normal is just a setting on the dryer.

The title of this blog was GOING to be “a whole lot of normal.”  And then I remembered…historically, whenever some ridiculous comment about our life being “normal” flies out of my mouth, things do not turn out well.  I might as well sign some form that says, “I hereby agree to have the upcoming week from hell.”  Well…no thanks.  Normal is just a setting on the dryer.  To avoid saying things are feeling suspiciously normal, I will say that we happen to be really in a good place right now.   Having lived for quite some time in “the opposite of normal” land, I am just feeling incredibly lucky and blessed.  Our kids genuinely love each other.  We laugh a whole bunch.  Our kids are healing in front of our eyes.  Or melting, as Jax calls it.  We have fantastic meal conversations (that now only 35% of the time includes a shocking conversation topic that makes one or both of us spit our drink out and/or horrific manners).  Single parenting just got so much easier, and we can now (guilt free) take turns having nights out. 

My hypothesis: having to be so intentional about teaching things that most people just naturally model has changed our whole family dynamic, I think.  We quite literally teach empathy in our home.  We teach kindness.  We teach boundaries and feelings and conflict resolution like most people teach reading and math.  If/when we bring another child into our home, I want to continue to be intentional about it.  It was the 83rd blessing in disguise for us.  (Kind of a big disguise initially…just sayin’.)

Last week, J came upstairs hours after he went to bed.  Scared the crap out of us…neither A or J has ever come up to get us in the night…that trust just hasn’t quite been there.  Even when violently ill in the night, J didn’t think to come get us.  It honestly panicked us…”WHAT?!” we barked at him (super encouraging for him to do this again, right?).  “There’s a bug in my room.”  Charlie started muttering what I can only imagine to be profanity, when I elbowed him.  “HE HAS NEVER GOTTEN US IN THE NIGHT – GO KILL THE DAMN BUG!!”  An hour later he was back up.  Why hello, monster we just created!  “I just couldn’t sleep because I was thinking about how much I love you.”  Melt my tired heart!  

We are not naive about the work ahead of us all, but we are sure enjoying this little lull.  We are all just HAPPY.  Lucky. Learning to trust each other, day by day.  At bedtime tonight, “A” told me out of the blue…”I just wish T lived with us.”  Ugh.  Me too.  Before I could say anything, she added – “But I know that you and Dad tried as hard as you could.”  I think she might believe us. 

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it might be forever

I read “I Love You Stinky Face” at bedtime tonight, because I was feeling a little guilty about how I handled a boundary issue this morning.  We had to transition 2/3 kiddos to the school program for the summer (out of an amazing in-home setting) so they could attend summer school.  God bless them, it’s mostly staffed by high school kids.  It’s incredibly difficult to explain RAD or FASD symptoms/behaviors (much less how to respond) to high school kids.  It’s hard for adults to understand that it’s not in our kids’ best interest to hug them – hugs are for moms and dads.  When you don’t know kids with attachment/trauma issues very well, and you hug them, it makes them sicker.  Setting these limits makes us, as the parents, like like crazy jerks.  I wish I could make people understand that we would go to the ends of the world to heal our kids and that this is out of absolute and utter love…but it’s hard.  I get that. It’s counter-intuitive.  Anyway…getting high school kids to understand this, much less assertively respond appropriately is JUST about impossible.  I went off on a minor tangent trying to say that one of our kiddos hugged basically a stranger, who has been instructed not to hug our kids, this morning.  “Hugs are for Mom and Dad…you just met her.  You can give her a high five if you want!”  Insert “you are mean and CRAZY” look from said high school student.  So…rather than directing my defeat and frustration and helplessness to the correct source, I barked at my kiddo…”You KNOW better than that!”   Ugh.  Actually, Ann, what your two oldest kids “know” is that caregivers change rapidly, adults can’t be trusted, and you should be nice to anyone you possibly can because you aren’t positive where your next meal is going to come from. 

So back to the stinky face book. It was a nice way for us to reconnect a bit after an epic parenting fail.Both J and A were pretty cute…they were adding their own. “But Mama, what if I rolled in mud and was so messy?” (If you don’t have this book, you have no idea what I’m talking about. Just roll with it.) In the middle of the book, “A” said – “You adopt kids, so you are kinda different. Do you just love anyone?” Ummm…no. Actually, most people drive me crazy. I’m kind of irritable. So anyway, I started running my mouth about how we waited for so long to find the “right” kids…OUR kids. And how we looked at so many profiles and pictures, but we didn’t just want any kids, we wanted our kids. I looked over at J to see how he was responding to all of my profound words, but he was looking at the ceiling and tearing up a piece of fuzz. Did I mention he has ADHD to the extreme? It’s one of the many reasons why I love him. And also why sometimes I want to toss him in the lake. Anyway, then the question I expected in about 10 years…”tell me the story of how you got us. Why did you get us? Did Jax want a sister, or what?” And so I told them. I told them that we knew we had more kids out there. And we looked and looked and looked. And then Ana and Shirley (social worker and guardian) called us, and said they thought they found our kids. And we were scared. And then we met them, and we knew.  And we weren’t scared anymore.

“A” interrupted me (WEIRD), and said “Have we been here a year?”  I told her yes (close enough, right?).  She literally jumped up and down, pumped her fists in the air, and yelled “YES!”  What?  “I told myself that if we could make it a year it might be forever.”  I think  might spend the rest of my life convincing these kids it’s actually going to be forever.  Luckily, I’m pretty stubborn. 

PS – the lost paperwork has been found, and we are about ready to negotiate subsidy.  For the curious minds, this is one of the last steps.  I think every state is different, but in Minnesota, there are level systems based on needs.  We basically fill paperwork out about diagnoses, behaviors, etc, and then they are assigned a level.  After that it’s the petition to adopt – hopefully in August!  That will make the “forever” official.  Let’s do this!

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Father’s Day

We made it through Father’s Day pretty much without a hitch!  Last year we pretended Father’s Day didn’t exist so as not to trigger the kids.  The week leading up to Mother’s Day was rough.  Progress!!  I interviewed the kids separately for part of the gift.  One of the questions was “My Dad is so smart because ______”  J answered with “because he knows how to keep kids safe.”  I can’t quite decide if that is the cutest or saddest thing I have ever heard. Regardless, it’s pretty neat to hear him articulate feeling safe with us.   Both A and J answered “I love my Dad because ______” with “because he loves me.”   YES.

Two nights ago, I heard the typical “MOOOOMMM!” after I tucked him in and shut the door.  “Can you do that thing that Mommy in the book does?”  Huh?  So I stood there, pretending to be really patient, for what seemed like forever as he rifled through all of his books.  He pulls out “Love You Forever.”   He flips it open to the page where the Mom is rocking the boy, and asked me if I would please sneak in his room and sing to him.  Yes. After he fist pumped and yelled “YES!” I shut the door with a smile.

I’ll love you forever

I’ll like you for always

As long as I’m living

My baby you’ll be

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Can we talk about FASD?

I’m emotional, and I feel like I need to write, but I hesitated to post this one.  I always do try to be respectful of our kids’ privacy.  The reason for my hesitation is that this post is about fetal alcohol exposure, something that has blind sided our family.  I’m going to be honest, I’m pretty angry about it.  I have worked through a lot of it, but the anger still sneaks up on me now and then.  Anyway – I felt anger that I felt the need to censor this.  It’s not her fault that she has it – and the stigma about it needs to go away.  This is something that happened to her, not something she did or who she is.  So…it’s out there.  I said it.  Let’s talk about it.

Charlie and I have been immersing ourselves in understanding fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) since the diagnosis.  We didn’t research this ahead of time, because it was a “deal breaker” for us.  Meaning, we were initially not willing to move forward with children who have this diagnosis.  THANK GOD the diagnosis wasn’t there upon placement…because we would have missed out on the most amazing, resilient, kind, hilarious, children.  OUR kids.  We later found out that it’s estimated that 70% of kids in the foster system have been exposed to alcohol in utero.  Most of them are undiagnosed, because there generally needs to be confirmed alcohol exposure, which can be hard to obtain due to a variety of circumstances.  We also have learned that NO AMOUNT OF ALCOHOL IS SAFE.  None. Zero.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is mistaken or lying. *Stepping off soap box*

Our sweet daughter has had a lot of questions about why certain things are harder for her.  “Something is wrong with my brain,” she recently said.  I am always preaching at work that parents need to tell their kids, but I was a hypocrite.  I was scared.  Scared to crush her, scared she would use it as a crutch, scared I wouldn’t handle it right…just scared.  Clearly, she was asking for this information.  After an incident today that was clearly FASD related, we decided it was time.  And so we did.  And you know what? The sky didn’t fall.  I think we all mostly just feel relieved.  We are glad it’s over, and she is glad to have some explanations.  “So that’s why I can’t remember stuff and I kinda suck at math?” 

I would have liked some advice for how to make it go smoothly, and I couldn’t find it, so I’m going to share what (seems to have) worked okay for us in the hopes that it may help someone else out.  Here it goes:

1) Don’t have an awkward sit-down conversation like you are delivering terrible news.  Be matter of fact, and keep your own emotions about it in check. 

2) Use a book to help you find the right words.  We used “Forgetful Frankie, The World’s Greatest Rock Skipper.”  This helped draw out some good questions as well.

3) Focus on the positives.  “You are artistic and kind and hilarious and great at baseball…and math happens to be kind of tricky.”

4) Drill the point home that this information doesn’t change anything about the person they know themselves to be!

5) Don’t throw birth mother under the bus.  No one sets out to hurt their child…I believe that.  We used the language “she wasn’t taking care of herself very well.”  It truly does come down to that. 

I think I will talk more about this when I’m ready.  It has been a bit of a grieving process, and mostly, I’m at acceptance.  Some days more than others.  “I wish my birth mom didn’t drink beer when I was in her tummy.”  Me either, honey, me either. 

 

Jersey, the naughty superhero therapy dog

If you are our neighbor, you probably know we have had a rough few days!  Maybe even if you live in this county!?  The transition into summer is not the lovely, magical, fun thing I had anticipated it being.  The combo of leaving teachers, a giant transition, and a day care change is triggering lots of grief/loss issues.  That’s our best hypothesis, anyhow.  Whatever the cause…we are managing some major regression. 

We knew going in that “time outs” are not helpful for traumatized kids.  They make everything worse and send the wrong message.  I went to an amazing training by Daniel Hughes on Friday on attachment-focused therapy.  In a room full of clinicians, there was one desperate mother there.  I watched her, all dressed up, as she feverishly wrote notes and looked up words.  She is the reason I was there, too…so few people understand.  Three years ago, we couldn’t find the right help…and I vowed to BE the right help.  Hence, grad school and every attachment training or book I can get my hands on.  I just had to mention this woman, because she re-lit a fire in me to figure this all out.  Not just for our kids, but for all of the other families struggling to heal their children. 

So back to the discipline piece.  Daniel Hughes talked so much about the neurology behind the behavior as well as what goes on neurologically with discipline.  When “these kids” are raging or having crazy behavior, the last thing they need is to be sent away. They need someone to pull them in closer rather push them away.  Brain-based stuff, I tell you.  The challenge is, *I* need a break during these times.  I have my own temper.  I get angry with the best of them.  I’m human.  Yesterday, fresh out of this training, I was at my absolute wits end.  I *knew* my kiddo needed me to be calm, present, and co-regulating.  Yet all I could feel was my own rage.  Some of the behaviors are crazy-making. I knew I couldn’t leave my child alone, yet I didn’t feel like I could show up the way I needed to.  Creative solution = Jersey the naughty superhero therapy dog! 

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Jersey was able to sub in for me for the amount of time I needed to calm my own body down.  She laid on top of the screaming kid, licked tears away, and instantly was a calming presence.  We actually got Jersey (a Goldendoodle) to be a therapy dog, but then unexpectedly got our kids right after and didn’t train her very well.  (read: at all).  She is crazy, usually filthy, and digs holes like you wouldn’t believe.  But…she is also intuitive and calming and willing to “tag in” for us any time we need her.  I believe that her presence helps our kids on a neurological level while we can get ourselves into the state of mind that is conducive for healing.  Jersey to the rescue!

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The Dreaded Autobiography

We successfully made it through our first school year! “A” came home and immediately blurted out, “my last day was fine…but did I pass 2nd grade or what?”  J, horrified, didn’t realize this was possible.  “What!?  Wait.  Did I pass Kindergarten!?”  Jax has to be in every conversation and almost literally doesn’t stop making noise ever, so he paused from his singing momentarily to chime in…”Yeah, did they pass, Mom?  Or are they comin’ to preschool next year? Or what?”  Though he didn’t pause his song long enough to hear the answer, they did in fact both pass.  First and third grades, here we come!

One of the big projects in second grade is an autobiography.  I think a lot of people (me included, prior to this year) take for granted how painful this can be for some kids!  Our school called us to talk about it ahead of time (THANK YOU), which was nice.  “A” and I had a sit down convo about it, and she very articulately said she wasn’t comfortable with it.  I gave her a few different ideas I had, but ultimately she came up with her own idea – her forever family story!   It came home with her today, and it was beautiful. (Name blurred out because finalization is taking forever…)

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Some highlights include:

1) “This book is dedicated to Mom and Dad because thar awsom”

2) “The first summer with my family was fun.”

3) A section on our “forever family trip”

4) “My favorite thing to do is play with my little brothers”

5) Talking about “In May 2013 I got to meet my Mom and Dad.” 

That last one really got me!  It’s something so unique to “older child adoption” to be able to have that memory.  As parents, it’s normal to remember meeting our children for the first time and have it be one of the most amazing experiences of our lives.  It’s really special to me that J and A can actually remember that, too!  Amazing. 

 

 

tooth brushes, last names, and biology

Tonight at bedtime, J found T’s toothbrush. “Mom, do you think we should keep this in case he comes lives with us? Do you think he will come live with us?” Insert sound of heart breaking. Oh sweetheart…let’s keep the toothbrush so that he can use it ANY time he wants to. Mom and Dad tried everything we could think of, but I don’t think T is going to live with us.

This is the third time we have had this (almost exact) conversation since Memorial Weekend, when we got to see T. T made J a car in shop class, and J carries it everywhere and even sleeps with it. It had been awhile since we had seen T, and it was a bit awkward at first. Once we all got through that part, it was great. There are supposed to be 6 of us in this family, and I don’t think I’m hallucinating when I say I’m pretty sure all 6 of us were thinking that over the weekend. We are currently negotiating a contact agreement, and it’s just awful. It’s like a horrible divorce we didn’t ask for. “A” has been obsessively asking about falling stars…finally got to the bottom of it. She thinks that if she can wish for T to live with us on a falling star, it will happen. I am a fixer. I fix things. I can’t fix this.

I went to watch “A” in fitness and fun day/field day today. Of course I like to get to these things when I can, but I feel this immense pressure to get to everything for A and J. If there are any parents there, we better be there. She was chosen to be one of four relay runners, which was quite the big deal. I just cringed when she was announced by her birth last name – it’s a trigger for both of us. A reminder that this is not finalized yet, and things can go wrong. Right now we are waiting for some paperwork about a disrupted adoption to be tracked down – we are losing hope that they are officially going to be Kents by the start of the next school year. What a broken system!

Got off track. Weird. The real reason I sat down to write today was that after that conversation about T’s toothbrush, J came back upstairs. “Mom, I just wish so much that me and A and T would have all grown in your tummy.” 1) Me. Too. Then none of this drama would be happening, among 800 other reasons why I wish this. But… 2) I don’t want them to think that there is any shame whatsoever in adoption or that we love them any less because they didn’t come to us via birth. I said, “Well…me too, buddy, but do you know that I love you the absolute same as I would if you would have grown in my tummy?” He looked at me, said “no,” and headed downstairs. Shit.

Charlie had a “man to (little) man” conversation at bedtime about this. J said, “I just FEEL like I grew in Mom’s tummy.” Charlie told him this was probably because we were family, and we love each other so much. Big smile. Minus teeth. It feels like that to me, too.

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