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Adoption= Insanity? (Chapter 1: Only Try This if You’re Crazy)

**Four years ago to the week, this was my first post on Hypervigilant. Ah, memories…

Ever notice the words “adoption” and “insanity” have the same number of letters?

Coincidence? I think not.

It’s been almost three years since the Wednesday they arrived, dropped off by another foster parent. At the time, we didn’t know that a Social Worker was supposed to be present to “facilitate” the situation. The kids had no idea what was happening. Neither did we. Married ten years, with approximately 20 years of “kid experience” between us, we thought we could handle it. The kiddos, then 5 and newly-turned-7, had met us and seemed to like us. Surely, this would be a breeze. They were so teeny and adorable..like baby jackals.

Surely you’ve heard the phrase, “Wednesday’s child is full of woe.”  That Wednesday evening foreshadowed the next two years of our lives with fair accuracy. We took them to a church spaghetti dinner. During the course of the meal, they ate pasta and sauce with their hands  (unwilling to use apparently foreign utensils), spilled six (count ’em, six) cups of pink lemonade – including a huge trip-fall-splatter that involved about a third of the floor space, and the five year old ate a napkin. Ate a napkin.

Well, ate might be exaggeration. He stuffed the napkin in his mouth, and despite (or because of) our exhortations of “Oh, honey, don’t…don’t do that.” “No, that’s not food. Take it out.” “Spit that out right now.” “SPIT. IT. OUT.” he continued to chew the paper with a “make me” glint in his sweet blue eyes. Finally, Hubby said, “Fine. Swallow it. It’ll probably stop you up and you won’t poop for a week.” The game was no longer fun. He swiftly deposited the mass of wet fibers onto the floor.

We arrived home past bedtime, exhausted, but bathing could not be skipped, as the kids were literally covered in sauce. Imagine all the cute photos of your friends’ infants eating pasta for the first time. Super cute, that tomato-basted babe. Fast forward five or seven years. No longer super cute.

We wanted to get them into bed quickly, so I started the shower, made sure it was warm, then helped the 7 year old remove her saucy outfit and step into the tub. She gave me a little smile. Then…she collapsed, screaming, on the floor of the tub. In my panic to find the problem, I left the shower running. “Are you hurt? Did you slip? Are you okay? What’s wrong?” She continued to scream. Hubby, who had been entertaining the five year old, opened the door slightly. “What in the world is happening in there? What did you do?” More screaming. What did I do? Clearly, I lost my mind and brought an insanely scary spirit-possessed child into the house.

Finally, as the decibels reached somewhere between ear-piercing and drum-bleeding, I regained my conscious mind and turned off the shower. Screaming stopped, immediately. No explanation. “Are you okay?” Nod. “Are you hurt?” Shake. “Did the shower scare you?” Another negative shake. “You have to get clean; will you take a bath?” Nod. The child then washed the remnants of dinner from her hair, calmly and apparently in her right mind.

We didn’t attempt another shower for the next year. Then, the younger one spontaneously decided he’d rather shower. Not to be outdone by her little brother, our girl braved the shower the next night, with no complications. Oh, how I love sibling rivalry.

Approximately six hundred showers later, she said casually. “Hey, remember that time I was screaming like a crazy person in the shower, on our first night here?”  “Oh…um, I think I remember.” Yes, I remember. My eardrums spontaneously tremor at the thought. “Yeah, Mama…I was just freaked out about being in a new house. Sorry about that.” Freaked out, indeed. “Oh, sweetie, don’t even worry about it. That was a long time ago. I barely even remember it.”  Liar, liar, pants on fire…

My mom says she doesn’t remember the hours of childbirth because the joy of seeing the baby’s face “erased the memory.” If you’re lucky, birth happens in hours (or if you’re unlucky, days).  Adoption, especially with behaviorally challenged kiddos, is a little different. Labor pains happen every day for years.

And believe me, I remember every single minute.

Good thing we like a little insanity around here.

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Testing, Testing, 1-2-3

This week, the girl participates in her first annual testing session since we’ve been homeschooling.

It is less a test of her abilities and more a measure of my prowess as a teacher.

I’m a bit nervous. Possibly more than she is.

I actually had trouble sleeping, which is not unusual, but I don’t usually worry myself awake. Most nights, my brain spins stories or posts destined to never see an audience because I fell asleep halfway through.

Before we adopted, I didn’t understand when my friends bemoaned their children’s test anxiety. You’ve heard the phrase “pulling out my hair” in frustration…I’d never seen it in action until one of our little friends showed up with no eyebrows. He was anxious about testing and pulled them out, bit by bit. (There’s a disorder called trichotillomania, but they ruled that out and said it was just anxiety.)

I’ve always loved school and am a geek-tacular stay-up-all-night-crammer. My test grades were rarely less than stellar. (Not bragging—just explaining why I didn’t understand how tests might be scary. I just saw them as a challenge.)

Might not remember any of the material a week later, but as long as my grades were high, everyone seemed happy.

None of my peers ever talked about test-taking anxiety. On occasion, someone admitted being nervous about passing a certain test or achieving a certain grade, but no one was pulling out their eyelashes.

When my friends discussed their children’s test-taking anxiety , I thought it was hyperbole.

And then we adopted our kids.

The boy has no such thing as test-taking anxiety, mostly because he doesn’t care.

He likes good grades, mostly due to sibling competition. He doesn’t like it if his sister’s grades are higher than his, but he has an innate ability to both put in minimum effort and get fairly decent grades. In general, he displays an incredible lack of concern about school (the exception: history studies…the one time he has the legitimate ability to learn about war in a setting in which discussing weapons is taboo).

Our girl, on the other hand, wants to “get everything right the first time” and doesn’t understand why memorizing information requires so much effort on her part.

She should be able to assimilate it by osmosis, of course.

I’ve tried to help her understand that very few people can view text once and remember everything they need to know, but I am—thus far—unsuccessful.

Her expectation of perfection frustrates her. It often trips her up during testing, because the moment she sees a question she doesn’t know, she starts freaking out. She doesn’t necessarily have any external physical reaction, but she begins making mistakes and overlooking obvious answers.

Any information she might have known flies away like pigeons from a coop.

To prepare her for the upcoming annual test, I gave her a practice test 3 grade levels below her own. I thought it would bolster her confidence.

Instead, she stumbled over one question and spiraled from there. She ended up answering one-third of the answers incorrectly.

She KNEW all of the information.

I asked her the questions verbally and she answered all answers with 100% success.

But put that paper in front of her, and she freezes up.

Hoping to alleviate her fear, I explained the test doesn’t matter. The results are less about what she knows and more about highlighting anything I still need to teach to keep her on par with her peers. (Or, if I have my way, to get her ahead of her peers…but I don’t say this. No pressure. We’re still catching up. But I tell you, this kid is brilliant.)

I keep telling her I don’t know of anyone who takes standardized tests for a living.

None of it seems to sink in.

I am a bit concerned that the test results won’t be accurate because she may miss answers she truly knows after confronting a difficult question.

I’m fighting my own version of test anxiety,.

I want her to do well for her own sake. I want to show her that she can do well on a test. I’m hoping to help her overcome the stress induced by the public school system yearly testing.

I’m not on a witch hunt and don’t have anything against public schools but they put so much pressure on the kids with constant drilling, remedial groups before and after school, prizes for doing well and promises of ice cream for those who participated well in prep exercises.

One mother opted for her child not to take the test, which is allowed, and the school tried to fight her. Her daughter is extremely smart and would have done very well on the test, reflecting positively on the school and raising their scores.

I didn’t even know skipping the exam was an option until it was too late.

Because they drilled the importance of testing into my daughter, her already perfectionist personality can’t handle an error. Once she knows question is incorrect, it’s over.

I’m praying she does well, but to be honest, I have personally seen her growth this year and found that she is much smarter then they gave her credit for.

She just needed to hear things in a different way. Sometimes I have to explain things more than once, but once she gets it, she gets it.

I’d like to instill in her that the point of school is not to get good grades but to learn the information we need to be able to do well in life and to interact with others in a positive way.

Math is important. Most of us will never use trigonometry, but basic math, algebra, and geometry are all important for most careers.

Language is one of the most important subjects. You might be an amazing genius, but if you can’t communicate your ideas, no one will care.

History is her favorite subject and I’m so thankful for this. Learning about history and taking it to heart gives us compassion for others, helps us recognize dictators before they take over, and allows us to see the mistakes we as people have made in order to avoid repeating them.

Hubby and I also want to give our kids a love of science. Curiosity and willingness to problem-solve are key to lifelong learning and success.

We were fortunate to find a fabulous art class this year, in which she studies some of the masters and has an opportunity to try to paint in his or her style. She likes to sketch and color but has never shown much interest in painting until now. She’s very talented.

I was in grad school by the time I realized the point of school was not to cram one’s way to the highest grade possible, but to ingest and comprehend the greatest amount of information to then translate into real-life application.

Creativity, curiosity, problem-solving ability, and the knowledge that you can find the answer to pretty much any question if you look hard enough: this is what I want my daughter to learn.

Testing this week won’t even affect her by next week. The true test will be life.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to find out what she has learned and what she still needs to know to keep up with her age group…or surpass them.

But I know that this test will not measure her ability to live a happy, successful life.

For that, we will have to rely on the test of time.

 

Leave it the Shell Alone

When you have children, you finally appreciate all your parents have done for you.

You’ve heard this phrase, I’m sure (possibly from a frustrated parent when you were a teen).

For me, adopting the children did not bring the magical instant awareness, mostly because my parents never dealt with this brand of crazy or needed to make the kind of decisions we do. (That’s why I started this blog, because almost no one I know in person can say, “yes, I understand exactly what you’re talking about!”)

However, when we began home-schooling this year, I finally realized the level of work my mother did behind the scenes while teaching four children at home.

Sometimes I believed I was homeschooling myself, even in elementary grades.

I’ve seen a specific expression on my daughter’s face when I direct her to go back to the textbook and look for information. I recognize the look because I remember the way it felt from the inside of my face.

I was less forward about communicating my feelings. My girl… Not so much. She actually says the words sometimes. With that tone.

Why don’t you just teach me instead of making me look it up? Since you’re my teacher…

I smile and explain she needs researching skills.

Almost everything I do these days is with an eye toward the time she no longer needs me—which will arrive even sooner than I expect.

Being needed is a powerful urge. I find myself stepping toward my kids when I see them struggle, even for just a moment. I’m learning to stop, fold my arms and wait.

When I was 6 or 7, I read a story about a little girl who lived on a farm. She and her father were waiting for chicks to hatch. He left the barn for a bit, instructing her to leave the eggs alone.

After he left, one of the chicks managed to create a hole in the shell but struggled to break free and seemed to give up. The young girl cracked the egg for the chick. When the father returned, they cheered the birth of their first chick, but the celebration was short-lived as the chick passed away.

The man asked his daughter if she had helped the chick. When she admitted she had pulled the shell apart, he explained that the chick needed to struggle out of the shell on its own in order to be strong enough to live outside the shell.

The story was actually about obeying parents even when children don’t understand exactly why they should. However, now that I’m the parent, this story holds different meaning.

I watch my friends do things for their children (even grown children)…and in spite of my best intentions, sometimes I catch myself “doing” as well.

Tying the 10 year-old’s shoes. Cutting the 12 year-old’s food automatically. Helping the 14 year-old with the math problem before the child has attempted solving it alone. Never teaching the child to cook, clean up, work a dishwasher or clothes dryer, run a lawn mower, or change the oil. Driving a licensed teen to work or school, not for the lack of an extra car but because we can’t seem to let him go on his own.

Hamstringing and handicapping our kids with love.

Sometimes we can’t seem to fight that strong urge to be needed. Watching them grow up SO fast is a bit too painful. Tying the shoes “one last time” reminds us they are still our children.

I’m not suggesting we should never help our kids, nor that an occasional helping hand will keep them from learning. (Also, definitely not advocating a completely hands-off approach. Children require healthy boundaries and guidance.)

However, since my kids experienced a rough start, I found myself falling into the habit of “doing” for them. Trying to make up for their tough beginning.

About 6 months after the kids came to live with us, I was still helping them dress in the morning—using the rationalization that although they were five and seven, they were emotionally closer to two and four.

Hubby put a stop to it one morning, telling me, “the kid is capable of putting on his own underwear. He’s five. Stop holding him back.”

Disgruntled at Hubby’s interference in my fabulous parenting, I handed the boy his clothes and stepped back to prove that the child needed my help.

He didn’t.

And I suddenly realized I was “doing” for them to try to make up for all we had missed. Innocent and loving intent, but in the process, I was actually hindering their development.

I fight the urge to over-help every day. I can’t speak for dads, not being one, but I think this is a struggle for most mothers and possibly all women. I’m not being sexist—I just think that we as women are wired to care deeply and sometimes we take it a little too far.

Allowing them to be children for as long as possible is fine. However, even children can learn to do things for themselves.

And they should.

Once, when I interviewed candidates for an open position, a mother arrived with her son and sat through the interview with him. She handed me his resume. She answered a few of the questions. She presented her unsolicited, glowing commendation of his best traits.

The young man seemed pretty sharp and appeared uncomfortable with his mother’s presence. Based on her personality, I got the feeling she didn’t give him a choice regarding her involvement.

I’m sure she thought she was giving him his best chance. She probably assumed, “as his mother, I know all of his best qualities and can vouch for his worthiness of this position. Who knows this kid better than I?”

Guess who didn’t get a second interview.

That was an extreme case, but she probably started out by tying his shoes when he was 12. The desire to be needed is difficult to release.

But I strongly believe we need to let our kids fight their way out of their own shells.

Require them to have experiences that make them uncomfortable. Allow them to fail while they still live in our house and are able to come home for support and advice.

I’m doing my best to keep myself from cracking that shell. To let them struggle. To allow them to develop the strength they’ll need to survive without me.

Especially since, some days, I’d rather duct tape the shell and let them remain children forever.

Wishes

I’m sitting next to a family.

Two parents with three most-likely-bio sons. I watch the oldest roll his eyes as the youngest runs around the cafe, repeating with gusto,

“I spy with my little eye…”

The middle boy colors quietly by himself.

I don’t know the names of the older boys.

The youngest is definitely named Liam.

Father and mother halfheartedly chase the towheaded toddler in turns, calling his name.

He expertly ignores, then evades them.

It is a blissful scene of family togetherness, childhood glee and parental exasperation.

Sometimes I watch other people with their children, heart aching.

Wishing.

Grieving.

I am not the woman who gave my children life.

Every so often, I wonder whether things would be different if I’d held them in my arms from birth.

But

a few days ago

I saw a lady watching as my daughter and I walked through the store

arms wrapped around each others’ shoulders

being our goofy selves

and laughing.

The woman’s eyes sparkled with tears.

I wondered about her story.

And it hit me.

We all watch each other.

Wishing.

Grieving our personal losses.

Assuming others have a better, happier life.

She has no idea of the depths of hell from which my girl and I have fought our way back to be mother and daughter.

She can’t imagine the years of despairing whether we’d ever have a relationship.

I reconsider some of my wishing.

Maybe Liam’s family lets him have run of the place because he’s recently had his third round of chemo and they don’t know if it will work. Maybe they seem happy together because it might be the last time.

None of us has any idea what the others’ lives are like, and yet, we wish.

A few weeks ago, I talked with a friend I’ve always seen as the epitome of happy and positive. We lost touch after college for over fifteen years. Three minutes into the phone call, our friendship was all caught up. She’s the same sunny girl.

Five minutes in, we’d spilled our guts.

Our adoption journey. Their many miscarriages.

Everyone has a difficult patch in life to overcome.

We all have our own battles, and none of us really knows what others endure.

I’m a born advocate; when I read Isaiah 1:17, Proverbs 31:8 and and Isaiah 58:6-11, I feel they were written to me personally.

Isaiah 1:17 New International Version (NIV)

17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
    plead the case of the widow.

Proverbs 31:8 New International Reader’s Version (NIRV)

Speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves.
    Speak up for the rights of all those who are poor.

 

I can fight for what others (e.g., my kids) need all day long. But if I’m honest, miscarriages would utterly destroy me. God knew what I could handle.

God knew beforehand this was going to be my life, so I’m fully prepped to fight, love and pray my way through the hard times.

Maybe I just need to focus a little more on being thankful I’m equipped for this life, instead of wishing for someone else’s battle.

 

 

Isaiah 58:6-11, NIRV

Set free those who are held by chains without any reason.
    Untie the ropes that hold people as slaves.
Set free those who are crushed.
    Break every evil chain.

Share your food with hungry people.
    Provide homeless people with a place to stay.
Give naked people clothes to wear.
    Provide for the needs of your own family.

Then the light of my blessing will shine on you like the rising sun.
    I will heal you quickly.
I will march out ahead of you.
    And my glory will follow behind you and guard you.
    That’s because I always do what is right.

You will call out to me for help.
    And I will answer you.
You will cry out.
    And I will say, ‘Here I am.’

 Get rid of the chains you use to hold others down.
    Stop pointing your finger at others as if they had done something wrong.
    Stop saying harmful things about them.

Work hard to feed hungry people.
    Satisfy the needs of those who are crushed.
Then my blessing will light up your darkness.
    And the night of your suffering will become as bright as the noonday sun.

 I will always guide you.
    I will satisfy your needs in a land baked by the sun.
    I will make you stronger.
You will be like a garden that has plenty of water.
    You will be like a spring whose water never runs dry.

 

 

 

Guilty

Continued from Desolate

When the kids first came to live with us, I clocked three to four hours of sleep a night. The girl wailed until after midnight; the boy woke screaming around in the wee hours.

Every. Single. Day.

The initial sleep deprivation lasted about six months; four months for social services (still the legal guardian) to approve meds and two more months for the doctor to find the correct dose.

I still remember the relief I felt the first morning after we found the right combination, waking around 6 instead of 4 am.

I’d forgotten how it felt. September brought it all rushing back.

This time, I think, was worse.

Digressing a bit: I’ve had a recent epiphany that I experienced almost no change in stamina from the time I was seventeen. Until now.

Sometime this year, I looked in the mirror and realized I am no longer twenty-seven. Or thirty-seven, for that matter. Am I too old for a ponytail? 

Apparently, up to this point my brain has been convinced I’m a decade younger, and the shock of realizing I am OH NO middle-aged was a bit too much.

This time, sleep deprivation almost killed me.

Ok, that’s hyperbole.

But I was beyond exhausted. By the end of September, I started telling Hubby I might like a weekend in the acute center, if they actually had white padded rooms available. 48 hours sleeping in a soundproof room…sounds like heaven.

Unfortunately, checking myself in at one of those places wasn’t an actual option. Hubby took over on weekends and let me nap as much as possible while he was home.

Finally, after weeks of phone calls and meetings and waiting, we got the approval call from the treatment center.

Because we were concerned about what our son might do if we informed him ahead of time, I packed him a suitcase during the night. I crept into his room and slipped his stuffed dog from under his arm. The next day, as we drove to the treatment facility, we explained.

  1. We are not counselors or psychiatrists; we have researched and prepared as much as possible, but we are not trained to provide the care you need.

  2. We care very much about you and want to give you the best chance to succeed in life. The people at this facility have the qualifications to help you.

  3. We are NOT giving you up, letting you go, abandoning you or sending you away.

Our son responded with little emotion.

Like I said before, you’ve tried everything. We might as well try this.

His absolute lack of reaction still stymies me.

The experience at this treatment center was a complete change from the acute center. We met the director, head nurse and several staff. While the nurse completed the intake with our son, we toured the facility.

The staff explained to our son that the initial stay would be thirty days; he perked up and I watched determination firm his jaw.

At the time, we didn’t realize this would become a problem.

He thought if he could “act good” for thirty days, they’d release him. And he decided to make it happen. 

He hugged us goodbye without a tear, then walked through the metal door with a staff member. It closed behind him with a heavy thud.

We walked to the car.

I expected to feel guilt at leaving him with strangers.

I expected to feel great sadness at leaving him behind. For almost seven years, we’d been four. Now, at least temporarily, we were three.

I expected to feel lonely, to feel his absence, to experience a boy-shaped hole in my existence.

I expected to feel that I was a failure as a mother, having not been enough to help him.

But here I must admit: I felt nothing but relief.

I truly believed the people in that building would be able to help him in a way Hubby and I could not. I knew we weren’t leaving him permanently; we would, soon enough, once again be four. I understood that I’d exhausted every possibility available, turned over every proverbial stone.

As for missing him—maybe this sounds awful, but…I didn’t.

My only source of guilt: the relief at being able to relax.

No checking every thirty seconds. No worrying whether he’d wake before I did. No concern about destruction or harm to property or living creature (including his sister) if my visit to the loo lasted an extra minute.

The first three days after drop off, I slept like the dead.

A week later, Hubby looked ten years younger.

And the nurse called to tell me our son was the best behaved child in the center.

He is so polite. He is kind to everyone. I wish they were all just like your son.

I was gobsmacked. Flabbergasted. Shocked.

How could this be the same child?

Until now, I’d never realized how determined he could be.

Guess how long that dogged kid kept it up.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boy Meets Osmosis, Part 1

Photo Credit: Immanuel Brändemo

Photo Credit: Immanuel Brandemo

 

Several times in the last few months, our boy has mentioned that he seems different from other kids his age. He feels they think in a different way than he does.

He isn’t wrong, since he’s on the Autism spectrum. If the DSM-V hadn’t changed everything (okay, not everything), he would be diagnosed as having Asperger’s. In fact, his earliest diagnosis listed him as an Aspie.

We have never told him, concerned that it might make him feel different, or that he might use it as an excuse. “Well, I just act that way because I have Autism.”

However, since he already feels “different,” we’ve been thinking that maybe we should tell him.

A couple weeks ago, the kids and I were watching Girl Meets World, a spinoff/sequel to my childhood favorite, Boy Meets World. In this particular episode, one of the characters had testing because the adults in his life suspected he might be on the spectrum. He was agitated and concerned over the idea that he might be Autistic. I didn’t really like the way they portrayed that part because the tone made a diagnosis sound a little scary. Test results showed the young man does not have Asperger’s and he seemed relieved. However, one of his close friends was disappointed because she is an Aspie and was hoping his diagnosis would make her feel less different. The show ended as the kids assured the girl that they all love her just the way she is.

Overall, the episode does a pretty good job of showing kids how to be inclusive. The portrayal of nervous tension about the testing, both for the parents and for the child, seems fairly accurate.

I wouldn’t really know, because we didn’t tell our boy we were getting him tested (yearly psychs are run of the mill here, so he didn’t even notice) and I was ECSTATIC to receive the diagnosis.

Still, I felt they could have done a better job of portraying the diagnosis as something less scary—or even cool, because truly, Spectrum Kids are gifted.

As the show closed, our boy stared me square in the eye and asked,

What do I have?

Not quite ready to have the conversation, I hedged. “What do you think you have?”

He thought for a minute, then said, “I think I have the illness of aaaaaaaaaaaa(thought he was going to say it)aaaaawesome!”

 

 

Continued

Beautiful Monkey-Butt

Today, I opened our son’s door to find a winter wonderland.

He’s been more impulsive of late; we aren’t sure yet what’s going on.

Last night at Boy Scouts, his sometimes-nemesis-sometimes-partner-in-crime asked for water. Our boy complied with the request by dumping water on the kid’s head.

When Hubby asked him why he thought it was a good idea, he shrugged.

I didn’t think it was a good idea. I just thought of it, so I did it.

Reasons for his choices remain elusive, apparently even to him.

“I wanted to do it at the time but now I see it was a bad choice,” or “I don’t know why I did it,” are frequent answers when we question him after the fact.

His befuddlement appears legitimate.

Since Dad passed away, wild swings of his behavior have become the norm. One moment, he’s explaining detailed reasons for the failure of a World War II campaign. The next, he’s walking from the kitchen to the living room to deposit orange peels behind the couch because the trash can (in the kitchen) was too far away.

After he gets in trouble, he’s almost perfect for hours and incredibly logical about accepting consequences for his behavior. He’ll work with diligent focus on math, chores, apology notes or other remedial requirements.

If only he’d act as though he’d been in trouble BEFORE getting in trouble, he’d almost never be in trouble.

So.

Back to the beautiful snowy landscape.

In his room.

I opened the bedroom door to deposit some of his belongings and stopped, sniffing in amazement.

My young man’s bedroom actually smelled…not like his bedroom usually stinks smells.

Then I turned on the light.

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The pictures don’t even begin to accurately portray the amount of powder on EVERY SURFACE of his room.

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This summer, before Scout camp, I bought him a container of Anti Monkey Butt powder (yes, it’s really a thing) as recommended by the troop leaders. It resided in the top drawer of his dresser for almost an entire year.

And then.

This morning, it called his name. 

He said he just wanted to see what everything would look like with powder all over it.

Thought it might be pretty.

Turns out, it definitely smelled pretty.

It was EVERYwhere.

I can imagine his delight as the plastic can puffed white flakes into the air. He probably danced through the clouds as they fell (a theory supported by the powder Hubby brushed off the kid’s shirt this morning).

As usual, he attempted no argument when I handed down the sentence: vacuum and wipe every surface, shake bedding over the porch rail, put all belongings in their proper places.

He even put the sheets back on his bed without asking me for help—and I didn’t even tell him to do that.

Unbelievable.

Tomorrow, his in-home counselor will help us try to work with him through his thought process. I’m just hoping we can find a solution, because right now it feels like every time we turn around it’s “something else.”

So far, most of his urges have led to largely harmless actions, but we just never know what he’s going to do next.

It’s like he’s suddenly five. Or maybe three.

He carries chunks of concrete into the bathroom, hides yogurt wrappers and banana peels in his room (doubly odd since we reinforce that he can have healthy food any time he wants it), climbs things, wanders off, misbehaves at school hoping for a suspension (because then he can come home) and basically does whatever pops into his head.

A friend told me that when his spectrum son edged into puberty, his Autism went from minor inconvenience to a full-blown life-alteration. We’re not sure if this regression is due to the Autism, due to the grief, due to a need for a change in medication, or…

We just don’t know. And it’s frustrating. 

But, on the bright side—the side to which I cling in desperation—the pattern of the powder was very pretty

And even better: his room no longer smells like a baboon’s derriere. 

 

Lying

This could be me writing, except we only have two. It was so true to life I had to stop reading twice. *Breeeeeeeeaaaatthewhooooosaaaahhhhh*

Check it out:

https://traumamamadrama.com/2015/06/crazy-lying-enough-to-drive-you-crazy/

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.

 

 

 

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