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Excruciating Ride

Continued from Roller Coaster, Part 2

Angela Duckworth, author of Grit, believes we reach “expert” level by practicing our craft for at least 10,000 hours; K. Anders Ericksson specifies those hours are spent in “deliberate practice.”

Therefore, I would like to announce that

I am an expert.

For at least thirty years, I have deliberately practiced…procrastination.

Don’t even have to try anymore; Hubby agrees my practical level of procrastination is unbelievable—even mind blowing.

Blog procrastination happens when I know it’s time to write but I’d rather pretend nothing is happening.

Writing about the last six months is painful, terrifying, discouraging.

I’ve been procrastinating.

As I mentioned earlier, the roller coaster with our girl has morphed into a super-fun ride most days. (And yes, I know that super-fun is technically not a word.)

The roller coaster ride with our boy…not so much.

Right now, his roller coaster is excruciating.

When we began our journey, people supported us in the best ways they knew. However, few had the experience to understand, so we stopped trying to share our angst, because conversations went something like this:

Me: “Our foster son won’t stop screaming. Anything sets him off. He won’t let me touch him until he’s out of his mind—then, still screaming, he clings to me like the earth is falling away and I’m the last thing standing. Sometimes it lasts for hours; I don’t know what to do.”  

Friends my age: “Yeah, my kid does that, too. I just turn on the TV and he settles down,” or “Put him in his room, tell him he can come out when he’s done, and shut the door.”

Friend my mom’s age: “Tell him if he doesn’t stop crying, you’ll GIVE him something to cry about.” 

Friend my grandmother’s age: “He probably has gas. Have you taken him to the doctor?”

Social worker: “If he’s too much for you, we’ll find another placement.” 

The above suggestions didn’t help.

But those kinds of conversations prompted me to start this blog, because Hubby and I agreed no one should feel as alone as we did.

Have a troubled kid? You are not alone.

Terrified of the future? Wondering whether your child will have the ability to function in society? “Cautious optimism” is your motto?

You’ve come to the right place.

Everyone’s story line is a little different, but the internal conflict connects across all boundaries: parents want beautiful life to happen for their kids, but we don’t always know how to best assist.

We want them to thrive, be mentally healthy and happy, be successful, have a great future.

Three months ago, the main life plan for our eleven year-old son was

stay alive.

His roller coaster almost went off the tracks in August. The happy boy who lived with us during the summer of 2016 was long gone. He used his intelligence to charm and manipulate adults but could not stand his peers. Aggressive behavior caused his expulsion from two summer camps.

Several life alterations (loss of Hubby’s dad, job changes, selling our home, moving) or hormones may have something to do with the downward spiral that held a tenacious grip on his personality; we don’t really know the cause. Hindsight sometimes holds clues and answers, but in this case, we can’t find any triggers.

I once read that talking about suicide is “just” a cry for attention unless the person has a plan. (We can discuss “just” another time…if a person is reaching out, there’s a reason.)

Our son had a plan.

Several plans, actually.

When he was upset, I often sent him to write in his journal; after he finished, he allowed me to read it and we took time to discuss his thought processes. As he found that I would not give him a consequence for anything he wrote (he tested this with a list of swear words), his writing became darker and included plans to run away or harm himself.

His list of ways to die included throwing himself in front of a vehicle, drowning himself in the pond or stabbing himself in the heart with a pencil.

Because of his extreme behaviors and inability to function appropriately in most settings, he had an in-home counselor ten hours a week. She became an invaluable presence in our family, mostly for me. (I no longer had to wonder whether I might be overreacting.)

We monitored him closely, working with the in-home counselor with the goal of keeping him with us.

We were, in a word, Hypervigilant.

We installed an alarm on the house to alert us if he tried to leave in the middle of the night, and cameras so I could keep an eye on him when I had to be in another room. Most of the time, I slept only when he slept, woke before he did and kept him in my physical sight almost all day. If I needed to use the restroom, I took the monitor, and only took showers when another adult was in the house. Hubby took over when he got home from work so I could get a little rest.

We were exhausted but determined to do everything we could to prevent residential care.

We believed our love could be enough.

Our in-home counselor agreed he needed immediate and urgent help after he acted out a detailed suicide scene in front of a camera in our home. We aren’t sure whether he chose the setting intending a manipulation, since he knew the camera was there. Regardless, the underlying issue remains the same: his thoughts were focused on ending his life.

As I explained that we might need to seek help from a facility outside our home, he shrugged.

“You’ve done all you can. You’ve tried everything else. We might as well try this.” 

We checked him into an acute care psychiatric facility that afternoon. We visited every chance possible and each time he fed us lies (people hurting him, taking his shoes, trying to fight him). After a visit on day 5, Hubby and I resigned ourselves to the knowledge he’d be there a while as his mindset was obviously not changing.

Less than 24 hours later, a nurse called and told me they planned discharge that day. I was shocked.

“He told the doctor he’s not thinking about suicide anymore, so he can come home now,” she chirped.

I asked to speak to the managing director, who told me they could only keep the child if the child continued to want to hurt himself or someone else. Since our boy knew the right words, he had to come home.

The next day, as I painted a closet, I glanced at the monitor to see him trying to shove a pencil through his ribs.

Continued

Grit by Angela Duckworth

If you haven’t read Grit by Angela Duckworth, be forewarned and encouraged: the book is long AND it is worth your time. The information is enthralling. Listening to the audio (read by the author) is even more fascinating.

One of my colleagues suggested I read it after I related the latest escapades in our quest to find the best care for our children’s special needs. Grit, according to Angela, is “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.”

When it comes to our adopted kiddos, any social worker, community service board member, child services team contributor, school administrator, teacher or member of the mental health community with whom I’ve interacted would agree that I tend toward dogged advocacy. Our first social worker told Hubby I’m “hypervigilant” (hence the blog name).

Their well-being is my Quest, if you will.

Our kids had such a traumatic start; Hubby and I are determined—as much as is within our power—to make the rest of their growing-up years decidedly un-traumatic. I have to tell you: spending almost every moment of my wake time (and sometimes my dreams as well) finding ways to sow seeds of future success is exhausting.

At my friend’s recommendation, I read Grit thinking it might give me some encouragement.

Check.

Perhaps some validation.

Check.

Maybe even a little focus.

Check.

What I didn’t expect: Angela talks about ways to develop Grit in our children.

Her explanation of Grit indicators enthralled me. Among other things, a huge predictor of future success is a child’s commitment to a challenging activity for a certain amount of time.

At the high school level, two years of involvement in the same activity (whether sport, club or organization) is a solid predictor of future success.

Chess club, lacrosse, football, student government, school newspaper: as long as the activity creates growth and challenges the child to learn more, improve or think more creatively, it counts. (One year of involvement predicted nothing, by the way. That second year matters.)

To grow Grit in their children (and themselves), Angela, her husband and her children all “Do Hard Things.” (As a nerd partial to ancient myth, I prefer the term”Grit Quest.” My paraphrase of quest: an adventurous search or pursuit to secure or achieve something.  GQ for short. Gives more of a sense of the “bulldog determination to scale the highest limit of this mountain” ideology our family tends to embrace.)

The Rules:

1. Everyone does SOMEthing that requires practice (pursuit) to improve. Each family member must embrace a GQ.

“Everyone” includes parents—how can we expect the kids to do something difficult while we potato on the couch?

If you’ve followed this blog for long, you know that Hubby and I do fun things like teaching ourselves how to knock out and rebuild walls, replace the bathroom ceiling and restore cars. The kids’ counselor actually told us we needed to take time to relax, to show the kids that adulting isn’t all work. #1 will be no trouble.

2. Everyone chooses his or her own GQ. No one wants to work hard because someone else is making them.

We have a child who would prefer to do nothing at all, so #2 will be more difficult.. If we don’t choose something for her, she will sit in her room and converse with herself. We’ve come to a compromise: there will be a GQ and it will involve music; the kids can choose from the instruments we already have on hand (piano and guitar). They’ve each asked for music lessons (unwitting of the work required), so this technically follows Angela’s guideline.

Other GQ considerations are transportation and impact on family time. For instance, we’ve ruled out football (American) for now because practices every night and games on weekends would effectively preclude any other activities…for anyone, player or not. We’re open to any sports which enable the kids to play together without taking over the family schedule.

3. No quitting. At least, not on a difficult day nor due to bad attitude. Predetermine a timeline or stopping point.

Once they’ve fulfilled the terms of the agreement (e.g., eight weeks,”when you reach x level” or a sport season) they can pick a new instrument or try something else.

Angela Duckworth says, “if I’ve paid the tuition for your set of piano lessons, you’re going to take all those lessons and you are, as you promised your teacher, going to practice for those lessons.”

Sounds great, but #3 is a bit more tricky for us, as we’re still working on motivation.

For over a year, the kids took Karate (THEIR CHOICE). We told them they could quit once they received a green belt. Most of the class attained the first belt within the first three months. Over a year later, our little darlings finally managed to pass the first belt assessment. They simply refused to practice.

No consequences mattered. Rewards, consequences, the teacher calling them out in front of the entire class…nothing mattered to them.

This lack of response to negative consequence or positive reward has been an ongoing burr under my saddle. It’s a “normal” response from trauma kids.

I literally had to stand there and watch them, directing every move. Right, it’s only fifteen minutes a day…but when it took an hour to complete thirty minutes of homework and we had Scouts (one for each) twice a week and counseling twice a week and…and…and…it just became too much.

What I learned from that experience? Pick a shorter term goal. The idea of allowing them to quit when they hit green was this: by the time they got to green, they’d be so good, they wouldn’t want to quit. Both of them have athletic physiques and our boy has flexibility any ballerina would kill for. We knew if they found success, they’d want to continue.

Problem is, they fought so hard to be complacent, they missed out. Toward the end, they both started realizing goals in karate. Unfortunately, it was too late, because they were both approved for in-home counseling (7-10 hours per week). With school, there’s currently no time for karate.

But hey, once the summer starts, we will have all kinds of time to practice an instrument. (Yep, I plan to practice as well.)

In the meantime, I’m going to go listen to Grit one more time. There was a section about the Seattle Seahawks I didn’t fully catch the first time around, and I want to listen again.

If you take time to read it (or already have), weigh in below.

What do you think? Do you have grit? How do you know?

Blogging Brand: Who Needs One?

Back to what I learned at WordCamp.

WordCamp US 2015. In a word: FabuSuperEducatioFunExpialidociFrabjous.

“It seems very pretty,” she said…”but it’s rather hard to understand!” -Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

Don’t give me that look. Lewis Carroll and Mary Poppins made up words.

And because of a ridiculous addiction to etymology, I just learned that Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, often attributed to Practically Perfect in Every Way Mary, appeared in use prior to the movie. And it’s the longest word in the English language. I love Google. 

My tenth grade English teacher informed us we could break language rules and make up words once we knew them all (rules AND words) or when we become famous—whichever is first.

Right, then…I’ve done neither, so…

WordCamp 2015 was Fabulous, Super Educational and Fun. And Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. And Frabjous.

The fourth thing WordCamp taught me is intertwined with the second.

 

Epiphany # 4: Every blog needs a BRAND.

Advertising utilizes many forms of brand. Here are a few:

Characters:

Think of the GEICO Gecko. Joe Camel (“Cool people smoke Camel”). Marlboro Man (“Real men smoke Marlboro.”) And yes, smoking is a bad idea. I’m just pointing out characters everyone knows. Keebler elves. The Planters Peanut. Ronald McDonald (a bit creepy, but recognizable).

Colors: 

Coke. UPS. John Deere. Here’s a fun little test to see if you can identify the brand by trademarked color.

Symbols: 

Amazon’s arrow/smile (“We get it to you fast and make you happy!”). FedEx’s subtle arrow (hint: it’s negative space). The Nike Swoosh. Coke’s ribbon. And perhaps the most recognizable symbol in the world, those Golden Arches.

Words:

Certain trademarked words become so famous we forget they’re brand names. No one (at least around here) says, “I cut my finger. Please get me a plastic bandage.” We say, “quick, I need a Band-Aid!” Xerox. Velcro. Chapstick. Bubble wrap. Dumpster. Fiberglass. Ping Pong (yes, really).

Some trademarked words lost previous status due to common use, like aspirin or WAIT, WHAT?!? heroin. Yes, Heroin was a Bayer trademark, back in the day. Yowza.

If you’re neurotic like me, check out this link for more. (Yep, I read them all.) The website also includes chuckle-inducing generic names. 

Here’s the point of this little advertising lesson. 

  • I need to brand my blog.

Create a character, use a photo or symbol, find a color, word or phrase. Or hey, all of the above.

Thanks to my conversation with this guy (who also has a cool blog),

DSC_0018

Dennis Hong speaking at WordCamp US 2015. Photo Credit: Casey Alexander, Creative Commons License

I realized the current “brand” on this blog is

  1. unrecognizable
  2. limiting
  3. confusing

and it’s time for a change.

  • The original plan: a play-by-play (and honest) description of our lives, centered around the definition of Adoption: “Adoption =” 

In other words, my intent was to illustrate a clear picture of what Adoption is. What adoption “equals.”

A blog with titles like “Adoption = Fun” or “Adoption = Difficult.”

Nobody got it.

Or, if you did, you’re astute, intelligent, and/or my mother.

Prior to WordCamp, I began using “Casey Alexander” as the brand, but Google proclaims that the most recognized “Casey Alexander” is a guy who worked for Sponge Bob.

How can I compete with a guy whose boss wears quadratic clam diggers and lives under the sea in a prickled yellow fruit? Or something like that.

Alsothere’s this.

Casey Alexander is the worst I’ve ever seen for a few reasons…wrote the absolutely BORING, HORRIBLE, BULL…

and this

So Casey Alexander (One of the worst writers in the history of Animation) has apparently stopped writing…I could go on all night with how happy I am this idiot no longer writes…

Right.

Although you may think it would be a fun prank—or a true statement (just wait until you see what I write in response, you jerk I mean, your opinion is always valid and welcome even if we don’t see eye to eye)—these were not written about me.

This is a good time to consider re-branding.

Dennis encouraged me to pick something timeless; the kids will grow up (or matriculate to Military Academy). My life, someday, will not orbit adoption. Or, at least, our adoption.

I plan to always, always, always advocate for children.

I’m passionate about adoption, foster care, fair treatment, child development, trafficking (fighting it—not participating—although…there are days…oh, HEY, sorry, did I say that out loud?), orphan care and child survival rates in developing countries…and I’m a little bit loud about all of it.

  • The new brand:

Our kids became available for adoption about six months after they moved in. We brought them into our home without the assurance we’d be able to keep them, but we were determined to ensure they received every possible accommodation—just as we would for “our own.”

Social Services didn’t like me.

Well, to be fair, OUR social worker didn’t like me.

The relationship started out a bit rocky due to my apoplectic fit. I found out the worker lost our fingerprints, delaying our approval to foster and requiring the children to live with a temporary foster family. (This, I took in stride. Shi—Lost paperwork happens.) The family was local but outside our school district.

I asked the social worker to request that the school board make an exception to allow the children to attend our elementary school, in spite of location, due to the circumstances.

Otherwise, the children would have three different families, three different homes AND three different schools in 40 days. To me, this seemed excessive. And avoidable.

But.

She didn’t want to do the extra paperwork. (Since then, I’ve made this same request in order to enroll the kids in a school with better accommodations for their special needs. It required ONE piece of paper.)

By the time they arrived at our house, the kiddos were in an understandable but horrific state of mind. Like hyenas, if you will.

Imagine: You’re married to someone for eighteen months. You get along. Communication patterns are set. It’s not perfect, but you feel secure.

One afternoon, as you enjoy milk and biscuits, government officials appear.

“We’ve determined this spouse is not your best match. And, partly due to your behavior, they don’t want you here anymore. Pack your things. We leave in thirty minutes for your next destination.”

Numb, you follow the officials as they toss your belongings into black plastic trash bags and cardboard boxes. You thought they liked you. Or, at least, tolerated you.

The officials dump you at another house, with a new spouse and no explanation other than, “You’ll be fine here.” They leave.

Four weeks later, you’ve begun to settle into the routine. You’re still bewildered but no one has bothered to clarify the situation. This family is nice enough; maybe living here will be okay. Now if you could just figure out what they did with all your stuff.

And then those officials show up again. They leave. Can you relax?

Nope. The few items you possess are packed and you’re bundled into the family’s van, where you find the rest of your trash bags. The second spouse drops you off with a third, smiling. “Have fun!”

By this time, you’re in complete confusion and more than a little angry.

Somebody better tell you what the heck is happening. And soon. Before you start screaming.

Yeah. That’s the clusterfeather that showed up on our doorstep. (Spell check says that’s not a word. It is now.)

And our little story above doesn’t even bring into play the new school, new people, new lights, new buildings, new clothes, new foods, new sensory input, new terror. TWICE.

After I figured out that the social worker did NOT have the kids’ best interest at heart, MommaBear appeared. Enter: The Fit of Historic Proportion.

These kids were obviously having a rough time, but they weren’t even in regular counseling.

With Hubby’s full support (and let me tell you, I don’t know how single adoptive parents survive—they are absolute HEROES) I got them into counseling, occupational therapy, speech therapy. Worked with the school to develop an IEP, ensuring they received appropriate support (both academic and behavioral).

Annnnnnd fought with the social worker, then went over her head and worked with her boss and the county to get a behavioral aide to stay with the boy during class (then 5 and a school-escape-artist).

I have no idea why she didn’t like me.

Speaking with Hubby (and in front of me) she called me “hyper-vigilant.”

It wasn’t a compliment.

But “Hypervigilant” is the one positive thing that woman gave me in the 16 months I struggled with her. We (THANK GOD) acquired another social worker who managed to push the adoption to completion under six months from her start date.

Vigilant: keeping careful watch for possible danger or difficulties

Hyperprefix  1. above, over, or in excess: hypercritical  2. (in medicine) denoting an abnormal excess: hyperacidity 3. indicating that a chemical compound contains a greater than usual amount of an element: hyperoxide

I like the third definition for “hyper” best. “A greater than usual amount.”

For our children, I watch “more than usual” for possible danger or difficulties. Medical. Physical. Emotional. Academic. Interpersonal.

Hubby and I believe in cause and effect as well as cleaning up your own messes, so if they get a bad grade or, for instance, pour glue all over a desk, we absolutely support the school in whatever consequence is handed down. The administration knows our stance.

But I work with teachers, administration, counselors, doctors—any adult who can better support our children by understanding their background and situation—to prevent and ameliorate situations before they occur. Call me Hypervigilant.

When we go out in public, I’m always aware that previous foster families and even biological family members could be one grocery aisle away. It happens. Last summer, we drove five hours to a beach, stood on a pier and recognized a friend surfing, then saw another (unrelated) family we know. All within five minutes.

I’m on constant alert, scanning crowds and restaurants as we walk. Looking for any sign of recognition from an adult I don’t know. Yeah. Hypervigilant.

On days I’d like to give up, sometimes I actively remind myself to be Hypervigilant. Don’t toss that towel. Extra attention now will pay dividends in their future success.

Hypervigilant.

  • Hypervigilant has morphed from a snide remark into WHO I AM.

After that conversation with Dennis, the name snapped into place. My brand.

No matter my life situation, when it comes to protecting kids, I’ll always be Hypervigilant.

You may have noticed the new domain name already. If not, just thought I’d mention coming changes to the blog. If you show up and things look a little different…you’ll know why. But it’s still me.

Now it’s your turn! Take a look at your blog. Does it reflect your passion? Your personality? Who YOU are? If not, consider making a few tweaks.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Side note: some guy in FarawayLandistan tried to sell me Hypervigilant.com for thousands of dollars, so…I picked the .org extension instead.  In creating your brand, research creative ways to name your domain. Here’s an older—but still useful—article to get you started. 

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