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Why Would I Say That?

I used to write down funny things the kids said.

(For those of you beginning the journey, keep a journal, send yourself a text, etc. You’ll definitely want it later).

Looking through old texts to myself, I found this one from early 2016:

Me (to my daughter):

“I couldn’t hear what you said, but it sounded like ‘I love you so much!'”

She (with emphasis and attitude):

“Why would I say THAT?!”

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Photo credit: Steven Depolo

At the time, we were in the throes of RAD. She and I did not get along. Every time she considered loving me, her trauma triggered anger and fear.

Two years later, LOVE WINS.

We have come so far, this girl and I.

We’ll probably have more roller coaster days and maybe months ahead, considering she’s now a teen, but we’ll make it.

She’s gone to camp and I really miss her. She’s one of my favorite people in the world.

Reactive Attachment Disorder, you can kiss my butt. 

 

 

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Call to Action, Part 1

A passion for the plight of orphans has gripped my core since the first time I read the biography of George Muller.

I was eight years old.

His story of faith and his dedication to rescuing children continues to inspire me.

That book sparked an unwavering, lifelong desire to adopt.

To make a difference with my life.

To stand up, to protect, to speak on behalf of children in need worldwide.

My heart is continually broken over the plight of children left without parents, whether by death, abandonment or poverty. Many of the world’s orphans still have parents who, in desperation to save their beloved children’s lives, leave them at homes where they will be fed and sheltered.

Let’s do a little math.

According to CBS and NPR, the number of Christians in the world is over 2 billion.

UNICEF and global partners define an orphan as a child under 18 years of age who has lost one or both parents to any cause of death. By this definition, there were nearly 140 million orphans globally in 2015, including 61 million in Asia, 52 million in Africa, 10 million in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 7.3 million in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. This large figure represents not only children who have lost both parents, but also those who have lost a father but have a surviving mother or have lost their mother but have a surviving father.

Of the nearly 140 million children classified as orphans, 15.1 million have lost both parents. Evidence clearly shows that the vast majority of orphans are living with a surviving parent grandparent, or other family member. 95 per cent of all orphans are over the age of five.

UNICEF Website

Although not all children who have lost both parents are available for adoption, let’s use that 15 million number.

2 billion divided by 15 million is 133.

Assuming my math is correct, if roughly one Christian out of every 100 adopted an orphan with no parents, every child would have a home.

*Identifying as a Christian is not a requirement to adopt or love children. I use this limiting description to make a few points.

1. Followers of the Way generally try to do what God wants. Only three items comprise God’s definition of Pure Religion. One of them is taking care of orphaned children. (James 1:27)

2. People who say they love Jesus for real should be willing to follow His example of sacrifice for others. Not everyone can adopt or foster, but we can all do SOMEthing to help current orphans—or to prevent a child from becoming one.

3. If a relatively small population (one Christian out of 14) stepped up to help in some way, EVERY ONE of those 140 million children would have what they need.

(And if you’d rather just use the world population, 7.6 billion, of which at least half are over age 24, well…we really have no excuse for poverty, much less children without homes.)

You’ve possibly already seen those statistics. A topic less discussed is how to prevent a child from becoming an orphan in the first place.

I’ll chat with you about that option soon. For now, feel free to add your opinion below. 

 

 

 

Adopting? Keep This in Mind.

So well said by one of my adoptee friends—please take note if you’re interested in adoption:

There seems to be an abundance of adopters/hopeful adopters so enmeshed in getting their own “needs/wants” met.

Adoption should be about the child’s needs FIRST and FOREMOST.

Children just about never have the ability to “opt out” of this process if they don’t like it.

 

 

 

Let’s All Go to the Movies

Movies move us.

Movies tell stories. Storytelling is a powerful way engage your audience, to provoke thought, to connect with others.

Movies often involve popcorn, soda and other treats.

Bottom line: movies are fun.

Other bottom line your kids don’t need to know: movies provide the opportunity to craft therapy experiences specific to your child. Often, the best therapy involves realizing others have similar battles to our own.

Let me give you an example of what I mean:

The last few years have been a struggle. I wonder if anyone else thinks the way I do, or if I’m just weird and everyone else is doing fine. Maybe I’m just different from everyone else on the planet, but when life throws a difficult experience in my lap, I feel alone. I feel that no one can understand. I feel different from everyone else on the planet. 

Oh, you’ve felt this?

Perhaps I’m not so different. Maybe you’re a kindred spirit. If you’ve experienced a similar difficulty and survived, so can I. We are connected. 

When we connect with other individuals—real or imagined—who experience similar hazards or painful crises, we no longer feel isolated. We find community. We find hope.

My aim for Hypervigilant.org is to provide a place where foster and adoptive parents (and their supporting cast members) will find hope, healing and the knowledge that not one of us is alone in the fight to help our children survive and thrive.

As parents, we must find ways to help our children reach hope, healing and community as well—and the best place to start is at home.

Sometimes, this goal feels so far out of reach, it might as well be in outer space. When RAD is in full swing, when kids have screaming tantrums, when your child is continually defiant, when they’ve broken every possible object, when you’re ready to pull your hair out…it’s time to pull out a secret weapon.

FAMILY MOVIE NIGHT!

Break out that popcorn machine (or toss a pack in the microwave). Pour special drinks for the kids (and possibly “extra-special” drinks for the adults). As long as candy doesn’t send them over the edge, buy a couple boxes of “movie candy” at CVS.

Get the kids excited. (But not too excited…we’re looking for positive participation, not chaos…)

And then, play a movie with a theme aimed at their hearts.

While watching, point out key elements.

“Wow, I bet that made him angry.”

“Do you think she’s feeling sad, or just confused?”

“I think maybe he reacted that way because he misses his dog.”

After the movie, spend a few minutes getting the kids involved in conversation. Remember, this is not a full-on therapy session. No need to extend it unless your kiddos become invested in the process.

*Key component: if it’s after bedtime, inform the kids they may stay up “__ minutes more” as long as they’re contributing to the discussion in an active and positive way.

Ask what they thought the character felt during ______ scene. How could the character have reacted differently (either positive or negative) and in what way might that change the story?

Often, asking, “can you think of anyone who might have similar feelings/could have had a similar experience/may understand a character in the movie?” works better than a direct, “does this apply to you?”  The way your kids connect to the stories may surprise you; sometimes we think the kids will attach to a certain character, but they relate to another for other reasons.

It’s okay to watch the same movie more than once; investment in characters may change as kids develop. I experienced this myself, watching The Fault in Our Stars. I expected to  empathize with the young girl experiencing cancer, since I contend with chronic illness. Instead, the scenes involving her mother made me sob, thinking of how I’d feel if our girl were so sick.

Cinema Therapy, as it’s called in some circles, is gaining ground with professionals (although I doubt insurance providers will pay for movie tickets anytime soon). Especially for kids who have difficulty opening up because they feel no one understands, the right movies can bring healing. For families struggling to connect, Family Movie Night can facilitate finding common ground—even if it’s just a shared love of buttered popcorn.

 

Next up: Resources for Cinema Therapy at home

 

 

 

 

WHOOPS!!

I just realized that some of your comments went to spam. Several of you are longtime followers, so I have no idea why it happened.

Sorry about that! I promise, I was NOT ignoring you.

XO Casey

MRI

We met with a neurologist a few weeks ago. She ordered an MRI for our boy, to rule out any physical brain issues. The appointment is tomorrow.

I assume we won’t have any answers for several weeks, but at least we are finally getting some traction.

Monopoly on Happy

The problem is that you are putting in all the effort to see me and I’m not doing any effort to show you that I want you to visit.

This was my son’s explanation of the main problem in our family relationship during a phone call.

He continued, “when I don’t do what I’m supposed to do, I’m sending the message that I don’t care if you come to see me.”

The kid is smart. He knows what he’s doing.

In the beginning of his residential treatment stay, we visited our son every weekend. However, his behavior escalated and his actions became increasingly violent. We reduced the frequency of visits based on his behavior.

His therapist agreed he needed to have some responsibility in our family connection, unrelated to other behaviors. As part of his therapy, we created a behavior plan which required our son to do a chore and a lesson in a Bible devotional each day in order to earn a visit.

Because our main objective during that time was also to ensure his sister’s safety, deleting the visit was a negative consequence if he had a violent outburst during the week. Assuming he did not assault anyone, we would show up.

Our son agreed to the plan.

The therapist ensured the chore would take fewer than 5 minutes. The devotional page also required about 5 minutes. In order to fulfill his behavior plan, our son needed to put in only 10 minutes of effort each day.

We purposely kept his responsibility simple, to ensure that he would easily be able to attain success. We wanted to show him that when he did what he needed to do, he would get what he wanted.

As the therapist worked with him to prevent thoughts from becoming behaviors, he stopped assaulting other humans. Instead, he began beating on the walls, doors or windows when frustrated. Sometimes he threw or flipped chairs.

He made the mental connection that we were not visiting during times when he had been violent with another person and assumed that we would visit if he didn’t hit someone else.

By this time, though, the behavior plan was in place and he needed to complete those two simple actions in order to have a visit. Instead of complying with the plan, he became angry that we were not visiting even though he had not hit anyone. He refused to complete chores or the devotional.

For weeks, we encouraged him during nightly family calls—as well as during family sessions with the counselor—to complete his plan.

Eventually, he began doing the chores but still refused to do the devotional work. He said he didn’t see a point because he already knows who God is. No amount of reasoning worked.

It became a power struggle and I asked the counselor if we should simply give up, but he agreed that if we did so, our son would simply see us as liars, even though we would be breaking our word in a positive way.

The counselor and I began to wonder if he was simply convinced we wouldn’t visit and was making sure that he was in control of the situation.

I wanted to make sure that he knew we would visit, so the counselor and I came up with a compromise. If our son did not finish seven lessons by Thursday, I would do the rest of them on the phone with him so they would technically be completed.

We were able to get him to do three of the lessons on his own by Thursday. On our evening call, I told him to get the book and completed the last four lessons with him on the phone so that we could make a plan to visit him on Friday.

Last night, I saw my son for the first time in over a month. Waiting until he completed his behavioral plan may seem extreme, but we wanted him to grasp the necessity of putting effort into the relationship. We also wanted him to see that we would immediately reward that effort.

We want him to know that he can trust us to show up. We also need him to grasp that relationships take work.

Last night, we had the best visit we’ve had since his treatment began. He was thrilled to see us and knew that he had completed what was required of him in order to make it happen. He had done his part and we had done ours.

Interactions weren’t perfect, and he was still less than truthful when it came to owning up to behaviors during the week. However, I have never seen him so happy.

I believe he experienced the kind of joy you feel when you know you’ve been responsible and done your part.

We played a couple of card games and spent the rest of the time playing Monopoly. It was the first time we’d ever played the game as a family, mostly because I wasn’t sure he would react well to some aspects of the game.

He amazed me, interacting and trading and paying rent and going to jail without flipping out.

I had a foot-in-mouth moment the third time his sister went “straight to jail without collecting $200.”

“I never expected you to end up in jail a bunch of times; I always thought it would be your brother,” I grinned at her.

Then, horrified, I realized what I’d said and slapped a hand over my mouth.

He cut his eyes at me, then cracked up with a true belly laugh.

He patted my arm. “It’s ok, Mom. Don’t feel bad. That was pretty funny.”

For the first time since October, I think perhaps we are making headway.

I know it’s a long road ahead. Expecting things to be perfect (or even to consistently go well) would be ridiculous.

But for the first time in months, I believe we will be able to have game night in our own living room, together. Not tomorrow, but someday.

I have hope, because last night, for a few hours, we had a Monopoly on Happy.

A Letter to My Son

My dearest boy,

This year has been one of the most difficult I’ve ever lived. Let’s speak with honesty: you created most of the mountains and valleys.

Some people say hindsight is 20/20 regarding past mistakes. This phrase means that when we look back at the past, we have a clear picture of the choices we made, as well as the ability to see how the present might be different if we’d made other choices.

I see so many mistakes in our beginnings, due in part simply to ignorance. In some cases, these mistakes were coordinated by individuals trying to cover their wrongdoing. Sometimes, our vision was clouded by the possibilities. Other times, we were just too exhausted to see the right path.

In almost every case, the mistakes were not your fault. Unfortunately, those mistakes are partly responsible for your current location, in residential treatment—which doesn’t excuse your choices to be violent and oppositional, but provides some explanation.

Mistakes – in Hindsight

1. Ignorance

I read almost every adoption book available in this hemisphere in preparation, but don’t have any memory of advice to procure a liaison. We met you through friends providing respite care for your foster family. Rather than working through an agency, I called Social Services directly.

We ended up with the worst social worker on the planet. She wrote you off as problem kids, destined to continue the cycle begun by your birth family. She made clear her feelings that we were not qualified to be parents and threatened to remove you anytime I suggested you needed special services. As a result, I was hesitant to fight for the services you truly required. I was unaware of the many supports available to us.

2. Intentional Misinformation

Only a few months ago, I noticed the name of a therapy group mentioned in your paperwork. Searching my files, I found nothing, so contacted them. They sent me the original intake and notes from the six month time-frame they worked with you and your sister.

The documents outline clear recommendations for special handling due to your trauma situation and attachment issues. These same documents list the many times therapists attempted to involve the social worker, the consistent lack of interaction, the outright resistance to attending to your special needs.

The case is noted as closed out because they were unable to get necessary paperwork signed by the social worker, which prevented moving forward in treatment for attachment issues. These documents were sent to the social worker to be included in your file, but they were either never included or she removed them.

Reading documentation of the extent of your abuse and seeing with clear hindsight how we could have made your transition to our home so much less traumatic makes me physically ill. The room spins around me and I want to throw up. I want to scream, to weep, to track down this irresponsible human being and somehow make her see the damage she’s done to you.

3. Indomitable Belief

Your dad and I fit together like two pieces of a puzzle; together, we can accomplish almost anything. He is the logical, realistic, creative piece. He sees both the potential and the pitfalls. I am the dreamer, the visionary. I see what CAN be, but not always what IS. We both look for the good, but he recognizes solid truth, while I choose to believe the best, even if it means ignoring the obvious.

When you arrived, you were five. You did not know all the letters of the alphabet, but when I started helping you match letters to words (a, apple) I found that you knew curse words for letters A, B, C, D, F, G, H and more. In hindsight (there it is again), I should have realized the glint in your eye as you said, “S, sonofabitch,” meant you were testing my mettle with intent indicative of things to come.

I was determined to help you read; reading—and writing—was and is my survival. I knew that reading would help you heal. Would take you places far away when your reality became too heavy to bear. You were determined to learn. Within a year, you were reading full sentences. Less than six months later, you were reading a full year ahead of your grade. Every visit to the store, you brought me a book, pleading for a purchase. (I could easily reject a toy, but always bought a book.)

Your choices amazed me. Precocious. Intelligent. Many were beyond your reading ability, but you sat sounding out words, absorbed. From the beginning, I believed you and your sister were meant for big things. I saw this as confirmation of your special abilities.

You were obsessed with World War II, with military vehicles and aircraft, with the social injustices brought about by hate. I celebrated your intensity. One day, you carried an enormous coffee-table book about Vietnam toward me. My mom and aunt, with us for the shopping trip, were amazed at your choice. You were disappointed when I replaced the book (a documentary including pictures of dead bodies, which was a rule-out).

Upon returning to her house, my aunt found a black and white military documentary and asked me if I thought you’d be interested. No dead bodies filmed; I approved, and you watched it for hours. They began purchasing old war documentaries for you to watch during our visits. Everyone was amazed at your focus regarding all things war. I saw a savant. Imagined the leader of a nation forming in front of me, rather than a mind obsessed with violent images. And I still have hope.

4. Incredible Exhaustion

I do not blame you, truly, for what you had become by the time you arrived at our house. A wild animal in the body of a malnourished, neglected little boy. Like a modern-day Mowgli, you howled and screamed and struggled to communicate. You fought and snarled and ate with reckless abandon.

The foster family who kept you for eighteen months gave up long before they requested release; they had a limit. Consequently, they did little more than house you, missing important opportunities for early intervention.

Unfortunately for us all, when you arrived, there was no transition plan, no gradual acclimation to these new adults and new surroundings. During the first five years—and especially the first two, when the social worker still worked for the department—we found little support.

Some of this was our own doing; afraid that any glitch might cause the social worker to yank you from our home, we did not reach out to some of the people who might have provided strength. Of the few people we involved through necessity (people we saw each week at church or work colleagues covering for us), many walked away after a few interactions. You were too wild, too disrespectful, too dangerous to their children, too much work.

A few people continued to hold us up, but we were never comfortable leaving you with anyone untrained. Respite care workers were few and far between. We had no reprieve for almost six months, when we managed a weekend away while a trained mentor stayed with you. Watching you dismember and disembowel your teddy bear while staring at her menacingly was her breaking point. She stayed until we came home, but she never returned.

We didn’t have time to ourselves, not a date night, not a moment of true rest, for almost a full year. Even when we finally managed to coordinate a respite weekend, we were not able to relax because the caregivers constantly called us to ask for over-the-phone intervention.

When your behavior was horrible, we our only recourse was survival—you were unmoved by carrot or stick. (Actually, for the first twenty months, a literal “stick” was illegal since we were still fostering…but you get what I mean.) NOTHING worked.

Although frustrating, we also understood the lack of concern for consequences. If you’ve lost everything in your life, a redacted dessert for kicking your classmate means nothing. Understanding, though, is one thing. Finding relief is another—trying and failing to find a way to guide your behavior tested our limits. We found that prevention was the only option. We could never rest; scanning the environment constantly and guessing your next move consumed my day.

After the adoption, we felt more secure in pursuing options for support and finally received approval for in-home counseling, mentoring services and even more respite (although this was still limited). Even so, moments of true rest were few and fleeting.

Every parent makes bad decisions sometimes; exhaustion compounds the problem. I fully accept the responsibility for the times I raised my voice in frustration beyond acceptable decibel levels. The times I screamed when I should have walked away. Losing my crap completely over stepping barefoot on Legos.

I’m sure that our exhausted reactions in the first five years contributed to some of your angst.

If I could travel back in time, there are many things I’d do differently, in hindsight.

For the record, bringing you to live with us is NOT something I’d change.

I know these are not the only mistakes made in your short life. The list of people who’ve failed you is extensive, beginning even before the first moment you breathed Earth’s atmosphere.

You have a difficult road ahead, but from here, the opportunity to make (or avoid) mistakes becomes yours. You hold your future in your own hands.

As you told your therapist, you live with a Protective Grizzly Bear and a Pit Bull who Never Gives Up. Unlike that first foster family, no matter what happens, we will always call you ours. We will always love you.

Moving past the mistakes, releasing the desire for retaliation, opening your mind and heart to others…this will be a lifelong process. And it will be YOUR choice.

I pray that you will be able to see your way, clear and straight, to healing—and to HOME.

I love you.

Blogging Joke

Know why Jesus would be great at blogging?

If you correctly guess the answer, I’ll write a post involving your blog. 🙂

And….go!

Hint: he’s got lots of what every blogger wants!

Surviving the Fun and Games, Part 1

Continuing thoughts regarding Fun and Games

Ours had more than the usual kid issues due to early childhood trauma, which meant they had zero focus and fought us at every turn even when something was supposed to be fun. Brain-numbing (to us) games like Memory and Guess-Who gave us our first tentative connections, and eventually they could make it through a game of Sorry or Trouble. Doing puzzles also interested them, although we had to buy puzzles several levels below what you’d expect for their age. As confidence built, the number on the puzzle box rose. Try family game night. It likely won’t be fun at first but keep trying. Ours recently shocked us by asking for game night instead of movie night. I’m not bragging. Just…if we can find connection with ours, I think anyone can. Be encouraged. 🙂

  • Game night instead of movie night? Wow. I was actually thinking about game nights the other day. A friend of mine does it and it works well.
    Thanx for your comment – might be what I needed to hear

    • No problem! Remember, start with something super easy; it’s less likely to cause stress. We tried “Sorry” before they were ready, and barely made it through the game alive. 🙂

      Also, feel free to adjust the rules. We took away the “knocking back to home” and any cards that delayed the game, plus limited the number of player pieces (I think it’s usually four and we cut it down to two). It’s not really “Sorry” at that point but when you get a hyena or two successfully around the board, you’ll want to change the name of the game to “THANK GOD.” 🙂

    •  

Not yet…

Stay tuned for Surviving Fun and Games, Part 2. (Also known as, “How NOT to die of frustration during a game of Uno.”)

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