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Roller Coaster

Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson

Riding a roller coaster with my brother is one of my favorite childhood memories. Whenever we could, we stayed late at the amusement park; as long as no one waited in the queue for our seat, the coaster operator allowed us to ride again. We rode so many times we lost count. Once, we even rode in the rain, drops pricking our skin like thousands of tiny needles.

Thanks to amazing guts of steel, we never puked. (I consider this a point of personal pride.)

Hubby and I choose to ride a different kind of roller coaster. Again and again. Every. Single. Day.

Sometimes the coaster is fabulous; other times, the ride makes us queasy, but we opt to stay on.

The summer of 2016 included a few twists and surprise dips but generally kept us smiling and laughing with hands in the air. We thought we’d turned a corner; both the girl and the boy seemed happy and well-adjusted. Together, we camped, traveled, sang along in church (what we lacked in pitch, we made up in enthusiasm) and did everything “regular” families do.

The kids weren’t perfect—and neither were we—but most of the time, we just enjoyed being together. Hubby and I finally exhaled and let go of the “this can’t last” feeling.

I often joke with Hubby that “normal” is just a setting on the dryer, but I won’t lie…it was nice to feel normal for a while.

After so many steep climbs and drops, riding our coaster around gentle curves was a welcome change.

Then the summer ended.

Dark storm clouds gathered. The coaster dive was sharp, deep and straight through a painful downpour.

We aren’t sure of the triggers, but every October for the last six years—right after Halloween—negative behaviors spiked sharply in both kids. In 2016, they didn’t wait for October. As soon as school started, they both had an immediate personality flip. By November, we had plumbed our expertise and found ourselves hitting bottom. They didn’t respond to any consequence, positive or negative.

His behavior at school spiraled out of control.

Her Reactive Attachment exploded into full bloom at home.

The roller coaster fell into a series of spirals and drops, and life flipped from “normal” to “triage” without warning.

 

Taking Control

We’ve come to realize that almost all of the recent craziness stems from our son’s obsessive need to control every piece of his own life.

Unfortunately, he’s too young.

We give him as much control as possible, whenever possible. Even when there isn’t technically a choice (as in, “get ready for bed”), he decides the order of operation.

He always chooses his own clothes (although I sometimes send him back with the directive “pick something that can be seen in public” when he tries to don a dirty, worn t-shirt for a trip to our favorite coffee shop, or to wear torn jeans to church).

“But these are my holey jeans. HOLY jeans.”

Sorry, no.

His in-home counselor (yep, she’s here about 10 hours a week) asked him what he wanted to control.

“What I eat” was at the top of the list.

This utterly confused me.

He orders his own food at restaurants off the kids’ menu. He makes his sandwich for lunch any way he likes. He chooses what to eat for breakfast. After he made his “what I want to control” list, I handed him a list of available food and gave him the opportunity to plan what the whole family would eat for a week.

He didn’t complete it, because…

What he really wants is to eat whatever he wants whenever he wants without anyone telling him “no.”

A few weeks ago, Hubby and I confronted him about his habit of taking or doing whatever he wanted without asking. He told us the reason he does this is his aversion to hearing the word

NO.

“If I don’t ask, you can’t say no.”

He’d prefer to experience a major consequence after the fact rather than hear “no.”

Being one of those individuals who tends to ask for forgiveness instead of permission, I understand a little. However, when I use this strategy, I’m looking for the quickest route to what I need, not for a reprimand. If there’s even a chance of a consequence, I check first. This kid just doesn’t care.

He’d also rather lie than tell the truth.

We’re not big on spanking, but sometimes, let’s be honest, we’re in a hurry and there isn’t latitude for a long discussion.

Right now, things are pretty crazy thanks to a move and an eviction (not our own, thank goodness; we kept our first little house as a rental and ended up with some tenants who were unbelievably inept at paying rent). On top of everything, Hubby ended up having a work trip the week of the move, so we decided to move everything a week early.

During the “quick, let’s get the stuff moved” effort, around 10 pm and on the third trip taking trailer loads to the new house, Hubby and I walked toward the truck and heard a banging noise. Really sounded like something hitting the side of my truck (yes, I drive a truck and no, I’m not a hillbilly).

We got to the other side of the truck in about 15 seconds. The boy was sitting, angel-like, in the back seat of the truck.

Hubby:  What was that?

Boy (smirking): What was what?

Hubby: The noise.

(Knowing his propensity for word games, we provide a minimum of information in our questioning, as he considers saying “no” to “did you take a cookie?” to be completely honest if the question we should have asked is, “did you take THREE cookies?”)

Boy (more smirking): I didn’t hear anything.

Hubby: I’m sure you heard it. Mama and I heard banging.

Boy: Maybe it was the hose?

Hubby: The hose?

Boy: Yes. You know…sometimes it bangs on things. Were you near the hose?

Hubby: *eyes narrow*

Me: The hose did not make the sound.

Boy: Oh, the banging sound…I think it came from over there. (Motions vaguely off behind the truck.)

Hubby: We don’t have time for games. It’s two hours to midnight and we’ve got two more loads to go. We’re exhausted. Just tell us. What were you banging on?

Boy: I wasn’t banging on anything.  (Emphasis on “banging” indicated we were involuntary participants in the Word Games game show, and the boy was our host.)

Hubby: Okay. I will count to ten. Tell me what made the noise, or I will spank you.

For those of you who gasp at corporal punishment, let me tell you…these spanks are not abuse; they’re few and far between and are just a swat on the behind. Maybe because they’re rare, immediately afterward he often acts as though we’ve pushed a reset button on his Behavioral Operating System, which was Hubby’s intended result. Honestly, I wonder sometimes if we should spank more often. My brother participated in at least one good spank session a day for years, and he’s turned out to be a fairly cool dude…but I digress.  

Hubby counted to ten, then popped him on the behind. The reset button was apparently not working that night, as the boy continued to smirk.

And then began to wail as though we’d thrashed him.

This kid has perfected the art of crying on command (the kind of cry that sounds like he’s broken a bone) and can turn it on and off at will. He knew the neighbors could hear. He thought we’d back down.

The counselor told us not to make allowances or remove him from a situation for a reprimand. He’ll think we’re too weak to give him a consequence in front of others, which leads to sometimes-uncomfortable scenes (sorry, mom). So, we let him scream.

Hubby suggested that maybe the boy should tell the truth. The boy insisted he had no idea what we meant by “noise.”

Hubby gave him another ten seconds. No dice. He gave another swat.

We went through this SEVEN TIMES.

This kid is determined. So are we. (And to be clear, it’s not about “winning” the argument. If we don’t find resolution to this ongoing battle, this kid is going to grow up into a lying, manipulating adult…and I refuse to do that to my future daughter-in-law.)

Finally, with an immediate and somewhat creepy change in demeanor (from screaming banshee to calm and collected), the boy said, “The noise was me. I was banging my shoes to get the dirt off.”

Um, what?

Now, to be clear, he never said what he was banging them ON (it sounded like my truck), so in his mind he was still in control of that piece of the truth, but whatever. At that point, we were so tired, we didn’t have the energy to pursue it.

We asked why he didn’t just say so in the first place.

He shrugged.

“I don’t know.”

This has been an ongoing battle, once again for control.

He is determined to have control of everything, including the truth.

He believes we can’t MAKE him tell the truth.

It’s true. We can’t.

For the last year, we’ve tried everything we can think of to help him realize that telling the truth is best, including giving him NO consequence when he tells the truth about something he’s done.

We started this mind-bending and counter-intuitive technique because he constantly says he lies to stay out of trouble. However, he’s only in trouble if he lies, so this reason no longer makes sense.

Literally. NO consequence.

(Of course, if he did something really awful, we’d have to make an exception, but we’ve stuck with this so far.)

Me: “Did you eat the entire package of cookies and stuff the trash behind the refrigerator?”

Boy: “Yep.”

Me: “Since you told the truth, I won’t give you a consequence. However, don’t do it again.”

Ridiculous? You bet.

And yet.

He STILL lies compulsively about almost everything.

This year has been exhausting on both mental and emotional planes. We spend hours every day trying to train character.

Popular parenting advice says, “pick your battles!” but popular parenting doesn’t have this kid. We can’t pick battles, because if he wins one, he’s twenty times worse the next time.

Counselors say, “give control of everything you can!” and so we have. But for him, it’s not good enough until he can do ANYTHING he wants. I’m not even kidding; this is an open conversation we have at regular intervals, and he consistently states he does not want anyone else telling him what to do AT ALL.

Recently, he’s upped the ante; he wants to control where he lives and WHETHER he lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

H E Double Hockeysticks

 

Scout Tent

Photo by Patsy Wooters

Since June, I’ve wanted needed to write about what’s going on but felt I should wait for perspective.

Some words should stay in my head. 

In June, I was ready to toss in the proverbial towel. Actually, I wanted to fling the towel. And maybe some other things.

At my kid.

We’ve found that when he’s in line of sight of a parent, our guy tends to have great behavior.

The problem starts about thirty seconds after we’re gone.

We can’t leave him alone with other adults (he won’t listen) or kids, and he simply does whatever he wants.

The first week after school ended, our son was scheduled to attend Scout camp for a week.

I was concerned; he’d been generally out of control the entire school year. After a 45-minute explanation of our boy’s background and behavior, the Scoutmaster assured me of his ability to wrangle uber-hormonal psycho creatures (aka pre-teen boys) and made me feel a bit silly for doubting his superior ability to handle our kid.

In hindsight, I should have listened to my misgivings; he’d been to camp before but never without his sister or Hubby. In this case, he was surrounded by older boys, most of whom he’d annoyed at some point. Although he brings it on himself in most cases, being “targeted” (in his mind) by older boys sparks flashbacks, which feed his aggressive behavior.

Upon arrival, he found that his expected tent mate would arrive a day late due to incomplete paperwork. To prevent any possible new bunk mates joining him, he urinated on the wooden tent platform.

Although it was his own doing, sleeping alone in a tent in the dark woods left him disgruntled. By the time his pal arrived, he wanted revenge.

He started a game of Cops & Robbers (that’s still a thing?) but got upset when two “officers” slammed our little “cat burglar” against a tree for resisting arrest. He then suggested a dirt clod fight (which the other boys were enthusiastic to join). Our guy became enraged when his intended tent buddy, in a clear betrayal (at least in our boy’s mind), hit him in the head.

“I’m going to kill you!” he yelled, before running a quarter mile into the woods.

Upon returning to camp, he found that it was his turn to wait tables at dinner and he would have to serve the table including his turncoat Brutus. Screaming obscenities, he ran back into the woods.

A week of camping turned to three days, as the seasoned Scoutmaster called to inform me he could not adequately provide supervision for our child.

I understood.

Unfortunate timing, as I was out of state with our daughter, five hours away. I’d intended this to be a week off for Hubby to take some time for himself after months of non-stop projects at home and work.

When I called Hubby to relay the news, he was almost home. He works 20 minutes from the camp. We live an hour from the camp. He turned around to retrieve our son and sat in accident traffic. For FOUR hours. So much for time to relax.

If only the boy could have had his incident an hour earlier…

 

 

So began the summer from h-e-double-hockeysticks.

 

The Dream

We agreed for a little girl to live with us while her parents sorted things.

Dad is in jail, mom was on drugs but is trying to get clean.

She is ten, with thick, frizzy brown hair pulled back in a low ponytail. Round, sweet face, eyes made owlish by thick glasses with dark purple frames.

She wears a purple puffy jacket, which should be my first clue it’s a dream.

Those went out of style decades ago. Then again, trends cycle. Maybe she’s ahead of the curve.

We meet at a small, family-owned restaurant with a store attached. Evidently this is where she has spent her after-school hours starting back in pre-school. Her babysitter used to work here but is long out of the picture.

“She was such a good little girl” that everyone else agreed to jointly keep an eye on her until her mother sent a ride home or wandered in to pick her up. Someone noticed she wasn’t growing much in kindergarten and they started providing after-school snacks and a hearty dinner. The undernourished waif grew into a hale and healthy ten year old.

The last few months, they’ve been giving her rides home at closing. A light was always on and she had a key, but finally the cook decided to walk her to the door and found mom sprawled on the floor in a drugged stupor.

She called the police, who called social services. Our small town had no other foster homes available. Since the cook claimed to be a distant cousin and had a clean record, they let the child stay with her for 48 hours while the social worker looked for a foster parent.

These people have been her family for six years. None of them are happy to learn I live clear across town.

“You have to bring her back to see us. Come for dinner at least once a week. On the house,” the owner cajoles.

The cook chimes in, “yes, please do,” in a tone I recognize as, “I’m asking nicely but you can expect a consequence if you don’t comply.”

The child has gone back to her small play area in the rear of the store to tidy up. I follow.

As I pack her things into a plastic green suitcase, the social worker calls my cell. Mom entered the rehab program. This may be a very temporary placement.

For their sake, I hope so, but I won’t mind if this sweet girl stays with us longer.

Suddenly I realize we never finalized sleeping arrangements. I guess we’ll put her in the guest room for now. I wonder if our two will be jealous she gets the big bed.

For that matter, how will they all get along? Will a new addition send them into a tail spin?

Should I put her in class with one of them or in one of the other 5th grade classes?

It’s getting late. I haven’t even thought about dinner. I tug her heavy case toward the door, starting to feel overwhelmed. Will she even like us?

I pause by the door, ready to call her name and realize I’ve forgotten it.

The cook gives me a piercing glare.

“What?” I say.

She replies, “nothing,” but I feel her eyes on my back as I turn.

I shake my head, stress washing over me.

What was I thinking, taking this on? I just started a new job. My kids may not respond well and I forgot to tell them about it. Hubby’s out of town for a week. Wait, who is with MY kids? I suddenly can’t remember.

The girl reappears, hugging the staff as she makes her way to me.

“I’m ready,” she tells me, pushing past through the wooden screen door to the country porch.

I follow, panic rising, and stop, face to face with a huge young buck. I eye his antlers, uneasy with the proximity, and glance around for the girl.

He snorts, demanding my attention, and stomps his hoof on the echoing porch floor boards. He touches his nose to mine, huge brown eyes glaring.

I wake, wild-eyed, stressed and panting, nose-to-wet-black-nose with my German Shepherd.

He needs to potty. He snorts and stomps his paw on the bed once more.

I shake my head and let him pull me out of bed.

Thank God, it was a dream.

Later that day, I pull up photo listings on adoptuskids.org, searching for a round, sweet face with owlish eyes.

The Next Thing

 

After muddling through six years of public school, advocating for services, collaborating (and occasionally arguing) with school staff, stressing out every time the school number appears on the caller ID (what happened NOW?) we’ve finally decided to Give Up.

We used every resource we could find. Brought every possible idea to the table. Suggested successful methods tried by other parents.

Although we have done everything within our power, both kids’ performance and behavior at school has continued to tank.

He doesn’t want to interact with other kids and attempts to get suspended so he can come home.

She’s failing on purpose because she “gets more attention for a failing grade than a passing grade.” (Not kidding. Parenting a kid with RAD is the equivalent of standing on your head and reading backwards. Toss out everything you know about parenting.)

Finally, we’ve reached the last straw. I am going to try the only thing left in my arsenal.

Next school year, I’m going to let Hubby sleep with the teacher. 

No, really.

Because this fall, the teacher will be me.

We give up trying to get our boy to mold his Autistic behind into a hard plastic classroom seat.

We give up cajoling our girl to perform in a classroom, when the attention she craves is ours.

We give up what we’ve held tight for so long.

We empty our hands, holding them open to grasp the next thing.

We are going to home school.

Having been home schooled myself for almost a decade, I think I have a pretty good handle on the realities of home schooling. I’m under no illusions.

Here’s how I would like to imagine our year will go:

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Photo Credit: Susy Morris

But I’m fully aware that this is much more likely:

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Photo Credit: Astrid Budi

It won’t be easy, and some days may not be much fun. In the long run, though, it’s what they need.

And somehow, I’m really looking forward to finding the best ways to help them learn. Researching learning resources is becoming something of an obsession.

Plus, I get to sleep with the Principal.

 

 

 

Give Up

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Photo credit: imelda

This has been the year from heck, educationally speaking.

Thank God for our Assistant Principal. Not only is he adopted himself, he also has an incredible ability to empathize with trauma kids and understand kids with special needs.

If only the IEP team members were all so gifted.

Several times this year, I requested meetings to discuss our boy’s classroom behavior (which is unconventional but explainable when one takes the time to see through his eyes). His Autism Spectrum Disorder has begun to shine through with amazing beauty—or a vengeance, depending upon your perspective.

I requested a one-to-one behavioral aide, which he’s had in the past but never with this particular school. The aide gave him an extra layer of self-control by monitoring the situation for triggers, then reminding him to focus.

We’re lining up for lunch. Other children will be close to you and may touch you. This is okay. You’re perfectly safe.

or

Sitting quietly during testing is important. You’ll need to focus. No chirping, squeaking or other noises. I’ll give you a check mark for every minute you are silent.

This didn’t always work and we went through several aides before finding the right fit, but by the end of first grade we were able to phase out the aide. In fifth, he regressed. We weren’t at physical-aggression-because-I’m-angry level anymore, but his self-management went out the window by the end of September.

There is much to be said for personality match when pairing a teacher with a special needs child. We had stellar matches for him in third and fourth grade; I credit his teachers for the incredible leaps he made both in social and educational arenas.

The fifth grade teacher is a GREAT teacher. Neurotypical kids probably adore her.

But she’s not a personality match for my son, and he’s not a match for her. No one is at fault; it’s just the way things are.

Part of the struggle, I believe, is a simple lack of exposure. Maybe she’s never had a Spectrum kid in her classroom.

Thanks to trial and error, the fourth grade teacher found that putting him in a desk by himself—in the corner with fewest articles on the walls—helped him focus. He began participating more fully in spite of the separation she perceived as potentially problematic.

I suggested (and the school psychologist agreed) that the fifth grade teacher should do the same. Until then, she’d kept her classroom desks in groups of four or five. One of the daily points of contention happened when another child touched his things (inevitable at close range, because his desk tended to overflow). The teacher disagreed with the tactic but said she would comply with the group consensus.

Arriving in the classroom to drop off supplies about a week later, I found that she had placed his desk alone, as asked, but IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROOM, allowing for three-hundred-sixty degrees of incoming stimulation. Anyone with experience would never consider the middle of the room a viable spot for a kid with ASD.

Our boy is focused on the end result. Consequential forethought is rare; he almost never thinks about how his choices may affect others.

For instance: a friend told him that when he stamps his foot, his shoes light up. He neglected to provide a demonstration. Our guy thought about those lights all day. His impulse control held fast until about thirty minutes prior to pickup. He couldn’t take it anymore. The light-up-shoes called his name.

He ran up and stamped the kid’s foot.

The teacher wrote me a note, stating he had “viciously kicked” another child. Write-up, suspension.

He came home with a packet of papers to complete. He sat in a chair all day and worked (and got almost everything correct).

For this kid, suspension = joy.

He can learn and do his work with no distractions.

About two weeks later, our girl was home sick. Boy wanted to stay home as well. No fever, so off he went.

I sent a note to the teacher and left a message for the assistant principal, letting them know he may be out of sorts or pretend to be ill because he really wanted to be at home.

Thirty minutes into the school day, he pulled a chair out from under another child. He truly didn’t think about whether the child would be hurt (thankfully not); he just figured that if stamping a kid’s foot sent him home, this should also do the trick.

After a phone conference with the Assistant Principal, we agreed on after-school suspension for several days, to prevent a rash of must-find-a-way-to-get-suspended behaviors.

Again, I called a meeting, explaining (for the millionth-ish time) my request for a one-to-one behavioral aide. An aide could help him process the situation. Could see—as I often must—the potential issues and prevent a problem.

For instance, the behavioral aide would have noted he left his desk and immediately required him to sit back down. He would have never made it halfway across the room in the first place, much less had the opportunity to pull out the kid’s chair.

The aide could walk him to-and-from class, preventing the spark of hallway chaos from lighting his trigger fuse. Might recognize hyper-stimulation and ameliorate his angst before it ballooned into behaviors.

The IEP team, in spite of my pleas, turned down my request because

he’s not failing.

In fact, he’s doing quite well.

He’s “unable to focus,” he “refuses to participate” and “doesn’t follow along with the class,” yet his grades are above average.

And because we must keep him in the “least restrictive environment” for his needs, this precludes the need for a behavioral aide.

When they announced the reason, I stared in shock.

You’re telling me that he constantly distracts the class, he’s not able to focus or self-manage, he doesn’t know the material, he can’t get along with others and he’s a problem that must be solved, but you won’t allow me to procure a one-to-one aide because his grades are too good.

Yes, that’s exactly what they were saying.

And so,

I Give Up.

Not on my kid, and not on his education.

And I’m sure as heck not telling him this:

I give up stressing about his classroom behavior.

 

Sometimes, the only thing left to do is give it up.

Because

you have to let go of what’s in your hands before you can pick up anything else.

And because sometimes,

moving on to the next thing is more important. 

Chinese Lantern

If you’ve seen Disney’s Tangled, you may remember the Chinese lanterns filling the sky with warm light.

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Photo Cred: Chris Alcoran

Those lanterns are truly beautiful…in theory…with adult supervision…and safety measures in place.

 

 

See, this is inspiring, right?

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Photo Cred: Keith Williamson

Right?

Of course it is.

And a similar vision inspired our kid.

Sometime in the last month, our boy watched a “how to make your own Chinese lantern” video. This morning, he decided to put that knowledge into practice.

Without telling us.

I woke this morning to the unmistakable smell of burning plastic. Considering his propensity for experimenting, my first thought was,

What the heck did he put in the toaster?

I threw on my fluffy white robe and stumbled down the stairs.

“WHAT is that SMELL?”

Leaning against his doorframe with arms folded, I knew I exuded confidence in my momming abilities. Unfortunately, the fluffy makes-me-look-like-a-bunny-rabbit robe cancelled out my scowling face.

He immediately lied.

“Uh…I think that’s my toast.”

No, son, I’m sorry. Toast does not smell like Daddy did the day he replaced an outlet and found out our home’s previous owner had not marked the circuit breakers accurately. Shocking.

Our daughter appeared in the hall.

“Hi. I wiped the frame of the bathroom door, the spare bedroom door, my door and now I’m going to wipe the laundry room door.”

Due to some negative behavior this week, she earned a few extra chores and I told her last night that she needed to have them done before Daddy arrived home so she could have dessert.

Getting up in the morning to get them done is a strategy she’s used before, but giving me a detailed rundown of the few items she’s done is a clear signal that something weird is going on.

I thanked her and then stood in the kitchen, trying to figure out the quickest way to get the truth without the benefit of coffee to organize my thoughts.

The lighter on top of the fridge caught my eye.

“Hey. Did you see your brother with a lighter this morning?”

She paused. Froze like the proverbial deer in headlights.

“Did you?”

She shrugged. “Yes.”

I returned to his doorway. “What were you doing with the lighter? You have one chance to tell me the truth because I do not have the energy for this right now.”

He: “I was trying to make a Chinese lantern on the back porch. And SHE was laughing.”

She: “NOOOOOO! I was sitting at the table eating my breakfast! I wasn’t outside.”

After allowing them to spout about thirty seconds of conflicting stories, I said, “I’m going to look at the back porch. (To her): If I see your footprints in the dew, you are going to be in deep trouble because you knew he was playing with fire and didn’t come get us. (To him): If her footprints aren’t out there, YOU are in trouble for lying for saying she’s involved. You guys have from now until I get to the door to tell the truth.”

They both insisted they were telling the truth. No confessions.

Unfortunately, the dew didn’t cooperate. No dice on the footprints. The girl, however, couldn’t help herself. She hovered in the doorway, checking. I looked around and couldn’t figure out where the plastic smell originated.

“So, I can’t find the burned plastic…” I was talking more to myself than to her, but she answered.

“Oh, it’s right here,” she grinned, flipping the Welcome mat over. Sure enough, it was covered in melted grocery bags.

Then it hit me. The blinds were closed on the back door, and she said she’d been eating breakfast. At the table. If true, there’s no way she could have seen him burning the bag.

“So. You were here.”

Her eyes widened with feigned innocence. “I wasn’t outside!”

Mama Radar kicked in. There’s the tell.

If only she’d use her semantics superpower for good.

“You weren’t outside. But you were standing in the doorway with the door open. That’s why the whole house stinks. If the door had been closed, the smoke would have stayed outside.”

“But I wasn’t outside,” she repeated.

“Right,” I said, “but you know the issue isn’t about whether you were outside or not. The issue is that you stood there and watched him playing with fire. What are you supposed to do if he does something dangerous?”

“Come get you.”

“Did you come get us?”

“No, but I told him I was going to tell on him.”

“Right…but when I came downstairs, did you tell me?”

More pausing. “Well, no…because I didn’t want to get in trouble.”

This means that she was definitely involved, egging him on if not actually touching the lighter.

“Have we told you several times in the last two weeks that you need to come tell us if he’s doing something dangerous?”

“Yes.”

“Was this dangerous?”

“Yes.”

“Did you know it was dangerous?”

“Yes.”

“Ok. From here on out, if you don’t come get us IMMEDIATELY when he’s doing something dangerous, you will get the EXACT same consequence he does.”

She was not happy about this. We talked about it further and she finally admitted that she didn’t come get us because she wanted to see what would happen, then realized that since she stood and watched (and laughed, which she knows is his cue to continue), she would also be in trouble.

This afternoon after school, they both had to write a two-page single-spaced paper on the dangers of playing with fire, when fires are appropriate/safe (with adult supervision) and what one should do when tempted to play with fire (or watch). We showed them pictures of people and pets who’d been burned and watched a video of a veteran who’d been burned during a training exercise.

Hopefully we’ve seen the last of playing with fire. We explained to they boy that if he’d simply asked (and waited instead of following his impulse) we could have looked up the proper way to make a Chinese floating lantern and then created some as a family this evening.

I explained to the boy that Hubby would have created a plan including:

  1. How to actually build the lantern
  2. How to use it SAFELY
  3. Backup plan in case things got out of control

and he admitted he didn’t have any of those three in place. We assured him that we don’t have a problem with his creativity, just the impulsive behavior and lack of safety.

Maybe later this weekend we’ll make some lanterns.

Good thing I told the grocer I wanted plastic instead of paper…if he’d been working with a paper bag, he might have burned the house down.

In all this, I’ve also learned a valuable lesson.

Just because it’s above his line of sight doesn’t mean he won’t find it. No more lighters on the fridge. In fact, I’m just going to move them all to the garage.

And on the bright side, I recently listened to (Daily Show host) Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime.

He actually burned a house down, and he still turned out okay.

I’ll just lean on that hope for the next 7.5 years…

If you have a chance, get the book on audio (Audible.com or your local library); read by the author, it’s an absolutely gripping memoir of his childhood during Apartheid. Hearing it straight from Trevor (yes, we’re now on a first-name basis, since I’ve listened to it three times) is perfect. In five words: funny, sad, triumphant, don’t miss. 

Grit by Angela Duckworth

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.

Check.

Perhaps some validation.

Check.

Maybe even a little focus.

Check.

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.)

The Rules:

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?

X-Files and Erik Erikson

During college, a bunch of us gathered around the ancient donated television every week to watch Mulder and Scully try to catch each other—I mean, try to catch aliens. Anyone who watched the show knows the tag line…

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Photo Credit: Snailystitches

Unfortunately, wanting to believe is not the same as having the ability to trust.

Our boy has had a rough time, both at home and at school, since Dad passed away.

His Asperger’s (don’t tell me Asperger’s is not a thing…it’s a thing, DSM-V be darned) daily rears its head with tics and social ineptitude and difficulty communicating. Our ten-year-old is impulsive beyond belief and often behaves like a five-year-old. A five year old with moments of clarity in which he communicates like a forty-five-year-old…

 

Children who have missed certain phases of life may regress, especially in times of emotional upheaval. Remembering a college psych research paper on Erik Erikson, I found an article by Claudia Fletcher on the North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC) website. The site itself is very basic but presents excellent information.

The information isn’t new to me, but sometimes I need a refresher…and the best way to learn is sharing with others.

If your kid appears to suddenly lose his mind, perhaps he’s experiencing a missed stage. (Or, alternately, he’s simply lost his mind.)

Stage One: The First 18 Months
Ego Development Outcome: Trust vs. Mistrust;
Basic Strengths: Drive and Hope

“[E]mphasis is on the mother’s positive and loving care…[using] visual contact and touch. If we pass successfully through this period of life, we…[can] trust that life is basically okay and have basic confidence in the future. …[I]f our needs are not met, we may end up with a deep-seated feeling of worthlessness and a [general] mistrust of the world.”1

Our kids did not have any of the above in their first eighteen months. Both have low self-esteem, and our boy in particular has an ingrained mistrust of every human he knows.

Research has shown us how important it is for children to attach. Even so, in the first year after placement, we new parents still make the mistake of dwelling on behaviors instead of attachment. Things can change if we view a newly placed children of any age as a newborn:

  • Expectations. Can a newborn give back emotionally? Do chores like everyone else? Know how to have a reciprocal relationship? Of course not. Neither do older kids in a new family.

  • Response. If expectation changes, so does the response. Instead of thinking a child is refusing to comply, assume she is unable to complete the task. This nurturing, teaching approach often nets better results whether a child is being oppositional or is truly incapable.

  • Realizations. Until a child is attached, behavior will not change. If the child cannot bond with anyone, why would he want to please anyone? Too often adoptive parents expect compliance outside the context of a relationship. Without that relationship, however, a child has no incentive to behave better.

Our kids are not newly placed (we’ve had them over five years now) but our girl has not attached appropriately due to Reactive Attachment Disorder. Although our boy seems to have attached fairly well to us, he often seems unable to control his impulses.

To help children attach, learn to gently correct behaviors without over-reacting. Picture yourself as a new husband or wife trying to please the other and be genuinely attractive and worth attaching to. Long lists of rules and consequences that require consistent behavior management should not be the focus of this first stage.

As much as possible, create good feelings for the child whenever you are around. Use lots of laughter, pop a Hershey’s kiss in her mouth when she sustains eye contact, and give as much affection as she will allow. When the child misbehaves, stay calm and point out that the behavior is not appropriate while redirecting her to a new activity with you by her side. Actions and reactions like these promote bonding between parents and children.

Honestly. A Hershey’s Kiss, really? Not for either of mine, especially him…sugar sends him over the edge (yes, I’ve read the articles proclaiming that any perceived reaction to sugar is all in my head…and deemed those articles inaccurate per my in-person observation). 

One of the most significant pieces of this stage in understanding hurt children is Erikson’s definition of hope: “enduring belief in the attainability of fervent wishes.”2 Recognizing that many children who enter care do not believe they can get what they want provides insight into their little hearts. With no hope and no belief in their own abilities, they are victims in a dim dark world. And, according to Erikson’s theory, the only way they can develop the ego quality of hope is to attach to another person.

This last bit hit me hardest.

Too often, our son can’t quite believe in hope.

He wants to believe but is certain that eventually the adults in his life will fail him—as they always did in the past. Birth parents, social workers, extended biological family members, foster carers…all eventually abandoned him, left him or outright abused him.

A few weeks after Dad died, our boy told me outright,

Sometimes I still can’t believe that you and Daddy won’t get rid of me. I want to trust you but…trusting is hard.

 

He wants to believe.

We just have to find a way to help him get there.

 

 

 

Military Mama

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Photo Credit www.amenclinics.com

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.

Every. Week.

Always something.

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

Military Mama. 

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.

Hubby is.

And I am

DONE

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):

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Photo by KoiQuestion

 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

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Photo credit: Alonzo Lawhorn

you are

NOT ALONE.

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.

 

 

 

 

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