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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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. 

Meet & Greet…Hypervigilant Style

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“Ooooooh, you were right. I DO like her!”                                                                                “Dude. I said you could MEET her. Hands off.”

Photo by Peter Nijenhuis

**We’re up to $35; see below!

We’ve all seen (and occasionally participated in) a Meet & Greet post. You know, “drop your link in the comments and maybe someone will click.”

Instead of posting a hit-or-miss link, let’s change it up. Your mission, should you choose to accept it: 

1. Describe your blog in nine words or less.

2. Paste a link to a post you’re proud of writing. Bonus points for adoption, mental health or parenting themes*, but it can be anything.

*With your link, please note the post theme, e.g., “Adoption,” “Mental Health,” “Parenting,” “My Happy Place,” “Honey Badgers are Misunderstood,” etc.

3. Reblog this to increase the number of participants. For every comment below, I’ll donate a dollar* to Compassion International, a fabulous organization committed to child development and rescuing kids from poverty.

*If the comment number rises beyond my ability to personally donate, I commit to raising the money. 

4. Click at least two links and read the posts.

Have fun!  And ignore the lemur. Feel free to hug.

Support K-Love!

When the kids arrived, having experienced trauma layered on trauma, they were a couple of angry little hyenas.

Every morning, our son woke screaming in anger. For hours.

We found the music on K-Love soothed them.

You can read more about that in Our Three Songs, a post I wrote a little over two years ago. 

This morning, I woke (in slight disgruntlement at the early hour) to my son singing at a decibel level to rival any bass-thumping stereo system on the road today.

When we turn on the radio, he listens for a few minutes, eyes narrowed.

“Is that K-Love?”

I confirm, and he nods, satisfied.

If it’s not K-Love, I have 30 seconds to change the tuner before he begins to complain.

He’s happier, more confident. So is our daughter. They sing with smiles brightening their faces.

Things are definitely not perfect, and the hours of therapy in which we still participate are responsible for much of their gains.

The music of K-Love is just as responsible for their improved outlook.

Today is the last day of the pledge drive. K-Love is on the air in the USA because of listener support.

Hypervigilant.org is a proud business partner supporter of K-Love.  

I encourage you to support their ministry. I have seen firsthand the changed lives.

You can donate at 800-525-5683 or at www.klove.com

 

Should I be Concerned?

So, I bought a huge box of chalk and let the kids loose on the concrete.

She created hopscotch and flowers.

Here’s his enchanting contribution to our parking area:

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Photo by Hubby Alexander

I noticed an arrow which led to his masterpiece. I followed it around the nose of my vehicle to the passenger side. There I found a note in chalk.

“This is what your boy does when no one is watching.”

#kidsarecreepy #slightlyconcerned

He probably just meant, “I draw pictures,” but paired with the thing under my tire…we might hold out on that driver’s license….

Tell us your creepy kid story!

 

Five Years Ago Today

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Photo by Courtney

Five.

Five years ago today was also a Wednesday.

I remember that Wednesday, sharp and clear as a photograph.

I remember the warm, golden sunlight of a late Autumn afternoon streaming through the leaves, pulling them from the branches.

I remember the soft, caressing breeze teasing through my hair, wrapping through and past our little group.

I remember the strong hug as my friend, also a foster mom, dropped the kids at our back door.

I remember her fierce whisper. “You’re going to be a GREAT mom.”

I remember the tears stinging my eyes and the concerned little faces gazing up at me.

“Why are you crying?”

“Are you sad?”

It was their first introduction to what we call “happy tears.”

I remember the incessant chatter, the celebration of having “my own room in my favorite color” and the wonder of suddenly being “the four of us.”

My memories are colored by everything I knew in my heart to be true. From the moment we met, they belonged to us. I harbored no doubt. 

Funny, how shared memories of the same instant can be so different. 

In their perception, we were just another foster home. The seventh, to be exact, in just over two years. To them, we were nothing more than adults who would eventually give up and request their removal. A couple of unknown aliens.

My friend provided respite care for them twice and was kind enough to let us spend time with the kids, knowing we were in process with social services. The children were unaware but every time they saw us before our placement, they begged us to come let them live with us, especially after visiting our home. Looking back, I see all the signs of attachment deficiency. At the time, we thought it was a sign.

Meant to be.

In reality, they were desperate to find somewhere, anywhere other than their current foster home with the ten-year-old monster who threatened to kill them in their sleep.

Their attachment was so disrupted, they’d have willingly followed anyone who offered them cupcakes or soda.

Today, on the way to an appointment (car rides are the best discussion times), we reminisced. The children remembered the terror. The confusion. The adaptation to an unknown environment and new adult caregivers.

“I kept screaming because everything was new and it all hurt. Even taking a shower. That’s why I liked baths. I’m used to the shower now.” My daughter stated this with nonchalance. Old news, the months of screaming.

I cringed and gritted my teeth, thanking God we never have to endure that again.

“I don’t know why he screamed all the time,” she said, with a preteen eye-roll she’s beginning to perfect. “I only screamed when I didn’t want to do something. He just screamed for hours. For no reason.”

Her description was accurate.

I waited for his verbal retaliation. None came. I wished for the millionth time that science fiction memory-wipes were real. That we could erase the trauma.

“Can we go ride roller coasters again next summer?” His incongruous question signaled he’d had enough.

She wasn’t done.

“We had a lot of bad people before we came to you. I think today is something to celebrate.”

I agreed, and at the mention of celebrating, he rejoined the conversation.

“Can we get pizza?”

Absolutely. 

***

If you like, read a more detailed description of our first day, written two years ago. The napkin bit is sort of gross…sorry. 

 

Can I Get a Tardis?

 

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Photo: Casey Alexander

This week I started a new job, had hour-long meetings with each of their teachers and the IEP case manager, still managed to get them to all activities and appointments on time, studied like mad for 5th grade science, social studies and spelling tests (first week of school, let’s dive right in, shall we? ) and agreed to restore a house-worth of old shutters.

Starting to think I need my head examined.

Or I need a Tardis, so I can keep going back to week’s beginning until I’m caught up.  Preferably with a Dr. Who to drive for me…reading the Tardis Operating Manual might send me over the edge.

Share your crazy week and make me feel normal. 🙂

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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