Sunday, November 3, 2013

Halloween 2013

Halloween came so quickly this Fall. I barely had a chance to catch my breath from the back to school startup with 4 homeschooling kids and then Halloween was here.  Luckily, three of the 4 were clear from the start about their costumes. Corazon wanted to be Katniss, Pollito wanted to be a Patriots football player and Milagro was set on being a "scary" ghost. We went with cute not scary. We had a good day and the kids barely held it together with all the anticipation. We tried to keep it low key and had the distraction of water seeping into our sunroom/schoolroom/office because of the recent floods in our area. The girls spent a good part of the day moving bookcases, mopping up water and surveying the damage which was minimal but inconvenient.

Tortuga was the only one who didn't help because he is a bit too high maintenance to be of true assistance.  He decided this year to live in "la-la land" as he prepared for Halloween. He didn't follow any of our guidelines for costumes so he ended up "stuck" without a costume until we unearthed a Shelock Holmes cape and hat from our old costumes. He actually "came up" with the idea himself thanks to some quick thinking on Corazon's part.  Basically he changed his mind a dozen times and each time would come up with ideas that were unrealistic or impossible to pull off. He still has that thinking that somehow I will "magically" fix things he destroys, clean up whatever messes he gets into or will someone make his wishes come true. I held my ground and just smiled and said "ok" each time he came up with a more ridiculous idea than the previous one. A few days before Halloween Corazon suggested Sherlock Holmes and he nixed the idea. So we did what we could to change his mind by not saying a word. Instead we moved all of our "Sherlock Holmes" books/stories/mini mysteries to the front of the bookshelf. He started picking them up to read and suddenly he was all about Sherlock Holmes. No drama. No saying "No" to his ideas. Win-win for all.

  Tortuga's trauma stuff rears up around this time of year and this year it has been a little "better" partly because he has been pretty awful since we returned from CO. Thus, the transition to trauma anniversary behaviors almost went unnoticed.  Not necessarily a good thing but that is best left for another time.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The things that get me through...

I love snuggle time with Milagro. No matter how hard a day we have had she can make me feel better in a heartbeat. Last night just before she went to sleep she put her hands on either side of my face and whispered: "Mom, you are exactly what I wished for when I was with God waiting to come to you and Mama."  So are you baby girl, so are you...

Monday, September 9, 2013

Vacations can be fun but then...

We went to Colorado at the end of August for a family wedding. C. and I had struggled mightily with what to do with Tortuga. The last few times we have travelled with him have been pretty challenging. C. was of the mind that we needed to send him elsewhere so that the rest of the family could enjoy quality time with her relatives. We were staying with her parents, siblings, nieces, cousins, uncles, aunts and other relatives in two houses that had been rented for the occasion. The close quarters and the scrutiny of well-meaning family members who don't "get" his issues (and those of our other kids) was going to be particularly challenging. In addition we really wanted to give the children a chance to enjoy this time with family they haven't seen in several years. Now that he is bigger (and older) it is harder to give Tortuga what he needs in the midst of family and celebrations. That being the case, I felt it would be hard to show up without him (in addition to making whatever arrangements were needed if he didn't come along) and explain his absence to family who don't get to see the whole picture.

In the end we decided to take everyone and hope for the best-knowing full well that we'd had issues either there or when we returned. I truly hate that this is how we have to roll but ultimately it was more important for us to have all the kids see family and vice versa. People just don't understand this. It's why I have become even more of a homebody. The thought of dealing with the fallout just isn't worth the trip most times.

We talked with him  before the trip and explained that we were taking him along with the understanding that it was a "test" for him. If he behaved appropriately and didn't hijack the experience we would bring him along on our next planned outing to a popular water park. We knew this could be a motivator for him because the last time we went there a few years ago he did not go. He was away camping with his grandfather and uncle and they kept him for a couple of extra days so the rest of us could go to the water park as part of a business trip C. was making.  While he had a great time camping with his grandfather, he was very disappointed that he missed the water park trip and this has come up a number of times when the other kids recall that experience. We struggle with distinguishing what Tortuga can control and what he truly cannot control. Sometimes we think his impulse control issues, ADHD, emotional, developmental or cognitive challenges make it impossible or difficult for him to do X or Y. Other times it is clear that when he is motivated he can accomplish the seemingly impossible.

For the most part it was a successful trip.  The kids enjoyed spending quality time with their grandparents, uncles and cousins. We enjoyed seeing them have so much fun and having family members who hadn't seen them in years recognize the growth and progress of the two older ones in particular. Several people commented how wonderful Corazon was and how calm and happy she seemed to be. Tortuga was praised for his manners, his helpfulness and his all-around good nature. Except for the incredibly long drive both ways, it was a good trip and we had minimal issues with him. As soon as we walked in the door he announced "yay! I get to go to the water park!" I told him he did well and he had earned that trip which is coming up later this Fall.

Fast forward a few days and all hell broke loose. He was asked by C. to do something correctly and he got really angry. He escalated so fast and without warning. When I tried to help him get regulated and focus on what he needed to do he attacked me physically. I was able to talk him down but for about 48 hours we had a really challenging time with him.  Nothing would help him get regulated. He dragged the sheets off his bed and made nooses for his stuffed animals out of them, he laughed maniacally when he was in his bed, he talked all kinds of trash-talk, he did his usual posturing about how he hated us and wanted to live anywhere but here, and so many other un-bloggable things. Ultimately, I told him he could choose to leave. He was getting too old for us to force him to stay. We would help him find another home if that is what he wanted. We had relatives that might be willing to take him for awhile so he could go stay with them. We were no longer letting him scare the little kids with behavior like this when he had other options. Somehow that seemed to work for him and he eased back into some semblance of normalcy after a couple of days of this. My best guess was that after holding it together there is usually payback but we were thrown off guard by how aggressive his payback was. We haven't seen this behavior in at least a year. It worries me that he won't/can't use other strategies to let out his feelings. How else do we help him help himself when he gets like this? Perhaps more importantly, how do we help the other kids, especially Milagro and Pollito understand these behaviors? Pollito has been especially affected this time.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Our cat Blue Note (a.k.a. Blue) died at home yesterday. He was at least 14 years old but we are unsure because he has a bit of a trauma history.  He came to us when he was between 1.5-2.5 years old. C. was supposed to take him to the vet today to have him put to sleep after he took a bad turn this weekend but he died before she could take him. In fact he took his last breath with Corazon and Milagro by his side. Milagro had just come downstairs for breakfast and went to check on him when it happened. We had prepared the kids on Sunday when it was clear that he was struggling to get up and he was not eating. They were surprised because only a day earlier I had been trying to get Blue to stop jumping onto the couch to head butt me into giving him attention.

We knew he was old and suspected he was sick but based on his history we had promised to give him a good life and not traumatize him with vet visits. In the past any trip to the vet required a long chase, lots of hissing, cat pee/poop everywhere, whimpering, and cowering (all before we actually took him to the vet.) Then once there he would be petrified and repeat that whole process again. Once home he would hide for at least a week, avoid all people contact, and even refuse to eat and/or drink. When we moved to Texas we promised not to do it again if it could be avoided. Blue was very attached to our cat Meridian who died around Christmas after a very long life (she was 19+). When Meridian died, Blue's mourned her and his personality completely changed. She had always been his "buffer." He harassed her to her very last day with his constant need to be at her side. Blue was always afraid of people. When he came he had been in a crouched position for so long that he couldn't use his back legs. He dragged himself everywhere and when he finally got used to C. and I he would let me massage his backside so that after a few months we were able to get those back legs working again. Even though he trusted me enough to let me do that and he would sometimes come over and head butt me so I could pet him, he really didn't trust any of us. If we walked near him he would cower and scamper away. He never allowed anyone to stand over him even if you were feeding him or trying to pet him. If we sat quietly he might come up to us or some of our familiar adult friends but even that was rare. NONE of the kids had ever petted him before Meridian died. 12 and a half years with us and none of us had ever picked him up (except for those vet trips and the cross country move) or had him sit in our laps.

All of that changed when Meridian died 8 months ago. Suddenly he would walk right between us if we were standing around talking or even if we moving. He would go right up to the kids and MEOW (we had never heard his voice because he had what we called a silent meow-his mouth would open but no sound came out.) He not only allowed them near him but he sought them out and demanded attention. If we were talking with visitors he would even come up to them and allow them to pet him. We had not realized how much we had missed out on with him (and he with us) until we were able to see the joy the other kids experienced in petting him and playing with him. We speculated that maybe he had alzheimer's and had "forgotten" he was supposed to be scared. We wondered if he had a brain tumor. Yet he was happy. He wasn't in pain, he was walking, jumping, eating, sleeping, etc.  and we had made a promise to give him as good a life as he could handle. In fact, the night before he died, both C. and I reminded him of our promise told him we would be taking him to the vet because we could see that he was hurting. (Had he taken the downward turn on a weekday we wouldn't have even waited the day and a half.) Maybe he understood and chose to go before that happened. Maybe it was coincidence. Either way, we were able to honor our promise and he chose to die in the middle of everything. He didn't look for hiding places or try to run away. He spent his last days right there on the living room couch where he could see us and hear us in all our glory (i.e. noisiness.)

Meridian and Blue's passing and Blue's life gave us some insights into our kids. Each child responded pretty much the same way when Blue died as they did when Meridian died. Corazon cried briefly when she realized they died but then she was all business and "back to normal" (which proved helpful as I tried to figure out what to do with his body until C. came home from work.) Pollito looked stunned and shocked and then cried intermittently whenever anyone else was crying or talking about the cats. Milagro was so upset and distressed. 8 months ago she rounded up all of her stuffed animal kittens (she had 6 small ones) and has slept with them every. single. night. since then. She thought of Meridian as "her" cat so she was especially hurt by that. She declared that she wished we would all have died with Meridian so she wouldn't be alone. When Blue died she cried and cried and declared that she wished we could have turned back time and made him a kitten again so he would have a really long life with us again. She also noticed that all her "kittens" were now of dead cats except one (she has named each kitten after their living likeness including 2 neighborhood cats who have since died) and that in no time the last of the cats would probably die. Since we have 2 other cats (which she doesn't have kittens that resemble them) it once again sent me scrambling to try and find stuffed animals with their likenesses.

Tortuga's response each time has been quite telling. He is our ODD/RAD child who "hates" everyone and doesn't "care" about anyone/anything or so he says. Yet each time when we had him say goodbye to Meridian and now Blue he was reduced to a puddle. He cried and cried and wailed until we had to force him away from the cats because he was upsetting them. Each time he asked to go straight to bed and fell right to sleep (which for him is almost always an impossibility regardless of what sleep meds he takes.) He did this on Sunday night and by the time he got up yesterday Blue was gone. He cried again while eating his breakfast and then asked to go to bed. In many ways Blue was "Tortuga's cat." We had 4 cats and each child had "claimed" one as his own. So now we have 2 cats which have been claimed by Corazon and Pollito. They are each 11 years old so perhaps we need to start thinking about adding a younger cat or two.

Blue's life in many ways parallel's Tortuga's life. No matter how long Blue was with us and how much we tried to show him our love and caring he always dealt with us on his terms. He was always just a bit afraid and distrustful. The harder the kids worked to show him love and affection the more he seemed to reject them. Even if they were feeding him a treat he took it and ran or he avoided it altogether if it meant being close to them. If he accidently got too close or let them get near him he might hiss and bolt.  He did this to C. and I too but to a lesser degree. When he did sit close to us because he wanted some love you could always see the tension in his body as he was alway ready to run away. He was never able to let go of his early trauma until after Meridian died and whatever disease took over his body/brain. Then he let loose. He climbed onto C.'s lap and even rolled on his back to let her and Pollito rub his belly. He would come right up to Milagro as she was bouncing (literally) off the wall and head butt her for some love. When one of them was upset and crying, Blue went right up to them to try and comfort them. We had NEVER seen this from him before! Whatever happened to him we will never know but he got a whole lot of loving when whatever held him back before was out of the way. It gives us just a bit of hope that maybe someday, even though we think that someday should be now, Tortuga might be able to let us do the same.

                                                  Meridian (1993-2012)


 Blue (1999?-2013)

Monday, July 29, 2013

13 At Last!

"13 at last!" she exclaimed on her birthday morning! This kid was so excited to turn 13! She had marked the days on her calendar starting around April 1st. I was hoping she wouldn't be sorely disappointed. This is the first year since moving to TX 5 years ago that we were home for her birthday. She wanted a party. She wanted a slumber party. I agreed to the sleepover (a first!) and then each of the girls she invited wasn't available. She was so disappointed but took it well.

We decided to celebrate on Saturday with a family party and invite a few family friends to dinner. On her actual birthday we went to see "Despicable Me" and ended the night with sloppy joes and a viewing of the first Star Trek movie. (We have been working our way through the original TV series.) Somewhere in there, C. took her out to buy her a new pair of sneakers for her birthday. It was a low-key, family birthday with no major fallout except for a little glimmer of jealousy from Tortuga.

On Saturday we had a Neon Glow birthday celebration. Besides our family and my niece it was mostly adults but we had a blast. At the end of the evening Corazon declared that it was "the best birthday ever!" I believe that is what it is all about.

(This is pretty much what all the party picture look like....)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Almost 13

Soon after Corazon turned 12 she rejoiced at the thought of becoming a teenager in one more year. I told her that many American parents dread the teen years because their once lovely children can become difficult and challenging "strangers" overnight. I recounted the story of a friend of mine whose daughter vowed at age 9 to never become that way and even allowed him to videotape her promising this. She turned 13 recently and was being particularly difficult one day so he pulled out that video and showed it to her. Her response was "whatever" as she stormed out of the room. She thought about it for a second and vowed it would not happen to her.

I guess the conversation stayed with her because a few days later she came back to me and said "Mom, I think you have already put up with me being difficult and attitudinal when I was a little kid. So, I don't think it would be fair if I did it again just because I became a teenager." I secretly wondered if that was her way of trying to take control of something that felt like it would be completely out of her control. She likes control and struggles mightily when she feels she has no control over her own actions or behaviors. Then again, if that caused us to have easier teen years, I'd take it.

It is now one year later and I must say that whatever that kid is doing and whatever her need for control is, she was right. The transition to teenage-hood has been mostly pleasant. She has chilled out and calmed down tremendously. She laughs at herself and is genuinely fun to be around much of the time. We rarely get "payback" after fun times.  Of course, she has her difficult moments and she still has some pretty bad times but that is what they are-bad times that punctuate the good times. We are no longer in those stretches of hellish behavior with a few respite moments in between. We are generally in good times. She still sneaks sometimes and lies sometimes and makes bad choices sometimes. Her attitude and defiance get out of hand at times and once in a while some pretty ugly stuff comes to light. We try to work through it as best we can and move forward. It's the ebb and flow of life with hormones, peer pressures, budding desires for independence coupled with overwhelming doubts about almost everything. Yet, it is "life."

She has become a most delightful and enjoyable young woman. She and C. laugh together and have actual conversations. Corazon no longer shoots daggers with her eyes at C. every time she sees us together or thinks C. is getting more attention from free than Corazon thinks C. should (this has ALWAYS been a major issue for us.) Corazon wants to spend time with C. and they have been able to work out at the pool together on a more regular basis.  At home, Corazon will ask me "what can I do for you?" and other times jumps to help without being asked. We play board games, do her hair, discuss books, stay up late baking birthday cakes or cleaning the guest room together. We have difficult conversations and she pouts and rolls her eyes but comes back later and thanks me or asks a question that shows she is paying attention.

My little girl is growing up and she is winning her battle against a history of neglect and trauma. She battles it every day and some days she gets tired and doesn't fight so hard. Other days I can see the struggle and it both hurts and melts my heart to see how hard she has to work to keep it together. It has been (and will likely continue to be) an uphill battle with days when none of us thought we'd survive, but we did and we carry our battle scars with honor (and just a tinge of embarrassment at times).

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Ups and Downs

Life has had a great number of"ups" this summer and its fair share of "downs" as well. We are in a downward phase with Tortuga since swim team ended. I am reminded oh how poorly he handles disappointments. Even though he is 14.5 and has grown a good deal over the past few years, expressing his thoughts and feeling with words is hard for him. Too hard when the feelings are strong. As swim team practices wound down his behaviors escalated. He fluctuated between giddiness and belligerence. Routines went by the wayside, manners slipped, loudness soared, rudeness increased, rule-following became a chore, bad habits surfaced and his testiness increased dramatically. The day after his final swim meet he was absolutely horrid. I tried to talk to him about the "big feelings" he was having but he was too overwhelmed to listen or participate in any of the activities that might have helped him slip out of it.

It has been almost 3 weeks since swim team ended and while there have been days when he seems to be back on track for the most part he isn't and life has been harder. Part of it is his jealousy of the other kids. Corazon's birthday being around the corner didn't help at he got very fixated on what she wanted for her birthday, what kind of celebration was she having, what kind of cake did she want, etc.  Some days that was the only subject he could discuss, other days he accused her of being obsessive about her upcoming birthday. He was, of course, projecting his fixation onto her. She was actually being quite low-key about the entire thing.

His inability to stay on track with his summer schoolwork has created a bit of chaos for him as well. It usually gives him focus and structure to have summer schooling. Lately it has become a chore like everything else (including being pleasant to others at mealtimes or in the car, answering when spoken to, etc.) Right now he is disorganized and scattered, mean and aggressive, rude and disrespectful, and mostly not a very likable kid. That makes things hard on the rest of us and I have pretty much run out of patience and tolerance with him. If you know me that is bad. Patience is probably my only virtue and if it runs out no telling what can happen. But we keep on going and trying to find the moments when he can enjoy and appreciate time with the rest of the family. For the rest of the children it means lots more time with one another and without him. And I am getting better at feeling ok when he has to be left out.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Where to go...

I think I have hit that point where I need to reassess whether or not to continue with this blog. I don't want to stop but I also don't know how to continue. I have so much I want to write about and so much I feel I cannot write about. Go private? New (more anonymous) blog? For what purpose?

The older kids have gotten to a point in there healing where the issues are more subtle and more serious (if that makes sense.) Serious because of possible repercussions for the present and their future. The two younger kids are growing and changing too. Pollito's issues are clearer now-learning, developmental and emotional. Milagro is at a point where she is seeing and processing so much of how she is different from her siblings. She sees their issues and challenges and wants to help but doesn't understand the "whys" behind their behaviors.

RAD, ODD and PTSD are still very present in our lives but they are no longer the seemingly insurmountable obstacles they once were. I see the progress and the backward steps every day. Corazon deserves her own post but for now I will say that for anyone who doubts that healing from the brink of h*ll is impossible she is a testament to what is possible AND how long and hard the journey will be. That child was H.A.R.D. in all the horrible and painful and mind-numbing ways that RAD is hard. Pull out that checklist most parents with RAD kids have seen and referred to and remember that she was pretty much ALL of it at 4 and a half. And yet, at 12 she has healed so much that I think it is harder than ever to see and deal with those areas where she still struggles. I have to continuously stop myself from tearing my hair out when she pulls out some of those old and familiar behaviors. There is hope. I have always had it, always struggled to hang on to it, and almost lost it so many times.

Tortuga still has so many issues. Many that I doubt will ever truly disappear. Many that have disappeared or subsided. He is easier to live with and yet still hard to like. I love him deeply and he causes me great sorrow--for him and for us--but there are moments of joy too. He will probably always be "hard" but that doesn't have to be a bad thing all the time. It is what it is and we make strides as we can. But his scars are deep and they don't fade in 6 years. He takes and takes and takes and takes. He still doesn't know how to give but I do believe he has a desire to give. It just gets trumped by his desire (and perhaps need) to take. The other children are older now so they can "defend" themselves against him a bit better and there are even moments when they seem to "enjoy" him. I haven't been able to say that often over the past 6 years. That is how we measure progress. I remind myself that it IS progress and we celebrate it every chance we get.

I have so many "updates" I have started to write (and never finished) since my last post. Happy updates mostly about dance recitals, dance company tryouts, birthday treats (for me), swim lessons and swim team successes, celebrating my mom's 80th birthday with no major mishaps and acting out by eldest, strengthening bonds between C. and Corazon (major milestone), homeschool graduation for the Kindergartener (now 1st grader), and so much more. I might or might not get to them.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Just keep swimming...

Our decision to not travel East this year means we can try to take care of some things around here. Small repairs around the house and activities like swim lessons and more focused studies for the kids have taken over our summer plans.

All 4 kids have been intensely working on swimming. Pollito and Milagro just finished their lessons while Tortuga and Corazon are in the middle of swim team. I cannot believe they have been swimming for only a month. C. took the older two to the pool every day for about 10 days starting in mid-May in hopes of getting their basic swim skill strong enough for swim team tryouts at the beginning of June. They worked hard and made onto a small recreational swim team. Each morning they do two hour workouts and come home exhausted. By 7 p.m. Tortuga is a total wreck and can barely stay awake. I am not convinced that we won't have some serious fallout as swim team progresses for them but time will tell.

It has been interesting to observe them as they each tackle this activity. Milagro, who loves the water and has been "dying" to learn to swim, was completely overwhelmed by her lessons. She does exactly what the instructor tells her to do and NOTHING more. No amount of coaxing will get her to try things on her own when one of the instructors isn't standing right there with her. She won't play in the water or practice any of what they are learning. I hadn't seen here be this reticent about anything and frankly it came as a surprise given how much she wanted this. I asked if she wanted to quit but she was adamant she was enjoying it. Yesterday was to be her last lesson but we skipped it. She found out on Tuesday that she wasn't going to get her "badge" for completing the level and she tried so hard to pretend it didn't matter. The first thing out of her mouth when the instructors told me was "I don't care." I could see she cared and I could see it bothered her but she would not acknowledge that even to herself.

Pollito was totally different. He is reticent and hesitant about most things and the only one of my kids who I think is a little afraid of the water. He has had a hard time warming up to new activities EVERY single time he starts one. You would never know it from watching him in his swim classes. After the first 10 minutes on day 1 he was a total fish. He tried everything and practiced everything and his skills improved dramatically. He demonstrated a maturity and confidence that I haven't seen in him before except recently in dance classes. It was so much fun to watch him and see him so relaxed in the water. He still has a way to go before he is a "swimmer" but he is further along than I expected. I was sorry we hadn't set him up to start the next level next week but since we were going to be traveling to my mom's this weekend it wasn't the ideal schedule. 

Corazon has really struggled with swimming which of course reminded me of why we stopped swim lessons years ago. When she was 5 we enrolled her in swim lessons but her need for adult attention overshadowed her desire to learn to swim. Each class we saw her "charming RAD" unfold and that was before we knew she had RAD. She would pretend not to know something or pretend to be drowning just so the instructors could rescue her and give her attention. If we came near her she would quickly cut the drama and tell us she didn't need us. We finally pulled her out of lessons after a very serious stunt in which she almost hurt herself badly and gave all the lifeguards and instructors heart attacks. We vowed not to try that again anytime soon.  About 3 years later we tried again and the results were even worse.  This summer she asked for swim lessons but she was too old for the recreational classes available to us so she asked C. to teach her to swim. Tortuga jumped on that bandwagon so they both started their private lessons with C.

Corazon has had quite a bit of drama since swim team started but C. had a talk with the coach about how to handle it and he seems to be doing a good job of managing her. He is young (19) and is awesome with the kids. He treats them with the maturity of a young adult but with the attitude of a teen so it works great for them. She has figured out that she can't really get attention for acting out and the workout is intense enough that she has figured out not to expend the extra energy on dramatics. She also had her worse athletic performance EVER at her first swim competition. She came in dead last and while she generally is not competitive she was disappointed in her self. It was actually a funny sight. C. and I were standing there praying she wouldn't flake out and quit mid lane with some dramatic "I'm drowning, I have a cramp, or I give up moment." We could have cared less what place she came in. So when she actually finished we were sooooo excited and proud. We jumped up and down and cheered and told her how proud we were of her. She looked at us like we were nuts and with total 12 year old attitude said "did you notice I took forever and finished LAST??!!" We said we did but we were so impressed that she didn't stop or flake out that we didn't care and we were taking them all out to eat to celebrate! She rolled her eyes and LAUGHED! This is huge is so many ways and speaks so well to the kind of healing we have seen with her.

Tortuga is so tall and lean that C. has often said he is build like a swimmer. He has taken to swimming remarkably well and is doing really good work. He tries hard and works hard and is improving dramatically. He also won his first blue ribbon at his first swim meet and he was so happy. Initially his responses were totally appropriate. He told the timekeeper who told him he won that she was joking. She smiled and said "you won!" and he said "No I didn't." (gotta love ODD) and then added "I don't believe you. I think you are joking." She didn't know what to do with him.  By the next morning however it had gone to his head and he was the best swimmer on the planet who was always going to win first place and who nobody could beat. He even tried to give Corazon a hard time about her placement by continually asking her times and bragging about his. As bad as this has been it still is so much better than previous years so we are trying to ignore his boasting and trusting that he will learn what he needs to learn (and get knocked down a few pegs) as the season progresses.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Homeschool Graduation

Corazon reminded me that all of them except Milagro had pre-school and/or kindergarten graduations. That led us to plan a Kindergarten graduation and moving up ceremony for the end of our "regular" school year.  We had so much fun planning and practicing. I had never planned a homeschool graduation before but informed by all my years attending graduations and moving up ceremonies as a school administrator and as a parent I set off to make it work.  I realized quickly that the internet provides lots of resources but limited ideas for pulling off a "short and sweet but meaningful" homeschool graduation.

The kids really wanted to recite poems because that has been out weekly practice this past year. As part of our poetry studies this year I made it optional for them to memorize a weekly poem and present it to the family after Friday dinner. As an incentive I offered small prizes (pencils, erasers, notepads, treats, small toys, bookmarks, etc.) for good effort and presentation. I originally had planned on doing it for a few weeks but they didn't want to stop so we ended up doing it from October to May. They loved it and missed it whenever I forgot to find poems for them to memorize or our schedule made it difficult to do them on Fridays. So we decided that reciting poetry would be part of our program.  I ordered a few supplies to add that "graduation" feel and we dug out an old graduation robe from Corazon's preK ceremony.

We were originally going to have a few members present but it didn't quite work out so C. and I were the audience. They worked hard and had a grand time.

 We printed up a simple program.

Page 3 had a picture of all four of them, their names and the grades they were moving up to.

We had a little pomp and circumstance so they could "proceed" into the room. (Their idea and their request was that we make it  a little "formal."

Corazon recited her favorite poem "Summertime Sharing" by Nikki Grimes. 

Pollito recited a poem with a little interjection from Milagro.

Tortuga recited the poem on the back of our program. Then all 4 of them helped Milagro with a short poem/song about Kindergarten. They shared some highlights from the school year and we handed out achievement awards and diplomas (all home-made).

That was it! It took about 30 minutes then we stepped out for some photo ops and came back inside for a simple lunch.

Dance. Dance. Dance.

May around here means it's recital time. How we managed to get 3 kids who all LOVE dance lessons is beyond me. C. and I take one look at the leotards and tutus and remember that we would never have been caught "dead" in them or in her case, she was "forced" to don such attire but only until her lack of flexibilty, grace and coordination became an embarrassment even to well meaning parents.

All 3 of the youngest love ballet and except for Pollito, they scoff at the notion of tutu-wearing. :-) Milagro shows her disdain for tutus and pink each week by being the only child in her class to wear a green leotard (or on occasion a blue one if her green ones somehow didn't make it into the wash on time.) She has forged a quite a reputation for her green leotard so anytime a new green dance accessory becomes available at least one of the teachers points it out to us.  I think Milagro is taking after C. in the grace department but nonetheless she gets such pleasure out of the experience that we will continue it as long as she likes. In fact she is quite the favorite among the teachers because she actually follows directions and listens with a maturity far beyond her years.

Pollito and Corazon have much greater talent and skill in this area. They decided they wanted to try out for Dance Company this coming year so they have been practicing recital dances and planning out their strategies for convincing us to let them try out for company. Pollito will likely only consider hip-hop company but Corazon wants to try out again for regular company in addition to hip hop company. I am not sure I want to handle all the running around that dance company entails but they are both so good that I think it would be a shame to not let them try out.

So now it's a few weeks later and I never got back to this post. Recital went well. I am so proud of all three of them. They did their absolute best and had a great time! As usual I got to handle backstage duties which was a treat. They did dance company tryouts and Corazon made the top Hip Hop Company but not the other "regular" company. She is happy and a little disappointed. Pollito made the "littles" Hip Hop Company and he is thrilled and scared. They will be great I am sure.

Friday, April 12, 2013


Sometimes my children will surprise me in the best ways. Milagro is obsessed with all things "My L*ttle P*ny."  When she saw that Bu*ld-a-B*ar was bringing MLP plush toys she declared that she had to have one. We told her she needed to earn the money herself. She circled the arrival date (April 1) on the calendar and periodically checked in about ways to earn money. During our annual neighborhood Easter egg hunt she found lots of money in her plastic egg and ended up with $12.00. She was so excited and motivated to keep earning money. Today after getting money from the Magic Mouse (aka El Raton Perez, the equivalent of the tooth fairy in our house) she was still shy $6 but closer to her goal. Without any prompting Corazon gave her $3 she got for doing extra chores and Pollito gave her $2 from his Easter money. Just like that! I told them how happy they made her and how proud I was that they were being so kind and generous. Later this afternoon she was talking with Tortuga about how excited she was to be so close to her goal and she was telling him her plans for earning that last dollar. He looked at me and asked if I still had his $4 from the last of his money. I said yes and he asked me to give it to her because he wasn't going to need it and he "wanted to make her happy." This is huge! He is my most self-centered and selfish child and he just handed it over to her. She is over the moon and I am one proud mom!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Birthday for Tortuga

Tortuga turned 14 yesterday. I cannot believe how much he has grown this past year. He is so tall and looks so much older. It is harder to remember that he is still young in many other ways. In the past year he has gained a little more self-confidence and is more attuned to his own real needs (not his wants) which is a big deal for him. He understands that he get overstimulated easily and that quiet retreat away from others is a good way to regulate himself without letting things get out of control. He has learned how to be a "big" brother to Milagro and more often than not he is able to recognize that she really is younger than him. He has discovered a few more interests which I think have boosted his self esteem. I find that I can have conversations with him that include giving him positive and negative feedback without it sending him into a manic frenzy or a rage. These may not seem like big things but for us they are.  He is most definitely allowing his caring and kind sides show more often. We have always known how "good" a person he is and how scared he is to let his guard down which makes him defensive and on guard all the time. That defensiveness is subsiding so we are seeing more of his true self shine through which makes him a happier kid and when he is happier so are the rest of the kids.

This year I would not let him pick a "theme" for his birthday celebration because he is always unhappy when he does. He chooses something ahead of time and by the time his birthday arrives he has changed his mind so many times that no matter what we do it is a disappointment. Last year we asked him to choose an activity or place he wanted to go to celebrate. We went to an indoor video games, miniature golf, rock-climbing place and had a great time. Since then he had been "planning" an outing for this year and probably changed his mind 400 times (I am not exaggerating.) I finally just said he had lots of great ideas but this year we would pick. At first he was mad and then he was resigned to the fact that it would be something he didn't like. We just agreed with him and moved on.

Yesterday morning we headed out to brunch and then came home for an all-day movie marathon. This might not be a big deal for other kids but for Tortuga this is MAJOR. He would love nothing more than to watch TV and movies all day but we have seen that lead to some pretty destructive behaviors for him so we still monitor and limit. Anyway we set up two "screening" rooms and played little kid movies in one and big kid movies in the other. The children chose whatever screen they wanted to watch and we ended up with an "Air Buddies" marathon in one room and a Star Wars marathon plus "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe"in the other. It worked out great and we even provided movie fare throughout the experience. It was low-key and relaxed and I think a great success.

Tortuga declared it his best birthday EVER.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Six years ago today

Six years ago today, I showed up at an RTC to pick Tortuga up and bring him home. He was so excited and terrified about the move that the moment I met him he announced "I'm not going with you. I am staying here. I changed my mind." I sat down next to him and told him I could tell he was scared but we would get through this together. He was adamant that he wasn't leaving. I explained that he was leaving because the RTC could not keep him any longer. However, if he preferred to go to a different foster home we could talk to his social worker about that. (The RTC claimed money had run out and he was being kicked out for lack of funding not because of any progress he had made.) Immediately he changed his mind and said he preferred to come home with me. At that moment I fully recognized (but didn't fully appreciate) that we were in for an uphill battle/transition. Tortuga was terrified of EVERYTHING and like many who experience this type of fear he postured a self-confidence and cockiness that didn't quite mask the terror. We welcomed him home to much celebration from Pollito (his bio brother) and Corazon. They were soooo excited to have their big brother home and insisted we have cake, balloons and presents.

We overwhelmed him with activity that week. The following day he started a new school in a special education classroom for kids with cognitive issues and language based issues. The day after was Valentine's Day and we scrambled to help him write cards for the 8 other kids in his class. At the time he could barely write his name and most of the time it was not spelled correctly. The next two days were filled with testing and we picked him up from school on Friday and drove 9 hours to visit C.'s family in PA for what turned into a 10 day visit because her father was critically ill and hospitalized. To top it all off, we announced at the hospital room that C. was 3 months pregnant with Milagro! The poor kid was so overwhelmed he didn't have time to process much less react. Through it all he was amazingly calm (although he was also heavily medicated). We were moving so fast and dealing with so much that week that we weren't able to keep up with the meds schedule the RTC has sent him home on.  In retrospect that turned out to be a blessing because when we returned to Boston and checked in with his psychiatrist explaining what he had missed and what we had observed we made the decision to ween him off several of his meds and made a plan to take him completely off all the various drugs he was on and try to find "the real kid" underneath it all. And see that kid we did. So much of it is unbloggable. He had so many issues, gaps, negative behaviors and trying to find our way out from under the violence and aggression, the bullying, the impulse control issues, the fear, the lack of so many basic skills, etc was overwhelming.

Today he still struggles with many issues but all of them are issues to a lesser degree and some are completely gone. At times the healing he has done is incredible to believe. Other times I find myself exclaiming in frustration "Why are we still dealing with this?!!!!" On this day I want to honor how far Tortuga has come. He can read. He no longer rages. His meltdowns are few and far between. He is kind. He is caring. He can read and write above grade level even though his early assessments indicated he was borderline MR. He loves to read, write, draw, poetry, play guitar, sports, legos, chess, learn about history and science, going for hikes, riding his bike, skateboard, and scooter, help our elderly neighbors, and spend time with the family. He can spend hours focusing on one activity and he has begun to learn to laugh at himself. This doesn't mean we don't have major struggles with rudeness, trust, meanness, fear, anxiety, bad judgment, impatience, and aggression. We do and we know he still doesn't trust us. He still uses information as a weapon both against people (when he has it and uses it) and against himself/us (he withholds vital information until it becomes a major issue). But he is healing.

When he came home we were told by therapists and social workers "no one would blame you if you didn't adopt him." It seemed unfathomable to us that at age 7 everyone would have already given up on him. It was clear he had given up on himself. So much of our struggle with him has been to help him recognize that he is a good person, that he can nurture the good in himself and express that. We have had to help him see that there is much he can accomplish if he sets his mind to it but that he has to let go of all the "stuff" that gets in his way. It is hard. Very hard. He is no longer 7. He is almost 14. Each day we struggle I go to bed wondering if we can keep doing this. Each morning I remind myself that we have a new day, a new opportunity to try again, a new chance for success. Some days, he surprises me because he goes back to being that child who behaves like a trapped and wounded animal. Other days he surprises me because he rises about that and he move beyond those primal feelings. Today, I am most proud of him because he keeps trying. He is still willing to try. He still fights us on many levels. He still doesn't trust us. Yet there are glimmers of hope. I know he loves us. Three years ago he would have said that he didn't need or want us. Today, he cannot imagine living anywhere else and talks of being with us forever (we will have to cross that bridge when we come to it. :-) ) I don't know what the future will bring nor do I know if it will be enough but for today I honor and celebrate the progress and the hope. For today, that is enough.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Tapping. Changes.

When you parent kids with trauma, you learn to be open to anything that has a chance of working no matter how "silly" or hokey it seems. If it will help my child I will gladly feed her m&ms while looking lovingly into her eyes even though she tried to kill me last night. If getting my kids to spend 20 minutes belly crawling and crawling around the house helps their brains, then that's what we'll do. If it will keep my child safe I will alarm his doors, set up motion detectors, and video monitors in strange places. If it will help my child I will look like a fool/tyrant in front of my family and friends who don't get it because my child needs to know I will set boundaries for her no matter what.

My older children have done tapping and rubbing for years. Sometimes we have periods of time when it doesn't seem to be helping and other times it makes the days survivable or even pleasant. Corazon has a love/hate relationship with tapping even though she has seen the difference it makes. Because she has healed so much I started easing up on the tapping especially when she was resistant. A few months later I realized that she was only tapping two or three times per week and her behavior was out of control and generally inconsistent. As usually happens when I talk/text with another mom parenting kids like mine I realized that she needed to get back to tapping but we had stagnated a bit.  My dear friend, Lisa offered to create a tapping script for Corazon, who she has met and interacted with on various occasions. Of course, I jumped at the chance and when I saw the script I thought, "hmmm I am not sure some of these are issues for her" but decided to let her try it. I gave it a big buildup telling her that as she is getting older her tapping needed to change. I also noted that she doesn't like to do it but that she also knows it helps her. I talked about it generally over the course of a week or so without taking the time to introduce it to her (mostly because I was dealing with someone else's traumaversary behaviors). When I finally did it with her she was ready to try it and in a good space. I don't know if it was the script, renewed interest in tapping, or the fact that she or I hadn't created it but that day was one of her best days in months. For the past two weeks she has tapped a couple of times each day using this new script and the difference in her is noticeable. She is calmer, happier and so much more relaxed. In fact, C. commented last week that she had noticed how much more "fun" and appropriately "playful" Corazon was. C. didn't know we were using a new tapping script.

Earlier this week we celebrated her 8th "anniversary" of the day she came home. As part of the celebration she wanted to see pictures of herself growing up so I made a slide show similar to the one I made for Pollito last month. When we finished watching she was very happy and commented "I really have had a good life." She has thanked me for it a few times and asked questions about some of the pictures because she didn't remember when/where they were taken.  I don't know if the slide show triggered "stuff" for her but yesterday, she hit some bumps in her science project which is due in a couple of weeks (for an outside class she is taking) and she took out her anxiety on me. After several attempts to redirect and refocus she still couldn't get it together so I called a time-out and sent her to her room for 20 minutes. When I checked on her she was tapping. I didn't say anything when she came down except that I was happy to see her and I gave her a quick hug. The rest of the day was a little bumpy but ok for the most part. As she was getting ready for bed she gave me a hug and spontaneously added "I am sorry for the way I behaved to you this morning. I don't know what made me act like such a jerk to you when I was the one who made the problem bigger." I was so proud of her. She apologized AND took responsibility all in one breath. This is huge for her.

 When I was checking on her writing this week I came across this entry, which was NOT assigned. She didn't even tell me about it.

Dear Ms. Lisa,

How are you? I hope you and J. are doing well. Thank you very much for my tapping script. The first time I did it, it made me feel better saying them because I knew they were true. I was afraid to fail, to make a fool of myself every time I make a mistake. I do feel ashamed sometimes. Saying those outloud, I felt better and I also had a great day. Thank you so much for thinking about me. I hope to see you soon.


This daughter of mine is blossoming into an even more amazing person each and every day.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Corazon. 8 years.

Today we celebrated 8 years since Corazon joined our family. What an amazing journey this has been. I look forward to many more years of watching her grow.  Happy Anniversary my dear heart.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Tortuga's ups and downs

Tortuga has been having a hard time again. He is never an easy child but during the months of November-February (end) he is particularly challenging. This year we delayed the "big" issues until 2 days after Christmas which was awesome. Since then he has been on a roller coaster with some good times mixed in with some very challenging times. We have started a "new" guided imagery series and he seems to be responding to that a little bit. I have also continued the "music therapy" which keeps him grounded and focused throughout the day. I am dreaming of a serious stereo system where I can "pipe" music to every room in the house as kids' need dictate. Right now we are "doing school" while listening to Gregorian chants and Mozart. They also listen to reiki music and Corazon, especially, has responded well to it.  So far, the combination of music therapy and guided imagery seem to be helping the most with Tortuga but we still have bumps (like he keeps breaking the ipod). He is also starting tapping again which I am hoping will work better for him this time around. The last time it became a battleground even though he could tell it helped him so I finally said I wasn't interested in "forcing" him to do anything he didn't want to do so we gave it up.

Last week he was especially nasty and disrespectful. I finally told him we were taking a break from him and he would only be allowed around the other kids when he was "helping" them, doing something nice for them, or otherwise working on being pleasant and a total joy to be around. As soon as he wasn't focused on making them happy, we would go back to taking a break for him. Yesterday was the first time in longer than I can remember that the rest of the kids actually had fun with him. They are so good at tolerating him and putting up with him but they rarely ENJOY his company. I could see him working harder at it so I kept encouraging him and trying to support him. I think he got annoyed with me for calling attention to his good behaviors and intentions but ultimately he felt successful and  I complimented him on his successes. Of course, today he has driven me crazy asking for things he isn't allowed to have or he has shown no ability to handle.

This is his pattern. After a good day, he gets "demanding" and ultimately blows up. Yesterday before he went to bed I tried to lay the groundwork for what I thought would happen today and how I planned to handle it. I cannot tell that if my talking about it last night is making it better or worse today but so far, I have not engaged with him about any of it and he hasn't blown up. He is such a hard kid and so exhausting on so many levels. I am working on not letting him zap all my energy so that I have something left for the other kids but it is hard. I have to keep reminding myself that he is 5 or 6 emotionally even though he is 13 and several inches taller than me. That boy will fight us on just about everything even on the NOT fighting him thing. We took another step back this month and I told him no schoolwork until he can handle it without attitude and drama. Of course, nowvhe begs for schoolwork every morning and I say, "nope, you get to do whatever you want as long as it isn't destructive or interrupts the other kids' learning." When I checked to see what he was doing, he had gone back and "corrected" all his assignments that he hadn't completed in the last 3 months (he has a workbook he likes and he does guided journal writing).  Then he asked if he could please finish his All About Me book which he fought us tooth and nail about when we got them this past summer.  Go figure.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Hello 2013

It's mid-January already. The Christmas decorations are finally put away. I am still sweeping up pine needles which I will probably do until May but I don't mind. It brings a smile to my face to be taken back to the sights and sounds of our holiday this year. It was our best yet and we registered the least number of tantrums and meltdowns ever! Tortuga held it together beautifully and Corazon was ever so helpful.

Of course those more peaceful days are behind us now.  As with so many children of trauma when things go well and they are overwhelmed because they feel loved and happy and they don't think they deserve it all, the other shoe drops. Pollito stopped brushing his teeth, started wearing the same dirty t-shirt day after day, and has pretty much interjected himself into every. single. conversation. for the last three weeks. It is driving all of us absolutely nuts.  Corazon stopped using toothpaste and deodorant and worked really hard to make herself stinky by refusing to shower. Then she pretends to not notice, or she tries to engage in a discussion about it. I have a particularly acute sense of smell, which she knows, so I know she is just trying to get my attention. Tortuga kicked up the ODD a few notches and invites me to fight with him several times each hour. Currently my computer and table are covered in sticky notes reminding me of those things that I have a hard time remembering when they start coming at me from all angles. The most prominent post-it note right now says "DECLINE the invitation."

If I get invited to join an argument, I DECLINE the invitation.

If I get invited to participate in mediating whatever current attention getting competition Corazon and Pollito create, I DECLINE the invitation.

If someone starts pretending she forgot how to ________________, I shrug, walk away, and wait until another child in need of attention, (who tries to point out to me how silly she is behaving,) decides to go tell her how to do it (which suddenly jolts her memory faster than any prompting from me. Go figure.)

If someone leaves off an important article of clothing because I haven't taken the bait to fight or argue about __________, I comment loudly to no one in particular, that it sure is chilly outside.

If, after a particularly enjoyable family dinner out with friends, someone walks in the door and decides to start a battle about being deprived and treated unfairly because other kids get ___________, I listen for a minute and then as soon as possible smile and say "you are right honey now go get ready for bed."

That is what is working right now. I am able to engage with the kids in ways that are fun, appropriate, necessary, and the rest of it, I am not getting pulled into. It's hard but it works for us. Until I slip...

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