When the kids make good choices during the week at school (for him) and at home (for her), I bring a special treat to school and eat lunch with them on Friday. So far, my son has only missed one lunch celebration this school year. Woot!
Sometimes I have to rein in my Mama instinct; it rears up on seeing full trays of food dumped into trash bins. The tray above belonged to my daughter’s classmate (who finally ate some of her fruit when I prodded).
I’m glad the schools are providing healthier food, but there has to be a way to get the kids to eat it. Almost every child with ice cream ate the dessert first. Most of them ate no more than ten bites of the rest.
We’ve had our lunchtime arrangement for three years, but this is the first year it’s seemed to be truly motivating. I’ve noticed an overall shift in “care” about rewards, especially for our son.
I think the main problem was his belief he would not succeed; many times, he sabotaged himself before we (parents and teachers) could help him reach a goal.
It’s a typical response for many trauma kids: if I cause the problem by my behavior, then I am not the problem. A distinction between “what I do” and “who I am.” For instance, for the first three years, our son was very “prickly;” he made it very difficult to get close. That way, he didn’t have to experience the pain of deciding to like someone and then finding they rejected him.
“Wait. The foster parents who kept me for 18 months don’t want me? I was just getting used to them. I thought they liked me at least a little. We’re leaving NOW? They didn’t even tell me.” Inaccessibility = survival.
Our daughter, struggling with Reactive Attachment Disorder, is charming and overtly affectionate with strangers and other individuals with whom she has a surface connection. The problem begins when she starts to let her guard down. Once, when she was seven, she yelled, “You don’t know me! And you can’t know me, because I won’t let you!”
Although she never again verbalized the thought, she communicates it in other ways. It’s an ongoing heartbreak and frustration—for both of us.
I believe that at the heart of things, she desperately wants to have connections but is terrified of disaster if she lets her guard down. Occasional “breakthroughs” (e.g., a spontaneous snuggle while camping) are followed by days or weeks of defiance.
“I have let you in a little, by accident. I’ll make sure you forget about it soon.”
My husband and I worry about her ability to make lasting and deep relational ties. We’re on a timeline; only 7 more years to help her work through this. We’re not kicking her out at 18 or anything, but that’s when she’s of legal age to attempt tracking down biological family.
Our lives might go to Hades for a while, regardless of what she decides. If she determines she’s not ready to make contact, I’m sure there will be angst and questions of “was this the right decision?” and “what if they’re waiting for me?” If she connects with bio family, I have enough facts to know that it may not end well.
I just finished a book by Susan Crandall, Whistling Past the Graveyard. In the book, set in the 1960’s, nine-year-old Starla leaves her verbally abusive grandmother’s care to find her mother. She believes the woman loves her, based on birthday cards and other mailed gifts, and thinks she is a famous singer in Nashville.
Success is not sweet; she finds that the woman works in a less-than-reputable bar, is an abusive, narcissistic alcoholic and has remarried. She never even told the new husband that Starla exists.
Starla’s father, who works on an oil rig and visits her as often as possible, neglected to mention their divorce; he saw the delusion under which his daughter lived but didn’t want to make her unhappy. With the knowledge that his ex was not returning, he saw no reason to destroy his daughter’s image of a loving mother.
As I listened to the book, expertly narrated by Amy Rubinate, I thought of my children and wondered whether we’ll experience a similar disconnect between the image our daughter has built up and the reality she’ll confront. Our son rarely brings it up; although this may change as he ages, for now he’d rather pretend he’s always been with us.
The real question that has haunted the last four years of my existence is this: “How do I get them to make good decisions? To choose the path that will benefit them, not harm them?” Hubby and I understand that we can’t make them choose anything.
Even in the beginning, when they were 5 and 7, if either of them determined to pursue a certain course we had very limited options. It’s frustrating. It’s the opposite of empowering. It’s deflating.
The trick is to get them to want it.
Our son has had recent success in school. Prior to this year, behavior and performance vacillated on wild scale. His wide grin on “good” days tells me we may be onto something. Until a few months ago, success appeared not to matter.
Now, his eyes sparkle and he comes up with creative rewards, like earning a few boards a week. Yes, boards. He’d like to build a “watch tower” in our back yard from which he can survey the property for intruders. Hubby has skills, so this is not out of the question.
Our daughter, for now, is doing her darndest (is that a word?) to stay aloof. I found an app in which you award stars; red for inappropriate behavior, gold stars for good. (I take issue with the color—they’re actually yellow. But, I suppose if it’s really a problem I should learn to code and make my own app…)
She earns stars in four clear categories (for instance, “in bed on time”). As of Tuesday, she had red stars only. I explained the app to her, explained that earning gold stars would translate to rewards. On Tuesday evening her scouting group headed out for an activity. We want her to learn social interaction, so group attendance is the last thing we’d remove for behavior modification. However, as we arrived at the meeting, I explained to her that the girls were going for ice cream after the gathering.
“You can go with them, but you may not have any ice cream.” I saw the sly look in her eyes and added, “I’ve already informed the group leader.” Her face fell, then she fixed her nonchalant mask. “Well, I already ate dinner so I probably won’t be hungry anyway.”
When they returned, two different children and an adult asked why she didn’t have dessert in hand. I pretended not to hear.
Since Tuesday, she’s earned three gold stars. We’re getting somewhere.
The schools can provide healthy food, educate children about eating well and encourage them to make good choices, but until they see the benefits for themselves, the tykes will keep choosing ice cream.
My goal for the next few years is to help our kiddos see the benefit of making good choices. It’s frustrating, watching them fall, but I’d rather let them make mistakes here, with us. I hope that by the time they’re out in the world, they will have experienced enough disappointments and joys to know that positive choices bring positive results.
Adopted or not, tell me about the choices you or your kids have made. What’s the best way to help them succeed? Did someone in your life help you make good decisions? Tell us about it.
Sometimes I wonder what you do when we’re not together. Not always, because my life is insane and I don’t have time to think about anything except my immediate situation. But sometimes.
You might wonder about me. On the other hand, perhaps you are also too caught up in craziness to consider anything other than your next meeting, or whether you have spinach between your teeth.
“How did she know that?” you muse. Mostly because I am, this moment, trying to determine whether have broccoli in my teeth. We’re all much too caught up in ourselves to wonder, to truly consider others.
I explain to our kids all the time: most people are so worried about what YOU will think of them, they don’t even think about you. Our daughter thinks everyone will assume she’s a boy, thanks to her pixie haircut. I disagree. “You’re really pretty. There’s no way they’ll think you’re a boy. Besides, you wear earrings.”
“But some boys wear earrings!” she wails.
“Yes,” I say, “but most boys are not getting boobs.” She is not amused.
Perhaps I’m wrong. You might spend hours wondering, “Does Casey actually have a life?”
If so, you’re either a stalker or wayyyy too obsessed with people you’ve never met. I’ve already had one stalker, thanks (remind me to tell you later; my story highlights all the reasons you should educate your children about life online).
Side note: If you find yourself obsessing over any blogger, it’s time for a hobby that includes people you can touch. And no, I don’t mean tracking one down.
Per the Writing 101 Day 11 assignment, I will now regale you with Tales from the Crypt. Wait, no, that’s something else. Tales of What I Do Without You.
Things I do for fun when I’m not with you:
- Read. Or rather, listen. Since the kids came to our house, I can count on one hand the number of books I’ve actually read with my own eyes, touching paper, smelling that…bookish…scent all paperbacks and most hardbacks carry. Audible.com gave me my life back. Well, my fantasy. Thanks to that fabulous website, I’ve read over 300 books in the last four years. Mythology, biograpy, dystopia, utopia, fantasy, reality, fiction and non. I’m currently listening to The Martian. Again. Andy Wier writes with the humor of John Scalzi and the believability (which is, per spell check, not a word) of a space mission technical handbook. LOVE.
- Cook. For the first three years transitioning the kids to our home, “Survive” would have been number two on the list, but thankfully we’ve morphed to a new phase. I hope it sticks, because I can finally do some of the things I love. Like read and cook. I’m not a fabulous gourmet chef, but I swipe recipes from my incredible aunt, who is. She’s also great at giving directions in writing, so my attempts at cooking her recipes almost always come out right. Visiting her is like having a front row seat at a cooking show. One of these days I will convince her to start a blog and share her talent with the world, but for now, she’s all mine.
- Write. (You’re shocked, right?) Interesting—well, interesting to me—thoughts pop into my brain all the time. If only science would catch up with my needs; a download port in the side of my head would be awesome. Even a mini-SD slot might work. Half the time I can’t find a pen in time to capture these world-changing ideas (hence, I’ve not yet changed the world). The other half, I’m desperate to remember the amazing thought that just flitted through…and escaped in entirety. I’m not much for blogvertisement, but there is FINALLY a partial solution. Cheri mentioned Simplenote in one of her posts, and I’ve since been using it to jot down, well, pretty much everything. The feature I love is search. I have this stack of papers in my room, filled with random thoughts. I considered typing them out but had no way to categorize them (as I said, random thoughts). With Simplenote, you can search any word once you’ve written a piece. Perfect.
- Train a German Shepherd. I also attempt to train the children. The pup is amazing. He’s quick to learn and loves to obey. The children, not so much. Maybe I need to try the click-and-kibble strategy on the kids.
- Restoration. Recent projects include hand-sanding and staining a large piece of furniture, a rocking chair and wooden pieces for the interior of a vehicle Hubby is painting and fixing. Oh, and I worked on the latches to the vehicle doors. I think Hubby lets me help to give me a feeling of purpose, a creative outlet and a sense of fulfillment. Also, I have smaller hands which fit inside the door access holes.
- Construction. Our home has had several leaks thanks to shoddy work on the part of the previous owner, and we fix most of the problems ourselves. Unlike the PO, Hubby and I have a bit of talent. (I’m not bitter or anything.) Taping and plastering sheet rock is the perfect match for my OCD. Most of the time—especially if you look at the state of the kitchen—my OCD is not evident. At all. This is because I’ve given up perfection in any area of the home the kids touch. Plastering a wall or ceiling, though, my obsession is clear. I’ve realized I enjoy it because it’s the one place in life in which I can truly control the outcome. I also enjoyed demolishing a wall in our home. Great stress relief. Not for Hubby, who wasn’t aware I was demolishing it that particular day.
- Sleep. I should probably do this more.
So, there it is, folks. My life in a nutshell. Thrilling, I know.
I dished. Your turn. What do you do when you’re not reading my blog?
And why are you doing that instead of reading my blog? Seriously.
I’ll be back in a minute to read your comments. I have to get the broccoli out of my teeth.
We’ve had such a long road to literacy.
The odds were stacked against my son. He knew less than half the alphabet when he arrived at our house. He was 5.3 years old. Most of my friends’ kids knew the whole song before they were three. For someone with a life-long reading love affair, watching him struggle to find the word “the” on a page was soul-crushing.
I’m obsessed with reading. Words demand my attention; if something is written or printed, I have no choice. Must. Read. Sometimes it’s annoying, especially when a sign catches my eye and I end up with whiplash or smash my nose on the headrest, trying to decipher it as we drive by. This addiction paid off big-time, however, when the medical records arrived the year we adopted. I sat on a hard wooden chair, elbows on the kitchen table, and read every page. One was missing. Our son was born with a heart defect. Multiple notes made clear the danger, but none showed a resolution. If not for my enslavement, we might have never known.
I was an early reader, happily consuming Seuss on my own before I was five. On my seventh birthday, I received The Chronicles of Narnia. I finished all seven books in the series within six months. Granted, I didn’t expect our kiddos to read on the same time table, but nevertheless, I was distressed. Books bring joy, open doors, transport to new worlds.
Entering 2nd grade, our son read on a pre-K level, thwarting my desperate wish to introduce him to the incredible experiences available in books, especially, as he calls them, “chapter books.” I wanted to take him to Terabithia. Show him the wardrobe, the Shire, the cupboard under the stairs. I dreamed that together we could Number the Stars, meet the Giver, sit in the Secret Garden, listen to the Trumpet of the Swan.
Audiobooks (if you’re not familiar with Audible.com, I highly recommend the site) have been an incredible boon. We’ve listened to treasures like The Secret Garden, Bunnicula and The Tale of Despereaux on road trips. And in the meantime, it’s happening. He’s caught the bug (thankfully, not the flu bug) and made a sudden shift from reluctance to fluent reader.
He’s a bit obsessed with a graphic novel he won at the library this summer, The Family Secret. It’s a WWII story written at the late elementary to early middle school level, but he loves it. The WWII era has always been one of my favorites, so it’s become a shared passion. He reads as much as he can on his own, stopping periodically to sound out a word or ask me for help.
What used to be the bane of his existence is now his lifeblood. A year ago, I despaired of ever seeing him love to read. Now, he can’t get enough.
But we have a problem.
Here’s the irony. He’s getting in trouble for reading.
He reads when he’s supposed to be getting ready for school, or eating, or doing homework. He sneaks books under his desk in the classroom. He reads the street signs and advertisements. If I drive slowly enough, he’s going to finally figure out that the building on the corner is not, as I’ve claimed, a “ladies’ swimsuit store.”
Two days ago, I did the unthinkable: threatened to take his books away. He went ballistic. Begged me to take his prized submarine instead. The enormous one, with flashing lights and “dive, dive!” alarms. He promised to get ready on time.
Yesterday, I apologized to the reading teacher, who was handling school check-in for tardy students. “I’m so sorry we’re late. I left him alone for half an hour. I thought he was getting dressed, but he spent the entire time reading.”
She grinned and high-fived me.