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?”
If you like, read a more detailed description of our first day, written two years ago. The napkin bit is sort of gross…sorry.
This morning, I bit my tongue. Hard.
Well, at least figuratively.
The last few months have been okay, but there’s been an overarching feel of something I just couldn’t quite identify. Thanks to another blogger, I’ve finally got it.
Thank you, Sandy. (There’s the link to her blog.)
APATHY. (And taking a page from one of my favorite bloggers, I give you my Song of the Day.)
It’s been difficult to get our daughter to accomplish anything, especially the last few weeks. Unless I stand over her, chores take forever. Three days to clean her room (which wasn’t that bad to begin with). Four hours to put away laundry (granted, she needed to hang up quite a few items, but it should have taken half an hour). Requests to perform simple tasks bring grumbling and eye rolls. She does the bare minimum in her school work and her handwriting has tanked.
It’s difficult to teach cause-and-effect to a child who lived in foster care. Taking away electronics, toys, TV time, etc., for infractions has very little effect. When you grow up with nothing, you get used to it. Early bedtime is mildly annoying. I can almost read her mind. “It’s not like you’re locking me in an empty room. You people leave the door open, lights on and answer me if I say good night six times. Whatever.”
Part of the problem is that she gets more attention if she doesn’t do her chores. Well, chore.
We used to alternate weeks; one week, she fed and watered the dogs, then our son took it for a week. We noticed a pattern. On his weeks, the dogs were fed and watered. He was consistent. On her weeks, she was also consistent–in NOT filling the water buckets or food dishes. We had to remind her, and unless we stood next to her, the dogs’ water access was not guaranteed. Last spring, in an attempt to motivate her, I told her that watering the dogs would be her chore until she did it on her own, with no prompting, for one week. She’s still watering the dogs…some days. If we don’t prod her, she doesn’t do it. (My husband or I have been giving the dogs water without her knowledge–no need to turn us in to PETA.)
Finally, we got frustrated enough to mention it to the kids’ counselor. She was shocked that a) we’d allow this to be an ongoing problem and b) filling the water bucket is our girl’s only consistent chore. She explained that the issue was either with us or with the dogs, then asked our girl whether she would give the dogs water if they could speak and ask for it. “Definitely!”
“If you would give the dogs water if they ask, but won’t do it when your parents ask, then you don’t want to listen to your parents. Why?”
The counselor didn’t back down. I love this woman.
Our girl finally said she didn’t have a reason not to listen. Combined with the other behaviors we’ve been seeing, this added up to one thing: control. The counselor announced, “You’re trying to control everyone. Here’s the thing. Do you pay any bills?” Our girl shook her head. “Do you buy the food?” Another shake. “Do you clean the whole house, do the laundry, buy gas for the cars or cut the lawn?” Multiple shakes. “Right. If you don’t do any of the big responsibilities, you don’t get to control any of the big stuff. When you grow up and pay the bills, THEN you get to decide whether you do a chore. For now, you do what you’re told. When you drive your own car, THEN you decide if you want to show up on time. For now, you’re not allowed to make everyone late. Your parents tell you what to do, and you do it. Got it?”
I wanted to kiss her, but that might have been weird.
The counselor also told our girl that it is ridiculous, first, that she has only one daily chore, and second, that it’s not getting done. She’s aware of the RAD, so made it clear: “This isn’t coming from them. This is coming from ME. You are going to get more chores, and you’re going to do them. You’re going to do your best in school. You’re going to work hard to follow directions. You don’t get to do fun things unless you do your part. Understood?” Affirmative nod.
Things have been better in the last two days since the chat. Yesterday, both kids were late getting ready for school (which equals earlier bedtime), but I told them they could earn some of the later bedtime back by behaving at school. Both kids piled into the truck that afternoon with cries of, “I was good at school today!” and I realized we might be going about this backwards. What the counselor said to us finally became clear– we give them everything, then take it away when they don’t behave. We need to start out with nothing, then reward the good behavior. This is especially true for the girl, who thrives on attention (any kind).
We’re not going to assume Friday is Movie&Pizza Night. Friday night is Nothing Night, until they earn a movie and pizza by doing their part. Bedtime is now an hour earlier than usual, but they can earn a later bedtime as they move through their day.
Ready to leave by 8:15? Stay up ten minutes later. Ready to leave by 8? Twenty minutes later. Didn’t use your strategies to check work before turning in your math and got a D? No minutes. Teacher confirms that although you have a D, you used some of your strategies? Ten minutes. You would have had a D, but used your strategies and found mistakes, bringing it to a C? Twenty. Had a fair day at school, with no major issues? Ten minutes. Your day was stellar? You get twenty for that. Got a note home from the teacher about how amazing you were at school? Bedtime is thirty minutes later!
Our son will be finding ways to stay up until midnight.
The girl is definitely not happy about the changes we’ve already put in place.
This morning, I told her that her new daily chore is to empty the dishwasher. (Some of you, like me, will roll your eyes a bit…we didn’t even HAVE dishwashers, right?) She turned from me to face the wall, arms folded, and grouched, “I never thought my life would be this…” she trailed off, and I chuckled, walking around to see her face. “What, hard?” She nodded slightly and turned her back on me again. It took all my self-control not to laugh out loud.
(Insert bitten tongue here.)
I have seen poverty first-hand. Know the types of things some of my friends have had to endure to survive. Experienced, for short times, the devastation of developing countries. Calling her life “hard”…I have no words for the explosion of incredulity that happened in my head.
Yes, these children had a very tough beginning. Understood hopelessness, experienced an American level of poverty, lived through neglect. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not minimizing that.
But the last four years, they have lived a charmed life. We go on amazing vacations, including a trip to Disney World, a place most kids can only dream of visiting. They attend a wonderful school with teachers who actually care–and put up with their nutty behavior because they understand the underlying issues. Each has a (huge) bedroom, a closet full of really nice clothes, tons of toys, and pets. We provide everything they need and most of what they want. During the school year, we’ve allowed school to be “their job.” They do occasional chores, but for the most part, they leave messes for others to clean up (which I’ve done; yes, I know, I’m part of the problem).
As usual, blogging leads me back to the root of the problem: me. My own apathy. I’ve been letting it happen, because it’s just easier than fighting. But the winds, they are a-changin’…and they’re not bringing Mary Poppins.
And honey, when you’re 13, we’re heading to Cité Soleil, Haiti or Korogocho, Kenya, so you can see “hard” with your own eyes.
Apathy no more, baby.