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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.

 

How to Bond when Your Child Won’t

I have finally found the key to bonding with a RAD child.

Abject terror.

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Photo Credit: Martin Keamy Fanbase

 

Parenting a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder is a roller coaster.

After five years, we’ve attained what I consider a significant level of progress. She no longer voices thoughts of…uh…removing…me from her lifescape.

While still she displays obvious preference for Daddy, most of the angst directed my way these days appears more related to pre-teen hormones. I’ll take it.

During our first year, I bought a fresh coconut because the kids wanted to know what the inside looked like.

Those suckers are tough to open. I ended up outside on the patio trying to crack it with a hammer.

As I bludgeoned the nut again and again, doing my best not to hit my nose on the bounce-back, she began screaming,

Bash her head in! Bash her head in!

I looked up to see her staring at me. The chilling smile on her face disturbed me more than the words.

If you’ve ever seen The Bad Seed (which has always been one of my all-time favorite oldies—there’s an ironic twist for you), you have a taste of what RAD parents experience.

We try to remember the audience when telling stories of our first years; the idea of a child standing over you in your sleep freaks some people. Go figure.

Hubby and I met another RAD family this weekend; we laughed about inviting people over for dinner and needing to retrieve the knives from lockdown in the master bedroom. Shook our heads over the crazy paradox of a child performing extreme levels of misbehavior specifically in order to get a consequence, which makes her feel safe. It’s a little mind-blowing. And exhausting, since it never ends.

Having someone understand is refreshing.

They’re still locking up potential weapons. We gave up ages ago, after realizing they can do just as much damage with everyday household items.

At this point, I think we’re beneficial enough to their daily lives that they wouldn’t actually harm us, although I’m pretty sure “the demise of that woman” is still a daydream theme on occasion.

A couple years ago, as we had a pre-bedtime snuggle, my son wrapped his arms around me, tucked his head into my shoulder and said sweetly,

Mama, I love you. I’m sorry I wanted to lock you in the house and burn it down when we first got here. I would never do that now.

Warms a mama’s heart.

Our son has definitely bonded with us since the adoption day (3.25 years ago) and says he doesn’t even want to think of the “other” family anymore. Our daughter is still a work-in-progress. Her level of anger makes sense (she’s two years older and has more trauma).

Every time we make an advance in our relationship, she freaks out and pushes me away again.

This cycle is very typical of RAD kids. I know about RAD, I understand the reasons for RAD and I even learned about RAD long before we had the kids. I’m cognitively prepared.

Emotionally, not so much.

The constant push-away is wearing.

My honey-badger self-preservation instinct kicks in sometimes. Don’t-care-don’t-care-don’t-care.

But not caring doesn’t work well when you have broken kids. I have to allow myself to be vulnerable in order to reach her.

I’ve been praying for a tender heart and an opportunity to connect. This week, we found affinity in two very opposite and unlikely places.

First, that comment about abject terror—not kidding.

Our family went to an amusement park and I bribed her with ice cream to ride a coaster with me. Halfway through an insane loop, I looked over (hoping she hadn’t passed out). She was screaming but I couldn’t hear the words until the coaster slowed a little.

“THIS. IS. AWESOMMMMMMMMMMME!”

As we exited down the ramp after our ride, she leaned against me. I checked her face, looking for signs she might fall…or puke. Nope, just a hug.

On the next ride, as we zipped down a steep hill, she grabbed my hand and held on tight. For the whole ride.

Walking down the ramp, she proclaimed, “I rode with you, so now you have to ride the drop-tower with me.”

My aunt would call this poetic justice. Years ago, she and my uncle took me to MGM Studios and I dragged her onto the Tower of Terror. Twice. She’s an excellent auntie.

I love roller coasters but I’m no longer a fan of straight-up heights (and now have even more appreciation for my aunt).

The drop tower ride takes a slow haul straight up something like twenty stories with plenty of time to peruse the landscape and imagine my broken body on the asphalt below. Then, after moments of suspense, hydraulics release in a fast-rush drop to the bottom.

During the excruciating rise, my daughter asked with a sly smile, “Do you like it? It’s really high, isn’t it?” She’s perfectly aware of my height-a-phobia. I admitted that heights aren’t my thing, but she rode the coaster with me and fair is fair.

Sometime after that ride, she started walking with an arm around my waist.

 

Then, a few days later, she approached with a knitting kit, a gift from my brother.

Quick backstory: my mother-in-law once attempted crochet lessons for me. I proved inept. She gave up. 

“Can we learn how to knit?” She handed me the inadequate directions. I attempted to follow the whomever-wrote-these-did-not-speak-English instructions. Even the diagrams made no sense.

Thank God for Google. In case you want to learn knitting:

After about 15 minutes, we had both learned how to cast on and work the knit stitch. Later that day, we visited a flea market. I found a second set of needles so we could practice together.

Our work is uneven and I’m not really sure what we’re making but we’re progressing.

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Photo Credit: Casey Alexander

Knitting is the polar opposite of riding a roller coaster. And yet, it had the same effect.

Tower of Terror Aunt happened to be visiting during the knitathon. I voiced surprise that the thing our girl and I finally found in common was knitting. 

My aunt pointed out,

It’s something you had to learn, too. You’re not already ‘better at’ it.

I realized she was correct; our girl constantly moans about how she’s “not good” at things—mostly thing she hasn’t tried or hasn’t practiced—and how everyone else is so much “better” at whatever she’s attempting.

She finally feels we’re on even ground.

So, the key to connection is finding things I suck at.

Stop your snickering. Yes, I realize this might not be a difficult proposition.

In other words, if I haven’t tried or can’t do it well, she and I can try it together.

Three days in, she expressed a little angst about how I was “getting so much better” than she was (after I’d practiced all day while she played in the pool). Since then, my lack of practice is intentional. In spite of my competitive streak, I know I don’t have a need to excel at knitting.

I have a definite need to connect with my daughter.

Orchestrating our progression and allowing her to be “better” is a small sacrifice. Knitting together knits us together. (Sounds like a 1960’s cross-stitch wall hanging…)

I’ve started making a list:

  • Cake Decorating (right up her alley).
  • Running (she’ll definitely be better at this).
  • Playing guitar.
  • Dancing (again, she’ll be better).
  • Ice sculpting (with a chainsaw—yeah, baby).
  • Skydiving (I might leave this one to Hubby).

I’m actually looking forward to trying new things with my girl. This will be fun.

Come to think of it, I’ve never been on a cruise…or gone to Aruba…or swam with dolphins in the open sea…or…ooooooh, Morocco…

Trouble connecting with your RAD kid? Try something new, together.

And if all else fails, there’s always the Tower of Terror. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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