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.