Adoption, Bread and Butter, Dessert, FPM, Isabel, Juliana, Meat and Potatoes, Trauma, Veggies

Refresh(er)

I attended Refresh Chicago this weekend.  I had been planning this for months.  It has been on my calendar since March.  I barely made it.  Joe and I had a HUGE fight.  The kid in our home who struggles the most with attachment chose the week of the conference to have a week of meltdowns.  This isn’t atypical once we get into the swing of school.  She begins to feel safe and she lets her trauma flag fly.  Still, this week though?!? NO!

I missed Friday morning’s session.  I almost didn’t get in the car.  Then a friend messaged me, “We don’t care how late you are, JUST COME!”  So, I dried my tears, loaded up my janky, old SUV, and headed out.  I enjoyed three blissful hours in the car, three hours to myself to laugh at podcasts, cry at Tom Petty songs, and to just be alone.

I made it for lunch, for the afternoon breakout sessions, and then for the Friday night general session.  Refresh is a religious conference.  While religion is painful for me, faith isn’t.  Faith is strength in this home.  In fact, there are times when it’s all I’ve got to go on, faith that it will get better.  Friday night’s general session wasn’t about getting through it though.  It was a night to let go of it.  A message about faith and about letting go of what is burdening us.

The Refresh leaders gave us each a Sharpie marker and a balloon (never fear, both the balloon and the string are specially crafter biodegradable materials, I didn’t even have to ask, they offered that info up, because they know their crowd).  They asked us to write out the things that were burdening us the very most.  I took a pic of my balloon.

But, this picture is a lie.  I’m going to own that right now.  My balloon was full of so many other burdens.  I should have taken pictures of those words too.  I had a moment of fear about being quite so open though.  My daughter is waiting too long, that’s true.  That is a huge burden, but it’s a more acceptable burden, because that isn’t within my control.  I worry every single day that Isabel will die before we can get there, that she will die without ever having a family.

There were other burdens on this balloon though…

“My marriage is a mess right now.”

“I have a child who HATES me.  She might never know secure attachment.”

“I can’t support all the teachers who work for me the way they need to be supported.”

“People hate me for using public resources for my children.”

“There is never enough money.”

“I don’t do enough to fight racism, homophobia and xenophobia to make up for the fact that I was blind to it for too long.”

“I’m fat and ugly.  I don’t take care of myself well enough.”

“I am not enough.”

I didn’t take a picture of any of those words, because, “I am scared” was also written on that balloon.  I am scared.  That might be the biggest burden of them all.  I live in fear of never being enough for all the people who depend on me.  I drive myself into the ground trying to help everyone else before I help myself.  I’m going to do better.  I have to do better.

I have to let all of that go.  I did that this weekend.  It is my prayer that you will read this and let this go as well, because there was another take away this message this weekend.

You’re not alone, and neither am I.

–FullPlateMom, who is here if you need to let go of something, and who hopes to see you at Refresh next year.  Let’s make our ‘me too!’ group the largest EVER.

 

Trauma

Anne With An ‘E’ Has Trauma With A Capital ‘T’

I have no new adoption updates. We’re still waiting for paperwork and biding our time. This is where the process frustrates me the most. I have a pace at which I want this process to move along, but it is completely out of my control. Bureaucracy is what it is.

I have been keeping myself busy with Ally and her little printing business. You can find us here!

While we’re printing many, many items, and Ally is getting an idea of all that running a business entails, I have been mentoring her, keeping tabs on her profit/losses and suppliers, etc, and, I’ve been binging on Netflix.

I was so excited to hear that one of my childhood favorites, Anne of Green Gables, was getting a reboot on Netflix as ‘Anne With an E.’ I loved the 1980s mini-series that came out when I was just the PERFECT age for it. I won’t tell you what age that was, but it was perfect. My copy of Anne of Green Gables and then Anne of Avonlea were completely dog-eared. They eventually, literally, fell apart.

I started to watch, and binged the entire season in a weekend as I worked away in our little workshop, all alone, totally enthralled with the story. This was the Anne of my childhood, but at a much, much deeper level.

It was also the story of my own daughters in so many ways.

Many other people were watching too. The series became the talk of social media. But, this version of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne wasn’t what other people were used to. I saw so many social media friends comment, “Blech, they ruined it.” “This isn’t the Anne I know.” “I shut it off in the first 15 minutes.”

I have something to say to that, and please, bear with me.

This is the Anne you should know. You should learn about her too.

Before you go digging for my email address, please let me explain. I have no idea if L.M. Montgomery would enjoy this version of Anne, and I have seen the criticisms of this version as “the destruction of whimsy” in its attempt to turn what was supposed to be a child’s story into something that people describe as “dark and gritty.” I understand that line of thinking.

But, while Anne of Green Gables was a story about a child, it wasn’t necessarily for children. To Kill A Mockingbird was about a child, but isn’t necessarily for children. The same can be said of Hunger Games. There are themes in Anne of Green Gables that lend themselves to some of the themes that ‘Anne With An E’ explores. Some of these themes involve major childhood trauma, the kind of trauma some of my children have lived through.

I am so proud of how Anne is portrayed in this series. She is realistic. Her sequela from the trauma caused by the loss of her parents, and subsequent out of home placements she endured, are the reality of what often happens to children who live in institutionalized settings. The abuse and the neglect are a sad reality. This is what would have happened to Anne in the time period in which the story was set. There is really no way she would have escaped it. I am so sorry if that detracts from the whimsy. I understand why some people wouldn’t want to think about this fate for Anne. In our home, there is no escape from this reality.

I appreciated the accurate portrayal of Anne’s struggles with her past. The glassy eyed stare, the fight, flight or freeze response, the incessant chattering, the complete inability to regulate herself, or to navigate social situations, these are ALL realities for a child who had no one to guide them through critical periods of childhood. Someone within the production team for this show obviously did their research or has personal experience with this.

Within my short tenure as a mom of children who lived through trauma I have seen a shift towards acknowledging what complex developmental trauma does to a developing brain. The accurate portrayal of it in this program is another step toward mainstream understanding. While my kids who have lived through this won’t be watching this program, because it hits a little too close to home for them, it is an important watch for adults who want a different perspective on Anne and her life.

–FullPlateMom, who is mom to a couple of Annes with an E.

 

Ally, Attachment, Cate, Juliana, Tess, Trauma

Empowering for Adulthood

Our goal as parents is to raise children who become free and autonomous adults.  Free thinkers, able to regulate, capable of higher level thought processes and decision making.  We want happy kids who turn into happy adults.  When you have a kid from a hard place getting to that point feels as daunting as summiting Everest, and the path to the summit involves a crap ton of work.   That work comes in the form of conscious choices in connection, correction and empowerment for our kids.

How do you empower a kid who comes from absolutely nothing?  The very basis of empowerment is felt safety.  You have to get your child to feel safe with you so that you can move forward together.  This involves taking them back to basics.  When I say this people look at me and wonder “Are you one of those fruit cups who fed your 8 year old a bottle?”  No, pretty sure Ally would have thought that was really weird.  But, I did other things that I might not have done for an 8 year old who had been with me from the beginning of time.

For example, I established rituals with Ally.  Her hair and nails were a HUGE deal to her.  When you’re 8 you’re usually old enough to paint your own nails.  I made sure Ally didn’t.  Nail painting on the weekends became a mom and daughter ritual.  Ally viewed it as my giving care.  She was learning to receive care from me.  Her hair braiding was the same deal. She could have done her own hair.  Instead, I did it for her.  Or we did it together.  Eventually, she learned to give care by helping me braid Juliana’s care.  This is an example of a move towards autonomy.  She could now give care too.

Rituals are a huge part of building trust.  Our kids need things repeated to them hundreds of times before they make connections and internalize what we’re saying and doing.  I do little things like songs and rhythms too.  Tess has one that involves me saying “Hey! I love you! Hey, hey I love you!” in a rhythm.  I would smile, make eye contact with her, and even when she was pre-verbal, it lit her up.  She LOVED it.  When she came home I did this hundreds of times, during diaper changes, while we played, during therapy, and in the hospital quietly in her ear.  Three years later, I say “Hey! I love you!” and she replies back, in rhythm, “Hey, hey, I love you!”  Cate has the same type of ritual, but she says “Hey mama, one night” and I reply “I love you!”  I have no idea how these started, but they’re a ritual, and they’re needed.  Mindfulness, yoga and massage have also become rituals.

Mindfulness, yoga and massage take it to the next level too.  Coupled with massive amounts of physical activity for our kids, these help them learn to self-regulate.  This is something kids from a hard place miss. They never had a mama to rock them to help them calm when they were hurt or upset.  Instead, they cried, no one came, they felt angry and desperate and they internalized that feeling.  That becomes their response to everything, rage.  Self-regulation, and giving our kids that tool is so empowering.

Nutrition is always going to play a huge role in empowering in our house.  The feeling of hunger never goes away when your body was starved.  We eat every two hours.  This drives Joe and I slightly nuts.  We’re feeding our kids like newborns, but it’s just small amounts, a protein/carb combo to keep that feeling at bay.

–Rituals

–Self-regulation

–Nutrition support

Three ways to empower your kids.

–FullPlateMom, who is headed home from training today and can’t wait to get back to her rituals at home.

 

 

 

Attachment, Juliana, Trauma

Correction through Connection.

Before we start talking about correction, as in, of undesirable behaviors, I want to take a moment to wish this girl a VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!

julianaDouble digits, baby!!!

Juliana, you are the reason I’m here, in Texas, learning all I can formally learn, so that I can pass it on to others.  When you came to us, we fumbled SO badly.  We screwed up getting you what you needed in about 18,000 ways.  We have talked about this so many times, but I’m going to say it again, I am so sorry.

We finally found our way through trial, error and some help from the Institute for Child Development here at TCU.  I remember sending videos of you to them and saying “What do I do about this?!?” and them sending me recommendations so kindly that were, basically, “Well, not any of what you’re doing currently.”  We changed everything until we got it right.  We got you a GREAT attachment therapist locally.  We did a crap ton of neurofeedback, and you fought.  You fought so hard every single day to understand what it meant to have a mom after the ones you had in the past failed you SO badly.

When I started to fail too, I made you a promise.  I promised I would do better, that I would go and get help too, because I’m not perfect.  I took myself to therapy and then I told you all about the training I was going to come to that would help me do even better, and that maybe it would help other people help their kids too.  You were sad I was going to miss your birthday, but you are doing GREAT with just dad.

I am so stinkin’ proud of you.  I am so stinkin’ proud of us.

It took you and I YEARS to connect.  We didn’t feel like mom and daughter for a long time.  I felt like a babysitter whose soul purpose was to punish you, and I’m pretty sure you felt like I resented you for breathing.  We were in a horrible cycle.

When Darren Jones of the ICD at TCU put this slide up yesterday, I made sure to take a picture of it to show your dad.  We would often comment on the “vicious cycle” we would enter into where you would act out, I would punish you, you would feel like you were bad, I would punish you more and we would get more and more and more in trouble.

screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-10-18-04-pm

Then we took you to therapy and we began to view our struggles like this.  You were merely trying to survive and we could start a trend of an upward spiral toward the magical place where you felt safe.

screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-10-18-07-pmCorrecting behaviors in a kid who is just trying to survive looks a lot different then correcting behaviors in a kid you view as “manipulative” or “willfully defiant.”  We, as parents, absolutely need to make that distinction.  We need to find the fear behind the behavior.  We need to be as proactive as possible to prevent these behaviors by empowering our kids (more on that tomorrow).

Sometimes though, we can’t catch it in time, the child blows their top and we, as parents, have to level a response.  The level of response we approach Juliana with depends entirely on where she’s at.  If we can ‘let it go, no big deal’, we absolutely do.  She knows that term, it’s her script.  She will sometimes breathe deeply as she says it ‘I’m going to let it go, it’s no big deal.’

For her, the next level is to get mouthy, usually with a sibling.  She’ll boss and sass and generally poke at them.  In other words, she’s not letting it go.  At this point, we give a couple options.  Do you want to do some heavy work and come on back or do you need a quiet place to read?  Either way, the interaction with the sibling needs to end.  But, in both cases, she’s not sent away unless she chooses, with her own power, to go read on her bed.

Occasionally we’ll get to a third level where she can’t make a choice and we have to choose for her.  If that happens, where we see the full blown flip out looming on the horizon, we drop together and give it ten.  Yes, we do push ups with her.  Sometimes, I’ll suggest jumping jacks, but when she’s dysregulated, jumping jacks sometimes require too much cross body movement.  Either way, this isn’t a choice.  We’re doing it together.  We’re correcting, and connecting through calming engagement.

The fourth level used to be SO crazy common at our house.  It’s not anymore.  Joe and I tried to think of the last time we got to this point.  Neither of us could.  There are quite a few children in our home who came to us from a hard place that spent a lot of time at level four.  At this level, they’re lost in terms of communication.  At this point, we’re putting out a fire.  We are parents, so we’ll hold them.  Sometimes, that would leave me with two black eyes, a bloody nose, a busted lip.  Yeah, it can get ugly.  We wait it out.  We sit there, right in the doorway of the safe place and we wait out the rage.  When it slows, we offer things we know soothe.  Usually, with our kids, that’s food and a water bottle.  “Wow, that was a bad one.  That’s not okay.  We’ve got to find better ways to work through that.”

Those level four days left me ragged.  Those are the days that will break you.  The whole philosophy behind TBRI though is that you’re teaching strategies that will decrease the frequency, intensity and duration of these level four episodes.  When you’re in the moment though, it’s all about survival, for both of you.

Tomorrow I’ll write about how we empower our kids in our home, how we work to get them to where they feel safe.

–FullPlateMom, who still can’t believe her girl is TEN.

 

Attachment, Trauma

Connecting with Gigi

TBRI has three main principles on which it operates.

1. Empower–attention to physical needs.

2. Connection–attention to attachment needs.

3. Correction–attention to behavioral needs.

As a potential adoptive parent, we’re given all kinds of training on empowerment.  Our kids come to us malnourished, starved for attention.  We are told we need to feed them freely, carry them as much as they want, and love them with reckless abandon.

That doesn’t address actually feeling a connection to them.  If you don’t feel it, it’s really hard to fake it.  Yet, we do.  And, we parents rock at it.  Connection is even harder though when your child is non-verbal, deaf or cognitively delayed.  I know so many parents who are struggling with connection in a child with these diagnoses.  It struck me today in training that a lot of what was being suggested, a lot of what we did for Gigi, doesn’t depend heavily on language, because she had none.

Connection with a child from a hard place is dependent on a few things: observational awareness, you need to give yourself time to get to know their behavior patterns, self-awareness, you need to get to know YOURSELF, and the skills of attachment which include giving care, seeking care, feeling comfortable with an autonomous self, and negotiation.

You need to give yourself time, and grace, to get to know your new kiddo.  For awhile, when you’ve just come home and you’re in that tenuous phase of finding your new normal, you know the phase, we ALL know the phase.  It comes between the jet lag and the destroyed house.  It comes with endless days spent in your pajamas, just trying to survive.  That’s okay.  You’re getting to know each other.

Getting to know yourself can happen simultaneously if it needs to, but it absolutely has to happen.  If your child’s behaviors are triggering something in you, anger, rage, sadness, or true depression, it’s time to figure out why.  It’s natural to need to adjust, but sometimes, going through this journey with your child can bring a ton of your own ‘stuff’ to the surface.  Maybe you need order and this child has created chaos.  It’s time to figure out what in your own past creates that extreme need for order.  These discoveries will only help you in the long run, and they’ll help you work with your child now.

The attachment skills are your goals for your child, they are short term and long term.  We want our kids to be able to seek care, and give it.  We want then to feel comfortable with an autonomous self.  We want them to be able to negotiate their feelings, and life in general.  Those are some lofty goals.  They’re even loftier if your kid can’t speak or hear or is significantly cognitively delayed.

It’s time to head back to basics.  Kids from hard places have never had ANYONE teach them about emotional intelligence.  What does sad mean?  What’s happy?  They have NO clue.  They know mad, and that is often their default setting.  Anger is so common.  You can teach them what all these feelings mean, and how to regulate them, even if they don’t speak or can’t hear.

Having a child “check their engine” is a common way to help with this.  That doesn’t work for some kids.  Instead, using pictures of actual human faces looking happy, angry and sad can help.  For Gigi, we have pictures of HER in all those emotional states.  When she is sad, I go and get a picture of her crying and I show it to her.  She is Deaf, so she communicates with ASL.  I am able to sign “You sad.  Face shows me.  Same.”  She learns that this is sad.  She looks like this.  I do the same with happy and angry.  The more she matures, the more emotions she will add.

She has now begun to tell me “I feel sad.  I cry.  I hurt.”  She is seeking care from me at a higher level than just asking me to feed her, which is another way to seek and give care.

We needed to teach her what to do with those feelings.  This is where we implement coping mechanisms.  If I can get Gigi to admit she’s angry, I can use tools in my toolbox, like massage, or yoga, or even the sucking action of her water bottle as choices to help her calm.  I try asking her what would help.  If she is too angry to answer, because she is non-verbal, we go to rocking.  Rocking resets Gigi.  I get down on my knees and cradle her, squeeze her, and rock her HARD.  Because of her deafness she is a sensory seeker, this rhythmic back and forth, back and forth helps her.  Every kid is different, but this is our ritual.  Rocking is also a connecting tool.  She’s touching me, cuddled in, feeling my heartbeat.  Gigi is 4 years old, but she currently operates at about the level of a 2.5 year old.  She needs to be babied.

Connecting rituals aren’t just for when she’s sad or angry though.  We have things we do at bedtime too.  She chooses a book from the book box, I sign it to her.  She lies down and I make a big deal out of tucking her in tight.  She kicks the blankets off an laugh.  It’s playful fun.  Then I sign I love you.  She signs it back and our ‘I love you’ come together and we make a kissing face.  I kiss her forehead and turn out the overhead light.

Connecting through rituals is SO important for a kid who is delayed, can’t hear, or is non-verbal.  They know what to expect.  At training I learned about this book.  I absolutely can’t wait to add it to our library.

51rt3awqz1l-_sx396_bo1204203200_So many kids who can’t hear or are non-verbal have sensory integration issues.  Connecting can occur through sensory activities too.  I linked this Pinterest board earlier.  It is my new go to for sensory activities that can double as connecting through play!

–FullPlateMom, who is excited about correction day next!