Thursday, December 29, 2011

A refreshing dedication

So I took a few months off from blogging. Somethings went well. Others didn't. We went on a vacation to our favorite national park with a number of extended family members. It was good. And interesting. And then I got SICK as a dog. With some viral upper respitory stuff that lasted for like 3 weeks! And my dear baby girl got it too. So we were both sick, and stressed.

And then we had the holidays- for which I was ill. It was traumatic for my girl. And it has been packed away. We are visiting family now- and have a little more gifting to do but not much.

We are having a sibling visit tomorrow with her older sister. I am hopeful that both girls can come away feeling good from seeing each other one day. So far that hasn't been the case.

I am returning to blogging. Probably weekly. I miss it as a release and processing space.

After school returns I will be blogging about some IEP stuff. Because on Jan. 3rd- my school is OUT OF COMPLIANCE. Her entire IEP expired at the end of school in December.

I hope all you in bloggy world are having a good holiday and are finding your own inner peace.

Happy New YEAR!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Putting it in to practice

After a horrible 6 weeks that began mid August and slowed at the beginning of September, my dd immediately GREW. She went from size 7/8 to 10 in a week, from size 3 shoes to size 5 in the same week.

And in the past week, I have seen her put in to practice the social skills and manners I has desperately tried to impart upon her. AND she has made logical cognitive connections between things we've done in the past- over 2 yrs ago- to things we did this weekend! We had completely different festivities last year, as we had a sibling visit out of town last year. But even information from things we did, such as attend a pow wow, she was able to connect to a group of aztec dancers we saw this weekend. Making these connections has always been hard for her. She had no sense of tradition or ritual or routine when she came. The cultural context of our society was lost on her- DESPITE being in texas foster care for most of her life.

I am so excited about the growth I am seeing. She's voluntarily asking for more extensive school work in our home school sessions (additional to her public school education). She's been very aggressive with her spatial processing therapy- and is making tangible gains daily.

But man those six weeks of daily rage, reminiscent of our first days together, were scary. I am not saying it sunshine and roses either. She struggled Halloween day with anticipation of trick or treating AND her best friends court day for adoption today. Her behavior wasn't awesome, but it wasn't what it would have been 4 weeks ago, or a year ago, or 2 years ago.

I am so proud of her!
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Monday, September 26, 2011


Gratitude=Great Attitude

And my dear friend Christine is talking gratitude today over at

You should check it out. I realized I have never shared my daily gratitude practice.

Warning: its hard.

My daughter has struggled HARD since August. HARD. Pee, Rage, scratching, biting, defiant, and plain ol' rude.

I am glad to report that she is doing 100 percent better at her new school this week! She loves it. The teacher says she has tried some of her techniques, but has been flexible and has had zero outbursts. So from one a day to none.

She is doing fine in common areas like the all school library time each morning and rocking in afterschool.

But approaching her in a positive, playful way during the days when she is being mean spiteful and obstinate.... Not so easy.

So during the first few months, when her rage was the largest, I made a challenge for myself. I now challenge you to try it.

Every day before I go to sleep I say "I love it when Baby __________". Something, anything! Could be "gives me a five second reprieve between fits!" "Refrains from biting during a rage!" Or on better days "draws me a picture!" "Gives me a hug!"

Then I say " I am grateful for my child because__________". Whatever. Again whatever I can think of that day. Even if its be cause "I never would have met Christine Moers, or Christie, or Gale, or Rachael!". I never would have known how awesome a grandpa my dad is! Or because " she completes me!"


Why is it vital? Because my child can not bond with me unless I love her unconditionally. She can not and will not attach if I don't love her with out fail. Every. Single. Day. Attachment and bonding is a two way street. And as the healthy person in this equation- I give more. And I sustain myself with gratitude when she isn't open to love.

Some days my only gratitude is:
I am so so grateful that my child is here with me and no longer being abused or neglected. I am grateful she is HOME.
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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Changes abound

So sometimes you get into something and doesn't work for your family.

Our public school experience has sucked rotten eggs.

Our "reputable" local school is one of the "top" schools in Big City.

I was there all the time- a lot. I ate lunch with my dear every day. Due to her food issues the amount of waste in the cafeteria freaks her out. Not to mention the sensory overload.

I communicated ad naseum about the correct way to communicate with a child who has PTSD and RAD. We met. We talked. They....messed up.

They withheld food from her on Aug. 31st. The second week of school. When they suspended her for her PTSD response to this inappropriate teacher choice- they let me see other documentation of "princess's" issues. In each instance the teacher had documented that she had yelled "NO NO NO NO" at my child. Wtf?

Last week my child came home saying the teacher threatened to set her on fire. The teacher had told her "you're fired!"

Now. I get that I am different. Weird even. I am a montessori teacher, and use positive discipline in my class- long before I was a therapeutic parenting.

But really? Shaming and yelling? Denial of food to a hungry child?

When I pointed out that this was inappropriate- they said they couldn't "shield her from the world". What? You mean you actually speak to other adults like that?

A teacher told a second grader in the first week in the hall "WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU!?!? SIT SIT SIT!"
Bet she is going to have a great second grade year.

A kindergarten class was walking down the hall- a little girl near the end of the line lost her shoe. She called out to the teacher. The teacher responded "KEEP WALKING! YOU SHOULD HAVE TIED IT WHEN I TOLD YOU TO!". Welcome to school kiddo. She walked on- one shoe on- in tears.

This school produces test results. And that's about all they are focused on. Completely inappropriate.

I struggled with regret- after all I choose this school. And if it were it not for funding- I would not have chosen public school voluntarily. I know what I am- a home school mom. But I am also a single mom. And I work. So she must got to school. And generally she likes school.

So after searching and reaching out beyond my initial search, talking to my adoption support group moms etc- I have decided to use Baby's old Emotional Disturbance label from foster care to get her a transfer to a small charter school I never even knew existed. The class she will start in will have 5 kids and 2 teachers. She has a goal of mainstreaming. But first she has to have these good people undo all the damage done in the last month by the first school.

So know I am learning the language of IEP etc.

Baby is crazy happy about the change. She will be in the same class as another girl from our adoption support group. That's keeping her on cloud 9....for now.
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Sunday, September 4, 2011

Boredom Buster Ideas from a 10 year old

I have recently quit my traditional, outside the home job to pursue freelance writing full time.  My amazing daughter asked for a writing assignment of her own.  I assigned "things for kids to do when they are bored".  Here's what she came up with. 

Things to do when you are bored?
by LDM, age 10

1. Color

2. Play game(s)

3. Write

4. Ride a bike

5. Read

6. Watch a movie

7. Jump rope

8. hula hoop

9. Look for rocks

10. Ask to go to the library

11. Make a list

12. Make something

13. Watch TV

14. Play with a friend

15. call somebody

16. Play spy

17. Jump

18. Play dress up

19. dance

20. sing

21. Draw

22. take a nap

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Preparing Kids for Emergencies (such as Hurricane Irene)

Are you in the path of Hurricane Irene or other possible emergency?  Talk to your kids about what to expect.  Do it as soon as you know there is a strong possibility of something unusual happening.  Don't wait for them to hear about it on TV or school.  Make sure you get to them first so you can control the way the information is presented.

We are on the east coast and have already had our brush with Hurricane Irene this week.  It looked like it was heading right for us for a couple days, but has ended up heading north.  We did have two days of heavy wind and rain, though.  I talked to Princess about it early in the week.  They don't do hurricane coverage on the Disney channel, so she wouldn't have come across it on TV, but I didn't want her to overhear something at school and get in a panic.  I told her that there was a hurricane out in the ocean and we'd probably getting some wind and rain, but it was too early to tell how much yet.  I told her that no matter what, Dad and I would make sure she was safe.

Luckily, I was able to tell her the next day that it looked like the hurricane was going to "stay in the ocean and drive right by us".  I told her there would be rain, wind and maybe even thunder and lightening, but she'd be safe.  She verified with me that she'd be safe from the hurricane that day as I dropped her off at school each morning last week.  She wanted to be sure that I'd come and get her if things changed.  She said her classmate said her house is closer to the ocean than ours and so she is in big danger.  I assured her that her friend was going to be just fine; we were all going to be just fine.

So if you are hunkering down for Hurricane Irene, talk to your kids about it.  Explain to them what a hurricane is.  Show them a map of the path she's taking.  Let them help you gather up supplies and make preparations.  Tell them what to expect (lots of rain, loud wind, thunder, lightening, banging of branches against the house, things flying around outside).  Tell them what might happen after the storm (possibly  no electricity, standing water in the streets, trees blocking the roads). 

Most of all, tell them that you are going to be right with them and that you are going to keep them safe.

As GI Joe used to say during Saturday morning cartoons in the 80's, "Knowing is half the battle."  Telling your children what to expect, how you are preparing for it and the ways you will keep them safe will go a long way in easing anxiety.  Hopefully it will help you avoid being trapped inside with a kid in meltdown mode!

(from Last Mom

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Not So Therapeutic Moment

So you're reading this blog..
And seeing that we cuddle, console, reassure and even coddle our Adopted and/or our Foster Children

And thinking:
"Wow, they are perfect and wonderful people to take on these children and their issues and to handle them so delicately."

I am going to set the record straight, yes we do coddle them and console them and treat them with care.  But there are days that aren't so therapeutic... well that isn't completely accurate.  There are days when coddling and wearing kid gloves won't get through.  There are days when you just need to be blunt, direct, honest and to the point.

We have an issue with rules, following them to be exact.  Our children's birthmom didn't have rules for them, they stayed up all night, ate junk food (if they ate) and did what they pleased.  "C"indy will regularly remind us "Well our birthmom would let us do it.  We didn't have rules with her.  I want to live with her."  This has been going on over week, mostly due to some recent events and we have discussed it therapeutically about why she can't live with her BirthMom.  So last night when it was dinner and "C"indy decided she didn't want to eat what we were having (which then incites a riot with the other two children.. because "C"indy is the oldest).  She pulled the BirthMom card again.  (mind you this converstation is not verbatim, but the context is still there)

My response, "Do you say that because you think it hurts our feelings? Because it doesn't.  So you still need to eat your dinner." 

"C"indy... a flow of tears ensued.

Me, (more calmly) "Why can't you live with your BirthMom?"

"C"indy, "because we need to be safe and have rules"

Me, "That's right, what happens when you don't follow the rules as an adult?"

"C"indy, "you get in jail"

Me, "And is that something you want?"

"C"indy, "No" (tears have subsided)

Me, "You know we all have rules, even adults.  I can't wear flip flops to work and Daddy can't wear jeans to his work.  You think that's silly don't you?"

"C"indy, "Yah"

Me, "But it isn't, its a rule that we have to follow.  So you have to eat your dinner because its heathly, and you need to be healthy and safe."

"C"indy, "Fine"

So there are times, when all the coddling and consoling won't have the same results and we just need to be honest, straightforward and a little bit blunt.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Transitional weekend

Soothe and ease. Soothe and ease. That's how we prep for transitions.

When an attachment challenged child must attend school, there is a new set of challenges presented to the family.

As a single parent, who is also a teacher- I haven't found a secure way to make working from home work- YET- but I do advocate homeschooling and wish it were an option for us.
My hope is that perhaps as she gets older we may have more varied options. Esp. at the entry of middle school.

But right now the best option for our family is public school. And so- high ho, high ho- its off the school we go.

The weekend has been a massive prep and womb of security.

Here's a peek:
- she met the teacher on Friday (so far it seems like a great match!)
-purchased perfume for us to wear each day so she can "smell" me
- painted nails
- watched "Chrissa" an america n girl movie about a new girl who deals with bullies
- she hand wrote out her morning routine and evening routine and hung it for reference.
- she hand wrote out her chores for reference
- her room was cleaned by the two of us
- all uniforms and supplies have been prepped for several days now.
- packed her lunch
- got up at regular wake up time (about 30 minutes earlier than summer schedule)
-peace music through house during cleaning and relaxing
- she's playing outside in the yard- looking at grass and collecting rocks :) brain building "wondrous curious" time
- I am fixing her favorite dinner and prepping her favorite breakfast
- we will be having bath and a big snuggle after dinner

- I am drinking a pouch of strawberry daiquiri.

Here's to us trauma moms- creating therapeutic environments, one drink at a time!
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Monday, August 15, 2011


My sweet angel heads to the third grade in the fall.

She is headed to public school for the first time since adoption.

When she was in foster care she lived in a very rural area. She was over medicated, and under stimulated. She was placed in a life skills class and diagnosed as moderately mentally retarded. This was seriously a disservice to her. My greatest fear is that this will happen to her again. That the school will fail her because she doesn't fit the desired "mold".

The state of Texas is facing unprecedented cuts in education funding. Classroom size can reasonably up to 30 kids per class.
Its a scary time be entering the public education arena. Alas, private schooling is no longer financially feasible. Its near impossible to be a teacher and home school as a single parent. So it is the choice we make. It also provides the opportunity to regroup financially so that when she enters middle school in three years, we will have more varied options again.

So as we take on this journey part of my responsibility is to prepare her, and part is to prepare the school.
Its a delicate thing. I neither want to overwhelm them and make them shut down NOR want to leave them unprepared for when she breaks down.

So I have taken a cue from fellow blogger Diana at

She made a school presentation template to introduce the world of trauma to unsuspecting school officials in a way that inspired compassion, clarity AND confidence.

She will sell it to you, or you can be inspired by her plan to create your own.

I have been working on my book and how I want to present it. Because this is our first foray into the public school system, I don't have a strong foundational relationship with the school. The principal and I have exchanged emails over the summer and he very kindly called me shortly after my first email and we talked for about an hour.

Here's my general outline:
1. Intro- meet us, pre-adoptive history

2. PTSD- triggers, and management

3. RAD- anxiety and control issues, avoiding power struggles

4.Academic issues- spatial reasoning and math deductive reasoning concerns

5. Summary- growth and support

A lot of information. But vital information for both the teacher and my girl to feel successful.

The teacher MUST be compassionate, yet consistently strong and safe.

My sweet girl MUST learn to express fear and frustration through words instead of aggression.


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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Creating Calm

There are images of Fall I've always seen on TV: children headed back to school, kicking leaves, and wearing long sleeves.

As a lifelong Texan, I have NEVER gone back to school like that. Here in the heat and humidity, our leaves won't turn until late October or even November.

However, return to the school year we must. I met my daughter on a friday night, and monday was the first day of school. That was almost two years ago. The first year home, she attended the small private Montessori school at which I am a teacher. The second year she attended a therapeutic private school where she learned to be trust that I would return to get her each day. This year she will attend a public school in our neighborhood.

I assure you there will be more posts about that to come.

Part of her success will be determined by her love sandwich. Each day I can assure that she gets to school feeling loved and honored and that she returns home to a safe nurturing home.

Here's what that looks like for us:
6:00- mom gets up/dress/etc
(Soft music begins playing through the house)
6:15- Sweet Angel gets up/dressed
6:30- breakfast/medication
6:50- teeth/hair care
7:10- Ten minutes of strong sitting together as a family
7:20- family words of affirmation
7:25- leave for school
7:50- school starts
4:20- pick up sweet angel
4:30- 30 minutes of silent reading (soft music playing, aroma therapy candle lit)
5:00-dinner (I usually pack lunch while making dinner)
5:30- homework/ educational/ therapeutic games
6:30- back pack check
6:45- bath/teeth
7:30- tuck in to bed/ tomorrows clothes set out (uniforms!)

On nights when this schedule is disrupted, I expect her to be upset. At least twice a month she will have therapy that will interrupt. She will be getting back to EDMR soon, so hopefully the benefit will outweigh the cost of the disruption.

This schedule is similar to our routine in previous years and is only slightly more structured than our current routine.

Having a peaceful home is a vital part of her internal sense of calm. She has less ability to self regulate than most 9 year olds (ok less than most 6 year olds) and she relies heavily on external supports.

I hope each of you is also feeling a sense of calm as the routines of fall return to your home.

Yay for the return to school! Yay for the return to routine! Yay for learning!

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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Notes to a pre-adoptive parent

Success for traumatized children is a hard thing to achieve.

Especially if you believe what you read in your child's files.

As I have mentioned before my dd had many misdiagnosed conditions before she came home. I don't mean to say disregard those all together. The opposite in fact. If your child was dx'd with bipolar at 4. At 4, she was probably exhibiting signs of bipolar.
Every diagnosis means something about the child's life at that time.

Can we properly diagnose children who are mentally ill while in foster care? Here are some thoughts on the challenges:

1. Symptoms of multiple issues overlap. Symptoms like: tantrums, inability to self regulate, manic episodes, sad, etc.

2. Our children have experienced the worst treatment anyone can imagine- they are traumatized. This makes it so hard to get a clear picture on what's happening.

3. Have you ever met a woman (or man!) Who spent the last 10 yrs in an abusive relationship? Assume that person had some sort of love as a child. You could still imagine it being years before they were ready for their next marriage right? Our kids don't have the basis of love at all. No matter how great the foster parent seems, or if they were in the "best" orphanages. Why do we expect them to understand family, love, respect etc in the first year? Some may come to understand, some may take 10 yrs, some may never trust again.

3. Foster children are in a constant state of flux. Permanence matters. Even those in long term placements can sense the possibility of being moved at a whim. Can you imagine living like that? As if any day you could expect to see the bank man at your door ready to put you out and foreclose on you? Constant state of fear.

4. We know that abuse and neglect can change the brain. This is why so many families find success with neuroreoganization, and edmr. Literally retraining the brain to function can work for some children.
Its hard to know what parts of your child's brain have been effected.

5. Over medication runs rampant in foster care. Who is your child under all the medication can be hard to find.

So let's assume- the file is a reflection of your child's life before you. The brown box does not define her, but gives massive insight to her challenges. There very well be a diagnosis in there that is right. My dd's file said RAD. And we are positive that is correct. So maybe somewhere your childs file is too. Or maybe not.

No matter what- when you adopt, you are bringing home a child with the potential for issues related to adoption and trauma.

These are some things I believe every pre-adoptive family should know (and you probably won't learn in training):

Therapeutic parenting begins before your child comes home. And every child deserves the benefit of therapeutic parenting. EVERY ONE.

My 2 favorite books:
Positive Discipline by Jane Nelson
The Connected Child by Karen Purvis

I also liked many others, but in terms of "how-to" therapeutic parent- those were the most two vital.

Find a parent mentor who has been where you are. A margarita girlfriend. My dd and my mentor friends daughter squabble like sisters. All the better. We let them swim too long, play video games too long, and stay up too late: while we commiserate and remind ourselves that we are not alone! We are both single moms. We both have daughters. Our dds are very are similar. Its a vital relationship.

Prepare for the worst. Hope for the best.

Less is more. You don't have to entertain or impress your new child. You are more than enough to process. Have fun, enjoy, but don't over do.

As you begin, so shall you continue. Don't start as a push over, set boundaries and expectations from the beginning. With compassion and care, but firmness and authority.

Therapists that have worked with attachment issues should be lined up. See them the first week.

Pediatrician, dentist, etc. Should all been known before you bring your child home.

A maid for the first 6 months to a year is awesome.

No matter how old your child is- its still "new parent" mode. Less sleep, more worry and "new mom brain" (you will remember nothing! Unless it is about your child)

If you have "baggage" or "hard places" in your past- get yourself help before your child comes home. Parenting triggers stuff and drags up old hurts- parenting traumatized kids is WORSE.

Turn off the TV, computer, and other electronics. These can detract from your relationship with your child. While a fun movie night can be a great bonding time- daily noise and distraction can draw on precious bonding time and brain functioning.

Play play play. Your child has missed pieces of their childhood. PLAY can help heal. You may have to teach them how to play.

Assume no knowledge. There is no assurance that your child will know what you would expect a child their age to know. At 7, though she'd been in a "christian" foster home- my dd knew no information about christmas. Not a carol. Not who jesus was. No who santa was. Not what a stocking was. And I have photos of her by a tree every year she was in care. She was taking in nothing- she was being exposed to minimums- and was too busy surviving to internalize meaning.
Set your child up for success. Making small successes helps them build the confidence to make big success!

Practice positive talk. It takes a long time to switch from thinking in the negative to thinking in the positive. Its ingrained. Every year with my class I have an experience of discussing class rules. Every year my 3, 4, and 5 year olds start "no running. No hitting. No kicking." To children from the hard places- "no" can be a huge trigger. Instead tell them what they CAN do. "Walk. Keep your hands and feet to yourself." Help your child see the positive in every interaction with positive talk.

Its ok to mess up. Its ok to screw up. Its ok to blow it. You are teaching valuable lessons when you can say to your child "remember yesterday when I asked if you needed a spanking? Yeah. I didn't feel good about that. I felt upset that you were kicking the wall, and didn't do my best at responding." You can teach your child how to repair mistakes. You can teach them how to grow as a person. You can lead by example.

(Warning-this one isn't going to be popular) please consider carefully before you bring home more than 2 traumatized children. I believe siblings should be kept together whenever possible. But ONE traumatized kid is equal to 5 neuro-typical kids. 2 is 10 kids. A stay at home parent is optimal. Though I am not one of the people who can do it- it would be best if I could. Parenting a traumatized child will affect your other children, your marriage and your pocketbook. It takes a special person to parent trauma in multiple kids. They are out there, and do it successfully. So are those who bit off more than they could chew.

Anyone can do this. But not everyone will. This trauma mom thing isn't for the weak hearted. Its not for "savior" mentality people. Its for MOTHERS. MOTHERS who will do ANYTHING for their kid. I hope its for you. I really do. There are wonderful deserving children who need you.

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Friday, July 29, 2011

The “Feelings Toolkit”

Our daughter is ten and has been home with us since May 2010 (with the adoption finalized in Nov.).   She’s made huge progress.   In the beginning, she would only acknowledge two emotions: happy and mad.  Either everything was great and she was sweet, loving, joyful and oh, so desperate to please or she was ANGRY.   She would scream for an hour at a time.    She couldn’t give any reason for her big feelings other than “You made me mad!”  She didn’t want to talk about her feelings or her past.   She tantrummed at the slightest correction or gentlest “no”.

I have a background in early childhood education and have worked with at risk preschoolers for years.  After several months, it finally occurred to me to try some of what I use with these children at home with my daughter.  Though my daughter came to us at 9, she was often stuck at the toddler or preschool level emotionally.  I teach preschool teachers to use Dr. Becky Bailey’s Conscious Discipline methods in classrooms.  I made copies of some of those materials and brought them home for my daughter. 

I stuck a feelings chart in a clear sleeve and put some relaxation exercises together in a little booklet.

I taught her “the balloon” when she was calm.  This is a breathing exercise where you put your arms over your head and take a deep breath in while inflating your arms like a balloon.  Then you blow the air out (quickly and loudly at our house!) to deflate your balloon.

I started telling her, “You are safe.  You are loved.  You can handle this.” I repeated this mantra as she screamed and cried.  As I started to recognize the signs of a meltdown, I would say it softly and have her repeat me.  I would remind her to do a balloon if I saw her getting agitated.

I realized that she didn’t understand other feelings.   She was trying so hard to put on a happy front and when that failed, “mad” was her default.   It’s all she knew.   I explained to her that mad is a big and loud feeling, so it’s easy for other feelings to hide behind.   I started talking about other feelings and asking if they might be hiding behind her mad.

I made her a “Feelings Toolkit”.  I gathered up lots of items we had around the house, picked up a few cheap things from the store and taped some handwritten labels on a couple things.  I put it all in a plastic storage box and wrote, “(Her Name)’s Feelings Toolkit” on it.  We talked about each item in the box, so she had some ideas of how to use it to help her.  I tried to include items that she would want to use for a variety of emotional age levels and that would appeal to all her senses.

Items for relaxation and connection:
  • An album filled with photos of her with us and some of her biological siblings to remember happier times and that she is not alone
  • The booklet of breathing exercises, including The Balloon
  • A printed reminder of “You are safe, loved and can handle this”
  • Instructions for how to be a S.T.A.R.  (Stop, take a deep breath and relax)
  • An eraser to “erase” feelings she wants to get rid of
  • A book of little notes and a pen to write to people she’s thinking of
  • Texas and Florida quarters to represent where she came from and where she is now
  • A token from a go-kart place she loves going to with her Dad
  • A broken cell phone to pretend to call someone to talk
  • Calming Cream Lotion (just regular face cream that I stuck a label on)
Sensory Items of Different Textures for Soothing and Distraction:
  • A baby blanket square
  • Little stuffed dog
  • A variety of handheld puzzles /games
  • A mini kaleidoscope
  • Some squishy balls
  • Silly putty
  • A brush  (to use on her skin or hair) with a mirror attached
  • A little rubber duckie
  • A very scented Strawberry Shortcake figure
  • A charm that flashes
  • A little “I spy” pouch with a clear cover and filled with tiny items hidden in white beads to find.  (Sort of like this)
Items for Feelings Work:
  • The feelings chart
  • American Girl “The Feelings Book:  The Care and Keeping of Your Emotions”
  • A notebook and pens for journaling
  • A book called “Twenty-two Feelings from Nice to Nasty”
  • A book of questions
  • A little box that I stuck a label on that says, “Safe Box:  For Keeping Feelings You Aren’t Ready to Share Yet”.
  • An envelope with slips of paper inside that say, “Today I feel…”
My husband will tell you that the feelings box was an epic fail because she only brought it out a handful of times.  We continued talking about how to recognize the different feelings that hide behind mad and ways to calm down when upset.   Slowly, she started opening up about what was really bothering her more and more.  Fear hides behind her mad a lot.  So does sadness, loss and grief.  Shame loves hiding behind her mad.

I still tell her she’s safe, loved, and can handle this; whatever “this” is at the moment.  I’ve heard her telling it to her stuffed animals and our pets.  She taught her best friend to do the balloon.

She had a big melt down in May.  It was a doozy that went on and on in waves of screaming, crying, disrespect and defiance.   Lots of big feelings hiding behind a giant wall of mad.   She packed her laundry hamper full of stuff and said she was running away.   She sat in the driveway of the vacant house next door.
She finally calmed down and we got to the bottom of what triggered it and the real feelings attached. 

, I was amazed at what I found in there.  Her weighted blanket (“feel our love holding you and keeping you safe”), a photo album (to remember happier times), lavender body lotion (to relax and soothe) and a notebook and pen (for writing down thoughts and feelings).

Her words and actions certainly weren’t saying it, but she was trying to calm herself down.  She didn’t want to be in that state.  She remembered her tools on her own and just needed time to put them to use.

She didn’t write anything in the notebook that day, but as I took photos of the items in the toolkit for this post, I found something she wrote on one of the “Today I feel…” slips of paper.  It was dated September 26 (five months after coming home) and said, “Happy, safe, cared for, loved”.

She has had a great summer with few meltdowns.  When she does lose her "calm brain", she's able become regulated again pretty quickly - and often on her own!  She still doesn’t always choose to use her tools or acknowledge her real feelings right away.  She can almost always talk about it after a meltdown now, though.  She told me that she’s proud of me because I help her talk about her feelings.    We still have a lot of healing ahead of us, but she’s made such huge progress.  We have so much hope for her future.  And we’re so very proud she’s our daughter! 

I think having the Feelings Toolkit has really helped her wrap her head around the concepts of feelings and what to do about them.  Even though she rarely brings it out, she's told me how much she likes knowing it's available.

Read more about our older child adoption journey at

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


My baby is screaming fear this week. Her camp is the same she attended last year. She was a student at the school where the camp is held from the day she came home. Sadly the elementary level program is closing at the end of summer. So friends she has had since the first week she came home have been exiting at various times over the summer. This week came the ultimate loss. Her teacher- the one person with whom she has a trust relationship with at the school- is leaving.

When she was teased in a kid- appropriate (but mean) way- she LOST it. Old school RAD style. Spiting, kicking, cussing, yelling, etc. She hasn't had a fit on that level in about 6 months. But sadly the continual sense of loss this summer was just too overwhelming. Her own words once calm: "how can she leave? I am so scared for her! What will become of her?"

She is not welcome back at camp.

Fortunately, I have a lot of community support. So she will just stay with me for the last three weeks of the summer.

(I sobbed over her little sleeping body last night. And she is expressing her self most vehemently with pee.)

She feels so much safer with me, her aunt and my mentor whom we all call "mom". But of course for those who don't understand PTSD and RAD....the fear is "isn't she being rewarded for her bad behavior?"

Well, no.

She is being provided an opportunity to be in a safe place. She feels safe- she is successful. Its pretty simple.

If anything she has a new challenge. All day with people who love her? Terrifying. All day with people who have the same expectations? No one who is perceived as the weak link? Wholly control battles!

3 adults who can both playfully engage and draw the line? For her this is going to be a new challenge!

For me its a chance to spend a few weeks of close quarters with my girl before we head to our next big challenge......

Public school.

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Define "Heal"

I have been doing a lot of thinking this week about expectations.
What expectations did I have of my daughter before parenting her?
What expectations do I have now?
How do those expectations color my experience as her parent?

In the trauma world we often use variations of the word "heal" as an indicator of our childrens progress/status/place at a given point in time.

"She is healing."
"He is healed."
"He can not heal."
"She does not want to heal."
"I need personal healing."
"We are healing."
"My kids are healed."

Healing is a funny word. If you scrape you knee- it heals. If you have a traumatic brain injury- you can heal-partially, fully, not at all. If you are mentally ill- healing may be fleeting.

My dd was presented to me as a child with severe cognitive deficits (file read moderate mental retardation) and autism. She was also dx'd with RAD, PTSD, and ODD. Abc's had been picked up and dropped repeatedly for her in her early years.

So when, regardless of that information, assured them that YES I wanted to adopt her- I expected......a girl whose biggest challenges would be self care. Life long in home care. Making provisions for my adult child after my death so there would not be gaps in her constant care.

Then I met her. I am not a diagnostitian. I am a teacher. Its my job to make observations- not judgments, decisions, or diagnosis. BUT I had taught children who had MR and Autism before. And this just wasn't that. Gut. Instinct.

By the time I'd gotten 3 months in I'd decided that these diagnosis were wrong. My team of support (dr, teacher, therapist etc) agreed.

Its the RAD. Its been so debilitating for her for seven years (at that point) that she was consumed with life or death fear 24/7. She couldn't focus on potty training because she couldn't release control. She couldn't learn anything because she couldn't release control.

Ask me how she's doing...."She's healing."

But make no mistake. I by no means ever expect my child to respond to the world the way her neuro typical peers do. "Healed" isn't really going to be some happy "normal" paradise where its just like 7 years of neglect plus 3 years of starvation and abuse never happened.

Progress as defined as movement toward a goal is not what I see here. Because my "goal" for her is as big as a football field. She lands anywhere in it, and that would be awesome. Even if she lands in the concession stand waiting line or in the loo! She will have made it to the stadium!!!

I knew when I adopted that she would most likely be involved with the criminal justice system at some point. While it hasn't happened yet- she's nine- give it time. Impulse control is not a strength. I just keep my parking tickets paid up so when they come looking for her- they don't take me in too. ;) pessimistic? No. Realistic.

Let's hope she blows me out of the water on that one and I get to eat those words one day.

In the mean time, it would appear that my expectation of what life would be like with her is dramatically different than reality. It is hard. ITS RAD. But its not a lifetime in diapers. Its not setting up trust funds for her care. Its not watching a terminally ill child die.

Its vigilant 24/7 emotional engagement. Its knowing that she may either never leave home because of her anxiety, may leave "late", or may run out the door never to return. Its knowing that my behavior is just as important as hers. Its knowing that my expectations are probably stupid. Its planning for the absolute freaking worst, and hoping for the best.

Its pure acceptance. Its staying committed.

Even if being committed to her means the best thing is re-homing or rtc or psych ward. Those take commitment to doing the right thing for your kid too.

Its maintaining the hope that a shard, shred, or sliver of the love I've shared has reached her.

Cause it may...or may not.

But as long as I draw breath, I will hope. I will hope that she can "heal". Whatever the hell that means at that day/moment/second.

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Riding in the shopping cart

To piggy back on Colleen's post about parenting our children the way they need to be parented despite what others think...

Our daughter is ten and a half and will soon be entering 5th grade.   Her healing, growth and attachment have come a long way in the 15 months she's been home.  Her emotional age matches her chronological age most of the time now.  

It wasn't that long ago that her emotional age was stuck in the toddler phase.  Lots of arguing, defiance, pushing boundaries and tantrums.  Big tantrums.  Screaming, kicking, dropping to the floor tantrums.

I try to parent to her emotional age.   Sometimes that's tricky.   Picking up a three year old who keeps running wild in the aisles and carrying her out of the store is pretty easy to do.  Picking up your ten year old who is acting like a three year old and removing her from the store is a whole different story! 

I started having her climb in the cart as soon as we entered a store -  or even before if a cart was available in the parking lot.   Yes, we get strange looks and comments from strangers about her being too big.  I smile and pretend I didn't hear a word they said.  I remind her that Mom & Dad make decisions for what is best for her and it doesn't matter what other people think.

Riding in the cart eases a lot of the temptations and makes controlling her impulses much easier.  It makes her feel safe. 

Even now that she's in a pretty good place emotionally, she still likes sitting in the cart. 

And I still let her. 

Even though she's 10 and a half and about to start 5th grade.

Even though she weighs over 100 pounds.

Even though she is so scrunched up these days that she can't possibly comfortable.

Even though people stare at us or make comments.

Even though I have to lift her out so the cart doesn't tip over and she's really heavy!

Even though my husband hates it because he's terrified a classmate will see her and make fun of her.

I don't think she got to experience much riding in the cart when she was little.   I think she enjoys getting that experience now.  It makes her feel safe and cared for.  It helps her feel that I'm the mom, she's the child and I'm providing for her needs.   She feels protected and can relax because she doesn't have to work so hard at trying to make good decisions.

She won't want to ride in the cart forever, but this is an easy thing for me to give her while she needs it. 

Visit me at for more of our story.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"Therapeutic" parenting

How do you get other (spouses, family members, friends, teachers etc) to understand how you are parenting and how do you get them on board?

I personally have 2 distinct advantages in this field. The first is single parenting-- no undermining, no convincing, no triangulating. The second is being a Montessori teacher- certified in early childhood and well respected in my field- people generally assume I have a clue. (Haha to them!)

That hasn't stopped well meaning extended family members, random supermarket people, or others from commenting on certain aspects of my parenting.

For example: about 6 months ago I was shopping at a grocery store we affectionately call "Whole Check" because they sell predominantly health centered foods- it gets pricey. I made the mistake of going on wednesday at about 5. Me and every one else in big city. My daughter was getting hungry, crowded and needed more attention than I was able to focus soley on her. So I made a comforting action- I picked her up and put her on my hip. She was 8 almost 9. After about 5 min I noticed an older lady "stalking" us. My dd has a quick smile (aka charming) and is very polite (aka CHARMING) and so I am used to people noticing her. It didn't cross my mind again until we were at the check out counter. The woman approached us and said loudly "BABY! BABY! BABY! Put that girl down! You are spoiling her like a big baby! " I was flustered for 2 seconds before I taught my daughter a new word when I said "you need to BACK THE FU*K UP!" Suddenly the security, manager, and everyone else was there and the security escorted her from the store. The staff was lovely about it. My sweet girl did well and beamed with pride that I had protected her from "the mean lady". The manager fell all over himself trying to make sure I was a happy camper.

This lady couldn't silence her need to tell me that carrying my 8 year old was spoiling. The more I thought about it- the more I realized as an older child parent, I'd missed out in years of such advice reminding me to make my infant wear socks, or not suck her thumb, or not breastfeed past 3 months or whatever.

But those who know your family is new probably want to give you advice too. Such as my well meaning aunt who announced that by making my daughter follow rules to the letter with out variation I was hurting my child's feelings. This is the aunt I will be calling so I can take myself on a mommy vacation to Orlando in 2013. You keep her for a week and tell me what happens when the rules and expectations get lax.

I could explain trauma and RAD to people until I am blue in the face. Guess what? No one wants to believe that a child has been treated so badly- they are so wounded emotionally- that they require specialized parenting. They want to believe my love is all she needs to be "a normal little girl". And love is a HUGE part of it- the root of it- the core of it- EVERYTHING I DO IS OUT OF LOVE. But I can't sit around and wait hoping love seeps into her, I have to guide it. That's where the therapeutic part comes in.

So what do I say to all these well meaning, caring souls? "I am practicing attachment parenting."

Oh. Well that makes sense to them. They get that "attachment" should happen in adoption. And they have heard of that attachment parenting stuff before. Some of them breast fed, or co slept or had a baby sling.

And for those t that need more specific information, I can turn to trusty old Dr. Sears. They've heard of him too. And by jove, they had that book of his when their baby was little.
These principles are taken from Dr. Sears - The Baby Book, and are what he calls the 7 Baby B's of Attachment Parenting.

1. Birth Bonding - Connect With Your Baby Early

"The way baby and parents get started with one another often sets the tone of how this early attachment unfolds."

So she may not be a baby- but we are bonding like crazy. We are always doing some "bonding". Rather than explain why time in works "we're bonding" why we can't go on a 2 day cruise with 15 families from church "we're bonding". We are always bonding.

2. Belief in Your Baby's Cries - Read & Respond to Your Baby's Cues

"Pick up your baby when he cries. As simple as this sounds, there are many parents who have been told to let their babies cry it out, for the reason that they must not reward "bad" behavior. But newborns don't misbehave; they communicate the only way nature allows them to."

Traumatized kids don't misbehave either. My daughter uses her behavior as cries- attention, structure, freedom, hungry, tired, scared. My job is to get in tune with her cries, and respond appropriately.

3.Breastfeed Your Baby

"The benefits of breastfeeding in enhancing baby's health and development are enormous, but what is not fully appreciated are the magnificent effects of breastfeeding on the mother."

If your adopted child is young enough- I advocate adoptive breastfeeding. Mine was 7. We went with bottles and pacis and caramels while rocking rocking rocking her daily. I have to feed the "baby" that is still scared and feels worthless and alone, so my big girl can come out to shine.

4.Babywearing - Carry Your Baby a Lot

"It's good for the baby, and it makes life easier for the mother"

Clearly I am rocking this one! But physical closeness comes in many forms! It can be rocking, piggy back rides, swimming, snuggling, even a bit of the rough housing! TOUCH YOUR CHILD EVERY DAY.

5.Bedding Close to Baby

"Most babies the world over sleep with their parents. Even in our own culture more and more parents enjoy this sleeping arrangement - they just don't tell their friends or relatives about it."

This one can be trickier because of some childrens histories. My dd has co-slept and now often sleeps on a sleeping bag on my floor. I have slept many a night in her room (she has two twin beds) too. Guess what? Co-sleepers don't go to college still wanting to sleep with mama. This could be a nap time thing even. Or as simple as letting her sleep in your old tee shirts, or with your childhood bear. The point is- physical closeness and comfort.

6.Balance & Boundaries

".how to be appropriately responsive to your baby, which means knowing when to say yes and when to say no, and also have the wisdom to say yes to your own needs. When mom and dad are doing well, baby will also do well."

Did you hear that? Dr. Sears said TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF TOO.

7.Beware of Baby Trainers

"Be prepared to be the target of well-meaning advisers who will shower you with detachment advice, such as: Let her cry it out, Get her on a schedule, You shouldn't still be nursing her, and Don't pick her up so much, you're spoiling her. If carried to the extreme, baby training is a lose-lose situation"

Learn to say "I am attachment parenting." And "our therapist advises we do it this way." And "back off."
And prepare to create distance between yourself and those who seek to create self doubt, or undermine you.

Every single child is different. Your attachment/therapeutic parenting may not look like mine. That's ok. When we are operating under the same basic guidelines- its good stuff!

People don't have to "get it". "It" hurts. "It" sucks. But we can help them respect it, by setting boundaries and explaining in ways that they do get.

And other times you just have to tell people to "BACK THE FU*K UP!" :)
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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Back story

I realize I may not have properly introduced myself. :)

I am a single mama by choice. I started the adoption process at 25 and adopted at 26. I am now 28. I am a (certified AMS) Montessori teacher in a 3-6 classroom. I have been teaching for 10 years and working in schools for over 15 years. I studied sociology at 2 universities. One of the schools I went to was a historically black college associated with the AME church. I am a Unitarian with Buddhist and Naturalist leanings. My family is predominantly Irish with a healthy dose of Creole and Cherokee. I prefer cats. I am an avid antique and shabby chic decorator. I like to be creative. I grew up in the a city about the 20th in size and now live one of the top 5 largest cities in the nation.

I graduated in the year 2001. A year later my daughter would be born, unbeknownst to me.

My dd's first few years were horrific. Then she entered foster care. That wasn't much better. I won't delve into her private details too much here, but as you know these early experiences of abandonment, loss, and mistreatment have led to RAD, and a host of other alphabets strung behind her name. She was languishing in a long term placement that was more than happy to increase her med doses to sedate her.

I started the adoption process October 14th 2008 at my local CPS office. I was licensed the following June (I moved to a larger home in mid-process). I was forwarded a email bulletin that included my dd before I was licensed and received a polite- get back to us when you are legally open. After I was open I applied for over 100 little girls, including the daughter of one of my fellow bloggers! Most I got no response. I sent out a simple tri fold booklet about myself to every cps office in TX. I was in the top 3 several times. I worked my adoption like a full time job. Once I saw my dd again on TARE, I called her caseworker up and began a relationship with her by claiming my baby. My best friend came from MAYLASIA to be with me the week of the selection. When I was selected......I was over the moon. CPS had never assigned me a caseworker so my PRIDE trainer kindly went above and beyond by representing my interest.

I was chosen in mid august. I drove the several hours away to her hometown for a extended "visit" over friday- sunday. On sunday I was to bring her back home. On the way to small town I was called by the caseworker. She informed me that the foster parent wanted baby girl gone that evening. That she did not want a dinner, return, play day-slumber party- return and go. She just wanted her picked up today. The foster parent did not want baby to leave, she did everything she could to doom and gloom me out of adopting baby. This was her final attempt to scare me off. I don't scare easy.

I said "fine." I was waiting for baby when she got off the school bus. Bless her she had to move to a new school because her school district started school a week before mine. Despite the numerous transitions in her life they by law had to send her to that week of school even though that meant new building, new teacher, new kids etc- for the week before she moved across state.

When I arrived I was given baby's numerous belongings. She had been in the same home for 4 yrs. I was given more warning about her perceived issues.

When she walked through the door, the worker placed her hand on my back as I teared up and sighed. I would have said I loved and claimed her before I ever met her, and so seeing her face was.....striking. It was the force of the love that struck me so hard, I was blown away. And it was a little awkward at first, but we fell into step nicely and she said goodbye to everything she had conscious memory of and left with me 20 minutes after meeting me.

We stayed in the hotel that friday night, went to dinner at chilis (she later told me this was were a former perspective placement that failed brought her) and when we couldn't settle went for ice cream.

The next morning we had cracker barrel and were off to big city. She started a slow transition into school that monday. And here we have been ever since.

Working the therapeutic vibes since August 28, 2009.

Baby has always had an inordinate fear of caseworkers. Though she was never moved herself, she lived through an array of foster sisters coming and going. We worked with the judge and her caseworker to waive the 6 month waiting period and finalized in court at 7 weeks. In October 2009 just a few days over a year since I began the process, baby was legally mine forever.

And that is my side of our back story. The full story is more sordid, and traumatizing than you can imagine. Well maybe not you. If you are reading this---your kids probably have similar stories. The kind that other people like to pretend don't happen in our country. In our neighborhoods. In our families. But that story is not mine to tell. Perhaps one day she'll tell it herself. She volunteers it at random times to random people. Or so it seems to me. Except the last person she told broke down in tears and told us how he was fighting to get his drug addicted sisters kids out of foster care, and how much he needed to hear that good things could happen. Maybe she knows something I don't. :)
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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Another test. Tried the post from text thing. Sounded great....except I was limited to 160 characters! Now I am trying posting via email.....will it work?
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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Telling Others Your "Story"

This is Quackenmom blogging here.  You can visit my actual blog at

We just moved to a new state.  It's going great!  The girls (5 & 7) have almost been in our lives for a year.  In fact, it's been over a year since I learned of the girls, and July 13th is the anniversary of the first time we all met.  They've come so far in under a year... I can't wait to see what this next year brings for us.

Being in a new neighborhood, we have neighbors with kids the girl's ages.  One little girl across the street came over with her dad yesterday, and all three girls played together very well.  Half way through the visit, "Neighbor Girl" (8 y/o) came down without the girls, and she said to me, "It is really sad what their other mom did to them.  I can't believe she did those things."   I just said, "Well some parents have a hard time making good choices, now the girls have a family that makes good choices though." 

This prompted me having to inform her dad of the girls "baggage" just so he knew what the girls had told his daughter. 

Later in the evening, we went out to dinner, and on the ride home, I talked to the girls about telling people what they endured in their birth home.  I explained that it might not be something other kids should know about, and it might make other kids feel uncomfortable because they may not know how to handle hearing about their new friends being hurt by people. 

My older daughter said, "Well she asked, what was I supposed to say?"   So I told her, "From now on, how about we just say that they weren't able to make the best choices so it was safer for you to live with a new family."   She agreed that would be a better response.

It's hard to navigate.  She is their first friend outside of school.  I feel like we struck a good balance.  I don't want my girls to go through life telling their "pity me story" to everyone, because they are safe and happy now.  I don't want their "story" to be an icebreaker conversation.  I am happy that they feel comfortable divulging such sensitive topics in their lives, but around other children, I don't think it's the best idea.  If they were older, sure, but they are both so young. 

Something new everyday! 


Saturday, July 2, 2011

Testing: supposedly I am supposed to be able to blog from my crackberry via text message. This is a test. :)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Poor foster kid/orphan syndrome

Our daughter is ten and has been home with us for a little over a year.  I've been noticing her being "off" for the last couple weeks.  She's been very anxious about having enough food, rapidly shoving it in her mouth,  asking for more and more (when she can't possibly be hungry) and crying in panic if we are in the car for an extended period of time, even if I have packed her a snack.  She's never stolen in our home, but had a history of taking things that didn't belong to her when she was in foster care.   All of my husband's cash mysteriously went missing from his wallet last week.   She has wanted to spend her evenings watching television instead of spending time with her father or I and she hasn't been seeking out hugs. 

She has also been crying a lot.   A whole lot.  Multiple times a day over the tiniest things.  She's become pretty good at talking things through once she calms down, but I could tell there was something deeper going on.

I picked her up from day camp after work yesterday and could tell she was lost somewhere in trauma land.   She was sulked, whined and cried our whole drive home.   As we turned onto our street I said, "You can continue keeping whatever has been bothering you to yourself if you want.  That is okay with me, but I think you'll feel better if you tell me about it.   That will probably make it easier for us to have a fun night since you won't feel so upset.   It's your choice, though."

I thought she was going to snarl at me that was nothing wrong and then wail that I hurt her feelings by saying she isn't feeling good.

She started talking, though!

We sat in the driveway and she told me that she doesn't feel like she fits in at camp.  She said her friends talk about when they were babies or things they did with their siblings the night before and she doesn't have those memories.   She doesn't have any stories about when she was a baby and she doesn't remember living with her siblings.  A lot of the girls have convertible tights for the days that they do gymnastics and she just has leggings.  She has been really jealous of these tights and has been crying in the bathroom at camp because it is just one more thing that sets her apart. 

I did not know about these tights.  I asked her why she didn't ask me to buy her some.   She said that in foster homes, she was often told to stop asking for things.   She said more than one set of foster parents told her that she's lucky she had a place to sleep and to just be grateful for what she has.  She said it would have really hurt her feelings if I said that too, so she was afraid to ask.  

She spent five years in foster care before joining our family through adoption.   She's the only daughter I've ever had, but she had at least a dozen sets of "parents" before ending up with us.  It makes sense that she would fall back on "poor foster kid" thinking occasionally, especially in a new setting like day camp.  

I reminded her that she's not a foster kid anymore, that she's a family girl now.  Our family girl.  I told her that she doesn't have to be afraid to ask us for stuff.   We will make sure she has everything she needs.   I reminded her that there is always food for her to eat, clothes to wear and both of us there to tuck her in to bed every night.    I told her that sometimes kids ask their parents for things and the answer is "no".   It's not because they are a bad kid or aren't loved, though.   A lot of the times the answer is "yes" and that is the case with the tights.   Yes, I will buy her some convertible tights for gymnastics.   I told her that I can understand feeling jealous that the other girl's seem to have more traditional families and easier lives, but we don't know all of their history.  They may have hurts inside, too.   I thanked her for talking to me and told her I know how hard that is for her and how hard she's worked to trust me.   

Three weeks of big feelings triggered by tights. 

It is so hard for kids who have spent time in foster care or orphanages to grasp permanency.    They've heard it all before and if you're biological parents didn't keep you with them, how can you trust anyone else to do the same?   I've heard that it takes kids an average of DOUBLE the longest placement they had before you to truly believe that they can trust and depend on you for their care, safety and stability.   Our daughter was with her biological family for her first four years.  Her longest foster care placement was three years.  She came to us at age 9, so hopefully by the time she's 15 - 17 it will finally sink in that we are forever.  We aren't going anywhere.   Just in time for her to leave us for college.

Monday, June 27, 2011

me want COOKIE!

Food issues much? We do. Both of us! I was a competitive softball player and ballet dancer once. I exercised 5 days a week. I ate like two teenage boys. I stopped playing sports in college and still ate like a fool. So now at 28 -i am a "big" girl. Which I am sure you will know is a nice way of saying I am overweight. A lot. One of the factors that contributed- though certainly not solely or with any blame- is the food environment in which I was raised. My dad is an extremely picky eater- nothing green. Fried ruled and convenience was queen. Sugary drinks were a staple, water was yucky. I make better choices now- I like gourmet food. My town is a food town. Famous chefs open restaurants regularly, classic haunts in my town are regularly featured on food channels. Its not helping the battle of the bulge. Fortunately, I am not diabetic. But I know that is certainly possible in the future. Thinking long and hard about my own relationship with food and exercise- and how that affects mu relationship to my dds food/starvation issues is deep stuff. Here's the truth- I wish my mother or father had the insight to help me make health conscious decisions when I was younger. In stead my mother is a hippie/feminist who told me things like "makeup is what slutty girls wear to attract stupid men". "Beauty doesn't mean anything- dumb girls worry about being pretty". She never wears make up. She is all intellect. She gets a lot of self esteem and self worth from her cognitive pursuits. That's wonderful. As an adult I totally understand that she was working hard to buck the cinderellla princessy trends as well as her own debutante expectant upbringing. But as a child who was exposed frequently to mainstream messages via tv and radio and public school etc- what I heard was "you are ugly- but your brains make up for it.". Typing that I feel like "maybe that's true." But I do believe that I have some internal stuff about it that continues today and effected me choices as a teen and young woman greatly. With my own child I strive for a balance...both brains, fun, beauty (through health/dress up/ self care etc) are valuable. Physical confidence, cognitive confidence and social confidence are all integral pieces of the sense of self.

Point please? The point of this rambling self examining diatribe is this: my shizzznit plays into her shizzzznit. When she came to me she was on a fairly typical moltov cocktail of meds given in foster care. At 7 she was 80 lbs. Also playing into her poor health was her complete lack of food awareness- oliver would have been shocked. She could identify chicken nuggets and mac and cheese. That's it. She had eaten two free meals a day at school since she was 3... No one taught her how to eat or what she was eating. Her own fear of starvations return made her eat with wolf like speed and little care for what went in. I think she ate three cupcake wrappers before I realized she did not know how to eat a cupcake and was eating the whole thing. She often could be found sleeping by the fridge guarding the food in the early days. She eats like crazy when anxious- too much and with wild abandon. As I weaned her off the meds to try to find out who she was under all that haze...she also dropped weight. And before long was at a much much healthier weight of about 55 to 60 lbs. I see now she is naturally lean and long. Tall and elegant in stature. (Which may be a nice way of saying gangly and clumsy lol) slowly as I have known her she has begun to trust that I will feed her. With in that framework I have established that I will feed her healthy options. She loves asparagus, spinach, and other veggies- she likes sweets but doesn't go so far as to sneak them. I have never told her no to a food. Instead I began giving her options that were acceptable to me. "Yes you can have a popsicle- right after dinner- do you want red or green?" After months of working that "yes-man" stand point- her ability to self regulate went up one tiny notch. Then I introduced the question "ids that a healthy choice?" If she can't make a healthyt choice at any given time- I let that go. Then I sit down later and process- what was going on, what was the food, who was there, what was she feeling, what happened before, what was the sensory setting, and any other contributing factors. Then I figure out how I can change. I know. You heard me. I adapt to her current needs. Those needs aren't forever. I can help her by adapting and introducing triggers in tiny doses until she can self regulate in the presence of those triggers. Sometimes that's hard. Sometimes all I can offer her is the gift of time. Time to walk away. Time to try again, time to fail. Time to be successful. It might take 10 attempts at....eating at the mall say...before she can smell the food court and not go into panic mode. "MUST CONQUER ALL FOOD IN ROOM" eventually has become "whoa! There are ice skaters in here while I am eating my lunch!" But at 10 tries later I still wouldn't expect her to self regulate during peak mall hours, if we brought anyone along, or if she were already tired/hungry/over stimulated. the other hard thing I do is I don't keep anything in the house that I am not 200 percent happy with her eating. I eat better-she eats good things- its good. The easiest quick snack in our house is probably raw broccoli or fruit right now. The only drink available to her on a regular basis is water. This means after she is asleep....I can't pig out either. There is no salty stash or sugary sweet I can indulge in either. That's hard for me- but good for us both!

So maybe...maybe we are reaching a good middle ground on this whole food/body image/trauma thing for now. I am sure it will be ever evolving as she grows and her young body changes. But I hope to approach this with a few key points in view:
1. She is beautiful-inside AND outside.
2. Healthy choices are made by me- she can only eat junk if I provide/allow it.
3. Healthy never means deprivation. Ever.
4. I make activity a priority for her/us. Sports, dance, yoga whatever- parents lead those choices for their 3-4 year old. just because she got to me at 7 does it become less important that she find an activity she loves and gets her moving.
5. I can help her do better for herself than I have. I can lead by example AND I can show her paths that I missed out on.
6. I can help her form a positive body image- by surrounding her with positive healthy role models of all shapes and sizes, colors and creeds. Her messages won't only come from tv and magazines- but from real women who rock. :)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Sex and My 9 Year Old

As my daughter gets older there are things that terrify me. Sex being the largest issue at this moment. contributing factors: trauma history, giant desire to be a "good" mother (as in "I will NOT be like my birth mom"), lots of marriage talk, public school 3rd grade in the Fall, friends in the surrogate process, etc etc. She knows how babies are made EXCEPT the sex part. She knows a doctor can help if you have a hard time making a baby or if you are single or a same sex couple. She has expressed here desire to get married and have a baby "lots of them- six girls- and they won't get taken away mommy!" She is probably under exposed to media for her age group, and doesn't see programs or hear songs that are sexual in nature. Except a little frank sinatra. The issue becomes when do I say the sperm get to the egg when.... Right now she would tell you "sperm and eggs get together when you are married". My goal is to be the trusted resource. My fear is that it will be heard and processed as "I can't wait to do that!". For the record, we have a vary open definition of marriage- committed partners. Anybody btdt? She doesn't seem interested in feelings or hormonal instincts....just the hope of being a good mom. Do I wait til she asks the next question? Or preempt the school yard news? How can I help her honor herself, and wait for the maturity to make choices when I know the RAD brain is still so prominent for her?
Sigh. Terror. Is what I feel. Fear that she will see herself as needing to be loved, not left and that she will see a baby as a healing step one day. Why did they stop making chastity belts? That was a brilliant idea. Let's bring it back.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Hello! I have linked this blog on facee book- so if you found it from there you are in the right place. My personal goal is to blog more often- but the other moms who post on this blog are AWESOME, and have great insight.

So today I got to meet face to face with Christine Moers from who is a "trauma-celebrity". She's "traumfamous" for her witty, honest, and authentic approach to implementing therapeutic parenting. It was awesome, her kids are adorable, and she was....herself. LOL just like you read her to be. What she is, whether she knows it or not, is a gifted writer. Her writing is a clear picture of who she is: caring, authentic, genuine, and cool.

One of the many things we discussed I will touch on briefly for you now:
"I can't do therapeutic parenting."
We have all said it, felt it, meant it, and well....had moments when it was true.
Therapeutic parenting doesn't mean perfect parenting. It doesn't mean always having the answers. For so many traumatized kids, it means letting them have the chance to go through missed stages of development or responding with the words "I feel angry, I am going to walk away and return in two minutes." You CAN do this. Your child CAN heal. BUT it requires the same kind of commitment you would give to a new born infant who had open heart surgery and severe special needs. Yep. That's right. If you'd just given birth or adopted a special needs baby who was recovering from a heart issue: no one would expect you to be a neat freak, or your hair to be combed, or your socks to match, or your baby to be like other babies, to crawl at the "right" time or for you function above bare minimum capacity. For at least a year, or two, you can cancel your plans. IF you can give therapeutic parenting your honest to goodness attempt you will see positive changes in your child. This is parenting for the long term, not quick fixes. This is rebooting an individuAls life. The transition from fear to hope to happiness isn't easy. But YOU can do it, and you are NOT alone. Don't try to be perfect, just try to be present. Even. When. They. Reject. You. Stay. You are the first person to STAY. Sometimes I like to play this like a challenge with my girl- mentally I am saying "oh yeah! Push me away? Never! My love is stronger than your anger and hurt!" Outside I am responding the best I can to the situation. My best varies from day to day. My level of regulation influences it heavily. Because my daughter is chronologically 9 and emotionally 7-8 on a good day, and healing like crazy- we can talk about my feelings too. I am teaching empathy, social cues, and positive social response when I explain "today I used a loud voice when I felt frustrated. Really I was frustrated about my hard day at work. My voice should have been softer when I said "cookies are available after dinner" instead of "NO MORE COOKIES"." Later I will have these conversations to reference "I noticed you are using a loud voice like I did when I was frustrated yesterday. Would you like to share your big feelings peacefully or would you like to hear what I'm observing through your actions?"

That's right. Imperfect parents take heed: you CAN do this.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Regulating Mom & What's Behind That Mad?

We had a big issue with our ten year old daughter Sunday night.   I was MAD.  Madder than I have ever been at her.  I went to bed mad, woke up mad, and spent the whole day mad.  I am usually able to shake any mad quickly and stay in calm, therapeutic mom mode.  Not this time.  She crossed the line on a safety matter and I couldn't shake my anger.

When I dropped her off at school, I told her her to tell her friend that there would be no Girl Scouts because we needed to talk about what happened.  She said, "I'm not participating in any talk." 

When I picked her up from school I gave her a huge hug and told her I was glad to see her.  She said, "I'm still not participating in any talk about last night."   Argh!   We had a tense car ride home (just a couple minutes) with arguing and immaturity (on both our parts).  She refused to come in the house when we got there.   Since she has lost our trust, I had Hubster watch her while I changed out of my work clothes.   It hit me that even though I was trying to do all the right things with the hug and telling her I was glad to see her, my anger was still shining through.   She could hear it in my tone, expressions and body language.   I took some deep breaths and went out to her.

I said, "I think my voice sounds really mad and that is freaking you out."   She softened a bit and said, "Yes, it really, really is."   I said, "I am struggling with this mad, but I love you so much and will try to make my love come through more than my mad."   Then I asked her if she would play me a song on her recorder and told her we needed to go inside after that.   She played her song and then we went in without problem.  I cooked dinner and she did her homework. 

Then the three of us talked about the previous night.  It was a hard and heavy conversation.  She listened.  She did not argue.   She cried in a real and appropriate way over her consequences (loss of trust = loss of freedom and fun activities).  She spent some time hanging with her Dad while I cleaned up the kitchen and then she went to sleep without issue, immediately falling asleep.

She couldn't become regulated because I wasn't regulated. 

Once I got myself in check, she was able to do the same.


So simple, but so huge.

Of course, I always tell her that mad/anger are just masks that other "scaredy cat" feelings hide behind.  They are "scaredy cat" feelings because they are harder to deal with than anger.  I always ask her, "What's hiding behind the mad?"   So what was hiding behind my mad?   Fear that she would do something unsafe again.  Embarrassment/shame that I couldn't keep my child from doing something unsafe.  Confusion at why it happened.  Sadness for her and our family that so much trauma happened to her to cause her so many issues.  Frustration that we have to work so hard to help her heal when we didn't cause the trauma.  Lots of stuff hiding behind my mad.   Acknowledging it really does feel good, but it sure does suck to "practice what you preach" sometimes! 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

"There is nothing wrong with that child."

When you are parenting a traumatized child.. the special needs just aren't as visible to the world. My daughter appears to the untrained eye to be a well mannered, engaging, happy go lucky eight year old. To the trained eye she is too easily familiar with strangers, and socially immature by about 2 years. My daughter says "I love you!" over a hundrend times a day. I've counted. "Awww! She loves you so so much!" people say. I know "I love you!" means many things: 1. I think I am in trouble! 2. Are you there? 3. Don't leave me!! 4. PAY ATTENTION ONLY TO ME! 5. Hello stranger! Watch my mom roll her eyes at my declaration of love! 6. Respond to my demands! 7. I love you. 8. I hope you love me. Over the 19+ months since I brought my daughter home from foster care (then 7, now almost 9): many people have assumed I was merely a bad parent. 8 yr old screaming in the store? Licking the floor in a restraunt? In a psych hold at the movies? Kicking a wall and screaming "SORRY SORRY SORRY" at the mall? What a bad parent. The number one tool of trauma mama is a SUPPORT system. When you bring home a child....some people stick around and sort of get it, some people fade away, som people thing you are nuts. BUT out there in the world there ARE people who understand you. Because they live JUST LIKE YOU AND I do. Or worse. I hope you have found some of them. If not check out the map on the side bar and find someone near you. This week a fellow adoptive special needs mom in our support network has had the worst possible outcome for her three year old son. She is preparing to let him go into the arms of Jesus. Though we can not imagine her pain, though we may have never seen her face to face or held her hand: the support network has rallied around her. With hourly or more words of encouragement, prayer/meditation chains through family friends and churches across the world, and financial assistance. Support is invaluable. Sometimes your f@cebook friends are the friends you can count on in a pinch. Sometimes the people who get it are states away. Find some support!! YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

It's All Just a Bad Dream...

How do you tell a child, frightened and alone.. "Don't worry.. It's all just a bad dream?" with a straight face.  How do you look that child in the eyes and say it with complete honesty... knowing that most likely it was more like a "Bad Memory"?

You don't.. you don't tell them it was "just a bad dream".  You just hold them and tell them you love them.

Prior to taking this placement, I had been told that both girls would carry on "from sun up to sun down" about monsters and the like.  The girls would refuse to go to bed and were just inconsolable.  However, we haven't had any issues with bedtime.. well not ANY.. but few issues.  Yes, there are nightmares or night terrors (I am not an expert so I can't tell you the difference).  Yes, there times when both girls would "carry on" but all it took was the comfort of a loving touch (holding, cuddling, rocking)... there are things that happened in their past that allow the "touch" to be sufficient comfort to them.

Our foster children have visits with their birth parents and they also have weekly phone calls.  After a recent phone call, Big Girl woke up drenched in sweat and screaming/crying.  She had a bad dream.. with monsters in it. 

What did I do?  I did not tell her that monsters weren't real.. because I am sorry if a child BELIEVES they exist.. they EXIST.  I brought her downstairs.. and we sat at the kitchen table.  And I asked her to draw her dream.  She did.. I asked her to draw the monsters, because I needed to know what they looked like in case they ever tried to show up at my house.  She obliged.  Then, I brought her back to bed and asked her what she planned on dreaming about that would be happy dreams... she responded "Rainbows and Unicorns".

The next morning.. she told me "I had good dreams.. about Rainbows and Unicorns!"