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Category Archives: advice

Surviving Fun and Games, Part 2

Continued from Surviving Fun and Games, Part 1.   My friend Mark at Peace Hacks inspired this post. Check him out. He’s awesome.

We CAN survive board games with our kids.

Tykes seem to have unlimited energy. As kids morph into teens, the frenetic level of energy diminishes, but it surges when they’re presented with an activity they love.

And they expect us to keep up.

Providing fun for kids with trauma requires even more than the usual amount of parental stamina.

When our children came to us, they embodied the focus of a hummingbird crossed with the energy of a Jack Russell terrier. They wanted to play constantly and their need for attention was all-powerful.

Like twin black holes, they absorbed our energy with ferocious intensity. No matter how hard we played or how long we interacted, they demanded more.

In desperation, we searched for a creative option to provide the attentiveness they craved while providing simultaneous relief of our exhaustion.

Hubby and I both have fond childhood memories of board games.

Board games! Of COURSE!!

We’d help them gain some focus while happily bonding as a family. 

I look back at the seven-years-ago-us and shake my head. We were so earnest and adorable…

We tried Sorry, a board game with fairly easy play: pick a card and follow the directions. Get your pieces around the board and safely home.

Oh, and if another person’s game piece lands on the same spot as one of your pieces, the player yells, “SORRY!” and you get booted back to Start.

No big deal. How often could that possibly happen?

It could possibly happen a LOT. 

Every time one of their pieces ended up back at Start, the kids lost it.

After thirty excruciating minutes (because I still clung to the ridiculous idea that good moms make kids finish what they begin), I started mis-counting my spaces to ensure I did not send a kid back to Start. (You perhaps call this cheating…I call it a technicality.)

The game concluded in frustration and tears.

We didn’t touch another board game for two years.

If we’d been aware of a few semi-simple principles, that night may have ended with different results.

HYPERVIGILANT GAME GUIDELINES

  1. Only play as long as EVERYONE is having fun.

    Set this expectation with the adults: it’s unlikely your trauma kids will make it through a full game without some drama.

    If the game needs to end, don’t judge or shame the individual(s) responsible. If possible, shut it down before the situation devolves completely.

    Say something like, “well, this has been a LOT of fun, but I really have to get back to ______. Let’s play again another time!” Then (with their involvement if possible), pack up the game. If they complain about ending the game, say with a smile, “I KNOW, it was so FUN! Want to play tomorrow?”

    Stay as upbeat as possible; keep the mood light. Avoid making the game-end feel like a punishment. Be as nonchalant as possible and don’t allow yourself to be drawn into an argument.

    GOAL: Associate only positive feelings with game play.

  2. Start with an INSANELY easy game.

    Although we gave up on board games for a while, we tried card games and found success with Memory and Uno. We wore out Guess Who, a game of easy logic and elimination.

    Choose games intended for a younger population. If your child is 7-10, select a game with a suggested age of 3-5. The goal is a gradual introduction to the idea of playing and working together. If you worry about insulting intelligence, hide the box.

    GOAL: Introduce the idea that games are FUN.

  3. EFF the rules.

    And by “F,” I mean FORGET.

    In the house where I grew up, we opened the box, set up the game and then—before touching anything else—we read the rules together. Even if we’d played the game for years, we read them anyway. Rules were part of the tradition. The ritual.

    Most trauma kids won’t endure rule reading.

    By the time you get to, “collect $200,” they’ll be rolling around on the floor or test-fitting a game piece in a random orifice.

    Take a look at the rules beforehand; ensure you have a general grasp of game flow. Follow the ones that make sense for your crew. Ditch the rest.

    GOAL: Hold their interest and get the game moving right away.

  4. Simplify the game, including game aspects as appropriate.

    (My apologies to the purists. Grit your teeth. It’s for the kids.)

    Eliminate areas of the game which require too much of your children. Some game versions include additional requirements—jettison anything interfering with smooth play.

    —In a card game, play with the minimum number of cards necessary to run the game.

    —In a game with multiple pawns, like Trouble, limit the number of pawns to 1 or 2.

    —In games like Monopoly, leave out one or more extraneous parts of play (e.g., purchasing properties or buildings, paying rent). Keep the parts (e.g., roll dice, move silver dog) your kids can easily handle.

    GOAL: Start with very basic play. As kids become used to the rhythm and are able to handle more, increase the options.

    Add a third pawn to Sorry, then a fourth. Try adding the money component back to the Monopoly game. Play with a full deck. 

  5. Don’t get competitive.

    In many ways, learning to lose is more important than learning how to play. Don’t allow game night to become World War III.

    Learning to play means taking turns, being polite even when losing, making eye contact, finding ways to communicate, touching someone without hurting them or being hurt and learning that “I didn’t win” doesn’t mean “I will never find success.”

    Once, after her younger brother won two games of Uno in a row, our girl (seven at the time) had a screaming meltdown.

    “HE WINS EVERYTHING! I WILL NEVER BE AS GOOD AS HE IS!!!” The tantrum escalated as her mental state deteriorated.

    “NO ONE LIKES ME AND EVERYONE LIKES HIM AND I NEVER DO ANYTHING RIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIGHT…!!!!”

    The flip-out had very little to do with the game.

    It had everything to do with her self-perception.

    Although her ability to think with logic at that age was limited, we were able to help her recognize her feelings and show her we cared. It also gave us great insight to her thought process.

    GOAL: Keep in mind, the game is not about winning. It’s an opportunity to learn your kid.

  6. Don’t Give Up.

    Success is unlikely to happen overnight. We spent several years slowly building the game mentality. Especially for kids with limited social skills, board games are important. If you encounter opposition, limit tries to once a week. Attempt different types of games. Every kid is different, but almost all children like to play. The difference between “almost all children” and ours? Most of ours have to LEARN to have fun. To relax enough to enjoy themselves. To trust the adults.

    Game play is therapeutic and is an important learning experience for our kids.

    GOAL: Don’t lose sight of the end result: the children are absorbing important lessons which will equip them for life.

I hope these lessons we learned on a difficult road will help you have a better time “having fun” than we did.

Try a Game Night this Friday

Let me know how it goes…may all your dice roll 6 and all your pieces make it Home!

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Leave it the Shell Alone

When you have children, you finally appreciate all your parents have done for you.

You’ve heard this phrase, I’m sure (possibly from a frustrated parent when you were a teen).

For me, adopting the children did not bring the magical instant awareness, mostly because my parents never dealt with this brand of crazy or needed to make the kind of decisions we do. (That’s why I started this blog, because almost no one I know in person can say, “yes, I understand exactly what you’re talking about!”)

However, when we began home-schooling this year, I finally realized the level of work my mother did behind the scenes while teaching four children at home.

Sometimes I believed I was homeschooling myself, even in elementary grades.

I’ve seen a specific expression on my daughter’s face when I direct her to go back to the textbook and look for information. I recognize the look because I remember the way it felt from the inside of my face.

I was less forward about communicating my feelings. My girl… Not so much. She actually says the words sometimes. With that tone.

Why don’t you just teach me instead of making me look it up? Since you’re my teacher…

I smile and explain she needs researching skills.

Almost everything I do these days is with an eye toward the time she no longer needs me—which will arrive even sooner than I expect.

Being needed is a powerful urge. I find myself stepping toward my kids when I see them struggle, even for just a moment. I’m learning to stop, fold my arms and wait.

When I was 6 or 7, I read a story about a little girl who lived on a farm. She and her father were waiting for chicks to hatch. He left the barn for a bit, instructing her to leave the eggs alone.

After he left, one of the chicks managed to create a hole in the shell but struggled to break free and seemed to give up. The young girl cracked the egg for the chick. When the father returned, they cheered the birth of their first chick, but the celebration was short-lived as the chick passed away.

The man asked his daughter if she had helped the chick. When she admitted she had pulled the shell apart, he explained that the chick needed to struggle out of the shell on its own in order to be strong enough to live outside the shell.

The story was actually about obeying parents even when children don’t understand exactly why they should. However, now that I’m the parent, this story holds different meaning.

I watch my friends do things for their children (even grown children)…and in spite of my best intentions, sometimes I catch myself “doing” as well.

Tying the 10 year-old’s shoes. Cutting the 12 year-old’s food automatically. Helping the 14 year-old with the math problem before the child has attempted solving it alone. Never teaching the child to cook, clean up, work a dishwasher or clothes dryer, run a lawn mower, or change the oil. Driving a licensed teen to work or school, not for the lack of an extra car but because we can’t seem to let him go on his own.

Hamstringing and handicapping our kids with love.

Sometimes we can’t seem to fight that strong urge to be needed. Watching them grow up SO fast is a bit too painful. Tying the shoes “one last time” reminds us they are still our children.

I’m not suggesting we should never help our kids, nor that an occasional helping hand will keep them from learning. (Also, definitely not advocating a completely hands-off approach. Children require healthy boundaries and guidance.)

However, since my kids experienced a rough start, I found myself falling into the habit of “doing” for them. Trying to make up for their tough beginning.

About 6 months after the kids came to live with us, I was still helping them dress in the morning—using the rationalization that although they were five and seven, they were emotionally closer to two and four.

Hubby put a stop to it one morning, telling me, “the kid is capable of putting on his own underwear. He’s five. Stop holding him back.”

Disgruntled at Hubby’s interference in my fabulous parenting, I handed the boy his clothes and stepped back to prove that the child needed my help.

He didn’t.

And I suddenly realized I was “doing” for them to try to make up for all we had missed. Innocent and loving intent, but in the process, I was actually hindering their development.

I fight the urge to over-help every day. I can’t speak for dads, not being one, but I think this is a struggle for most mothers and possibly all women. I’m not being sexist—I just think that we as women are wired to care deeply and sometimes we take it a little too far.

Allowing them to be children for as long as possible is fine. However, even children can learn to do things for themselves.

And they should.

Once, when I interviewed candidates for an open position, a mother arrived with her son and sat through the interview with him. She handed me his resume. She answered a few of the questions. She presented her unsolicited, glowing commendation of his best traits.

The young man seemed pretty sharp and appeared uncomfortable with his mother’s presence. Based on her personality, I got the feeling she didn’t give him a choice regarding her involvement.

I’m sure she thought she was giving him his best chance. She probably assumed, “as his mother, I know all of his best qualities and can vouch for his worthiness of this position. Who knows this kid better than I?”

Guess who didn’t get a second interview.

That was an extreme case, but she probably started out by tying his shoes when he was 12. The desire to be needed is difficult to release.

But I strongly believe we need to let our kids fight their way out of their own shells.

Require them to have experiences that make them uncomfortable. Allow them to fail while they still live in our house and are able to come home for support and advice.

I’m doing my best to keep myself from cracking that shell. To let them struggle. To allow them to develop the strength they’ll need to survive without me.

Especially since, some days, I’d rather duct tape the shell and let them remain children forever.

Making Time

Photo by Michel Curi

 

Sometimes, real life interferes with writing.

Writing is my self-prescribed therapy; the hectic days, weeks and months I have the least amount of time to sit with my laptop are the days, weeks and months I need it most.

Lately I’ve been writing a lot in my head, but haven’t found time to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard, in this case).

It’s killing me. 

Speaking of writing…I’m on a rather spammy email list from a prolific actual (read: published) writer.

Sometimes the nudge to join his newest master class or buy his latest book feels a bit too pushy. My mouse often hovers over the “unsubscribe” link, but at the last second my finger declines to click, because in that moment I find the gem.

In the last email, he spoke of having no time to write. Of setting up a typewriter on a board across two chairs in his living room. Of carving out time in the evenings after his children were in bed. Of declining the allure of evening television or the seduction of a soft bed, of instead parking himself in a chair and writing.

Of Making Time.

Making Time is difficult, but not impossible.

Finding Time is improbable, at best. Lost minutes will never be recovered. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve come to a sudden awareness I have nothing to do.

“Carving” Time is essentially the same as Making Time but seems so much more appropriate in terms of my life. I wedge a blade into the calendar and plunge it between appointments with savage and ruthless abandon.

Ruthlessness is the only way, because otherwise my life overwhelms my intentions and conspires to drown me.

Tonight, I’m feeling a little ruthless, a bit cutthroat. Life is too overwhelming; I must make time to write, even if that means cutting out something else.

For now, I’ll cut whatever was going to happen in the next half hour.

Join me. What will you write?

 

P.S. Anyone recognize the photo?

Your Turn. Don’t be shy!

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Photo Credit: Michael Brace

 

At dinner with an elderly friend, I asked, “What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?” 

“Well,” she said, “my mother used to tell my brother, 

Want a good life? Keep your mouth shut and your pants zipped. 

and that’s probably the best advice I’ve ever heard from anyone.” 

***

I’m working hard on a writing project along with Lynn Love (check out her blog; it’s super) and some other fabulous writers through NaNoWriMo’s April “Camp.” I’d like to open this blog space to YOU today.

We have a bunch of new readers here, and all of you (long-time readers and new) have such great experience.

Please share below one of the following:

  • The best advice you’ve ever received.
  • The biggest thing you’ve learned on your own.
  • If you could have a do-over, what would happen?

And hey, if you want to share a link to your blog, please do.

BIG HUGS!
Casey

P.S. Here’s the best advice I’ve heard in a while (look twice if you don’t see it right away):

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A sign in the Insect Village at Seattle’s Pacific Science Center. Photo Credit: sea turtle

 

Misadventures in Eating

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Photo Credit: Chris Piascik

The photo may seem incongruous. Just wait…

During our first year, our girl ate like a wild thing. She and her brother were undernourished, so I allowed them to have seconds and sometimes thirds.

Since “thirds” seemed to help them feel secure, I made portions smaller once they reached a healthy weight—they were eating the equivalent of maybe one-and-a-half helpings. As they settled, third helpings became unnecessary.

Then, one school day she neglected to finish her lunch. I mentioned she needed lunch to fuel her brain for the afternoon. She asked lots of questions. We spent about thirty minutes discussing nutrition.

I thought we’d made a breakthrough; it was our first real connection. The inaugural Mother-Daughter Conversation of True Meaning.

The next day, she’d eaten even less, but then we had another great conversation.

By the next week, she’d stopped eating lunch.

Within a month, she barely ate anything. Every meal was a struggle. Some days, we actually resorted to spoon-feeding her to get her to finish a meal. She was eight.

We went to the psychiatrist and pediatrician and ended up in a Children’s Hospital feeding program (outpatient) after six months. By that time, she was emaciated.

I was terrified she was developing an eating disorder. Foster children are at high risk for eating disorders; one study found a quarter of the foster children monitored engaged in “aberrant” eating behaviors.  Others show similar numbers.

Their psychologist is an understanding genius. She helped me understand what I’d done, though inadvertently, to foster the behavior—and how to reverse the process.

Ignore the negative behavior and make it inconvenient for her. Reward ANY move toward positive behavior.

She patted my shoulder. “You can’t blame yourself. You didn’t know. But you can’t EVER give attention to a behavior unless you want it continued. It’s her way of controlling her world.”

She recommended that we ignore her eating issues altogether and substitute the worst-tasting Ensure-type product I could find. Give her only the meal substitute for a few days, then put both a meal and the bottle in front of her.

“Tell your daughter, ‘we don’t have a preference for which you ingest; either way, whatever you eat needs to be finished within half an hour. If you are finished when I return, you can go to bed five minutes later.’ Walk away,” the psychologist said, “then come back in half an hour and remove anything left over, without comment.”

Our girl was eating again within a week.

This was only the beginning. Now, I am always on alert…hypervigilant, if you will…in my quest to protect her from scheming against herself.

As parents, it’s easy to make mistakes. Here’s the great secret: almost no inadvertent mistakes cause permanent damage, as long as you make changes.

The best way to avoid those mistakes:

  • Surround yourself with individuals who are experienced with similar situations.
  • Find a mentor in an adoption professional you trust.
  • Talk to a counselor (either the child’s or a separate one for you) about your tactics. Ask them to be honest about whether they recommend what you’re attempting. Beforehand, make sure the counselor is experienced with foster/adopted children and their issues.
  • Read blogs and articles and medical journals and social work websites.
  • IGNORE (or be selective* in taking) advice from anyone who has never adopted or fostered. *Instances may occur in which one of these individuals brings an epiphany.
  • Don’t allow others to guilt you into anything (e.g., “She fell down AGAIN? And you didn’t pick her up to soothe her? You totally missed a bonding opportunity.” No, in my case, I prevented seventeen more falls).
  • Go with your gut: as you learn this child’s triggers and nuances, you’ll know when to avoid certain situations or try a tactic others might consider ridiculous. If you think it will work, try it. Trust yourself.

And finally, if you have been through the wringer, SHARE YOUR KNOWLEDGE. Someone needs help.

Yes, you. Right now. Start typing. 

Can’t wait to hear what you have to say. Add your advice below.

 

How to Stay Married for 15 Years…Part 2

Continued from Part 1

  • Don’t Speak

Needless to say, we broke up.

Seven years later, I saw him. We chatted (in real life, not online) for a few minutes and exchanged addresses. I was attending college out of state. For two years, we made casual connection via letters (yes, on paper, written in pen). I tried to explain what I’d meant, all those years ago. He said I did a better job this time.

We were both dating other people.

Life happened. We lost contact again.

During that time, our respective relationships ended. I decided not to date anyone seriously for a year; at the end of the year, I prayed.

“God, if you could send me someone exactly like him, but a Christian…that would be perfect.”

God did one better.

Him.

A year later, we were dating, doing our best to follow God. Together.

 

  • Speak

I wanted to marry him when I was thirteen. I wanted to marry him nine years later. When he asked me, on Christmas Day, I couldn’t speak.

We’d discussed engagement and even picked out a ring but he fooled me. “Let’s wait to get engaged until you finish your Master’s degree.” Next year.

Then he bought the ring, created an elaborate, beautiful scavenger hunt and asked me to marry him. I was so shocked and overcome, I stood with my mouth open, gasping like a landed bass.

When he’d waited long enough to be concerned, he asked, “Are you going to answer me?” With one word, I gave him my whole heart, forever.

A year later we tied the knot. Jumped the broom. Got hitched. Smashed the glass.

Best. Decision. Ever.

  • Feed Him before Midnight

Learning the rules of cohabitation is one of the most important lessons in marriage. Food guidelines are especially important to communicate.

A mentor during my college days informed me that “healthy dinner together” is key for family togetherness. Research from Cornell University shows she was correct.

Determined to get it right, I cooked elaborate meals upon arriving home each evening.

Two problems:

  1. we both worked long hours (7 pm or after) and
  2. Hubby had hypoglycemia; he needed to eat frequently to maintain sugar levels.

We rarely dined before 8:30 pm, and often ate much later. When Hubby breezed through the door around 7 pm and made himself a PB&J, I took offense. My homemade chunky pasta sauce wasn’t worth the wait?

Hindsight, and all that. I should have prepped meals to pop in the microwave, enabling us to eat earlier.

As it was, we had a daily tiff about the sandwich because I saw it as a personal affront to my culinary skills. He just needed to eat something. Anything. For a while, he acquiesced to my inane request and waited for dinner. During which time I made the acquaintance of Mr. Hyde (also known as Hungry Hubby).

Have you seen the candy bar commercials “for when you’re hangry” (angry because hungry)? It’s a thing.

I learned we could both be happier if I had a PB&J waiting for him. We still ate dinner together. Win-win.

 

  • Don’t Fight

Argument. Screaming match. Fight. Spat. Tiff. Row. Scrap. Knock-down-and-drag-out. Rumpus. Squabble. Brannigan.

Doesn’t really matter what you call it. Our first years were peppered with provocation. We both grew up in…vocally demonstrative…families. Angry? Yell. Mad? Yell. Annoyed? Yell.

The greater our passion surrounding a topic, the higher the decibel level.

I once heard a preacher say, “Church is the only place people shoot their own wounded.” He was wrong.

In the art of war, Hubby and I were Picasso and Van Gogh. We tossed barbed words, insinuations, blame and comparisons like grenades. We wounded each other with abandon.

Sometime around year five (during a lull in the storm), Hubby asked, “Have you ever noticed? We only yell about stupid stuff we blow out of proportion. If an issue is important, we work together to solve the problem.” He suggested we decide to stop screaming. We agreed.

Other than a stint in year seven when we were both acting like idiots (and I’ll admit freely that I was being the bigger idiot), we’ve managed to uphold our arrangement.

One of my proudest moments: last year, a counselor asked our children how they feel when “mom and dad have a big fight.” The kids looked at each other, confused, then said, “Daddy and Mama don’t fight.”

With a condescending grin, the counselor said, “Sure. So…how do you feel when they yell at each other?” The kids shook their heads.

“When they argue,” he tried.

“Daddy and Mama just work together on everything. They never fight,” the kids told him.

Since then, we’ve had a couple arguments (mostly stemming from occasional hormone fluctuations during which time I may become…unreasonable), but overall, we hold to our agreement.

Feel free to steal this idea; eliminating fights is great for the blood pressure.

  • Fight

As I mentioned above, Year 7 was not our best.

We almost broke up for good. Hubby had a bag packed in the trunk of his car. We discussed logistics. He said I could keep the house. I said I’d probably move out of state. We thought we had no options.

It’s easy to feel alone in the midst of a struggle. Even more so when it involves marriage; you’re separated from the person who should be your best friend.

If you’re smart, you don’t involve mutual friends, family members or work colleagues (they’ll take sides, hold lifelong grudges and give bad advice since they have no vested interest, respectively). That means, though, that you experience solitude in the grief.

Thankfully, a slightly older couple befriended us with the intent to mentor us. They could see our struggles; they’d been in similar straits and recognized the signs. Thanks to their care and committed support, we survived.

Help came from two other odd sources:

  1. Recognizing that a large percentage of our troubles stemmed from my issues, I went to a counselor who looked and sounded like Elmer Fudd, but everything he said made sense. 
  2. Our good buddy freaked out, telling Hubby, “You can’t leave. You’re the only normal married people I know!”

Fight, but not each other.

Another friend told us to be like mules.

“When horses are threatened, they freak out and run around, accidentally kicking each other. Predators can take them down. Mules put their heads together and kick out at the danger. Keep your heads together. Your spouse is not the enemy.”

Here’s what we learned: Love is a choice, not a feeling. Fight for your relationship. Anything worth having comes at a price. We fought—against our own selfishness and desire for an easy out—and won.

If you’re thinking about divorce, this guy has some good advice.

Fight FOR each other.

Continued…

How to Stay Married for 15 Years…Part 1

Our anniversary is February 24.

Wow…45 looooooong years.

Ha, just kidding. 15 years.

Hubby and I are the happiest married couple I know. We have fun together and LIKE each other (there’s an idea) and I can’t imagine being with anyone else.

Okay, I lied. Occasionally I daydream about Wolverine. (Not Hugh Jackman, mind you. Wolverine.) But geez, who wouldn’t? Watch. He’s not wearing a shirt. Tell me I’m crazy.

Disclaimer: if you don’t want to see comeuppance for trying to kill one’s daughter, stop the video at 1:45. 

You watched the whole thing, didn’t you. Twice? Shameless hussy.

Since he self-heals, I have a feeling some of that muscled beauty is computer generated. I feel so cheated. 

Anyway.

This is about real people.

In addition to being the happiest, we’re also in the running for “Longest Time Hitched to the First Person You Married” award among friends in our age bracket. People sometimes ask us our secret, so I thought I’d share it with you.

Whether you’re

  • married
  • thinking of getting married
  • filling out a FarmersOnly.com profile
  • recovering from being caught mousing around AshleyMadison (I still can’t believe that’s real)
  • a confirmed bachelor(ette)
  • a confirmed bachelor(ette) with a Tinder account

this advice will change your life.

Or it will give you yet another reason to say, “Thank God I’m not THAT screwed up.”

Either way, I’m happy to help.

Ways to Stay Married for 40 15 years

  • Begin with a memorable encounter

Rain forced P.E. classes into the gym; the teachers called, “Run ten laps and then you can sit with your friends!” I still remember the sound of sneakers slapping and squeaking on the gym floor. Thankfully, this memory has no smell. “Sweaty teen” is one of my least favorite odors.

Not “like yesterday” but still very clear: I jogged around the corner closest to the padded grey wall under the basketball hoops. Home stretch; one more side, then I could relax.

I hit the wall. Hard. Not of my own volition. I heard a chuckle as he trotted away.

“That jerk pushed me into the wall. He’s gonna pay.” I sped after him, tomboy that I was, fully intending to pound him. Or at least give him a good punch in the shoulder. He turned, grinning. I reconsidered.

I was thirteen (he thought I was fifteen). He was sixteen. I was in ninth grade; he was in tenth. He was the sweetest, most respectful guy I’d ever met. And he had great biceps (still my favorite). No doubt in my mind: we were going to grow up and get married.

He asked me out. I said yes. We held hands.

Then I told him to go to hell.

  • Tell him to go to hell

I didn’t just grow up in the buckle of the Bible Belt; I lived on the prong. Everything in my life revolved around Christianity. We attended a very conservative, legalistic church. When the doors were open, we attended. I never felt a connection with anyone my age and often felt “not good enough.”

Sometime during my elementary years, a young lady visited the church wearing jeans and leather—typical 80’s style. An older lady approached her and said, “honey, you need to dress properly for church.” The girl never returned.

I knew this was wrong. By the time I met Hubby, I knew I could never invite him to our church. His family didn’t attend church (strike one) he rocked a mullet (strike two) AND he listened to ROCK MUSIC (you’re out).

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Photo Credit: John Philip Green

None of those are Hubby, but this page could have been from our yearbook.

So then, I went to Bible camp. At camp, we learned that we should only date other Christians because then we’d have similar goals. If I wanted to go to South America as a missionary (and I did) but married a guy who didn’t see the point, things could get sticky. The speaker noted that generally you only marry people you date, so it makes sense to date people you could marry.

I was heartsick, knowing we didn’t see eye to eye. I decided to write him a letter to try to explain. Perhaps, I thought, he might decide to also be a Christian.

Being a socially inept fourteen-year-old did not help my communication. I didn’t realize how my letter came across: “hey, I just found out you’re going to hell.”

I do not recommend this as a relationship tactic.

 

Continued…

How To Kowtow to Your Kid

A friend stared at Hubby, stunned, as our son walked away. “That was unbelievable!”

How did you get your kid to be so polite?

Hubby, calm as ever, said, “I don’t give him a choice.”

 


We used to refer to our children as “the hyenas.” Little Wild Things having no grasp of manners, respect or, for that matter, reality. Neglect, abuse and terror combined to create the perfect hurricane of hatred and anger, expressed in the only communication device they knew: horrific behavior.


 

Now, though, in any group of children, ours are almost always the most polite-toward-parents with invariable reliability.

Acquaintances often ask our secret.

These people tend to be friends we’ve made in the last couple of years. They weren’t around for HellonEarth.

Our boy still deals with PTSD and ADHD issues, so I’m not claiming perfection. He tends to have an issue or two with impulse, most times when we’re not visible.

Our girl has RAD, which pretty much ensures she’s an angel outside our house these days (this was not always the case…just ask the caregiver who peeled her, screaming, off my leg so I could have an hour of respite). Unless she knows you very, very well, she’ll perform with a flawless sweet facade.

RAD doesn’t make her polite, though.

Annnnnnd, this Politeness didn’t “just happen.”

I read an article in the Miami Herald about Leonard Sax’s book, The Collapse of Parenting. (Am shocked to find there’s a parenting author I somehow missed…)

Dr. Sax advocates putting the parent back in control.

  • To encourage communication, don’t let your kid wear earbuds in the car (I can vouch for car riding as the best-ever conversation starter)
  • Enjoy dinner together EVERY night (this may be more difficult as they become more involved with school activities)
  • Communicate to your kids that disrespect is not okay
  • Stop over-scheduling
  • Do NOT allow children or teens to have a phone in their bedroom at night

The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t stop at cell phones—the recommendation in the November 2013 issue of Pediatrics calls for removal of all electronic devices from the bedroom; our kids aren’t sleeping.

Removal of electronics (mostly his Leapster learning pad) became key for our boy; we found him playing learning games into the early hours. His math skills improved but the lack of sleep compounded behavior problems.

I haven’t read the book—or anything he’s written—yet, so I can’t provide an informed opinion on Dr. Sax’s overall stance. Based on the article, I agree with his ideas.

Grooming a child into a polite, respectful individual is time-consuming. We don’t take breaks, a lesson we learned on vacation. Our kids need consistency at all times. Sometimes the depth of our conversation is exhausting, taking the time to explain why one must apply _____ manner in ____ situation.

“You must look others in the eye when you speak to them.”

“Expression matters. Smile when you say ‘Thank you.'”

“Speak up. Mumbling is rude.”

“Enunciate, please!” (Yes, our kids know this word.)

And every time we hear “uh-huh,” or “nah,” we repeat, “excuse me?” until they say, “yes, ma’am,” or “no, sir.”

Again, I’m not saying they’re always the best-behaved kids in the group. But they’re definitely the most polite. Because we’re not their friends. 

But you really want to be your child’s friend.

I get that. Here’s how to succeed:

  1. Give the girl what she wants. Eventually, she will be so thankful for all the gifts you’ve provided that she will, in turn, give to others with selfless abandon. Maybe.
  2. Be a pal. Support your little guy in whatever he wants to do. Karate is too difficult? We’ll stop attending. That doesn’t make you a quitter, son. Back out of Boy Scouts…none of those kids were cool anyway. It’s okay; I’m your buddy. Forever and always. Or at least until you’re old enough to drive off in my car.
  3. Listen to her feelings. She hates you? Of course she doesn’t mean that; she’s just angry. Let her get it all out. ALL the time. In front of your friends.
  4. Become a short order cook. No one likes every food; if the Little Prince only wants chicken nuggets and fries, what will it hurt? They’re only young once. And the Little Princess won’t eat sandwiches? Just prepare a better lunch. Sandwiches are for losers.
  5. Smile and take it. It’s just the Terrible Twos. Terrible Threes. Fours. Fives. Seventeens. They’ll grow out of it. Eventually.

Our kids don’t need us to be friends.

Children need boundaries. They crave rules, stability and routine. Yes, once the boundaries are in place, they test them (do they ever) to determine whether we can be trusted.

Whether we can be trusted.

In spite of appearances, boundary-testers are not just being jerks. Our children need to know we are dependable. Trustworthy. Promise-keepers.

This includes the positive (“If you get a B on this test, I’ll take you for ice cream,”) and the negative (“If you hit another child at school, we will go to the police station and talk with an officer”).

If you’ve been around this blog a while, you know that our son spent two years dishing out hellish behavior because he didn’t believe we’d keep him. When he finally believed we would keep our word, he relented. (Again, he’s not perfect, but he’s light-years from hyena.)

Only one thing convinced him.

Consistency is the name of the game.

Every day. Every hour. Every minute. Every moment.

Yes, commitment is required. Before adopting, I never fathomed how painful parenting can be.

Our kids are not polite by accident. They’re not (more or less) well-behaved by accident. They have tested us at every turn and found us solid.

We’ve mourned over the consequences of consistency (not in front of them). We have learned not to make idle threats nor to neglect follow-through.

I told our daughter ad nauseam, “If you continue to ignore my request to clean your room, the clothes on the floor will go to someone who will take care of them.”

She, with clear intention, left clothes strewn across the floor. More than once. Pulled the clothes out and spread them on the floor. Finally, I stood in the room while she bagged her clothes, then took her to drop them off at a charity.

We did this several times. She didn’t stop until she realized she only had two pair of jeans left. Now, I inquire whether she’s cleaned her room—and I only have to ask once.

We informed both kids throughout the year, “Lying and bad behavior won’t be tolerated. Continuing this pattern will affect your Christmas.”

They didn’t believe us.

Side note:  In this case, “lying” and “bad behavior” do not describe normal kid stuff. Both of them have escalating chronic patterns. Yes, it’s “typical” for children of trauma to have issues, but we work with multiple counselors who agree that regardless of cause, the behavior pattern has to stop in order for them to grow into happy, healthy individuals. As in: NOT megalomaniacs or strippers.

*No offense intended if you consider yourself a benevolent megalomaniac or enjoy a bit of stripping on the side. Those just aren’t our first choice in future occupations for the kids. 

New bikes were on the agenda this Christmas; they’ve both grown too tall for the current cycles. We also found great deals on Kindles; they both enjoy reading (BIG WIN!) and I planned to load fun learning games.

Did I mention that they didn’t believe us?

Our son did great through the summer because he had what he always wants: visual proximity to Hubby or me. Our girl remained consistent and vigilant in her disobedience. As soon as school started, the boy began having difficulty. By October, things were getting out of control. Her teacher called Hubby. The Assistant Principal called me.

“Christmas is coming,” we reminded them.

They didn’t believe.

Christmas came.

Hubby and I both shed tears (again, not in front of the kids). We WANT to give them amazing holiday experiences. While gifts are not the main event, we both remember “that Christmas with The Bike.”  Ahhh, Desert Rose, how I loved her. I kind of wish they made adult bicycles with pink banana seats…

They each opened presents; we’re not unkind. But there were no bikes, no Kindles, and several cool gifts will wait for birthdays.

We explained the situation. Asked whether we’d been clear and fair (shocked and unhappy but truthful, they agreed we had given them plenty of warning).

We even told them what they’d missed.

This wasn’t in spite or meanness; we wanted them to understand the situation fully.

Since Christmas, both have become a bit Stepford. Almost too well-behaved.

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Photo Credit: Becka Spence

And if you think I’m complaining, you’re crazy.

I don’t care if they’re behaving out of a misguided, narcissistic worldview. If they just want those bikes and Kindles, I’m okay with that. They’re on a path of better behavior.

My mom used to say, “Smile on the outside and eventually you’ll feel like smiling on the INSIDE!” Moms do know everything. This is a proven fact. Google it.

Maybe the same theory applies to behavior. It takes 21 days to instill a habit (also a Mom-ism), so if they behave well for 21 days—regardless of motivation—perhaps we’ll be on our way to a good year. Here’s hoping.

So you want to know our secret.

Polite kids don’t just happen.

  1. We don’t give them everything they want when they want it. If they have everything they want, why will they bother listening to us? Delayed gratification is a good experience for children. Waiting increases value of the desired object. Rewards are better than gifts.
  2. We’re not their friends, not their pals. We’re the parents. When they are 25 and living on their own, then we can be friends. Until then, they live by our rules. We tell them, “You can do what you want, but we promise you’ll experience negative consequences. Or you can obey and experience positive consequences. It’s up to you.” (Yes, we really talk to them this way. Generally, it works.)
  3. We listen to their feelings but also require considerate communication. Unkindness like “I hate you” and “you’re not my real mother” are not only disrespectful but also detrimental to the reception of signal. And, in general, they’re not elucidating the actual issue. “I’m angry with you” is absolutely acceptable but needs to be followed by discussion.
  4. We cook it, they eat it. Cooking, in our house, shows love. We pour time and effort into making good, healthy food. Everyone tries new foods and discusses their preferences, but “yuck” or other negative comments are not acceptable. In fact, when they arrived, I explained that “yuck” is another word for “I’d like seconds, please!” They’ve each said that word only once.
  5. Nastiness is not tolerated. “It’s just a phase” is no excuse here. We’ve experienced high levels of horrific behavior in this house. We found that preventing certain behavior is impossible. However, consequences—applied consistently and liberally—can create an environment in which the child no longer benefits from said behavior. We’re still working on a few behavior tweaks, but we can now eat in public, play at the park and spend an evening with friends without major incident, so I call that a win.

There you have it. The game plan.

Don’t get too excited; arriving at this point took us four and a half years. Take heart, though, especially if you’re starting with a younger child. Beginning at an earlier age tends to bring quicker results. Even if you have older children, consistency will eventually wear them down.

Please note that the above is what worked for us, and I understand that your family’s needs may differ.

I’d love to hear your parenting tips. ALL perspectives are welcome (even if you don’t consider yourself a parent). I’m especially interested in your thoughts if you’ve adopted older children, because, you know, we’re trying not to screw up here.

What worked for you? What didn’t?

Give us YOUR tips! Share, share!

(Please.)

Great Chocolate. Bad Advice. Part 2

 

Continued from Part 1

Get lost on purpose.

Sure, candy company. This is a great idea.

Let me disconnect my GPS, toss my phone and just start driving.

Forget about picking up the kids from school or assisting clients or happy greetings from me and the four-leggeds when Hubby arrives home.

Sometimes I do get lost, but not on purpose.

I have no maps in my head. I’ve tried. TRIED. Again, I blame books. From childhood through my early twenties is buried in books. Blessed with an iron stomach, trips to the grocery store or dentist were escapes to islands of treasure or conversations with diminutive females. (See what I did there?)

On annual expeditions up winding routes through mountains to see the glorious autumn red, gold and purple leaves, my mother called out every thirty seconds, “PUT YOUR BOOK DOWN!” Nothing deterred me from a good read.

Unfortunately, this also precluded me from the company of my slightly-more-motion-sensitive sibling, six years my junior, who paid attention to the road and could find his way home when he was approximately thirty months.

I still have trouble remembering…is it right? Or left?

Hubby still laughs at me for getting mixed up in the woods behind our house. In my defense, I couldn’t see anything but trees.

I traipsed out to give him something, then turned to head back to the house. He stopped me, then asked our (then seven and nine year old) children, “Which way is the house?” They pointed. Not the direction I’d started walking.

Do you need me to embarrass myself further? You get the point. I have no sense of direction. Getting lost on purpose would not be difficult.

But if I were to lose myself (especially—as so many times during our first 24 months with wild hyenas—when I feel the urge to do so), how would disappearing help? I submit to you that it would NOT.

“Getting lost,” whether a literal or figurative disappearance, is not the answer.

I can say this with unequivocal, earnest passion because for about a year, I followed this bitter chocolate advice. I buried myself, my dreams, my emotions, my yearnings. So worried that I would attach too deeply to these insanely wild creatures, only to be torn from them, I distanced myself. I got lost. On purpose.

I became an automatMom, going through the motions. On the surface, I appeared as happy as every other adoptive mom of kids with behavioral needs. We all smile in public.

Side note: Speaking of smiling in public, I just read about a couple who adopted a sibling group of five, then added a bio child. Their story is similar to our own (plus four kids) and when I read the upbeat, sappy parental commentary, I couldn’t hold back the sardonic laughter. Either 1. they’re putting on a front for the media, 2. they’re still in the honeymoon stage and the kids are doing everything they can to not screw up, or 3. (for all their sakes, I hope this is the case) it’s really a fairytale story. If it’s either of the first two, and you know them, feel free to direct them here. I can at least let them know survival is possible. 

Reality slapped me the day our son hugged me on his own (this is big) and I didn’t react. I hugged him back, of course, but on the inside…no spark of maternal warmth. Looking back, I can see that Hubby and I were both pushed to our limit and exhausted. If I could go back to give “pre-adoptive us” some advice, it would be this: FIND RESPITE. USE IT.

We weren’t aware of many resources available to us (and were too overwhelmed and spent to look for them).

The day he hugged me, I realized I’d been holding back on our kids. Being lost—to myself and to them.

For the record, leaving to “find yourself” is ridiculous. The best way to find yourself, if you notice that you’re lost? Take time in your situation to measure your reactions, your thoughts, your interactions. Decide what you want “found” to look like…and then work toward those goals one step, one moment at a time.

I am no longer lost to my children—and I do not EVER intend to get lost on purpose.

Stay present. On purpose.

You want advice?

Here’s mine:

Enjoy the chocolate. Recycle the wrapper.

Or, if you prefer, track down a vintage Esmerelda machine. Be careful though…it’s been twenty years. That”tall, dark stranger” might be stooped, wrinkled and bald by now.

I’ll just stick with chocolate.

Great Chocolate. Bad Advice. Part 1

I’ve learned not to listen to my chocolate.

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I don’t know if your chocolate presumes to advise you on daily matters, but mine does so with the dogged intensity of a foil-wrapped yenta.

Admonitions and exhortations, bagged and available for purchase in your local supermarket. Or at least, in mine.

Some of these gems put me in mind of the suspect guidance provided by the chintzy gypsy machine in our local arcade back in the late 80’s. “Esmerelda” bullied all the pre-teens into feeding quarters into her slots on our way to the PacMan and Centipede consoles.

She never delivered on her promises, unless her “tall dark stranger will bring money to your universe” prediction referred to the leering, greasy-haired arcade attendant. He replaced quarters eaten by Galaga, so…I guess that counts.

 

Dove, I appreciate your attempt to bring moments of peace and happiness to my existence. (And with that new Salted Caramel line, you may claim absolute triumph.) However, it’s time to either

  1. find new writers or
  2. stop presuming what’s best for my life.

No offense.

Because, let’s be serious. If I followed most of the wrappers’ advice, my life would be in shambles. (Also, if I followed most rappers’ advice…but that’s a homonym for another day.)

Let’s pause to consider a few of these nuggets.

Keep the promises you make to yourself.

Right. On the surface, sounds like a great plan. This, of course, depends upon the flavor of your declaration.

During a recent conversation with myself regarding a child who shall remain nameless, I didst covenant with mineself that if such shenanigans as were occurring should perdure, said urchin’s nether regions would soon benefit from the application of velocity plus acceleration plus mass (also known as The Swatter).

Before you string me up and send me to Child Protective Services, please note that The Swatter is a plastic toy paddle that bends in half. It is a noisemaker.

AND, getting back to the point, although I promised myself that a swat was in order if crazypants did not cease and desist singing opera past bedtime, no paddle made appearance.

BECAUSE I DID NOT LISTEN TO MY CHOCOLATE.

If I listened to my chocolate, all manner of horrible promises might be kept. “If that kid doesn’t quiet down, I’ll…” “If they don’t stop throwing spaghetti at each other, I’ll…” “If my child trips the principal one…more…time…I’ll…”

Okay, that last one never happened. Thank goodness.

The assistant principal did tackle the five-year-old hyena to prevent yet another school-building escape, but he did not trip her.

A plethora of threatening parental promises stream from our consciousness all day.

Don’t give me that look; I know I’m not the only one. We don’t mean to keep them; it’s almost a habit. A tactic to manage the stress.

I like this better:

No one should keep all their promises.

Especially when you work with hyenas.

 

Indulge in dark.

Yes, the intent is convincing me to buy more chocolate. I get that. But let’s think about this one for a moment.

My kiddos love night-lights.

When I’m ready to sleep, I much prefer darkness. Even as a child, the only time I wanted light at night was to read Little House on the Prairie and Narnia under the covers.

Books are the reason I spent four years in braces; all that time spent reading with a flashlight between my teeth so I could use both hands to hold the book. These new-fangled headlamps available in the DIY store…my eight-year-old self would have cut off a big toe to get one of those. Probably even my own big toe.

For sleeping, I love dark. Flashing lights from a computer or cell phone drive me nuts; I have to cover them with a sweatshirt or other article of clothing dropped bedside (because yes, I do that).

Sometimes even a light outside my room is too much. At my aunt’s house, we leave the bathroom light shining in case of mid-night emergencies. The glossy wood floor reflects the light under the door and casts more light than you’d expect. I sleep with a pillow over my face to block the glow.

Following choc-advice, I could flip the light switch and sleep in blessed pitch.

And then, after sunup, I’d have to clean a bedside puddle because one of the kids couldn’t navigate through the blackness.

Keep your light shining.

 

How about this one?

Do what feels right.

Parent or not, I’m sure you’ve experienced that moment in which you think, “I really can’t live through another moment of _______________.”

Of course, we can and do live through it, but we don’t feel that we can.

Think of the last time you experienced the end of your wits. The frayed rope of nerves unwinding just a bit more…

  • you lose your job
  • he/she/they cheat (on a game, on a test, on you)
  • that child sasses you ONE. MORE. TIME.
  • he pushes
  • she yells
  • baby’s still wailing and you’ve changed and fed and burped and rocked
  • they scream and bicker and fight
  • your eye begins to twitch

In that moment, be honest—what do you FEEL like doing? Scream, yell, slap, hit, walk away, self-medicate, drown (yourself…others…all of the above) in alcohol or bad behaviors or the bathtub.

Nothing good.

This advice, excuse my French, is CRAP.

We must not do what feels right.

We must do what we know to be right.

Always.

And especially when our nerves are jangled and unraveled.

 

The last one is my favorite.

Continued…

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