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.