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Tougher than Expected

“These shutters are a lot more work than I expected,” I sigh. “Thanks for helping me.”

I agreed to paint shutters for a friend. Too late, I discovered they hadn’t been properly prepped before the previous owner covered them in enamel; it flaked off like autumn leaves but gummed up my sander. The only option was tedious scraping. 

Each slat. 

Both sides. 

The paint only held fast where edges met, the hardest part to clean…on every slat.

A five-hour job ballooned into a week-long project. The only saving grace? The lead paint test was negative. 

My ten year old son shrugs, scraping an edge.

“If they’re so hard, why don’t you just take them back and say you can’t do it?”

“Because I agreed to paint them. I didn’t say I’d only paint them if they were easy to prep.”

He flicks a piece of peeling paint. “But this is too hard. It’s not what you expected. You should give up. That’s what I’d do.”

After the week he had at school, I think maybe we aren’t talking about the shutters.

Watching black paint chips flutter to the ground like an apocalyptic snowfall, I shake my head.

“Nope. I said I’d paint them. I gave my word. That’s a promise, and I keep my promises.”

“But it’s too hard!” He shakes his little brass scraper in my direction.

“It’s not TOO hard. It’s difficult, yes, and more work than I expected, but I’m going to have a really good feeling when I’m done.

Often, when you work through something difficult, you find out that YOU are tougher than you expected yourself to be.

There will be lots of times in your life when things will seem harder than you expected, but when you finally have a great result, you’ll know the hard work was worth every moment.”

He pauses, thinking.

“That’s why you’ll never get rid of me, even when I’m bad?”

Exactly.

Bad

I live in a room

The door is locked

My mother is on the other side

I have a blanket

It’s okay

I’m okay

Sometimes I sleep

Sometimes my mother brings me food

So I eat

Sometimes I poop in the corner bucket

Mostly I wait

One day, strangers open the door

One is a lady

This is bad, she says

Very bad

Very very bad, the others nod

I look around at my room

My room is okay

Do they mean me?

Am I very very bad?

Police come to my room

Police get bad guys

This is bad, they say

Very, very bad

And then they get me

I never knew I was bad

They don’t take me to jail but almost

There are other kids

The lady screams at us

BE QUIET!

BE STILL!

STOP PULLING ON THE DOOR!

She sits on me

I’LL TEACH YOU. BE STILL!

I bite

The stranger lady comes back

She takes me to a new place

No biting! Be good, okay?

Biting is bad.

Very, very bad.

This house is cold

I don’t know these people, another strange lady and a man

The man is loud and big

I hide from him

Come here, let’s see who they brought!

The lady laughs

Poor thing.

Why does she think I’m poor?

He reaches under the table

I swing my fists and crawl away

He grabs my foot and drags me out

He is laughing, too

Tough little man, we just want to see you.

I kick my other foot and uh oh blood everywhere

He stops laughing

She yells and brings ice for his nose

STAY under there, then!

Ungrateful brat.

The lady comes back, rolling her eyes

At the next house she says

Watch out he kicks and bites.

He’s wild, like an animal.

There is a big boy here

He says he’ll kill me in my sleep

I scream and scream

His mother says

SHUT THE HELL UP!

He hits my head every day

For months

He pinches

And touches

And makes me

NO

He will kill me if don’t

Or if I tell

This is too much

I slam his head into a wall

And kick and kick and kick him when he falls

The stranger lady moves me again

She says

This one’s violent.

Watch him.

I don’t understand any of this

These people are strangers, too

They smile and try to hold my hand

I just want to be safe

Don’t touch me.

I will not be sat on

Or dragged

Or hit

Or touched

Or scared

I will keep them all away with my spiky mean

No one will ever hurt me again

I am bad

I am very, very bad

 

***

I wrote this one day as I tried to imagine early life through our son’s eyes. He was a wild, screaming child when he and his sister arrived.

He came to us terrified and determined to keep himself safe, a need that still causes him to struggle to interact with others, to sleep and to feel secure.

As he grew more able to articulate his memories, much of his behavior became understandable, even when apparently unreasonable.

Hubby and I work hard to soothe his terror and tame his PTSD.

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. 

He’s Trying

From Dictionary.com:

trying [trahy-ing]

adjective
1. extremely annoying, difficult, or the like; straining one’s patience and goodwill to the limit: a trying day; a trying experience.
irritating, irksome, bothersome, vexing.

try [trahy]

verb (used with object), tried, trying.
1. to attempt to do or accomplish: Try it before you say it’s simple.
2. to test the effect or result of (often followed by out): to try a new method; to try a recipe out.
3. to endeavor to evaluate by experiment or experience: to try a new field; to try a new book.
4. to test the quality, value, fitness, accuracy, etc., of: Will you try a spoonful of this and tell me what you think of it?
5. Law. to examine and determine judicially, as a cause; determine judicially the guilt or innocence of (a person).
6. to put to a severe test; subject to strain, as of endurance, patience, affliction, or trouble; tax: to try one’s patience.
7. to attempt to open (a door, window, etc.) in order to find out whether it is locked: Try all the doors before leaving.

Considering the week we’ve had, I find the first listed definition of “trying” interesting and possibly prescient. Does Dictionary.com know my life?

First definition of trying, adjective. Extremely annoying, difficult, or the like; straining one’s patience and goodwill to the limit:

I woke to a loud slam: our refrigerator door. Checking the baby monitor (which keeps me from having to roll out of bed at 6 am if the boy’s just getting a snack), I could tell he was “sneaking” whatever it was. I trotted downstairs. He heard me coming and hightailed it to his room.

“What do you have?”

He produced an egg.

“Why do you have this?” Still bleary-eyed, I thought perhaps he assumed it was hard-boiled. “Do you realize this isn’t cooked?”

“Yes…I wanted to throw it at a tree.”

UGH. He’d behaved well all weekend, so we allowed him general free rein of the picnic junk food. I was surprised at his lack of reaction, thinking maybe his intolerance of sugar had waned…nope. Heeeeere it is.

I replaced the egg and noticed another was missing (I’d just bought the carton).

First definition of try, verb. To attempt to do or accomplish:

I walked into his room and found that he’d had an “accident” and tried to clean it up himself. Yes, junk food is still a bad idea.

Second definition of try, verb. To test the effect or result of:

The good news? He used the appropriate smell-killing enzyme liquid to such excellent effect that his bedding had no smell at all, in spite of the obvious…incident. Efficacy of Nature’s Miracle Urine Destroyer even on non-urine accident = confirmed.

(Chewy.com is not paying me to advertise.)

Nature's Miracle Urine Destroyer, 1-gal bottle

The bad news? He dumped the entire bottle on it. Ah, well…at least he tried.

Third definition of try, verb. To endeavor to evaluate by experiment or experience:

I gathered his bedding and found the other egg swaddled in his blankets. Hatching a chick? Nope. He just wanted to throw it to see what would happen. My little mad scientist (ok, let’s be real; when he does “science,” I bring the “mad”).

Fourth definition of try, verb. To test the quality, value, fitness, accuracy, etc., of:

I feel the quality of my ability to mother in appropriate ways is often tried and found wanting…Egg Incident #1 (because I’m sure it won’t be the last) is a perfect example. Instead of praising him for attempting to clean up the mess himself (which, in hindsight, was a monumental accomplishment), I freaked out over the ENTIRE BOTTLE dumped on his (thankfully waterproofed) bed and over the egg—a potential mess—swaddled with care in the clean end of his bed.

Fifth definition of try, verb. To determine judicially the guilt or innocence:

Rather than give him props for attempting a clean-up after his incident (which is probably what triggered the need for crazy), I judge-and-juried him for the potential egg mess and for not coming to get me for help with the cleanup. Then, I found that he’d tossed his soiled shorts in with my CLEAN LOAD OF LAUNDRY and started the washer again, which meant I had to run the entire load on “sanitize” and couldn’t dry the load for another two hours. I know it’s my own fault for packing a schedule too tightly, but I had a limited amount of time in which to complete several tasks that day. The last straw (last shorts?) sent me over the edge of my sanity.

Sixth definition of try, verb. To put to a severe test; subject to strain, as of endurance, patience, affliction, or trouble; tax: to try one’s patience:

In my defense, we haven’t had respite for more than a couple hours in almost a year and I’m completely drained. If the boy isn’t getting into something he finds interesting (which means items broken, a mess to clean up or some other form of work for me), the girl is intentionally tanking her grades or sabotaging the boy.

My endurance is shot, my patience is tried and worn.

I’m exhausted.

So is Hubby.

But, being sapped and weary is no excuse for bad behavior. How can I expect him to do the right thing when he’s spent, if I don’t provide the example?

A few hours after the egg-in-the-bed trick, I apologized.

“You know better than to be wasting food and creating a mess, but I am sorry for overreacting. You did a great job trying to clean up after yourself. You even started the washer correctly. I wish you’d put the clean clothes in the dryer so we’d have room for your bedding, but I know your intent was good. I appreciate the hard work you did to clean up after yourself. I am very sorry for losing my mind and yelling.”

 

Seventh definition of try, verb. To attempt to open (a door, window, etc.) in order to find out whether it is locked:

We do what we can. Some days we fall down. But if we keep trying the locked doors, sometimes we find that they’re open.

He hugged me. 

“It’s okay, Mama. You’ve had a rough month.”

Ah, yes. Rough.

Sometimes, all I can do is laugh. At least he’s aware. That’s progress. And even though his behavior is trying (first definition of verb, adjective), I do believe he is trying (first definition of try, verb) to improve.

And yeah, it’s a waste of food, but maybe not a waste of connection: I think I’m going to schedule an egg-throwing contest.

Outside.

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. 

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.

 

 

 

 

Great Expectations, Part 1

 

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Photo by Sandeepa Chetan

Tonight ended with our girl laughing in uncontrollable hysterics. This is not normal, by any means. It’s what happens when she discusses emotions that are uncomfortable.

It’s also the result when the lens through which she views the world becomes a little fractured.

For instance, when life doesn’t meet her Great Expectations.

This morning, I was not laughing, hysterically or otherwise. Our boy has had a rough six weeks since my father-in-law passed away. In addition to the trouble he finds all by himself, some of his classmates have figured out that if they blame him for things, he’ll either get in trouble or blow his stack (and then get in trouble).

On Friday, he was blamed for two things I’m fairly (because nothing surprises me anymore) certain he didn’t perpetrate. I didn’t have time to talk with the principal after I found out, so I left him a message this morning before school.

Yes, I’m that parent. Luckily he’s very patient.

He called me back while I idled in the dropoff line in front of the school. I stepped out of the vehicle to speak with him. He agreed that the incidents in question did not sound like our boy and assured me he’d look into it further.

As I thanked him, bloody-murder screams of, “GET OFF ME, GET OFF ME!” reverberated through my tinted glass windows. In spite of the tint, I could clearly see Boy stretched across the back seat onto Girl.

Ensuring I’d pushed the off-button (because who wants the principal to hear you threatening your kids), I yanked open the door and climbed inside.

GET. IN. YOUR. OWN. SEAT.

I glared at my son. “WHAT is so hard about staying on your side? HOW many times do I have to tell you not to touch your sister? WHY can’t I have a three minute conversation without you two acting crazy? WHAT THE HECK???”

Our son, who is starting to get the idea that telling the truth might occasionally be a good idea, said, “I was trying to untie her shoe. I’m sorry.”

Frustrated beyond a clear mental state, I growled at him, “I am sick and TIRED of telling you not to TOUCH your sister. This is riDICulous.”

Then I noticed.

My daughter was cutting her eyes toward him with a smug little smile. She realized I was looking straight at her and the eyes went wide.

Wait…

“How did this start?” I drilled her with my best Military Mama stare.

“Well…he was lying on the floor with the coat over his head and I was doing this in the air (hands waving) to pretend it was raining. I just did this (more hand gesturing) and pretended it was raining in the truck. (Pause.) It wasn’t really raining.”

I stared at her. “Of course it wasn’t really raining. You think I believe it would rain inside the truck because you waved your hands?”

She gave a little shrug. “Well…no.”

“So let me get this straight. He was in the floor, covered by a coat and you waved your hands in the air and pretended it was raining, and that’s all, and the next thing you know, he’s grabbing at your feet.”

“Yes,” she nods.

“And you NEVER touched him?”

“I just made my hands move like this…” 

I cut her off; when she doesn’t answer the question directly and gives me that big-eyed stare, she’s lying 99% of the time. The other 1%, she’s thinking about lying.

“Did. Your. Hands. Touch. Him. Or. Any. Thing. That. Was. Touching. Him. For instance, the coat on his head?”

She blinks. “I tapped him a little. Like rain. And then he started pulling on my shoes.”

“She was LAUGHING,” he interrupts. “And then she started screaming at me!”

Screaming like he was attacking her.

Something still didn’t ring true. I made her tell me the story again, from the beginning, fast. Trying to tell it quickly sometimes trips her up. It worked. In the middle of her two-minute explanation, she said something about yanking the coat away from him.

I stopped her and told her she’d better tell me the whole truth the first time, or the consequence would double. She still had a couple false starts. Then I asked them to stop and listen.

“What do you hear right now?”

The boy said, “I hear that man walking across the parking lot.”

The girl said, “I hear cars on the road.”

I said, “I was standing right outside the truck. Do you think I can’t hear and see through glass? Tell me the whole truth, NOW.”

Turns out, she started the whole thing.

 

 

Continued…

Learning Not to Punch the Teacher

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.

and

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.

However.

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.

 

For Teacher

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?

 

 

 

 

 

Trauma Mama

I can’t figure out how to reblog this page, so here’s the link. Her blog is fabulous and this link sends you straight to a bunch of great books and resources.

Click below for the

Super Resource List by one of my favorite trauma mamas.

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