary time and usually we are held captive by his moods. This year we did a good deal of preparation for this by tightening his routines, adding more structure to his routines/expectations (while having less structure overall,) increasing his "alone" time after "fun" time, and talking more about what he was expected to do and what would happen if he couldn't hold it together. We also committed to not having the other kids miss out no matter what mood we were in and what he did. So we entered the holidays holding our breath a little but committed to making this fun for everyone (without canceling any plans because of his behaviors) and making it as low stress as possible.

So far this has worked pretty well. He did not have a single major meltdown. We complimented him on holding it together. We rewarded him. The first meltdown was last night as wrapped up our celebration of C.'s birthday. I call this a win for all of us. We still have a ways to go since this traumaversary time lasts until mid February for him but so far so good.  Hopefully, I am not jinxing this now. :-)

Friday, December 14, 2012

Immense sadness...

My goals for my children are lofty. I want them to grow up to be caring, kind, thoughtful, contributing members of any community they join. I want them to love and be loved. I want them to belong wherever they choose to be. I want them to know right from wrong and choose right even when it is a difficult choice. I want them to give of themselves in ways that bring joy to others and themselves. I want their road to be smooth and blessed. I want their days filled with laughter and their nights filled with comfort and warmth. Every day I pray that I have what it takes to help get them there. Every day I work hard to make that closer to reality. Each day I enjoy moments of hope and moments of extreme doubt. Some days I experience fear and immense sadness. Today I watched the news of the CT school tragedy unfold in a community that C. and I are quite familiar with (she went to high school and I went to college near there) and I felt immense sadness--for the children, for the mothers, fathers and families, for the community, and for our society. I also experienced intense fear--for my children who, but for the grace of God, could have been/might someday be on any side of that tragic event.

Monday, December 3, 2012

A moment

I am standing in my kitchen watching Tortuga munch on a peanut butter sandwich as he pushes Milagro on the swing in our backyard. I smile as I watch them chatting about who knows what.  She hops off the swing and runs to give him a bear hug which he awkwardly returns. (Hugging isn't easy for him.) They are smiling and laughing. It all seems so natural.

I don't know how long this moment will last but I want to bottle it. I want to imprint the memory in my brain. There are so few moments like this and yet everything about being a mother seems to be about times like this. We work so hard to care for them, teach them, nurture them, and protect them. Ultimately we have to hope they learn what they are supposed to learn and become who they are supposed to become. Most days I aim for "human" with him but today I see a glimmer of something more. A small sign of the young man he is turning into and my heart swells.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Things we do around here...

Sometimes the way we parent makes no sense. Sometimes the way we parent makes so much sense that all the parents of NT kids are jealous (just dreaming, I know....) Once we get into the "parenting trauma" groove and it seems to be working, we can start to take it for granted. I recently made friends with someone who is new to the whole adoption thing. She absolutely has kids with attachment issues. She absolutely denies this. She absolutely wants it to not be true but is getting to a place where she is open to the reality that her kids need her to be different. I struggled with that for a long time. I just wanted to parent in all the ways that I always knew I would parent. Then reality set it and I fought it kicking and screaming but when I saw it start to work with Corazon I knew I was on the "right" track even if it didn't look like I wanted it to look.

We are 6 years in from having adopted Corazon and we have learned/are learning a great deal on this journey. Our home has gone through more room rearrangements than I care to remember. Pretty much the kids have shared/not shared rooms in just about every possible combination except for Tortuga and Corazon sharing a room. We are currently set up to have each of the boys in their own room and the girls share a room. In order to make this work we have a lot of "fail-safes" in place. Although the girls share a room, they spend almost no time in there together without a third party. Some of our "fail-safes" are absolutely necessary and others probably aren't anymore but they make all of us feel safer. We have video monitors in each bedroom and in the playroom/homeschool/office. Each of the kids' bedrooms is alarmed at night (and Tortuga's is alarmed during the day.) Our pantry has an alarm too. At times the kids' bathroom has also had a monitor for reasons I won't go into here. In addition the hallway with all the bedrooms has 2 motion detectors (Tortuga sleep walks and has almost fallen down the stairs when startled awake.)  Because they have made so much progress we rarely need to use the monitors (there was a time when we needed them on 24/7) but they are there and I can always check in if I need to. None of our children are allowed to play with each other in their rooms unless they are "on camera" at all times (2 of mine have been known to seriously physically harm someone when playing together and unsupervised and 2 resort to all kinds of unsafe behaviors if they think they aren't being watched.) I dream of the day I won't have alarms on doors and video monitors in rooms but the truth is they give me peace of mind, especially where the youngest is concerned. She is just 5 and while she is pretty sharp, she is just beginning to understand that her siblings have different needs and that she isn't always safe with them (as demonstrated by the split lower lip and gash on her arm from two separate incidents this week with the same sibling.)

We have ""rules" that others don't "get." Our kids have to "ask" to go upstairs, to their rooms or to the bathroom. That is because we need to be mindful of who is in the upstairs hallway at any given time and so everyone else knows they can't be in said hallway until the bathroom is clear. Our kids can't go up and down stairs together unless an adult is actively watching (several mishaps and "accidental" pushes have made this necessary.) The may not go into each other's room for any reason without adult permission or supervision (this was where many problems began before we just made a blanket rule.) When we come home from outside, each child has a "spot" where they must immediately go to and "practice patience" (strong sitting if you are familiar with Nancy Thomas' work). This helps us with transitions. Our kids can't help themselves to food from the pantry or refrigerator because food and jealousy issues still plague us. In a restaurant, shared appetizers (think chips and salsa) could set off a world war and our oldest two pretty much always get the same dish because Tortuga would go absolutely crazy if he thought Corazon's was "better"(bigger, more, tastier, or whatever other difference he might perceive) in any way. This is actually progress since it used to be that even if they had the same food he would always find his lacking in some way (hers had more dressing, one of her chicken tenders was bigger, her lettuce was greener, etc.). It may seem crazy to everyone else but it works for us. It takes some of the "stresses" away and even though those things shouldn't be stressful they are to some of our children so we work to make the situation work for them until we can help them maneuver it in a way that is healthy and safe.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Homeschool Activities

If you ask the kids they love and hate homeschooling. They love that we can spend weeks studying things we are interested in but they hate not being around other kids for school. We try to do outside activities (dance, music and sports) plus this year three of them are taking science classes at our local nature center. We have had some bumps as we got started this year because Milagro officially started kindergarten this year. The rest of them are a bit jealous of the attention she needs to do her learning. Other than that we are moving right along.

Currently we have a staggered schedule because of all their attention issues. Milagro and Tortuga are our late sleepers so we start our school day with Pollito and Corazon. They begin their days with breakfast and morning chores (cats, litter boxes, recycling and unloading dishwasher) then they do their morning gratitude and journal writings, update reading logs, and drawing. Corazon's schedule is mostly self-paced so we meet once/week to map out her progress and what she needs/wants to work on for the week. She does math, writing, reading, social studies/history pretty much every day and we have science as a project-based activity. She is also taking two homeschool courses at our local Science and Nature Center (one meets once/month and the other meets twice/month and has them working on a science project for a science fair in February.) Pollito is still learning to read (it has been an uphill struggle) and while he is 8 he is still more like a first/second grader. He has a  daily folder of activities that follow our weekly theme(shared with Milagro) and he can pick what he does and the order he does it in. He always has reading, writing, math, science and theme (usually a mix of different subjects.) He has active work on reading so each day he does at least 4 of the following 6 literacy/reading activities: Read by himself, Read to Someone, Read WITH Someone, Listen to reading (audiobooks, ipad, or computer), Word Work and Practice writing. He also takes the monthly science class that Corazon takes.

Milagro usually gets up an hour or so after the first two so they are well on their way doing independent work so that I can work with her. She has a daily schedule that she follows on her own: Calendar, Weather, "Folders" (writing/numbers/math/patterns/letters/sight words), Storytime, Reading (with me) and at least 2 of the 6 literacy/reading activities that Pollito has. After that she has computer/ipad time which may include science, math, literacy activities and then "specials" (crafts, art, music, science, etc.). She also takes the same monthly science class the others take.

Tortuga is the last to get up and the one needing the most attention. While I do one-on-one work with Milagro, he goes through his morning routine, chores, gratitude journal and daily journal prompt. I usually have a daily "sheet" for him that details his assignments for the day although much of it is self-paced in the same way that Corazon's is. However, he has many more breaks and interruptions because his self-control and impulse control are still a challenge. Anytime he has a comment or question about anything he is doing he tends to want to interrupt so we have a pretty elaborate system to keep him in check around this. For the most part he loves learning new things (as does Corazon) so much of their work involves reading about specific subjects on a much deeper level than would normally happen in schools. Currently they are working on dystopic novels/stories so they are working their way through several author studies and will ultimately write their own dystopic story.

It is a sophisticated balancing act but for the most part it keeps things running pretty smoothly, except of course, when it doesn't. :-)

Saturday, November 24, 2012


We had a lovely Thanksgiving holiday. I have so much to be grateful for especially the most incredible partner in the world. I am grateful for her every. single. day. As Toni Morrison wrote in her book, Beloved:  “She is a friend of my mind. She gather me... (T)he pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order.”  I am blessed to have my family, great friends near and far, a comfortable home, happy and healthy children, safety, love, laughter, everything I need and much of what I want, and reminders to never take these for granted. 

This month our family has regularly shared our gratitudes nightly at dinner. It has been fun to hear Milagro be thankful for "care bears" (because they keep us caring) and Pollito express his gratitude for trees, rocks, and trucks. The older ones have been thankful for books, science classes, and two moms. One day Pollito commented that he was thankful he didn't have a dad which sparked a wonderful conversation about moms and dad, birthmoms and birthdays, and ultimately "what matters most" which in Pollito's estimation was a mom or dad "who loves you no matter how many things you break!" :-)

This Thanksgiving we are continuing a tradition from last year. We hosted my sister and niece (who live in town) and C.'s parents (from CO.) Then my mother, brother, sister-in-law and niece came in from South TX. It was basically the same crew from last year except that our dear friends A. & H. and their kids weren't able to join us. The kids were disappointed and made comments like "it doesn't feel like Thanksgiving because _____ aren't here." Milagro went as far as asking me to call and tell them to drop off the kids, J. & Z, even if the adults couldn't make it. :-) I made a big meal and we watched football and just spent time together. On Friday, we avoided shopping areas, went out to everyone's favorite BBQ place and had a grand time. It is so much fun to watch my older niece (who just turned 17) spend time with her younger cousins. They don't see each other much and it really hasn't been that long that the kids have known one another. My brother's religious views had kept him from accepting our family although he seems to have had a change of heart in the past two years. He used to simply ignore C. but now he has discovered her sense of humor and they seem to have found some shared interests.

Perhaps the highlights of the holiday were that Tortuga had no major incidents and for the first time ever Corazon was able to help with the cooking in ways that didn't interfere with, sabotage, upstage, disrupt or otherwise create more work for me and meltdowns for her. She was appropriate, pleasant, and absolutely awesome. She followed directions, did grunge work, had fun, kept me company, and got to take pride in her terrific work as sous-chef. I thoroughly enjoyed working with her!

Friday, November 9, 2012

What's working for us these days...

Corazon has continued to stay on her schoolwork ever since I told her "quit" school. She still struggles at times but insists the schoolwork is interesting and engaging and that it is her own attitude that gets in her way.  She still gives me attitude about things and we still battle for control but her schoolwork issues are greatly reduced. At about the time that I told her to quit school we brought out her "mother/daughter" journal and we started writing back and forth to each other again. I was able to express my disappointment and frustration (and hurt about how she was acting) in ways that felt safer to her and that she could actually "hear." She shares some of those frustrations and disappointments in herself and she was able to own them in writing in ways that she would never do if we were discussing them. When I forget to write back within our timeline (48 hours) she gently reminds me and says she misses it. So that is working for us.

We also started using the noise canceling headphones with her again. I had forgotten how well they worked and why we stopped using them. She is allowed to listen to her MP3 player which starts out with reiki music, gregorian chants and Mozart and then continues on with other classical music. She reports that she loves the feeling she gets from the music and it helps her focus and concentrate. I certainly think it is helping her disposition tremendously too! She is less distracted and much more relaxed both while she is doing schoolwork and afterwards. We are instituting the headphones with the boys soon as soon as I can get them ordered.

We have also started using a new combination of herbal supplements with Tortuga and while I think it still needs tweaking I think we may be onto something. More on that later.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Like clockwork...

It's October 30.

Every year, Tortuga starts acting up right around Halloween and it doesn't let up until mid-February. Lots of trauma anniversaries in these months. This Fall he has been improving steadily. No major issues in at least a month. Small bumps but easily redirected.  This morning he woke up dysregulated.  I avoided confrontations with humor, grace, (gritted teeth) and nonchalance. Didn't matter. By lunchtime he was off the charts. He started out belligerent, rude, mean, obnoxious, volatile and it went downhill fast. I finally sent him up to his room to lie under his weighted blanket and asked him not to come out until he felt better. After 3 minutes he started throwing things around the room and gesturing (we have a video monitor in his room) that he was going to hit me. I ignored it all and busied the other children with Halloween crafts and making pumpkin spice donuts. We could hear him ranting and raving BUT he stayed under the blanket. An hour later he emerged from his room, apologized, and asked to go back to his schoolwork.

So far so good. (Knock on wood.)

I think it is going to be a long four months...

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

So far, so good...

So far, so good. Corazon has been plugging along on her schoolwork while I still refuse to give her any. She even asked to go back to her blog this weekend. She used to post her daily journal prompts there and then lost interest in both the blog and her schoolwork. Now she seems ready to tackle it again. We shall see how it goes but for now I am grateful that she has taken a new interest in her school work. It has been challenging to come up with a school routine with four kids "formally" schooling. We are in week 3 of our schedule and are hitting our stride I think. The biggest challenge is that both Pollito and Corazon demand CONSTANT attention particularly if another one of them is talking with me. It is like clockwork...if one asks a question, the other one (or two if the original child talking to me is Tortuga or Milagro) is right there. It would be one thing if they waited quietly but the shout at me and each other to try and get my attention. I have gotten pretty good at ignoring it until I am finished with the first kid but sometimes it escalates quickly.  Other than this behavior though I think we are lucky. They all seem to know what they need to do, we have time for group activities or lessons, and this year we have started having organized "arts" activities at least twice per week. The kids all love to do crafts and arts but it is not my strength nor my interest. So I struggle to create opportunities for them beyond their usual drawing, coloring, painting activities--which they all love and is their "go to" activity when they have free time.

Pollito is still a very angry little boy. He just turned 8 but still lags about 2 years behind his chronological age in most areas. His anger is directed mostly at himself or his sisters and he is destructive. It is difficult to tell whether the issue is his nature run amok (he loves taking things apart) or he is actively working to make them angry at him. He pretty much destroys (quietly) anything he has--toys, books, stuffed animals, etc and he does it to any of their items he can get ahold of. Yet he is also very sensitive. Whenever the other kids are sad or in trouble (even when he set them up) he feels bad for them and tries to hug them or goes off to draw them "a card." Just yesterday, I sent Corazon to her room for a "break" for deliberately defying me as I was trying to get Milagro to do something she knew how to do on her own. Pollito went off and drew her a card and wrote on it that he missed her so much when she wasn't downstairs with the other kids. This is pretty typical of him.

Tortuga is still having a hard time but we are seeing some slow progress. The meanness and hostility have tapered off and have been replaced by disrespect and attitude. I just reread that and marveled at how I can describe disrespect and attitude as "progress." :-)  For him it is. I still haven't re-instituted his guitar lessons (should have started in late August) because he hasn't demonstrated that he can  consistently follow his most basic routines and expectations. I am not sure what to expect with him because his WORST times are usually between Halloween and mid February. Lots of traumaversaries for him during those months. If what we are seeing is the best we are going to get until next February this is going to be one dreary Fall/Winter and I am not looking forward to this at all. We shall see.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

My daughter is mad because I let her quit school...

Corazon has been angry with me because I gave her permission to not do schoolwork.

Homeschooling is full of ups and downs with her because she has so many challenges with organization, attention, opposition, hyper vigilance and perfectionism. Sometimes we go for weeks and everything moves relatively smoothly. Then she just stops doing any schoolwork or doing pretty mediocre work. We have ridden that wave pretty much her entire life with us and I don't sweat it when we have to take a break. When she won't do her work she just gets to help me out and do more chores. We both win. She gets time with me and I get chores I don't have time for done. The challenge is that the other kids take their cues from her so when she is battling about schoolwork they try to battle too.

While she loves learning, her skills vary considerably depending on the day and the attitude with which she approaches her work. As a teacher, I am pretty sure she is close to grade level or just above it in most areas. However, if anyone administered any kind of assessment she would be somewhere around 3rd grade (instead of beginning 7th.) I haven't worried about assessments because I can see steady progress over time. However, sometimes we go through some serious battles for attention because she refuses to do her schoolwork. As with any RAD kid, it makes no difference if I take things away or have her miss out on activities. What works for her is missing out on time with me. If she thinks she won't have access to attention from me, she will often get her act together. Not always but often.

Enter puberty and hormones.

Enter little brother who still can't read at grade level.

Enter 5 year old sister now homeschooling too.

Result:  recipe for disaster.

With a new addition to our homeschooling crew and a need to give Pollito more one-on-one as he struggles with his reading, her anxiety about getting "enough" attention has kicked into high gear. Since we started "Fall school" (we do year-round schooling) she has had a very hard time despite her involvement in selecting much of the work she gets to do.  She will not allow me to give those children ANY attention without engaging in destructive, counter-productive, distracting, rude, unsafe or just plain obnoxious behaviors. It has affected the other children's quality of life considerably. I gave Corazon a choice: do schoolwork while I am working with the other two OR go to her room. Of course, that didn't work. So finally I said I was ok with her NOT doing schoolwork. She could just sit there or do something quietly instead. In fact, she never had to do schoolwork again. I was done. Totally done.

She got MAD. She begged. She pleaded. She wrote me letters. Did I want her to be uneducated? (Of course not.) Did I not care about her learning? (Can learn without schooling.) Did I not care about her future? (Of course!) How could I tell her she could stop school at age 12? Didn't I love her? (Yep, that's why I am not doing this battle anymore.) She wrote me more letters. I didn't cave. Nope. No schoolwork for you.

In the past 2 days she has caught up on all the schoolwork she hadn't done in the past 3 weeks. All of it. She keeps trying to show it to me (when the other kids are getting my attention) and I smile and say "that's nice" and then remind her that the other kids are schooling right now. Today she asked me for more schoolwork. I said I didn't have any but showed her what her older brother was working on. She asked if she could photocopy it. Last I saw her she was busily working on doing an "analysis" of a Helen Hunt Jackson poem. School ended a few hours ago for the rest of the children. I wonder how long this will last.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


How did two months go by so quickly? I didn't mean to stop writing. Just busy and caught up in the day to day. Life is life. We have had lots of ups and downs. Some of which I mean to write about but haven't. Sometimes I feel like the kids and want someone to tell me what to write about. So much swirling around in my head and in my life. The past two months have been filled with activity that perhaps explains why I haven't given myself a chance to write. Here's what I can remember...

Three weeks in MA. This was our shortest and most difficult trip. Tortuga was pretty awful most of it. Corazon was amazingly regulated throughout. We made the best of it and visited with lovely friends who we dearly miss, got to meet our friend's newest baby who is adorable, and visited our beloved ocean as many times as possible. I sprained my knee about a week before the trip and to say that the pain was almost unbearable would not be an exaggeration. I am betting that's part of what made Tortuga even more insufferable.

Birth families. No luck finding the boys' birth mom. She has fallen off the radar since last year. We used to have regular phone call then nothing. I am concerned and I think this is part of what made Tortuga insufferable. That and puberty. He wrote a journal entry about how he was happy he wasn't going to get to see her and he was sad he wasn't going to get to see her. I think that sums his feelings up pretty nicely. We celebrated Corazon's birthday with her mother, sister, niece, nephew and sister's new boyfriend. Her mom had also dropped off the radar screen due to some health issues, economic problems and life stuff. Things have gone downhill for her a bit and that makes communicating regularly more difficult. Except for her sister's boyfriend dropping his baggie of "herb" out of his pocket and Corazon wanting to know what it was, the visit went well. No fallout from Corazon so far...

Birthdays. The three younger kids all celebrated a birthday this summer. Corazon turned 12 in July and we had a lovely party in Boston just before returning to Texas. She was amazingly poised, charming, thoughtful, and just a kid. A friend of ours who has known her (and her issues) since the day we brought her home commented that she had her first "real" conversation with Corazon ever. I think that speaks volumes about her progress and healing. The littles turned 8 and 5 in late August. I am still in denial that my babies are that old. They had a great "under the sea" (think sharks and whales with a few dolphins thrown in for good measure) birthday party.  Milagro spent the day rushing up to me and saying things like "This is too much fun. My heart feels like it's going to burst into a million pieces!" I just love that child's spirit!

Homeschool. We ended summer "school" on August 31 and started fall "school" on September 6. The older kids are presenting some challenges but I think much of it is my fault. I am not feeling as organized as I usually am and my expectations have increased. I probably have some scaffolding to do for them that I hadn't planned on. Pollito is actually in a "groove" so things are much better with him. Reading is still the big challenge. I see progress and know we did the right thing keeping him home. He would be so overwhelmed in public school and already labelled in so many ways because of his reading challenges. I have to remember that Tortuga didn't read until he was almost 9.  The big change is that Milagro is now "officially" in kindergarten. She is excited to do "big kid" school but it really isn't much different than her usual days. She is developing an incredible vocabulary. Two days ago she ran up to me and asked me for 2 paper towels. Worrying that she had made a big mess I asked her what was going on. She answered "I have a hypothesis I am trying to test."

Puberty.  Sucks. Most of what is related to this is unbloggable. Just think 13.5 year old boy with special needs. Enough said.

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Whale of a Time...

I kept meaning to post these but time just got away from me. The kids made it easy for me this year. Pollito and Milagro asked for a joint birthday party (yippee!) and Milagro wanted an "orca cake" while Pollito asked for sharks and/or dolphins. Perfect combination for an ocean themed birthday celebration! I kept the decorations simple albeit some were huge and the kids had a blast. It worked out really well especially given that their birthdays are in late August, it's hot as can be it TX, and they are happy to just bask in the sprinklers/outdoor kiddie pool all day.To be honest once the pools and inflatables were set up I don't think they would have noticed if no one else had attended! They had a blast and so did the rest of us!  I cannot believe they are 8 and 5! Milagro is still tall for her age and Pollito is not so we still get questions about whether they are twins. :-)

Here are some birthday highlights....

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Pollito is Eight!

Just yesterday I was carrying Pollito around everywhere we went (at age 2.5 he was still under 20lbs) and here he is turning 8 on me! Doesn't seem possible. He is still a "little guy" so I get fooled into believing he is younger than he really is. He is turning into quite the comic and has such incredible creativity. So many times he makes me laugh so hard that I have a hard time keeping a straight face when I should be disciplining him. :-) His drawing and writing have taken off this year and we see incredible creations from him whether they be intricate train cities or elaborate 3D drawings of roadways and skyways. He is quite the sentimental child and his feelings get hurt easily. He will also cry if anyone else in our family is crying. He has recently taken to drawing "love" pictures--which currently decorate most of his notebooks, our desks, his room, and any other "free" wall space. He will spend hours drawing pictures for C. and I and deliver them in paper bags, carboard boxes, envelopes, or other handcrafted containers. Some are miniscule (postage stamp size) and others are posterboard size. I can hardly keep him in drawing paper! He still loves to take things apart and hasn't quite mastered the art of putting things back together. (Not sure he ever will...but I am hopeful.)

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Corazon turns 12

"Such as I am, I am a precious gift." --Zora Neale Hurston

How did my baby girl get so big so fast? We celebrated Corazon's 12th birthday with a tie-dye birthday cake and a few Boston friends. I am so proud of this child. She is becoming such a wonderful young woman. She is strong, thoughtful, caring, smart, creative and fun to be with. Her smile comes from her heart and lights up her face. Whenever I see her and I cannot help but smile.  She has brought me such joy and Her self-assuredness and her sense of who she is and wants to be shines through so often. She no longer has to hide her fears and her vulnerabilities and she has demonstrated an ability to trust us in ways we only dreamed of a year ago. She has worked really hard to heal from RAD and she is getting there. There were so many times I thought I couldn't deal with the behaviors and the distrust and the rage and the peeing and everything else. Each time I had to remind myself that while it was bad (really bad) for us, it must be so much worse for her. Somehow we have kept working at it. We have made so many mistakes. There are so many things I wish I could do over again. But somewhere in there we did some things right. We still have some hellish times but that is progress.  We have hellish times with a lot of wonderful in between. There is so much more that I feel about this child that words cannot even begin to express.  When we finalized her adoption, we used the quote above on her adoption announcement. No truer words have ever been uttered about Corazon.  She has, indeed, been a most precious gift.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Hanging in there...

It's been busy. Three of the kids did a week-long art camp.  It was only three hours/day but enough to give everyone a change of pace. Sea Creatures for the little one and Tortuga and Corazon did a wheel-throwing class. Pollito got quality time with me. Overall it was a huge success. They had fun, I got a break, Pollito got more attention and C. and I managed to spend some mornings together catching up on down time. It was an experiment in that we put Corazon and Tortuga in the same class so they could police each other. Whatever they did right or wrong they did together since we didn't hear any tattling from either of them.  All 3 kids made some wonderful pieces that are still prominently displayed in our living room.

The down-side was that a "touch" of normalcy for Tortuga was way too much. As the week progressed his behaviors spiraled downward. Nothing major until that weekend. At first it was simple things like "forgetting" routines and not following through on simple tasks. By the weekend we were at blowing up for no reason at all, talking/arguing back, mean faces and downright nastiness. When reminded to use his calming tools we got outright defiance. We have known for a while that being around people for too long (more than an hour or two at a time) is over-stimulating for him. Clearly being around people and without us increased his anxiety. Even with breaks away from people the experience proved to be a bit much. I also think he gets "confused" once he isn't more closely supervised or monitored and all sense of routine and self-regulation goes by the wayside. It's more complicated than this but this is part of the issue. After that week we got serious payback from the older two. They little one spent the better part of the week independently expanding on her works from camp and hours on end drawing sea creatures, asking to learn more about them and planning for her next art camp.

Because we always seem to do thing "big" around here we followed that week of camp with a trip to South Texas to visit with my mom. It is a 5 hour drive each way and we stay in her 1 bedroom apartment. We added my sister and niece to the car ride just to keep things "interesting." It was my mom's 79th birthday so we were planning a birthday party at my brother's house.  The kids always enjoy seeing my mom and we hadn't seen her since Thanksgiving. It had definitely been more than a year since we had visited her there. Tortuga still hadn't recovered from his previous behaviors and the weekend didn't turn out to be as relaxing as we wanted. He was out of hand and out of sorts the whole time putting the rest of us on edge. We caught him "play fighting" with Pollito (which is NEVER allowed) despite the fact that he isn't allowed to have any physical contact with any of the kids except for goodnight hugs. After breaking that up and separating them, he snuck back to Pollito and threatened to kill him after telling him he wishes Pollito was dead and he wishes this on a regular basis. He has terrorized and threatened Pollito throughout his life so this verbal threat (even though couched as "just kidding") was completely unacceptable. We did our best to get through the weekend and work in some fun for the kids and most importantly time with my mom. I think she enjoyed her birthday and I know she was happy to have all of us there. We haven't done that since we were young. In fact, the last time I was with my mom on her birthday was almost 10 years ago!

One of the main reasons we moved down here was to see her more often and I don't think we have done as well in that area as I had hoped. The kids and our daily lives have certainly made this challenging. I was so angry at Tortuga for his behavior and needing to constantly deal with him during mom's celebration. I have had a hard time letting go of this anger which is unusual for me. When he tried to apologize I accepted the apology but told him I wasn't ready to forgive him yet. He tried to blame his behaviors on Pollito which didn't help his case.  My tolerance level was low and I was still too mad. We travel to MA soon and at this moment I am dreading what this might mean for us traveling with him. I am feeling "held hostage" by him and while it isn't a new or different experience I am resenting it at the moment. This too shall pass...

Friday, June 8, 2012

Hollywood Movie Premier Birthday Party

Most of my kids, nieces, and siblings have summer birthdays. We got pretty used to the family birthday parties since school friends rarely came to summer parties. So when my niece who is Corazon's counterpart (they are three weeks apart in age) asked if I would plan and host her birthday party a month early so she would have school friends there I eagerly accepted the task. Little did I know how tired I would be after all the recitals and out of town visitors but we rallied. We celebrated this past weekend and the party was a success. It also opened up a floodgate of feelings for Corazon which we are still processing and will write about later.

Here are the invitations we created along with movie tickets to vote for the movie they wanted to screen. Kids were asked to bring their tickets to "vote" for their "kids' choice movie winner" and that was the movie we would screen. As added incentive, they were told we would draw movie tickets and choose winners of door prizes.

As the guest arrived they were greeting by this sign...(outside)

This was the entrance... 

We played applause and cheering sound effects while parents joined the paparazzi in taking pictures of the guests as they arrived...
Since no high-profile event is complete with security personnel....

The girls were escorted inside by "security"... and given their "All-Access Passes" which included a candy pass redeemable for one box of movie candy. You can tell someone is taking her job seriously. We were constantly bombarded by "diva on the move" and "anybody have a 20 on the diva?" We aren't sure where she got the language but she was having a total blast. I can't even begin to describe what she did when kids (or adults) didn't have their access passes. Too cute and lots of fun.

They signed their "hollywood stars"...

The decorations inside...

The kids had a scavenger hunt (which had them searching for stuff and doing all kinds of activities such as getting their glamour picture taken with the birthday girl), decorated socks, decorated glamour sunglasses (found in scavenger hunt) and made duct tape crafts.

The menu was pretty basic movie fare...hotdogs, pizza, nachos, pickles, popcorn, and movie candy. This was followed by cake and "popcorn" cupcakes.

The girls had a really grand time and so did the adults and the best part was that my own kids were able to enjoy it without getting totally out of control.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The look of progress

Lest anyone thing it's all fun and games around here, my darling daughter chose to remind me that she is healing and not yet healed yesterday. It was a nasty scene with growling, drool, spitting, biting and hitting. She hasn't done this in ages and all I can think is that she had too much of a good thing. While Corazon has made tremendous progress, her sense of self worth grows in very small increments. She is hitting puberty and is often on an emotional roller coaster. One of the side effects of this (along with healing) is that she is "feeling" more. If that makes sense. Things that used to roll off her back or by the wayside now stick. She thinks about them and tries to process them. One contributing factor was being around a bunch of NT girls in large doses these past two weekends (recitals and birthday party for my niece at our house) have given her an extra huge dose of the not-so-nice behaviors this peer group of hers often engages in. She doesn't understand the games, especially the mind games, or the cattiness but she does notice them these days. The other was that I had recently complimented her several times about her behavior (helpfulness, lack of attitude, cooperativeness and even a hint of trust). I think that was too scary and too much. Her default is still set to "bad kid" and she has to work hard to convince herself that she is a good kid. I got her a gift to thank her for her amazing help in preparing for grandparents visits, helping me manage Milagro's class during recital and then all the prep for her cousin's birthday party. That totally set her off. It was something she wanted but she acted as though it was an insult. Then she threw a tantrum and blew up about something I asked her to do. Finally she decided to do her cat chores (check food supply and change water) by spilling the water on top of the ottoman (hard to do) and hiding the food she spilled (about a cup and a half) under the ottoman. When I found it and told her to clean it up she blew up. Started screaming, grunting, growling and then groveled on the floor. When I just calmly looked at her and told her to let me know when it was over she tried to bite me (hasn't happened in who knows how long) an hit me. I held her arms and told her she needed to go to her room to calm down and she lost it even more. It took about 30 minutes to calm her and then I got her to tap and rub. Then I sent her to lie under her weighted blanket for 20 minutes. That seemed to reset her system. She apologized and did the appropriate restitution for the destruction in the living room. The rest of the day she was still a little off but last night we were able to talk about the things I thought were setting her off and she admitted she really liked the gift but didn't know why she had behaved the way she did.

I have to remember that this is huge progress. In the past it would have been days and days of cycling and tantrums without any clue about why she was set off. She would never have been able to regroup so readily and she would have denied all the reasons I suggested for her falling apart. This is what progress looks like. If I am not careful I totally miss it.  This was true for Tortuga as well. He has been so jealous about the weekend festivities for my niece and last night we unexpectedly got a chance to see my younger brother who was in town for a conference. We all went out to dinner to one of the kids favorite BBQ places. My niece, her cousin and my sister joined us and Tortuga was impossible. Usually they are pretty well behaved when we go out but he could barely hold things together. By the time we came home he was being pretty nasty and I could see his anger rising BUT he was controlling it.  By bedtime he was mad that no one had "noticed" his anger so he blew up at me. I told him I knew what and why he was doing it, would talk to him about it later but he needed to not cut into my time with C.  An hour later I noticed on his monitor he was still awake so I checked on him. He immediately apologized, asked if he could give me a hug and told me he loved me. Progress.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Dance Recitals

Pollito, Corazon and Milagro took a whole slew of dance classes this year. Milagro originally started in a Creative Dance class then added a Hip Hop because her siblings were in those and she didn't want to be left out. Pollito opted for Ballet and Hip Hop this year while Corazon, because of her dance company ended up in 6 different classes. We knew recital time would be hectic especially after we added a morning arts and dance program for Milagro. She would not be talked out of performing in any of her classes even after I balked at the thought of 5 different costumes and dances for her alone. She insisted that "the girls will miss me mom!" whenever I broached the idea of her not participating. All in all we had 3 kids in 14 dances over 4 recitals (all in one weekend!) To add to the mix their grandparents came into town so we had to subject them to all those performances. I got to play backstage mom for all of them which was ... entertaining.

As I wrote earlier, these recitals gave me a chance to see much more than their progress in music and dance. Pollito loves to dance and does it all the time at home. He opted out of his piano recital because he was "too afraid to be on stage" by himself but he seemed fine to do the dance recital again this year. In classes he is technically fine but it takes him a very long time to master a dance. His processing issues combined with his oppositional nature usually manifest in ways that don't help him learn a dance. Unless the teacher is standing right in front of him and offers many repetitions he will just "fake it." This year was his 3rd year taking dance and we still saw this pattern but as recital drew near a very interesting thing happened. He asked me to help him practice his dances. For about a week and a half prior to recital he would ask to stay up late and practice (learn) his dance. With Corazon's help we retaught him much of the ballet and he started to feel pretty confident in his abilities. The night of the dress rehearsal he was nervous about being on stage but his performance was excellent. I could tell he was genuinely proud of himself and he smiled from ear to ear. I don't see that as often as I wish from him. Even when we compliment him he doesn't "feel" like it is true. This time he took my compliments and seemed to believe them. When he went out on stage for the actual performance he ended up in the wrong position for his dance but no one could tell because he just oozed self assurance and poise. It was almost incredible and brought tears to my eyes. After his ballet performance I was backstage and noticed he looked heartbroken because he realized he'd "messed up." I assured him that his performance was wonderful and even his teacher could not convince him that he had done an excellent job. I couldn't tell if this was his lack of self confidence, lack of trust in others or just plain need to be oppositional that made this so hard for him to accept. Once he got through his hip hop he seemed to get over his bad feelings and was able to enjoy the kudos he got from many people including strangers. It is a new phenomena for him to show any sign of "caring" about how he does in anything. It is an even newer thing to see him actually recognize good and bad performances. At the end of the recitals he said to me "I don't remember my other recitals. Did I do good or bad in those?" I assured him he did well and he responded by saying "I thought I did bad." He wouldn't elaborate. He is on this very interesting cusp of self-awareness and it is rare moments like this when we get a little bit of insight into how he sees himself and what he cares about.

Milagro is becoming such a big girl. She was so excited to perform. She had no qualms about knowing her dances and she was so trusting that her teachers would be on hand to help if she "forgot." She had two recitals back to back so was tied up from about 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and she was a total trooper. Her stamina and commitment once she makes her mind up is amazing. She had fun backstage and she had fun on stage. She even managed to ham it up a bit and wave to me and blow kisses (at almost appropriate times) during her dances! Of the three of them she has the least amount of dance "skill" but you could not have convinced her of that. Sometimes we watch her in dance class and chuckle at how inflexible her body is as they stretch or how awkward she looks as she tries to follow the teacher's directions. It is unlikely she is destined to be a dancer for long but she is having so much fun! As I watched her during her recitals I wondered how long it would be before the self confidence gets shaken. At what point will she internalize messages that will tear away at her self concept. How do I protect and prepare her for that? I was so proud of that little girl. She danced her heart out and had the time of her life.

I am also incredibly proud of Corazon who has, perhaps, shown the most growth this year. She is a strong athlete and is technically very good at dance. Her sense of rhythm and ability to "let go" need cultivating. She took a risk by choosing to do musical theater this year and I must say I was nervous. I watched her throughout the year and she seemed so out of place. Her timing and delivery were usually pretty off and her facial expressions hardly matched the scene they were setting. For someone who is an amazing drama queen, it was telling to see her be so awkward in this setting. Perhaps this was my greatest surprise. Her dancing was beautiful as usual and I was acutely aware of how much poise and confidence she has gained through dance despite her low self concept in so many other areas. She looks so much older when she dances and I find myself searching for signs of that little girl who preferred to get attention by standing out rather than doing what was expected of her. Her musical theater performance was wonderful. She looked as confident and graceful as she did in all her other performances but she messed up. She missed the mike and one of her lines wasn't delivered so others could hear and she threw things off a bit. When I saw her backstage she was crying. She was so distressed and taking full responsibility. That was a first for her. She felt the responsibility not just for herself but for the rest of the girls.

We have struggled with this all year in dance company because she struggled with taking responsibility for how her actions (not being ready, missing practice, etc) might affect the rest of the girls. In fact, we did not let her try out again for dance company because she started banking on MY sense of responsibility toward the company and counted on that to keep participating even when she was acting in ways that should have kept her out. I had made a commitment this year that I would not take dance company rehearsals away from her no matter how awful she was. That was so hard, especially on day when she was a total jerk, got nothing done and treated everyone with disdain and meanness. For the most part I kept my commitment but it was SO HARD. I found myself regretting our decision to not let her try out again but only for a moment. She is in a critical developmental place and needs to take more responsibility for the things she cares about. Our compromise is that she will take classes there again in the fall and we will also look for another option because she is starting to face some other issues particularly around race and gender.  Much of it is grounded in her poise and skill which I think throws off the other girls who are steeped in their own insecurities based on the social messages they get around here about what it means to be a girl. She doesn't usually get bothered by the things they expect her to be bothered by and their comments get more and more obnoxious. They are also making some racist comments to her and another girl of color and while she has let them slide by they are starting to bother her and confuse her. But, she is processing them which is way more that she was able to do a year ago. Now she "gets it" and wants to know why they say or do the things they do. A year ago, she could have cared less. In a strange way, her dance work this year that culminated in these recitals has opened up this level of awareness and growth and I was able to see it so vividly this past weekend. She is doing some really hard work and I forget that sometimes.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Guitar recital

We have just survived recital season around here and in all the preparations and planning it dawned on me that this wasn't just about getting a chance to see their progress in music and dance. There was a whole lot more that I was getting a chance to see. Tortuga has taken guitar for 2 1/2 years. Prior to this he had not been able to stick to any activity besides drawing. He could not consistently stay engaged with anything-not legos, not puzzles, not football, not basketball, nothing. As soon as something became a little challenging he quit (usually in a flurry of anger and frustration!) We took a different strategy with guitar.

We took lessons away just as he was enjoying it most (we had a legitimate reason since we were going to be gone for the summer) and asked him to demonstrate whether he really wanted to continue by practicing consistently on his own during one summer. At first he ignored the guitar and forgot much of what he had learned. As the time drew nearer for the Fall semester to begin he half-heartedly attempted to practice, continually asking how much practice would be enough for him to earn guitar back. Needless to say, he didn't practice enough and true to our word we did not re-enroll him. Something changed for him in that moment. He was mad. He raged. Then he took a different tactic. He asked for helped. He asked us how to convince us he really wanted to do this and get better. We reminded him we had already told him but would happily repeat ourselves. Then he asked for help putting a schedule together and "forcing" him to keep to the schedule. Over then next 4 months he consistently practiced and in January we enrolled him again. That was a year and a half ago and a few weeks ago he participated in his first recital.

He is a shy kid so we have never expected him to do the recitals but over the past year he has enjoyed playing at home for relatives and friends so when he decided he didn't want to do the December recital I agreed but insisted he do the Spring recital. He did and he was did a wonderful job. He was still shy and nervous but his performance was amazing. He had a poise and a confidence that I have NEVER seen before in him. He sounded good and his teacher introduced him by saying he was a wonderful student who always practiced and rapidly mastered anything he threw at him. No one has ever said that about Tortuga. In fact his experience is quite the opposite in pretty much everything he does. He always brags about how good he is at everything (which he isn't) and the minute he learns something new he is the best there ever was. This was different. Parents of other kids came up to him to complement him. A couple of other boys suggested they play music together and they spent their time backstage doing impromptu jam sessions.  He truly is good and he didn't have to brag about it. He gained a new confidence. We went out to lunch to celebrate his success and C. & I decided this was a good time for him to get a better guitar. We told him over lunch and C. took him to pick it out. His current one was a basic beginner's guitar that we initially rented then got a good deal on when we decided to buy it for him. We fully expected him to destroy or damage it so we had hedged our bets. The recital easily highlighted how ready he was for a better instrument. He has been so appreciative and delighted with his new guitar that we have crossed into new territory. We now have to tell him to stop practicing and he begs for extra time.

Thinking about this made me realize that sometimes we need recitals to clearly see and confirm that which we might have noticed but don't fully see with clear eyes until it is formally presented to us (and everyone else) to see, highlight and appreciate. He needed this recital but I think we needed it even more.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ups and downs...

Has it really been a month? I set out to write every day but my attention gets diverted elsewhere and I lose my train or thought. So much has happened in the past month I don't even know where to begin. We are on the up side of the roller coaster but it has been full of ups and downs and I am dizzy. Perhaps the best way to catch myself up a bit is to recap on each of the children.

Milagro--my goodness that child is growing too fast! She has gotten to an age (4 3/4) where not much gets past her. She is noticing that we treat the children differently and she "feels" differently about each one. Corazon is her role model (for better or for worse) and she continues to call her "twin". The 7 year difference in ages between them doesn't seem to phase her. It's gotten to the point that we find ourselves referring to each of them as "twin" in public. It's fun to see heads turn in confusion when we do that. She also is quite aware that her brothers are big-time special needs kids. She is confused by Pollito's meaness towards her and she adores him. He is her favorite playmate and it is almost impossible to tell that they are exactly 3 years apart in age. Developmentally they are in exactly the same place. She loves Tortuga unconditionally but she doesn't understand much of what he does or says. She has started referring to him as an "adult" probably because of his height (he has shot up!), his age, and his inability to deal with her appropriately. She also doesn't feel "safe" around him. He isn't mean to her but he is volatile. She has announced that she is ready to learn to read. She also announced she has no plans to attend kindergarten because she wants to homeschool like the rest of the kids. Her days are consumed by writing us love notes, playing Scooby Doo and My Little Pony games, and riding her bike, scooter and skateboard. She very much is showing her "big kid" colors and I am mourning the "baby" that I only catch rare glimpses of these days.

Pollito--He is having a hard time and he is impossible to read. He doesn't have RAD but shows signs of ODD on top of his learning and developmental delays. He is also blossoming. He has come into his own around drawing (great use of color, clearer images, ability to convey his ideas and feelings more easily) and reading (he has about 150 sight words which for him is HUGE. He has been a reluctant reader and daily repetitions/variations of lessons don't often stick. His interest in books and stories has always been high but in actually reading this has been almost non-existent. Emotionally he is also "waking up" if that makes any sense. We get better glimpses into some of his thoughts and feelings than we have ever had. He is also cycling through one of the worst negative behaviors EVER. It's as if he is acting out on every mean thing he has ever witnessed or experienced and usually Milagro is his victim. We recognize the behaviors he has learned from Corazon and Tortuga. He has taken to being rude and oppositional at every turn, disrespectful and just plain mean. Usually he is our "sensitive" child and we cannot pinpoint anything specific that may be going on with him.

Corazon--Her behavior has been OUTRAGEOUS. Much of it can probably still be attributed to puberty and hormones but she is cycling through some old behaviors that I am just tired of. We have had hellish times with her being mean to both her younger siblings, engaging in some pretty unsafe behaviors.Her impulse control is pretty much non-existent and her attitude is ever-present. She is lying and sneaking more and we have even seen more food-stealing behaviors. I had a massive temper tantrum one night before a dance competition because she decided to, once again, sneak reading instead of doing what she needed to do to be ready to get up at 5 a.m. It was the last straw in a string of annoying behaviors and I pretty much rearranged her room (removing all reading material) in the middle of the night. Not my best moment BUT her stress level went down right after that.  Go figure.  We have seen some wonderful moments that have brought me to tears as well. Her dancing is taking on more passion and emotion and her sense of self seems to be improving slightly. She has also started to notice things that she has been oblivious to in the past and I think she is confused by the feelings it brings up. She used to "not notice" when others were mean or rude to her so these things never seemed to phase her. Now she is seeing great success in her dance company performances but is encounter catty and obnoxious (and racist) behaviors on the part of a couple of the white girls in her company. Corazon is actually recognizing the unfairness of it all and it matters to her. As awful as the experiences are, the fact that she is being affected by them at all is wonderful. Despite all of this she has been AMAZING this past 4 or 5 days. We have had all kinds of projects around the house and she has been more helpful than I can even begin to describe. She is tapping and rubbing every single day, several times a day. It helps her but she still doesn't want to believe that it helps her so she refuses to do it some days. So I tap for her over and over and over again until she says "if I do my tapping myself will you stop PLLEEEEAAASSSSE?"

Tortuga--Probably deserves his own post. He was amazing for the month leading up to his birthday (usually an awful time for him) in almost every way. We could tell he was working hard at controlling his temper, his impulses, his meanness, his impatience and his jealousy. He was seeing success and liking the feeling. Then almost all of a sudden it just stopped. His verbal attacks on Corazon and Pollito returned with a vengeance and he started making "joking" threats against them. They were initially disguised as normal kid stuff -"I'm gonna bop you on the head if you ..." or "Want me to smack you?" We don't ever allow him to do this with them because, especially Pollito, who is his bio sibling, has dealt with enough of this from him to last a lifetime. It escalated over the next few weeks and eventually Tortuga was back to terrorizing Pollito whenever he thought we weren't listening and sometimes even if he knew we were. They share a room that has two dividers between them so that they don't have to mess with each other when they are in there together (usually just at night) but it clearly wasn't enough. C. had a serious talk with Tortuga about this behavior and it didn't seem to register. We had to go back to our old safety plans and we ended up doing yet another room rearrangement! I spent the better part of a week moving kids around so that for now the three younger kids share a room and Tortuga moved into Corazon's room (which was smaller) so he is by himself again. While that keeps Pollito safer, it doesn't help Tortuga self monitor. Pollito's safety was more important at this point. So far this setup is working but it has been less than two weeks.

Somewhere in all of that we have managed to do some fun family stuff. I am very tired these days. Very tired. So tired that we have postponed our annual summer departure East. Normally we head out by the end of the first week in June but at this point we are thinking it won't be until July. We are also thinking we might just fly Tortuga out so that the rest of the crew gets a break on the drive to MA.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Musings about attachment

Sometimes I sit and look at my children and try to figure out where they are in their attachments.

Last weekend while playing basketball outside with some neighbors I overheard Tortuga and Corazon talking about loving me:

Tortuga: I really love my mom.
Corazon: Really? You don't show it.
Tortuga: I do love her and need her.
Corazon: For what?
Tortuga: Everything! Food. Clothes. Our house. Toys. Books. Homeschooling.
Corazon: Yes, but that isn't loving her. That's needing her to do things for you.
Tortuga: It's the same thing!
Corazon: No, it's not! Crying because she goes away and worrying that she might die because you miss her shows that you love her.
Tortuga:  That's what I do! See! I do love her.  (Pause) Corazon, YOU don't cry when she leaves or worry that she might have an accident and never come back. YOU don't love her.

Last weekend on our drive to her dance competition, Corazon asked me what "resent" felt like. After we sorted out that she meant "resentment" I tried to explain it to her then asked what she was thinking about. She said she resents the other kids and C. because she always wishes she had me all to herself. "Why?" I asked. She couldn't answer that except to say she doesn't mind sharing anything else but she minds sharing me. "Do you think I feel like that because I love you?" she asks. "Perhaps." I say. This is a child who is hyper vigilant about me. I feel like I am being stalked by her. If I am out of her sight for a few minutes she cannot function. I regularly find her waiting for me outside the bathroom. She stares at me when she thinks I am not looking at her. But she doesn't treat me particularly well when she doesn't have an "audience."

Pollito struggles to give and receive affection from us on our terms but is getting better. Recently he is obsessed with drawing pictures of us together. This is a new pattern for him. In the past 3 days he has given me 26 drawings of the two of us together and 8 drawings of sharks. What is he trying to tell me?

Then there is Milagro. She seems to have pretty strong attachments to all the important people in her life but sometimes I wonder about her being too attachment. Not to us but to things.  She has a box full of "special rock-ies" and "Y" sticks. Heaven forbid we break or misplace one. On our evening walks she must greet several special rocks and plants around the neighborhood. Sometimes she talks to them. Currently she is "saving" the eyes, teeth and bow tie from her chocolate Easter bunny so she can "remember" it. And then there is the almost empty potato chip bag on her desk with a lone potato chip in it: "Chip-y."

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Time flies when you are...

Time flies when you are knee deep in regression. I can't believe it's been a month since I wrote here. So much and so little has happened. The days blur together as we deal with a whole lot of stick-poking nonsense. Nothing really major but too much minor and the constant resurfacing of issues. I know a part of it is the fear and anxiety the three older kids deal with when I go away.

I went to Orlando at the beginning of the month for the 3rd annual ETAAM gathering of women parenting kids with trauma. I am not ready to write about that experience because I am still savoring it. I did write about it last year (here) and this is some of what I felt then:

"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 "mothers' 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."

All of that was true this year (except there were 90 of us and the "money in the bra" thing didn't happen at dinner this year) but there was so much more this second time around. I am going to be a little selfish and keep it to myself for a while longer because sometimes when I close my eyes I can still feel myself there and it helps me remember that I am not alone and I have 90 inspiring and amazing women standing right there behind me. It helps a whole lot.

The reentry was harder. We didn't have any honeymooning with the older kids. All of them were super-needy and no amount of therapeutic parenting was helping for long. But I have been in such a good space that while I grow weary, we keep plugging along.

Tortuga and Corazon are able to talk about their anxiety and fear. Tortuga wrote in his school journal on the day before I left that he would be looking forward to "nights filled with dreams about mom dying and not coming back." While this is awful for him it speaks volumes for his growing attachment. How awful is it that I can be excited that he is afraid of me dying? Then again there have been so many times in our five year journey that he was wished me dead and graphically detailed the ways he would help that become a reality. Progress is such a strange thing...

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


A couple of weeks ago we celebrated the 7th anniversary of the day Corazon moved into our home. Our celebrations are simple. She got to choose dinner and dessert and we celebrate as a family. For the first time we also had to celebrate on a different date because she had an important dance company rehearsal. I could tell she was conflicted about this and that it mattered to her that we couldn't celebrate that day but she also knew she had to go to dance and that was important to her. C. had found a wonderful necklace that came with 20+ magnets so she could change it to suit her mood. We set it up with the "peace" charm since she is all about peace signs these days. She was very excited about the necklace and put it on right away. A little later in the day I noticed she had changed the charm*.

Over the past 7 years I have cried so many tears for my daughter, Corazon. Tears of frustration. Tears of anger. Tears of fear. Tears because I felt like a failure or because I had no idea what else to try. Tears because every time she smiled I could see it was superficial and/or manipulative because there was no smile in her eyes. I have cried more tears than I can recall because for every step forward we seemed to take two or three steps back. There have also been so many tears for what she had endured in her first 4 years of life and for what she had missed out on. During particularly difficult moments I have cried tears because I felt I had nothing left to offer. Occasionally there have been tears of happiness and relief. Certainly there have been a few more of those in more recent years but overall I think there are still more "sad" and "frustrated" tears than anything else.

A few days after her anniversary she had an all day rehearsal followed by the actual performance. It was a long day that began at 6:30 a.m. and ended after 9 p.m. Her dress rehearsal was a grueling 5 hour  affair and she had asked me to stay the whole time. I was honestly worried she wouldn't be able to hold it together and saw glimpses of impending disaster as the rehearsal continued. After a couple of hours off she had to return two hours before the performance. I walked her to the dressing room and could see her anxiety was mounting. She doesn't get very nervous about public performances but she is more aware about her challenges in staying focused. She asked me to stay backstage but I told her I was looking forward to seeing her on stage and I knew she could do whatever she set her mind to do. I was nervous but we have been working up to this for a long time and I hoped she could get through this. Her company's first number (they had 3 besides the opener and finale) was a lyrical dance to a song entitled "Born to Try."  Even though she has practiced that dance dozens of times I hadn't paid much attention to the lyrics before but as she danced I listened closely as my daughter moved ever so gracefully to the words:

But I was born to try

All that you see is me
All I truly believe
All that you see is me
And all I truly believe

That I was born to try

I've learned to love
Be understanding
And believe in life
But you've got to make choices
Be wrong or right
Sometimes you've got to sacrifice the things you like

But I was born to try

She was absolutely beautiful and I could sense that she was putting her all into that dance. And she smiled. Not that performative smile but the smile that comes from being content and feeling good about something. And I cried as she danced.

The rest of the performance went very well and I met up with her in the dressing room and hugged her and told her she was phenomenal. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and asked "really, mom?" I repeated what I had said and she said she didn't know why she felt like crying but that when she was doing her lyrical dance she felt the words in her heart and she thought of me.

*what she changed it to...

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Payback ...

Context: C. and I went out last night with some wonderful friends. SIX hours of adult time and conversation! Babysitter said one kid best ever. Two kids were great. 4 year old did her own thing most of the night.

 Today: Pee. Pee. Everywhere. Did I say everywhere?
Broken toys.
Rudeness. Stomping. Storming. Crying.
Therapeutic parenting NOT working.
One kid in bed for the rest of the day after 16 do-overs.
One kid attached to me for the rest of the day.
One kid processing big feelings by telling me how much recycling SUCKS!

 Is it bedtime yet?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

"I had better toilet paper..."and other things overheard at our house...

Happy New Year! It's been challenging to find time to write since I was hit by the reorganization bug. I'm not one to make resolutions at the beginning of the year but I often feel compelled to do a thorough house cleaning once the holidays are safely behind us. This year the focus of said reorganization was our sunroom-playroom-my office. We have spent days painting old furniture, sorting books, magazines, toys, crafts, and switching kids' furniture from one room to another. We aren't done yet but I feel much better and the room functions better too.

Thus far, Tortuga has done remarkably well. We had a few big bumps and lots of small ones but nothing as major as the full fledged destruction of previous holidays. We aren't out of the woods yet since usually the greatest fallout is in January and February but it has been so much better. This weekend was his worst yet and we are seeing lots of regression to old behaviors. He suddenly has "forgotten" how to brush his teeth (he is using the bathroom soap instead of his toothpaste), use the toilet (seat stays down, pee everywhere, no cleanup) and shower (no soap or shampoo, water turned on but doesn't get on his body, bathroom missing, shower curtain drawn back so water spills all over the floor, etc. etc.) There seems to be no reason for any of this beyond "I forgot" which we know isn't the case. The only bad part is that all the kids share a bathroom so I am getting all kinds of reports about the state of their bathroom from Pollito who is my absolutely meticulous about grooming and hygiene and absolutely fastidious about cleanliness. He is appalled at the state of the bathroom so part of Tortuga's morning routine these days involves not using the bathroom until AFTER everyone else and cleaning the bathroom after he uses it. This will lead to a meltdown, destruction or change in behavior. We shall see.

Corazon is really struggling emotionally. I think a big part of this is hormones and she is having some pretty big feelings these days that usually manifest in rudeness and anger directed at me. One other thing that is happening for her is that she is having dreams about losing me and C. or the family being in danger. I think these speak to her growing attachment to us and the fact that she can remember and articulate these is progress. She is also allowing herself to REMEMBER. For the longest time she never had any memories of her life before us. In fact, when she first came to us and for the first couple of years pretty much every single thing she did with us would be prefaced by "I have never _______ before." and she would tell us how awesome we were for letting her have/do that thing. She would flash us that charming smile of hers and thank us for introducing her to whatever it was--swimming pool, ice cream, lollipops, park swings, hair barettes, etc.--as though it was the first time she had ever encountered it. It took us a while to realize that was part of her coping and even at 4 she understood that adults liked hearing this.

That was just the opposite of Tortuga. We never measured up to his standards. If I cooked something, his birth mother made it better. If we ate out at a new place, he'd been there with her. If he got a treat, she gave him more, bigger, better ones. When we went to a movie, play, park, event, he'd been there/done that/seen it with her and it was so much better. We understood it was part of his remaining connected to her and his desire to remember the good times with her because as bad as the neglect had been at times and despite having lived with her so rarely in those years before he came to us that attachment was there for him.  We understood it and tried to honor it as best we could. It slso drove us crazy because it was constant and often led to rages after we did anything that could be deemed as fun or even just pleasant.

Last week during lunch the two older kids and I were talking about some of their early behaviors as we discussed the progress they had made over the years. Tortuga was asking why he had a tendency to remember things as "all bad" or "all good" and he wondered why other people would remember "only the good" since in his mind that was "a lie." We talked about resiliency and nostalgia and why both of those are important to many of us.  I recounted for him the tendency he had to "sugar coat" some of early experiences as part of a coping strategy he employed often when he wanted to think about his mother (as opposed to all his foster homes being "all bad.") I reminded him how often he had told us how much better/bigger/faster/etc. things were with his mother's as opposed to us. He seemed to remember this and was even able to laugh at the absurdity of some of his comments. In the last year or so we have worked with him on his tendency to do the opposite of this which is to remember everything about her as "all bad." As we were wrapping up lunch, Pollito announced that they had no toilet tissue in their bathroom so Corazon went to get a replacement roll and handed it to Tortuga to take upstairs with him. Without missing a beat that boy turned to me, held up that roll, and said "I had better toilet paper at my birth mom's." Then he smiled. We laughed so hard, both at his delivery and ability to joke appropriately, but also at the progress he had made over the past 5 years.

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