Monday, December 19, 2016

November 28, 2016

November 28th was the day Tortuga left for military training camp. He was 17 years and 8 months old. He had lived in our home for 10 years and 6 months. Yet, that is how much time we had. This all feels significant because 10 years feels too short a time to raise a child and teach him all the things a mother believes may be important for him to know before he goes out on his own. I have a long list of failed attempts to teach him some basic things such as how to wash dishes, do his own laundry, cook basic essentials, pump gas, order a meal at a restaurant, or even do some basic grocery shopping. (Forget about learning to drive!) Then there's the more important things such as managing his responsibilities, be able to apologize sincerely, advocate for himself without getting belligerent, fail without falling apart, and to exercise self control/self regulation. However much we modeled, we demonstrated, we practiced, it was ultimately his choice to learn it or not.  I have spent a good deal of time reflecting on this experience and for the most part I have few regrets. The ones I do have do not involve what we did or did not do with him. They are regrets about what we subjected the other children to with the things we put up with or tried to work through with and for Tortuga.  That is a topic best left for another day.

To say that Tortuga was ready to leave and that the rest of our family was equally ready would be an understatement. After returning from the 5 ½ month program he attended in early 2016, he could barely acknowledge his siblings' existence unless he needed something from them. Even then, he was mostly rude and unintelligible. (Mumbling returned after he'd been gone for that time.) He became a familiar stranger living in our midst and generally speaking, we all held our breath a little when he was in the house. For the most part everyone made the best of it and those last 6 months were as good as they could be. He had the choice to join the rest of family in every activity we engaged in and he refused pretty much everything but his high school graduation dinner, Thanksgiving dinner and his going away party.  He was absolutely hurtful to the other kids in an emotional way rather than a physical way. We had 2 major "bumps" while he was home but otherwise we put up with his moods and attitudes and ignored everything we possible would ignore. Milagro remained herself throughout the time he was home and was hurt the most by his behavior. She treated him with love, kindness, caring, thoughtfulness and greeted him joyfully regardless of how he behaved towards her.  One painful memory that stands out the most was Halloween. She asked him if he would join us for our traditional neighborhood Halloween party and he said he would. She was so happy about that. He called from work to say he wanted to work late instead. I told him it was his choice and he missed the festivities. When he got home the kids were cleaning up outside with C. When Milagro spotted him she ran to him and said "You missed Halloween." He replied, "So what? I don't care." Nonplussed she extended her hand and offered him 8 pieces of his favorite candy which she had saved for him. He walked away from her and snarled "I don't want those!" and went up to his room. Her face fell and I went to her and said I would take them for him and praised her thoughtfulness. The next morning as he was leaving for work he walked past her. She said "Bye Tortuga, have a good day. I'll miss you." He gave her a dirty look and said "I won't miss you." She started to cry. I comforted her as best I could and reminded her that he is a sad and hurt young man and that she didn't deserve his attitude. I was furious.

After I calmed down I sent him a quick text saying his behavior toward his 9 year old sister was unacceptable and violated our expectations and agreements that he be respectful and appropriate with all of us. I also reminded him that if he did not want to live with us before he left he could move to a rented room near his job. I asked him to give me his decision when he got home. No response. When he got home he pretended he hadn't gotten the message because his phone (my phone--an old flip phone) had broken when he accidentally sat on it. It took one look at the phone to tell that he had deliberately smashed it and twisted it apart. I didn't lose my cool. I told him what my message said and that if he couldn't do differently then we would move to a different plan. He said he would do better and he did for the next month.  He also spent the rest of his time at home without a phone which he expected me to replace.

In those six months I was mostly his cook, personal shopper or sounding board and occasionally I drove him to work or picked him up in bad weather.  I kept channels of communication open and his mood or anxiety or tiredness generally determined how pleasant or unpleasant he was. I didn't confront him about anything except safety issues. I could see glimmers of him trying to connect and I fully embraced those while at the same time respecting his need to disengage. We were willing to do whatever it took to get him ready for his next steps but we were unwilling to sacrifice everyone else's happiness or safety to do it. To his credit, he busied himself with work, gym and sleeping and preferred to have most of his meals at times when others were done eating.  He missed the structure of his program and he had no real interest in being a part of "family" life and we respected that. He didn't make friends but had a few connections with people at his job which seemed to be enough for him.

We hosted a wonderful goodbye party the Saturday after Thanksgiving and had so many people who had been significant in our family's life attend.  He had 2 co-workers/"friends" and one military recruit "buddy" attend. He gave out over 40 invitations. We were happy that these 3 people came. We sent him off on the Sunday and the next day all of us drove 2 hours from home to watch him get sworn in and to say goodbye to him. He was nervous and anxious and ignored everyone but me. I think he had a little change of heart as we spoke for the last few minutes because he asked me to take $300 from his bank account and spend it on Christmas gifts for his siblings and a birthday gift for C. His ideas for gifts were quite appropriate as he suggested St*r W*rs books for his SW obsessed younger siblings and 2 new swimsuits for his diving sister. As we drove away I shed a few tears but I also sensed the relief of everyone in the car. We went to a late lunch/early dinner and toasted him as we recognized that for better or worse, or  party of 6 had become a party of 5.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Because someone asked...

In some ways, I cannot believe it has been over 2 years since I last wrote here. I still continue to write but as the children have gotten older I have stepped back from writing here for a variety of reasons. I couldn't possible recap here all that has transpired in the past two years. We are doing well overall with some bumps along the road. Tortuga is now 17, Corazon is 16, Pollito is 12 and Milagro is 9! C. and I are getting older and hopefully wiser but sometimes I wonder about that.

We are still living in Texas and hoping to return to the East Coast sometime in the next few years but for now, this is still a better option especially for the children.  We still homeschool and they are all still voracious readers and learners although production for school assignments still varies and is a struggle for some of them. Then again, it is for many of us.

Milagro is still amazing. She continues to be a loving, thoughtful, engaging, hard-working, creative and intelligent kid. She still LOVES orcas, anything green, strawberries and blueberries and fully expects to become a marine biologist. She is in 4th grade but reads and comprehends well above grade level. She does magical things with clay so my oven is frequently "busy" baking some new piece that she worked on well past her bedtime. She reads voraciously and right now moves between Pok*m*n graphic novels, Animorphs adventures, and she is finishing up Riordan's "The House of Hades." She is also pretty captivated by Girl Scout Founder, Juliet Gordon Lowe and is on a 2nd book about her. She was on a city swim team these past two summers and just started practicing on a  competitive swim team that meets 4X/week. Her goal is to improve all 4 strokes enough to move to a group that has a longer practice and meets 5 days/week. She also became a Girl Scout  last year and this year I got roped into becoming her troop leader.

Pollito has made tremendous improvement with his speech and sensory issues. He finished neurological reorganization which made a significant difference in many areas. He is attaching more and more each year and his learning issues severely interfere with his academic progress. When we combine that with his lack of interest in working hard at most things and his ODD then life isn't as much fun for any of us.  In the past year and a half or so we believed the trauma bond between him and Tortuga has diminished and we let our guard down. We started letting them spend more time together (mostly supervised) but realized that we had made a huge mistake. Things got very ugly for quite awhile and he got to a point where he was raging daily and destroying his room and anything else he came into contact with when he was mad or frustrated. We have our ups and downs in this area but I am pretty convinced that a large part of the issues is the trauma bond he has with Tortuga.  We have a plan in place with him that is mostly working but for almost a year it was shear hell.

Corazon and Tortuga really deserve their own posts. Corazon has made tremendous healing over the years. Her RAD is pretty much gone except for residual pieces that I think have become part of her personality more than anything else. She will still fight for control regardless of whether she is right or not, and despite the fact that the outcome is negative for her. She still has food sneaking issues and her lying ebbs and flows but stays mostly in the range of "normal" teen "stuff." She has developed a greater love for science and was focusing on forensics, cell biology, anatomy, and some chemistry with a local science team she became a part of in 9th grade. She is still a diver and has gone to nationals 3 years in a row although this past year was pretty tough on her because she moved up to the 16-18 age group even though she was still 15. Those divers were much better than she was and she went through a phase of not wanting to dive any more but seems to be back to enjoying it. She also got a part-time job last Spring as a lifeguard at a local Y. She LOVES this a bit too much so her schoolwork falls by the wayside at times. She is taking a couple of AP courses this year and struggling with time management. Most of our run-ins are about school work vs. part-time job. She says she wants to go to a Division 1 school and dive so we are trying to support her with this goal.

Tortuga healed tremendously these past 2 years. Some things, like the ODD, continued but his attachment to me especially is more solid. His aggression and violence continued to diminish but any time he didn't get his way we still dealt with blow ups, rudeness, disrespect and verbal aggression. They were fewer and farther between but still present. He is triggered by his jealousy of Pollito and Corazon on a pretty regular basis. Academically he has been well above grade level for years, especially in reading and writing so he has developed some coping skills for dealing with his learning issues. He and Corazon joined a Science Olympiad team and saw great success. He focused on Astronomy and Physics and for about a year and a half that became his obsession.  Last Christmas (which is during his trauma "anniversary") we had the best Christmas ever with him and then things fell apart. It was pretty violent and ugly and ultimately forced our hand about what to do next.

We considered many options and ultimately settled for something that would give him a shot at figuring out next steps for himself and give the rest of us a break for awhile. He was gone for almost 6 months and came back determined to join the military. That was not something we had hoped for but we were willing to support anything that allowed him to move forward so he has been admitted into the branch of his choice and we await his departure to boot camp in the next few months. Since he has been home it has been rough but he completed homeschooling and graduated and he found a part-time job at a fast food place he loves. Between working out at the gym in anticipation of his leaving for boot camp and his part time job, we see less and less of him which helps everyone out. Although the kids mostly tiptoe around him whenever he is around. Our rules are pretty strict with him but we have no expectations that he participate in "family life" and for the most part he likes it that way even though he does say he "misses" it at times. While all this has its own unique twist because of his issues, for the most part it mirrors more typical teen separation. He is 17 1/2 after all.

I have so much more I could write but for now I will stop and maybe pick up again in the near future.

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