Sunday, November 16, 2008

Daylight Stupid Time

For those of us with special needs children, time must ALWAYS be on our side. Having four of these children make the changing of the clocks a "climb Mt. Everest" type of event. The last 2 weeks have been testy, at best!

The first thing one notices are the comments, starting in mid October, that we are eating dinner later and later. Then, once the clock changes, the kids start complaining about getting out of school later and eating dinner at bedtime! The whine is, "Where did the sun go?"

That is not the worst of it, though. The worst is the changes in behavior that happen the first week after. It is not a pretty house at this time. The whole adjustment process takes a minimum of 2 weeks to adjust and tempers flare frequently during that time.

Each election, I think I should run for office solely on the platform of eliminating time change. It would be one change that would have an immediate effect on the most sensitive of our population. It would calm the world of many frustrated parents and caregivers during those former time change weeks. It would be change from the bottom, impacting life as we know it for the under represented of our world.

In plain words spoken from our special needs 12 year old, T (who deals poorly with the changing of the clocks), "Why do we change the clocks? It doesn't stop how the sun works!" Out of the mouths of babes...

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Mothering Others' Children

When one starts down the road of adoption, the light at the end of the tunnel is the brightness of the newly dawning sun, rising to greet the newly formed family as they start a brand new day. Ah! The stuff dreams are made of!!

The reality of adopting others, however, is this--the light at the end of the tunnel is a train!! One cannot envision what the future holds when you have no input into the first days, weeks, months and years of a young life. I think about my first three "scratch" kids. I was there for every minute of every day of their young lives, especially that very important pregnancy! The "prefab" kids are different, though. I know the saying, "You were not grown beneath my heart, but in it." This is sweet, but does not begin to estimate the damage these young lives experience and the lifelong recovery they (and their new family) must go through.

If I were observant, prior to entering this strange world of mothering others' children, I would have thought it out logically. Why are these kids up for adoption? Why are their parents not able to care for them? How did the answers to the first two questions impact those fragile, early weeks, months and years? These are not children of neurosurgeons and lawyers. These are children of drug addicts and alcoholics, abusers and mentally ill. These things are not just environmental. They are genetic, passed on to the next generation (the one you adopt) and difficult to override. Those early days and weeks are firmly embedded in that young psyche and very difficult to override. What was I NOT thinking? Why did it take so long to figure this out?

Still, there is a passion to right the wrong, fix the broken, contribute to society in some tangible way that overrides ALL logic and compels some of us to continue down a road less traveled, one that involves taking other mothers' children, attempting to right the wrongs done in the past, showing a positive present, and pushing toward a bountiful future. The ultimate goal for the "prefab" kids is the same for the "scratch" kids--productive, kind, God-fearing citizens. The only exception is some of the parts are broken or missing and you have to be more creative in getting to that goal. Sometimes, very important pieces are missing and can never be replaced. Sometimes you realize that you may never be able to override the issues that brought them to adoption in the first place.

Maybe, if we are blessed and work harder than imaginable, we can change the light to something less damaging than a train, perhaps something closer to a sunny day. Maybe...

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

And They're Off!

When I was growing up, my mom did not like to see the start of school. She missed having the 6 of us around the house, fighting and screaming, making messes and mayhem. Most of all, however, I think she missed the companionship.

This summer represents the 20th school vacation I have taken with my children. The first 15 were great. We took trips, made cookies, learned new things like how to sew or how to do laundry. We went to the zoo, went on all day shopping sprees, visited with friends. I understood how my mom did not want the summers to end. Then.....we adopted!!!

Now, the new kids need the vacations as much as our older children, but there are many more hurdles to jump. Raising our newest three wasn't starting from scratch (like you do with a newborn), especially in the relationship department. So, you don't just get into the car and drive to the zoo 4 hours away! In fact, you don't get everyone in the car unless you absolutely need too! So, the last 2 years of summer vacation have been more chore than fun. The special care of children with mental health issues can sideline the most gung-ho family!

The biggest impact has been on the 4 oldest children--losing the freedom that we had been so used to. There was no trip to the cave on the Canadian border or playing "Look at me! I'm in Canada! Now I'm in the U.S.!" (This game Is a favorite with most of our visitors as well!) Summer has become a chore, passing the highest need children, usually 2, to one person while the others go out to the movies or something otherwise fun. It does not make for a fun "family" time when the whole family doesn't participate.

Hopefully, with some more counseling, patterning of normal family interaction, maturity and a good mother's helper, we will get to have a vacation next year. In the time, back to the title...they are off--to school, that is. The last one starts tomorrow at 12:05 and I have 2 hours free to do what I want!!!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Princess and Her Pee

Kiddos with reactive attachment disorder display some unusual behaviors. After 20 months of living in our house, A(6) continues to be a challenge. She attends kindergarten wearing diapers (her choice, bought with her birthday money). If she goes with "undies," she whizzes where ever she chooses. Now, mind you, I have nerves of steel, but standing in the store with your 6 year old peeing on the floor will bring the strongest to their knees!

Last week, she and I spent some quality time together, her in the "chore chair" refusing to do chores and me prepping dinner. She expressed that she was angry at me and I asked why at me. I had done nothing to harm her, but others in her life (bio mom, dad, siblings) had. We actually engaged in some meaningful dialogue for several minutes. Because of her opening up to me, expressing feelings appropriately, not yelling at me, she earned time out of the chair and played happily for an hour, just like a well functioning 6 year old girl. Then, time was up and she reverted to the old little girl, but I digress.

The next morning, we chatted again, both a little hesitant because of the behavior after her freedom time the night before. She said (now remember, she is only 6), if I didn't treat her like a princess, I was abusing her!

It is interesting how the mind gets twisted by what people do to little kids. So those of us who feel led to pick up the pieces of these little lives must untangle the mess that is left. Sometimes, the task seems impossible. Discouragement is definitely part of my daily life. But, just like the princess in the fairy tale, someday A(6) and I will figure out how to stop that little irritation from driving her. Someday, she will stop wearing diapers. Someday, she will play without reverting to the old little girl.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Full Contact Hymns

Going to church is an interesting expedition in our house. Getting four children with varying mental illness ready can be challenging. When breakfast is finally finished, hair combed, teeth sparkling, we split into 2 cars, the two older kiddos taking two little ones in one car and mom, dad and two others in another. It works better that way.
At church, we sit alternating big/little across the pew in the back. The real challenge is the singing. Kids love music and when you have kids with little self control, you get motion. Sometimes, lots of it! So, I hold onto T(11) and try to corral one other while dad gets the third (one is still in nursery). When it comes reducing the motion in a mania burdened boy with ADD, you get a work out! People pay for this kind of work out and I get it for free, every Sunday morning.
So, the next time you are in church, joyfully enjoying the worship songs, look around. Somewhere in your church, there may be a mom singing and getting a workout!

Monday, March 31, 2008

To Insanity and Beyond

Just like in Toy Story, some things can fall apart around our house. Dealing with severe reactive attachment disorder in A(6) causes falling apart on a daily basis. Feed into the behavior and she escalates. Ignore the behavior and she escalates. No easy answer! Our team of experts continues to be stumped by how stubborn a 6 year old can be. She is cute and charming around almost every one else, but when Mom walks in, "Kablam!" She flies apart hitting anything in the debris trail. It takes it's toll on the whole family.
Tonight, however, we left the 4 kiddos with two very patient teens and spent 3 hours away from the house. That was enough time to unwind and, perhaps, remember why we are doing what we do. It was a time to recover some sanity and talk about something other than psychiatrists, psychologists, RAD, bipolar, IEPs, etc. It was a time to refuel the brain and soul. It was a time that was irreplaceable and we may have to do it again, just as soon as the sitters recover!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

One Bipolar, Two Bipolar, Three Bipolar, Four

Imagine a child who laughs ferociously one minute and is hitting you and screaming the next. Imagine that for ten weeks in a row, each and every day. Imagine the medication not working as you hoped, and yet, each day you pray that today is the day the cycle breaks. Now times that by three and you have our life.
Life with one bipolar child is unpredictable and embarrassing. Now, with two others, I am finding the single bipolar life a vacation. One might ask what are the odds of three or four children in one family being bipolar. Well, our psychologist assures me it is passed through the dad and the environment and past care influence how and when it comes out.
The first diagnosed was B(4). He was given ADD meds and that turned on the mania. T(11) was being weaned off his antianxiety and hitting puberty and that set him off. A(6) is more depression and aggression and has been that way for a while.
It is typical for boys to be more manic and girls more depressed. It is typical for parents to wear out with only one bipolar child. I can tell you that after 10 weeks of T(11) being manic and the others following, we are wrung out and ready for a break. Hopefully we can find someone or, better yet, four someones to ease the burden until stability sets in.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Even in Australia

One of my older kids' favorite books is Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Our life is a lot like that book. One never knows what will happen next but you can bet it is probably not good. Before adopting the last three high need kids, I was an optimistic, rational person with control over the important parts of the family's life, and most of the unimportant ones, as well. Now, I awake each morning, ready to face the enemy, those kids at the breakfast table.

Mind you, I wouldn't change anything, except the attitudes that these young folks can possess at such a young age. A, for example, has reactive attachment disorder. She is out to prove she can outlast, outplay and outwit me at every turn of the day. I have never encountered a 5 year old with such venom in her and such a strong will. She has started "momming" everyone in the house including the older kids (23,18, 15). Her latest attempt has been going for about 3 weeks, strongly for the last 7 days. She has managed to make enemies of all the other household members with the exception of daddy, at times.

I continue to work with her rehab counselor and her private counselor as well as the school and Sunday school teachers to work through this. Some days, however, nothing goes right. This is a 5 year old with the will and guile of a 20 year old.

Twenty months ago, when we started all this, I would never have guessed this is where we would be. Someday, we will have victory over the past and start seeing a brighter future. Right now, I am hoping for positive minutes, collecting, eventually, into hours, then days, then....

In the meantime, I will be content with angry faces, putdowns and insults from the 5 year old knowing that the work to change is tough, long and rough. I will be content to think that somewhere someone else is having a similar day, maybe in Australia!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Good days, bad days

Some days in our house can be good. In fact, before the 3 new kids came, most days were good. Now we measure good times in minutes, sometimes hours, but rarely days. As I was planning a spontaneous event with another family, I said that I would call an hour ahead because that is the most lead time the kids can tolerate. Anticipating good is a fearful thing, one they can not tolerate. Collectively, the behaviors escalate and the words spewing forth become littered with how good things were before they moved in to this house, how much nicer the other foster parents were, etc.

The reinforcement for me is to not plan fun things. The payback is too severe, too many negative consequences. I have been told by H and A that I am not a fun mom. In fact, A was gone from the house and H and I had a little fun. Not much, just enough to give H a taste of how life might be without all the negative talk. She liked it, but spent much of the next day rubbing A's nose in it.

Some day I will realize that the good days have outnumbered the bad. Someday, I will once again be the fun mom. Some day, the new kids will understand that fun is a part of life, not the response of a guilt ridden, ineffective parent. Some day, there will be enough security that genuine laughter will be allowed without the fear of being hurt.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Polar Bears and Penguins

What, you may ask, do polar bears and penguins have to do with raising children? Until a few months ago, I also wondered. Now, however, I am becoming an expert in these matters. If you recall geography and a little zoology, you will realize that the two are, literally, polar opposites. One resides in the Arctic and one in the Antarctic. This describes the challenge of raising another's child.

Our house is overrun by these polar opposite children. Our family's adventure with adopted children began innocently enough with our first adoption, 4th child in our family, about 10 years ago. Nothing could stop us from taking in this beautiful, 18 month old boy--not the starvation he endured, the developmental issues, the unknown factors. Surely love and a great family would overcome all of this and undo the past problems!

No doubt that love and a great family have had an impact on this child, "T", but even that could not erase the damage already done. Now fast forward 8 years and we start the process again. After all, we are seasoned professionals at this. I have gained enormous experience in ADHD, stress reduction, physical therapy, sensory integration dysfunction, IEPs, daily injections. How much harder could it be with one or two more?

Now understand, our family is large, 4 kids, so the only public adoption choices are the "hard to place" children, including sibling groups. Still we said: Bring it on! We look through pairs and trios, even one group with seven (even I was not that insane) until we come across the perfect pair of girls, plus a spare little boy. If a picture is worth a thousand words, this one was "War and Peace!" After extensive questioning and reassuring that we were of sound mind, we met the new kids. The first thing out of the oldest mouth was, "I will not do what you tell me to" but she was adorable anyway! Number 2 girl was charming and the littlest was as cute as could be. Then we went home.

As most families know who have adopted, the first month is the honeymoon. We were a little nuts, less than social and started to settle in to a routine. In fact, it took some time before the true colors were flying. Now, 20 months later, I look back and see how far we have come, but I also realize how long the journey is. Now I can speak with the voice of experience, exhaustion, frustration and, every once in a while, triumph.

Now, about the polar opposites that started all this. Recently, we started the littlest boy, "B," on ADD medication and found out that he is bipolar. We then found the same issue in his sister, "A." We are still watching the oldest of the trio, "H," for symptoms. Much surprise to us was, most recently, when T also "went manic" on us and we now deal in the extremes on most days.

With mental illness, especially in children, the days are hard to predict. Medication helps, but adjustments are necessary and side effects not always pleasant. So our days are now colored with uncertainty. Some days, there may be a big, ugly Polar bear with claws extended and ready to bite. Some days, it is a slow moving penguin oblivious to the activities around them. Some days, we visit the Arctic and Antarctica on the same day.