If you haven’t read Grit by Angela Duckworth, be forewarned and encouraged: the book is long AND it is worth your time. The information is enthralling. Listening to the audio (read by the author) is even more fascinating.
One of my colleagues suggested I read it after I related the latest escapades in our quest to find the best care for our children’s special needs. Grit, according to Angela, is “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.”
When it comes to our adopted kiddos, any social worker, community service board member, child services team contributor, school administrator, teacher or member of the mental health community with whom I’ve interacted would agree that I tend toward dogged advocacy. Our first social worker told Hubby I’m “hypervigilant” (hence the blog name).
Their well-being is my Quest, if you will.
Our kids had such a traumatic start; Hubby and I are determined—as much as is within our power—to make the rest of their growing-up years decidedly un-traumatic. I have to tell you: spending almost every moment of my wake time (and sometimes my dreams as well) finding ways to sow seeds of future success is exhausting.
At my friend’s recommendation, I read Grit thinking it might give me some encouragement.
Perhaps some validation.
Maybe even a little focus.
What I didn’t expect: Angela talks about ways to develop Grit in our children.
Her explanation of Grit indicators enthralled me. Among other things, a huge predictor of future success is a child’s commitment to a challenging activity for a certain amount of time.
At the high school level, two years of involvement in the same activity (whether sport, club or organization) is a solid predictor of future success.
Chess club, lacrosse, football, student government, school newspaper: as long as the activity creates growth and challenges the child to learn more, improve or think more creatively, it counts. (One year of involvement predicted nothing, by the way. That second year matters.)
To grow Grit in their children (and themselves), Angela, her husband and her children all “Do Hard Things.” (As a nerd partial to ancient myth, I prefer the term”Grit Quest.” My paraphrase of quest: an adventurous search or pursuit to secure or achieve something. GQ for short. Gives more of a sense of the “bulldog determination to scale the highest limit of this mountain” ideology our family tends to embrace.)
1. Everyone does SOMEthing that requires practice (pursuit) to improve. Each family member must embrace a GQ.
“Everyone” includes parents—how can we expect the kids to do something difficult while we potato on the couch?
If you’ve followed this blog for long, you know that Hubby and I do fun things like teaching ourselves how to knock out and rebuild walls, replace the bathroom ceiling and restore cars. The kids’ counselor actually told us we needed to take time to relax, to show the kids that adulting isn’t all work. #1 will be no trouble.
2. Everyone chooses his or her own GQ. No one wants to work hard because someone else is making them.
We have a child who would prefer to do nothing at all, so #2 will be more difficult.. If we don’t choose something for her, she will sit in her room and converse with herself. We’ve come to a compromise: there will be a GQ and it will involve music; the kids can choose from the instruments we already have on hand (piano and guitar). They’ve each asked for music lessons (unwitting of the work required), so this technically follows Angela’s guideline.
Other GQ considerations are transportation and impact on family time. For instance, we’ve ruled out football (American) for now because practices every night and games on weekends would effectively preclude any other activities…for anyone, player or not. We’re open to any sports which enable the kids to play together without taking over the family schedule.
3. No quitting. At least, not on a difficult day nor due to bad attitude. Predetermine a timeline or stopping point.
Once they’ve fulfilled the terms of the agreement (e.g., eight weeks,”when you reach x level” or a sport season) they can pick a new instrument or try something else.
Angela Duckworth says, “if I’ve paid the tuition for your set of piano lessons, you’re going to take all those lessons and you are, as you promised your teacher, going to practice for those lessons.”
Sounds great, but #3 is a bit more tricky for us, as we’re still working on motivation.
For over a year, the kids took Karate (THEIR CHOICE). We told them they could quit once they received a green belt. Most of the class attained the first belt within the first three months. Over a year later, our little darlings finally managed to pass the first belt assessment. They simply refused to practice.
No consequences mattered. Rewards, consequences, the teacher calling them out in front of the entire class…nothing mattered to them.
This lack of response to negative consequence or positive reward has been an ongoing burr under my saddle. It’s a “normal” response from trauma kids.
I literally had to stand there and watch them, directing every move. Right, it’s only fifteen minutes a day…but when it took an hour to complete thirty minutes of homework and we had Scouts (one for each) twice a week and counseling twice a week and…and…and…it just became too much.
What I learned from that experience? Pick a shorter term goal. The idea of allowing them to quit when they hit green was this: by the time they got to green, they’d be so good, they wouldn’t want to quit. Both of them have athletic physiques and our boy has flexibility any ballerina would kill for. We knew if they found success, they’d want to continue.
Problem is, they fought so hard to be complacent, they missed out. Toward the end, they both started realizing goals in karate. Unfortunately, it was too late, because they were both approved for in-home counseling (7-10 hours per week). With school, there’s currently no time for karate.
But hey, once the summer starts, we will have all kinds of time to practice an instrument. (Yep, I plan to practice as well.)
In the meantime, I’m going to go listen to Grit one more time. There was a section about the Seattle Seahawks I didn’t fully catch the first time around, and I want to listen again.
If you take time to read it (or already have), weigh in below.
What do you think? Do you have grit? How do you know?
Tonight, I lost my cr*p.
Monday is Cub Scout night. Every single week, I hear gravel crunching under Hubby’s tires.
And I wait.
Unless he is 100% supervised, our boy always finds trouble. And every week, they burst through the back door in the middle of a reprimand.
Since Dad passed away, our guy has regressed to the impulsive equivalent of a five year old.
I understand from the many, many articles and books about childhood grief that this is normal, but seven weeks of the behavioral equivalent of Chinese Water Torture has chipped away my resolve to stay calm.
He almost made it through the evening this time.
But then, some pestering little kid he can’t stand ran by and hit him (probably explains the “can’t stand”).
Instead of coming to tell Hubby (which is what we tell him to do, every…stinking…time…), he ran after the kid, knocking people out of the way as he tracked his prey.
Hubby happened upon the scene in time to collar him.
We are exhausted.
We can’t leave him alone for five minutes unless he’s asleep.
It’s like we’re back to year one, minus the screaming (THANK GOD at least he’s not screaming. Yep, I can find a blessing anywhere. I’m pretty sure this means I’m mental).
I have another meeting tomorrow about whether the school will allow a one-to-one behavioral aide. I’m trying to get approval for an in-home counselor to help him cope. I am doing EVERYthing I can think of.
I know being at the end of the rope is not an excuse, but tonight, I’d just had it. I went all
It was either that or have an aneurysm, and I just don’t have time for that.
In less-than-quiet decibels, I explained to our boy that although I spend hours and hours and HOURS every week in meetings and filling out paperwork and researching and reading and trying to find solutions that will help them, he and his sister are NOT my top priority.
And I am
watching the kids disrespect, ignore and disobey my husband.
I went nose-to-nose with the kid.
Imagine this, but with longer hair (probably the spit is accurate):
YOU WILL OBEY, DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME SOLDIER?!
Not kidding. I went there.
By the time I was done, he was yelling, “SIR, YES, SIR! I MEAN—MA’AM!”
I don’t really know if it will make any difference.
I know the kid is grieving; we all are. Military Mama is probably not what he needs right now.
Why am I telling you this? Mostly because I’m still pretty upset, both about his behavior and about my reaction. Writing keeps me sane.
I’m telling you this because I think I come across as got-my-stuff-together a little too often, and that’s just not real life. I’m totally winging this.
Also, I want you to know that if you’re in the middle of
Joshua 1:9 is one of my favorite promises: Be Strong. Be Brave. You are NEVER ALONE.
Even in the moments we fail, God is still there.
Even when Military Mama takes over.
Stand strong. Be brave.
You can do this.
Luckily, today was an in-home-counselor day for the girl, so she had several hours to explore the situation with her therapist. After dinner, the counselor suggested my daughter could share with me what they’d discussed.
She was obviously uncomfortable, so we pulled out a game of Uno and talked while we played. I always try to remain level-headed and objective when she talks about how she sees the world, but sometimes…
My daughter shared that she is jealous of her brother because he gets all the attention and she feels she is entitled to more of the attention because she is older. As the therapist helped her share her feelings (she provokes her brother to get him in trouble because she is jealous of him), it became evident that she’d colored a picture of herself as neglected and ignored, while Hubby and I showered our son with attention.
Photo by Adam Koford
First off, he’s been in hot water for the last several weeks due to trouble at school and ongoing infractions at home. The attention he’s getting is the kind I’m sure he’d prefer to skip.
Second, while he’s had early bedtime almost every night in the last three weeks, she’s had Hubby and me to herself for almost an hour every night. We ask her what she’d like to do and the answer is always, “Watch Girl Meets World.”
I shared this information with the counselor, then advised my girl, “if you’d prefer to play a game or just talk after your brother goes to bed, Daddy and I would be happy to do that. We only watch TV because that’s what you’ve been saying you’d like to do.”
She backpedaled quickly. “No, no, it’s okay, I like Girl Meets World. We can still watch.”
“So…” I say, “in what way do we give your brother more attention?”
She couldn’t answer.
“I think you’re right; he’s definitely had a lot of attention the last few weeks; we can start giving you the same attention. We’ll put you to bed early and make sure to get on your case as soon as you step a hair out of line.” (We’ve been on that boy like grease on a teen’s face: everywhere and all day long.)
And then I went for it.
“Let me tell you about one of my earliest memories. I was probably about two and a half, and my parents had some friends over for dinner. They put me to bed and went to the living room to play games or talk or whatever it was that adults did before HD cable.
I woke up maybe an hour later to hear them all laughing. I hopped out of bed and wandered into the living room to see my mother bouncing
my baby brother
on her knee. He was grinning and drooling all over his blue onesie. I couldn’t believe it. Obviously I was older. Why should HE get to stay up later than I did? I didn’t even drool.
Of course, I didn’t realize that babies need to eat every few hours. He probably woke up and needed a diaper change or something, then feeding, then had to be jostled back to sleep.
they had the nerve to put me
BACK TO BED.
I stayed mad at that drooly little bugger for years. He ruined my fun, got all the attention and nobody put him back to bed early.
All because I didn’t understand the way the world truly works…or that babies can’t wait.
So, here’s what I think. You’re mad at your brother for showing up and ruining your fun.”
Her face stretched in shock. “How could you KNOW that?!?”
“Because I was a 12 year old girl with a younger brother. And also, when you arrived, you told me some stories about things you enjoyed with your birth family.”
She wrinkled her nose. “I don’t remember.”
“Well, you might not have the memory anymore, but you certainly had it when you got here.”
“Sometimes little kids just make stuff up and think they remembered it,” she shrugged.
“Based on the amount of anger you had about it, I don’t think so. I think you are really angry at him and you take it out on him, but it’s not even real. He doesn’t ruin your fun and he doesn’t take your attention. You get just as much and maybe more attention. What’s making you so angry?”
She frowned. “My feelings.”
“Nope. Remember, Counselor Bob talked with you about how your thoughts create feelings and feelings create actions. You THINK you’re getting less than your brother. You THINK you deserve more because you’re the oldest. You THINK Daddy and I are being unfair. Are those thoughts true?”
Shrugging again, she said, “Maybe not.”
“I guarantee you, they’re not true thoughts. Another way to say that is
So what do you need to change so that your feelings will be different?”
I can tell she’s getting it. Reluctant, she sighs, “my…thoughts.”
We finish the game of UNO as she dissolves into hysterical giggles, throwing herself around and almost banging her face on the table’s edge several times. I admonish her to be careful, worried she might end up with a bloody nose. The therapist looks at me, eyes questioning.
“This is what we get when she has to discuss something uncomfortable.”
Or when her worldview lens gets cracked yet again.
One of these days, she’ll knock that spiderwebbed lens right out and see the world the way it really is.
I just know it.
When your mom borned you, she took one look and threw you in the trash.
The classmate who delivered this charming nugget to my son probably had no idea how close he was to the truth. No concept of how deep his words would wound.
Afterward, we had a long talk about how it’s okay to want to punch someone but it’s not okay to actually put hands on someone. I am proud that even in the face of such soul-searing spite, our boy did not retaliate.
I suggested that he find a constructive way to deal with the painful feelings. Punch a pillow. Draw a picture. Write your feelings.
Tonight, I take my own advice.
Our son’s teacher vacillates between understanding and intolerant.
She is personally offended by his need to draw while she talks and doesn’t understand his Aspie idiosyncrasies.
But after Dad died, she gave our boy a lot of grace as he worked through the grief in the way all the articles predicted: a nosedive in school behavior and performance.
My emotions conflict often when dealing with her.
Today, I received a text.
I saw your son violently kick a student from another class. Please encourage him to behave appropriately in school.
The text bothered me.
If he “violently” kicked another child, I should have been picking him up from the principal’s office, not finding out after the fact.
This was followed by,
He didn’t eat his lunch today.
During the test today, he took a red pen and drew on his arms.
This last one, I’d already noticed, a fabulous red dragon tattoo. Although I’ve asked him not to draw on himself, I’m not that concerned about impermanent ink decorations. If he sneaks off to get a real tattoo, well, that’s a problem. No tattoos until you’re 25, when your brain has matured fully. That’s the rule.
I responded, “Yes, I saw. Did he do anything right?”
She didn’t answer.
I added, “He mentioned that his friend showed him new shoes that change color and invited him to hit them with his foot. Was this the kicking incident?”
No response, then,
He asked permission to bring a cannonball and a bullet to school. He said you will help him bring the cannonball to school. Cannonballs and bullets are not allowed in school. Please discourage him from bringing these items to school.
Good grief. A family friend gave our little history buff several artifacts collected over the years. Our guy’s first response:
“We’re learning about this in history! I bet my teacher would love to see these!”
I told him that he couldn’t take them to school but that possibly I could get special permission to bring them in so the kids could see the display. Evidently he was too excited and brought it up to her.
This is the kid who smoked me in the “Jeopardy” category World Wars and corrected his teacher (accurately) when she taught about Pearl Harbor.
He’s really thrilled about history. Instead of encouraging that passion, she’s just annoyed.
My true difficulty with the situation is this:
I get it.
I understand fully that he requires ten times more direction than any other kid in class. He needs someone to help him see the connection between his actions and consequences (good or bad). He is frequently distracted by a buzzing light, a whispered word, a tapping foot or a bug doodling around the room. He doesn’t think through actions or words before he does or speaks.
I want to be on her side. I want to be a team.
Maybe the last two years (with fabulous teachers who recognized the diamond shine under the inches of behavioral coal dust) have spoiled me. We worked together to find solutions and they’ve offered advice for his current teacher. Those two years weren’t perfect and there’s no way to dream they were, no matter how flexible your imagination. But we worked together and tried each others’ ideas.
She discards ideas faster than I can suggest them.
Seriously, I just want us to work together to point this kid to success; the success I KNOW he can have. In a recent IEP meeting, his caseworker shook her head and said, “even with all his focusing struggles, he’s still keeping his grades up. I can’t believe it.”
I CAN believe it.
He’s brilliant. When he barely studies, he still passes (sometimes with 100s). With the right guidance and focus, he’ll be unstoppable.
Right now, though, she’s just telling him (and me) what he’s doing wrong. And that really gets me steamed. I have NO problem with consequences and the Assistant Principal can vouch that I lend full support to every intervention.
He responds to consistent recognition of what he’s doing right. If he knows he’ll be consistently rewarded for doing the right thing, he generally does the right thing. I say generally, because he’s far from perfect (aren’t we all) and it doesn’t always work, but 8 out of 10 times, it does.
She says, “it’s too hard” to catch him doing well. She thinks it’s ridiculous to give him a “good” point for eating lunch (which the psychologist suggested as at least one guaranteed good point for the day). She argued against most of the interventions that everyone else (school counselor, head psychologist, principal, case worker, mother) agreed upon. She has 20+ other kids and doesn’t have time to devote to my kid. Just “thank God” when he’s quiet and ignore him.
I get it.
But this constant “tattling” (because that’s what the texts above felt like) is just wearing me out. Tomorrow I’m taking the conversation to show the principal, then asking what can be done.
The last time I asked, every other class was maxed out and there’s no possibility of moving him to another class.
Maybe there’s no solution other than,
“Hang in there.”
We’re in school for about four and a half more months. Almost an eternity, yet I know the time will dissipate like clouds puffing past a skydiver.
Fifth grade is not the end of the world. No one wants to know, “How were your marks in elementary school?” No one asks, “Were you ever sent to the principal’s office before middle school?” Maybe we just need to make it through.
In the meantime, though, Hubby takes me for walks and I write.
Tonight, as we trudged down the moon-drenched driveway, I said,
“I want to punch her in the face.”
This is not entirely accurate; I don’t actually want to punch her because then I’d have to deal with legal action (this is the forethought I hope to instill in our boy). However, I want to write about it, and thereby feel better. And so, with a tip of my hat to the best rhymer ever, I write.
I must not punch her in the face
Though maybe just a spray of mace
Just a smidge, only a sample
No, I must be an example
Must not, must not kick her knee
Shall not, will not put a bee
In her coffee piping hot
Flick her? No.—NO! I cannot.
When I am so mad…I’ll write!
Get some extra sleep tonight.
Go for long walks down the drive.
In her car hide a beehive.
Oh, wait, that last one is wrong;
Instead I’ll sing out a song
Whisper a soft little prayer
That she will lose all her hair.
Oh, no, there I go again.
Paying vengeance is a sin
I must let it go, be done
Show forgiveness for my son
That boy’s always watching me
And I so want him to see:
Great achievement’s possible
Mercy is unstoppable
Even on the hardest day
Grace and faith will make a way.
There. I feel better.
And bonus, I’m not going to jail for punching a teacher. So, there’s that.
When life just isn’t fair, how do you deal with it?
Photo by Peter Nijenhuis
**We’re up to $35; see below!
We’ve all seen (and occasionally participated in) a Meet & Greet post. You know, “drop your link in the comments and maybe someone will click.”
Instead of posting a hit-or-miss link, let’s change it up. Your mission, should you choose to accept it:
1. Describe your blog in nine words or less.
2. Paste a link to a post you’re proud of writing. Bonus points for adoption, mental health or parenting themes*, but it can be anything.
*With your link, please note the post theme, e.g., “Adoption,” “Mental Health,” “Parenting,” “My Happy Place,” “Honey Badgers are Misunderstood,” etc.
3. Reblog this to increase the number of participants. For every comment below, I’ll donate a dollar* to Compassion International, a fabulous organization committed to child development and rescuing kids from poverty.
*If the comment number rises beyond my ability to personally donate, I commit to raising the money.
4. Click at least two links and read the posts.
Have fun! And ignore the lemur. Feel free to hug.
Once again, Wendy’s and the super-fabulous Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption are raising money to help kids stuck in foster care.
Grab a drink, show some heart (with your hand!) and post a pic tagged with #share4adoption. Wendy’s will donate five bucks every time. SWEET.
So, I bought a huge box of chalk and let the kids loose on the concrete.
She created hopscotch and flowers.
Here’s his enchanting contribution to our parking area:
I noticed an arrow which led to his masterpiece. I followed it around the nose of my vehicle to the passenger side. There I found a note in chalk.
“This is what your boy does when no one is watching.”
He probably just meant, “I draw pictures,” but paired with the thing under my tire…we might hold out on that driver’s license….
Tell us your creepy kid story!
Five years ago today was also a Wednesday.
I remember that Wednesday, sharp and clear as a photograph.
I remember the warm, golden sunlight of a late Autumn afternoon streaming through the leaves, pulling them from the branches.
I remember the soft, caressing breeze teasing through my hair, wrapping through and past our little group.
I remember the strong hug as my friend, also a foster mom, dropped the kids at our back door.
I remember her fierce whisper. “You’re going to be a GREAT mom.”
I remember the tears stinging my eyes and the concerned little faces gazing up at me.
“Why are you crying?”
“Are you sad?”
It was their first introduction to what we call “happy tears.”
I remember the incessant chatter, the celebration of having “my own room in my favorite color” and the wonder of suddenly being “the four of us.”
My memories are colored by everything I knew in my heart to be true. From the moment we met, they belonged to us. I harbored no doubt.
Funny, how shared memories of the same instant can be so different.
In their perception, we were just another foster home. The seventh, to be exact, in just over two years. To them, we were nothing more than adults who would eventually give up and request their removal. A couple of unknown aliens.
My friend provided respite care for them twice and was kind enough to let us spend time with the kids, knowing we were in process with social services. The children were unaware but every time they saw us before our placement, they begged us to come let them live with us, especially after visiting our home. Looking back, I see all the signs of attachment deficiency. At the time, we thought it was a sign.
Meant to be.
In reality, they were desperate to find somewhere, anywhere other than their current foster home with the ten-year-old monster who threatened to kill them in their sleep.
Their attachment was so disrupted, they’d have willingly followed anyone who offered them cupcakes or soda.
Today, on the way to an appointment (car rides are the best discussion times), we reminisced. The children remembered the terror. The confusion. The adaptation to an unknown environment and new adult caregivers.
“I kept screaming because everything was new and it all hurt. Even taking a shower. That’s why I liked baths. I’m used to the shower now.” My daughter stated this with nonchalance. Old news, the months of screaming.
I cringed and gritted my teeth, thanking God we never have to endure that again.
“I don’t know why he screamed all the time,” she said, with a preteen eye-roll she’s beginning to perfect. “I only screamed when I didn’t want to do something. He just screamed for hours. For no reason.”
Her description was accurate.
I waited for his verbal retaliation. None came. I wished for the millionth time that science fiction memory-wipes were real. That we could erase the trauma.
“Can we go ride roller coasters again next summer?” His incongruous question signaled he’d had enough.
She wasn’t done.
“We had a lot of bad people before we came to you. I think today is something to celebrate.”
I agreed, and at the mention of celebrating, he rejoined the conversation.
“Can we get pizza?”
If you like, read a more detailed description of our first day, written two years ago. The napkin bit is sort of gross…sorry.