Sunday, September 14, 2014

Feelings Part 4 (he runs again)

After Corazon's return from diving, Tortuga's jealousy had him jumping out of his skin (literally, he gets twitchy and shifty eyed). He couldn't look at Corazon and he would barely talk to her. To make matters worse, she was her usual self. She is pleasant to him and doesn't care one way or the other if he pays attention to her (usually.) Her success brought up so many feelings for him about his self-perceived shortcomings.  We have established that he sees himself as a "loser" and "lame." This low self-esteem has been a huge issue from day 1 and whenever it starts to get a little better he usually quits or sabotages that which makes him feel a little better about himself. Combined with the fact that he doesn't offer much for others to latch onto, it makes him a very isolated and marginalized kid. Each social failure (attempt at having friends/social interactions) result in kids seeing him as weird or freakish and him (once again) getting his negative self perceptions reinforced. He compares himself to EVERYONE and he is always lacking. I could write a whole book on the things we have tried to help him with this but that is for another day.  On this day, this was the weight that was about to strangle him.

For about 36 hours after her return we kept things very low key. Beyond a banner drawn by Pollito to congratulate her (which we placed where he didn't have to look at it) we didn't talk about it around him. We focused on "chores" around the house and getting settled in for what was to be too much togetherness with C.'s family. His feelings were overwhelming him despite our efforts. I had talked to him and asked him what would help and had given him the option to not have to do anything (talk with her, congratulate her, etc.) except NOT say anything mean or rude. He could write it in his journal prompt book and think it but he could not say it to her. (He could share it with me, which he didn't want to do at the time.) I was once again reminded that under other circumstances we could celebrate her achievement as a family and go out and enjoy. Instead we planned a quiet celebration without him for sometime later in the week. I think a part of me hoped he could get it together enough to celebrate with us but I wasn't holding my breath or taking it away from her. C. had promised Corazon that we would take her to Chees*c*ke Fact*ry and she could order whatever she wanted.

Two days after her return the elements converged for a major fallout. All seemingly little things blew up to grand proportions in his frame of mind. I document them here so I keep better track of how things pile up for that kid (and many of our kids.) While his anger and jealousy was bubbling under the surface, the structure and distance seemed to be keeping things in check. Then C's parents decided to surprise us by being in our neighborhood (they were staying 2 hours away) and asking us to join them for ice cream at eveyone's all time favorite place in the middle of the afternoon. Recipe for disaster on many levels but there was no way they would understand if we didn't bring him and he would blow up if we left him out. I tried to prep him as best we could but it didn't work so well.  Here's the short list:

  • he was ignoring her and she wasn't reacting
  • he was making faces at her and she wasn't taking the bait
  • T was trying to be extra nice to him because she was aware he was struggling
  • C. went to pick up an art tile she had made the week before and it turned out beautifully (he was disappointed in the project he had done and we had brought everyone's home the day they did it but hers needed additional work.)
  • he was excited about seeing his grandparents (especially his grandfather)
  • he had a big treat (ice cream) but we made him choose a sugar free one (Corazon did too) because sugar makes his crazy angry and aggressive
  • I would not engage in an argument about the ice cream (despite several invitations) and he tried really hard to pick a fight
  • his grandfather brought a friend (who gave him a kidney) and his 11 year old son to ice cream 
  • his grandfather was talking with both boys but Tortuga felt it was too much attention for the "obnoxious" other boy (who interestingly enough acts a lot like Tortuga in his loudness, impulsivity, inappropriate commentary and laughter)
  • the boy "annoyed" him because he was so loud and obnoxious (had to really keep my mouth shut here)
  • visit with grandparents was short, no gifts, and no "special" attention so he was disappointed
  • he tried to make himself better by picking on Pollito and being loud and inappropriate so I removed Polite from his table without giving Tortuga any attention.
  • when we got back home I gave him a choice of several activities before dinner and he tried to pick one that I didn't give him (which wasn't appropriate at the time) and I didn't engage in a fight about it
  • At dinner, he tried to pick a fight with Corazon and was being overall nasty to her and she removed herself from the situation in a very mature way ("I'm done eating" which she wasn't and asked if she could finish later by herself.)
  • He then moved on to amp Pollito up while they ate so I moved Pollito from the table
  • Without an audience he proceeded to use his napkin as a toy and the tablecloth (which wasn't ours) as a napkin for the pasta and pasta sauce he was letting fall from his mouth as he ate.
I knew he was itching for a fight that I was trying to avoid. He kept escalating. I finally said he should take a break for 5 minutes then he could return to his food. He charged at me (I was in the doorway to another room) and put his face (mouthful of food) right in front of mine and yelled "why don't you shut the **** up!" C. got frustrated and told him to take his break on the front porch. He stormed down the stairs, damaged the storm door, and was gone. He was barefoot, it was getting dark and it was about to rain. He just took off down the street (a neighbor who knows him tried to talk to him and then let us know he was down the street. This is a busy Boston neighborhood and the boy took off and was gone and hiding outside for over 5 hours. We tried not to worry but I'd be lying if I didn't say I was. Once it was truly dark outside and he'd been gone for about 3 and a half hours we went outside and called him. We figured he was within earshot just hiding. He ignored us and continued to ignore us even after C. and his godmother both tried to look for him and call to him. He ignored me as I announced we needed to call the police for his safety. (He is terrified of police.) Finally C. went to sit on the porch and he stepped out of the shadows because he didn't see her. She sent him upstairs and he came up and straight to the room he was sleeping in. He was still angry and trying to fume but we could also tell he had scared himself.  I went in and told him to change into pjs and I would be in shortly to talk. At that time, if he was inappropriate in any way, I would be calling the police or taking him to a hospital. 

When I went to talk with him he cried and cried and cried. Everything he was feeling and thinking just spilled out. He felt like a loser, he was jealous, he hated Corazon, he wasn't good at anything, he was scared to death that he had ruined his whole life, he was afraid we wouldn't want him back, he wanted to be 5 again, he wished I was his birth mother, he didn't want to see his birth mother because he wanted to forget about her, he wanted to see her because it had been a long time since he had seen her, he doesn't miss her but he feels guilty, she reminds him what he could be like, he hates himself, he was mad at his grandfather for giving the other kid attention, he was mad Corazon was being nice to him, he wishes he could win at something, and the list went on and on. I reminded him we loved him and forgave him because we were family no matter what. I reminded him we would deal with the feelings after he got some rest, I reminded him there was restitution to do the next day and we would help him tackle some of those feelings. I held him and hugged him while he cried. He was so upset at himself mostly and I was proud of him for being able to own so many of those thoughts and feelings. None of them were new but he usually tries to deny them and this time he seemed to be owning them a little more than other times. They are so huge and so hard to tackle but at least he was willing to name them.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Feelings Part 3 (aka road trip blues)

After her return from zones, Corazon seemed more subdued. We processed out the prejudice she encountered and she seemed to be ok with it except that she was thrown off by her feelings. I chalked it up to growing up and the progress she is making and we settled in to enjoying the week with C.'s family (who arrived the same day they returned from zones). C.'s youngest brother was getting married and C. was officiating. Of course, Corazon doing well at zone set off Tortuga in a MAJOR way.

We had struggled with Tortuga on the road trip to Boston. Normally the kids travel well until they don't. We have discovered several things that work and don't come back to bite us. For example, watching DVDs in the van keeps them chilled out on the road trip but the dinnertime, hotel time is HELL!!! So we don't do DVDs until the evening time, night driving, or last day or two and then dose them with melatonin and benadryl to make the best of it. Otherwise they travel well because our being cooped up in the van together reduces everyone's anxiety.  For Tortuga, the car trip gives him too much time to be a voyeur and watch the other kids. It is a bit creepy for all of us and overwhelming for him. We find that even with an 8 passenger van we have to put him in a row by himself behind the other three who end up cramped in the middle row. That is the best way to give him space and less stimulus. We tried putting him in front of the others but he spent the whole time turning back and making faces/noises/glaring. This works best but doesn't stop his need to try to "catch" them doing something wrong and then getting angry when he doesn't think we have "punished" them for whatever infraction he witnesses or thinks he saw. It's a vicious cycle for him and depending on how much sleep he has had and how he wakes up we all end up at his mercy. It has gotten better over the years but still poses a challenge.

This trip had great anxiety for him because he was conflicted. We haven't been able to see his and Pollito's birth mom in the last 2 years because she sort of "disappeared." Then she resurfaced this year and we have been in contact with her.  He is going through a phase where he doesn't want to see or hear from her. When I asked if he wanted to see her he continually changed his mind. I knew the possibility was weighing on him partly because he couldn't make peace with his feelings. He did want to see her but he did not want to see her. So he was going to be anxious either way. Coupled with the fact that Corazon was going to zones, which raises his jealousy and sense of inferiority, we were not off to a good start. By the time we got to Pennsylvania he imploded and acted aggressively toward Corazon and them me. We got to a hotel and couldn't even let him into the lobby. That resulted in him running away from us and hiding nearby. Usually we count on him being afraid of many things to keep him in check. He was a runner from a young age but he was scared to go too far so he usually went no further than a few houses down the street until he got really scared and came home. This time, we figured he would do the same thing. Especially because it was almost evening and it was going to rain.

He's fifteen now and a little more bold. He ran into a nearby wooded area and didn't come when we called him. C. got frustrated and decided to take the other 3 to the swimming pool because they should enjoy the opportunity. While I didn't disagree, I feared it would set him off if he knew. I was right, unfortunately. He saw them through the windows (indoor pool) and that set him off. It was a few hours before he returned and even then he was self-righteous and obnoxious. He was also chagrinned and scared so I was able to take control of the situation to get us through the night. I let him shower (always a calming strategy for him) and he got ready for bed. He had run out of the van before being able to get his backpack so he didn't have anything to "do." Normally I might be invested in him having those things but I felt he needed to feel the impact of his rashness. I was frustrated and angry but did my best to be therapeutic and act out of love not frustration.  We got through that and he did well while Corazon was at zones, even helping me paint a room that was a nightmare to clear out.

With Corazon's return his anger was palpable. He couldn't even look at her. All the other kids welcomed her back lovingly and were so happy for her. They congratulated her unprompted. Tortuga would not even look at her and he was itching for a battle.  I tried to honor his feeling in anticipation of her return and I tried to give him some strategies that might help him but I knew it was a matter of time.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Feelings Part 2 (aka Diving at Zones)

Corazon started diving a year ago.  In May she competed in her first regional meet and managed to qualify for zones. We had no idea she would qualify (not too common after less than a year of diving) and we really didn't want to go to "zones" in FL. This was completely inconvenient because it forced us to change our summer travel plans which greatly reduced our time in Boston. We couldn't take everyone to FL because of cost so we ended up changing our plans and not stopping to visit with family and friends on our drive to Boston so we could get there and then she and C. could turn around and go to FL. Traveling together has its challenges for them. They had gone to the Regional competition together and C. had caught Corazon stealing "treats" from her bag in the car when C. wasn't watching. She caught her again in the middle of the night in the hotel room. I was dreading what this trip would be for them especially because Corazon's anxiety is greater when I am not around. C. handles her very well but it still raises Corazon's anxiety.  Nonetheless, they were gone for 5 days while the rest of us were in Boston.

There are so many highlights from that trip. Corazon did well from a behavioral and diving perspective. She didn't have a "prayer" of making it to Nationals according to everyone involved in her diving but they agreed she needed the experience. The competition was rained on in high humidity for most of the 5 days.That meant they would start diving and then stop for several HOURS because of thunder, then start again and stop within 30 minutes for another hour or two, etc. etc.  This would normally be a set up for Corazon who doesn't transition well from "down" time to "on" time. However, she held it together nicely and needed minimal redirection. She was able to transition from playing card games with a teammate to diving and back and forth throughout the 3 days of competing. What made that most impressive was that she was being tested on so many fronts.

We know diving is a "white" sport and she doesn't have the "form" that many of her fellow divers have. We also have encountered racism in many different forms throughout our children's lives. The kids know about it and hear us talk about it. We try to turn the experiences in lessons for all of them but especially Corazon who stands out in many of the activities she participates in. She has encountered prejudice and ignorance because of her race and most of the time she lets it roll off her back or ignores it. This time she couldn't hide from it. Despite decent dives she noticed she was getting very low scores from several judges. The dive parents and even some other coaches noticed and commented to C. that they had noticed or didn't know what was going on. At one point one of the coaches for another team approached C. and gave her some insight--C. was getting lower marks because of her race and because her hair was in cornrows. (For anyone who knows what Black girls' hair can look like after being in a pool, you understand the need for cornrows.)  C. started paying attention and discovered that indeed Corazon and the other girls of color were in fact being scored lower by a couple of the judges.  It was blatant enough that even some folks who claimed not to "notice" race, noticed.  It got so bad at one point that Corazon and another one of the girls in her group were getting comments from other girls about how the judges must not "like" them.  While Corazon has encountered (and will continue to encounter) racism and prejudice before, this time she felt it. It hurt her more than angered her. She cried. She didn't cry while she was up on that diving board but she cried. She cried again when she told me over the phone. This may sound crazy but even though we don't want our child hurt, C. and I were thrilled that she was letting herself feel something so powerful and that she didn't let it stop her and get in her way. She didn't fall apart and get pissed off and lose it. She just felt it and the helplessness of the situation and she kept on trying her best through the tears.  For Corazon this was so HUGE. A painless life lesson but an amazing personal growth experience.

After all that, she even managed to eek out a qualifying spot for Nationals because some of the girls she was competing against had already qualified.  Being the "bad" parents that we are, we were less than thrilled because it meant cutting our trip short on the tail end too so we could be in Nashville over week earlier than we had projected.  C. and I had to laugh at the texts that went back and forth between us in those moments.

C:  She tied for 13th so no Nationals.
Me: Sorry for her but "yay" we get to enjoy some of our trip.
C: Yes! Yay! I mean so sad for her.
Me: Yes, but we need the break.
C: Wait a minute. One of the parents says one girl prequalified so she might be in. Waiting for word.
Me: WHAT??? No! I mean "yay." Maybe. Oh my, I am so conflicted.
C: Me too. How terrible.
Me: Terrible that she might go or terrible that we are such bad parents?
C: Both.
C: She's in!!!! Nationals! Get ready for Tennessee!
Me: (silence)
C: Hello?
Me: Oh my...Happy for her. After all she went through! Take a picture for me.
C: Will do.  ... Not our best parenting moment, huh?

No indeed. But we were so proud of her.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Summer of Big Feelings (Part 1)

Good. Bad. Hard. Easy. Exhausting. Reinvigorating. That was our summer. Except for recaps in pictures I don't think I can begin to reconstruct the many things that took place in those few months. One thing I do know is that there was an awful lot of growing that happened for Corazon.

Corazon has been doing incredibly well (not without some BIG bumps along the way). In many ways I think she is actively working to heal and yet she is also terrified of the changes. One of the biggest changes for her is that she is FEELING. That may sound a bit strange but for Corazon feeling anything too deeply threatens her sense of control in MAJOR ways.  She tends to intellectualize things or just react without thinking. Not to say she hasn't felt things along the way. Of course she has but the main feelings she regularly allows herself to experience tend to be anger, frustration, disappointment (which all tend to look the same--scowling, frowning, yelling, gritting her teeth, stomping, flaring her nostrils, slamming her body into a chair, bed, etc.) When calm she can talk about it but it has tended to be pretty void of any real feelings. It sounds like she is narrating a book or a movie or something that happened to someone else.  When she is happy or excited she is "over the top-giddy, impulsive, really loud, needs constant redirection, and basically lets herself do whatever she wants until she is unsafe or highly inappropriate and has to be sent to her room to regain  some semblance of self-control. Usually if we let it go it gets very unsafe and she really can't reign it back in regardless of how we try to address it.

For example, if she wasn't doing her schoolwork and I reminded her that if she didn't complete what was expected of her she would be missing diving practice, she might get her work done (minimally but within the "letter" of the law, so to speak) OR she might continue whatever she wasn't supposed to be doing.  Whether I continued to remind her or not didn't seem to make a difference. Once I told her she wasn't going because she hadn't done what she needed to do all hell would break lose. It might look like pleading for another chance, arguing that the directions weren't clear, that she could do the task, or that I changed the expectations, but usually ending with her yelling and stomping out of the room if I refused to engage in the battle. If she was able to regroup it might be as a "last ditch" effort to get me to change my mind. So she might come down from her room to apologize for her behavior but then ask me to let her go to diving. It felt manipulative (and it was) and would usually result in my saying "not this time but maybe next time we can make it work" and her storming back upstairs. There might even be some loud wailing and most definitely yelling that I was mean, unfair, unclear, etc. It would go on for hours before she could bring herself to STOP the behaviors and even then she stayed "edgy" for the rest of the day/night.

Much of that is gone. Over the past year, we noticed that she was showing a wider range of "normal" feelings whether it was happiness or disappointment or frustration. There seemed to be more "middle ground." She could get silly and regroup. She could snap at her brother and then stop herself from escalating. She could express disappointment at not getting to go somewhere without it becoming a completely ruined day.  We still saw a great deal of drama but it was also clear that her "heart" wasn't in it as much.  She still gets "stuck" and this summer we had a few big episodes of this that looked pretty ridiculous even to her once she got past it. But in almost every case she was able to regroup even if things got pretty ugly. It didn't take over her (and our) day. That is huge progress for this kid and it feels so good to see her hard work pay off.

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