Conscious Parenting….

So, I’ve been stewing about a constellation of things lately…possible sea changes around here, fine tuning, redirecting, and so on.  And, happily, this Friday and Saturday I will be here at the terrific Empowered To Connect Conference.  I went last year and it was amazing.  So good. I’m due for a refresher on it all…and I’m excited to go this weekend!

Today, I saw this video.  Not the same source at all, but another fantastic source for thoughts on connection and attachment and adhd and intentional parenting, of smalls and teens and everyone in between.  Gabor Mate has written a few of my favorite parenting resource books: Scattered (about ADHD) and Hold Onto Your Kids.  He is a thoughtful, credentialed, excellent researcher, therapist and source for information.

If you’re interested in intentional parenting, check this out, below.  It’s a great advance prep to get my brain in gear for the conference this weekend too.  It’s worth your time and attention.  It’s all about Conscious Parenting.  Look….


h/t to Hattie Heaton 

Eyes Open: Marking the Reading Good

So, I have done a few posts on “marking the good.” I call these posts “Eyes Open” because too often I run around with my hair on fire and I forget to open my eyes to see the goodness abounding or the small flickering glimmer.  So, now and then I luck out and it runs smack into me.  

The other day (I would’ve put this up sooner, but again, hair on fire, crazy busy w/ the freight train slow savor of summer) this bit of good literally barreled into me as I stood, per usual, folding clothes.  Marta rushed over to me from her room, carrying a book I had handed her just the day before.

This book was one where had she rolled her eyes at me.  I had been on a jag of pulling books and old homeschool materials out of the bookshelves, working up a lather on getting the kids to ‘get busy’ during summer.  The freaky slow simmering fire drill of many kids loafing around the house, bored or soon to be bored, or not nearly  bored enough because they were finding ways to maim themselves was already on my nerves.  So I had started a minor rampage through the house.  When she protested against that idea, stating firmly that there was no homework for her over the summer I just grinned a big grin and said “Oh yeah!”  And when she said her teacher only said “Read” during the summer months I said, “Okay!” and loaded her up with a few books to take.  Like, five small ones.  If I had dumped all of the books I might have in mind on her small self she would just shut down.  I got a glare and a sigh and a big eye roll.  Then she disappeared and the books with her.

I forgot all about it, went about my day or two putting out fires, folding laundry, cooking, swapping laundry, cooking, picking up towels, folding laundry and cooking.  But, as I was, um, folding laundry and thinking about what to cook for dinner, Marta came darting over to me, holding out a book with a grin and jabbering.  I had to slow her down, take the book and examine it and then grin at her.  I asked her to tell me about the book.  She did. I asked her if she read it.

She said, “Yes! Very good book! Black girl, very sad, last {page of} book very nice, so nice very happy.  Black people white people girls very friends.  Very good book!”  I dropped my laundry, I hugged her tight and told her how cool that was!!!

Now, I don’t want to make too much of this….ok, forget that, this is big.  Huge.  I know that she read more of the key words and skipped a few others. I  know that she looked at the pictures to help decode the story.  But, um, I believe that way back when I was a “Miss” that was still called ‘reading!’  That is the whole process: decoding, using cues, figuring out  meaning through context, bringing it all together to  make sense.  And, that, that is exactly what she did.  My Marta, read a book and followed a story arc.  I don’t think she was or has read this book before.  Not by me.  (Adrienne? {-her teacher} Let me know if you see this…).  So, you could quibble and say, she didn’t read every word and understand every single word.  But here’s the deal: Marta read the book, she understood the story.  She got excited about it.  She totally related to that scared little girl, which is a whole ‘nother post, I know.  Still.  Let me say that again: She got excited about it.  I mean, LIT up.  Which lit me up.  We knuckle bumped, we high fived, we hugged and grinned stupidly at each other.  And I was simply thrilled; as much as she was.  Seriously.

So, I am proud of her.  I want to go on record and mark that good. It’s SO good.  Reading is power.  No  matter who or what, thats the bottom line.  Reading opens up your world.  It empowers, excites, helps.  It’s huge.

So what’s next? I don’t know. {Yes, I do: more laundry and cooking and reading!}  But I do know I promptly got on Amazon and ordered all the copies (used, this is an old series) of the Scholastic First Biographies I could find.  I’m excited. I’m marking the good with a big shout out.  It’s an” Eyes Open to Read!”

Little Love Languages

So this week is all about love, right? We’ve got Valentines, we might still be nibbling the chocolates if we’re lucky.  I wrote a post marking the good on Monday.  But I also want to put up a quick bit about a visible love language, mark it too, if you will.  I know there are books on this topic that are all official and researched and backed up with theses and phd’s and whatnot.  I haven’t read them and this post is not that.  It’s another  marker, but personal and specific to our family and this child.  It’s one of her sweetest, so it gets it’s own spotlight.

When you bring home a child that is older, you don’t get the time to slowly and naturally lay down tracks and habits that are unique to the two of you.  You kind of hit the ground running with a presumptive relationship, but without these small but ever so important stanchions in place.  Some of those really important things are the little habits and intimate niceties that you build up over time, typically from babyhood onward.  They are the inside the jokes, the significant looks, the nose tap, the habitual note in the lunchbox, the nickname or ‘secret codewords’.  They are the tiny mundane actions and anchors of a relationship, of family.

In the intentional attachment effort, you can try to craft these things, and you should, to a degree.   But only so much can be done at first, really, so much of it just takes time.  Marta has one trait that started out as good manners, I think.  Or possibly it was insecurity and/or a needy deference.  But nowadays, truly, on a good day, it has become a different thing altogether, it a sweetness, possibly even, ssssh, an act of love or loving feelings (which are just about as good, I’ll take em!).

Specifically, Marta gives.  She defers.  Not anymore with that uncomfortable submissive twinge of the early months;  now it’s from a different spot.  For instance, when we are going to pray our daily rosary, she will grab two rosaries and hand me the one that she likes best.  Every day.  I smile at her and say, “No, that one is good!” pointing to the other, plainer one.  She says, “No! This you.  This me good.” and she pulls her hand away and/or pushes the prettiest one into my hands. And every time I smile and roll my eyes a little, and then acquiesce, often with a hug.  Which makes her grin grow wider.

The reason I know this is different than before is that she has done this for awhile now. I’ve had time to see the change in tone.  When she first came home, she might do it with her eyes not connecting, and her face with that tightness.  Her stress and connection levels manifest in her body language instantly and irrefutably.  She can almost age before your very eyes with the way her emotions play across her body and face.  There is a difference, physically visible, between a tense submissive or worried giving and a relaxed loving or playful giving.  If you see it,  you can peg it in a blink.

Anyhow, not to make too much of all this.  But I think, I want, to mark this too.  She gives to me, to her dad.  Sometimes, on those relaxed days, to her big sister.  She gives the prettiest rosary, the ‘best’ or biggest brownie, will scoot her seat on the sofa over a spot.  We have to say, “No, no, that’s for you” sometimes. Not always. She’s still a kid.  She’s still a moody teen.  But more often now, and it’s sweet.

Marta has a verbal language impairment.  But happily, her language of love is not impaired even so.  She doesn’t need language to communicate when she is relaxed and feeling warmth towards us.  She finds the way to show us, we just have to make sure we are looking. I have to make sure I am looking and seeing and marking it down.  For both of us.

Eyes Open: Marking the good, again

Because I am cynical, cranky, and quite possibly almost old enough to be called a curmudgeon (Is that gender specific? Can girls be curmudgeons? I think so….)….I try to, once in a blue moon routinely make a point of noticing some of the goodness and/or progress in attachment and healing ’round this crazy home.  It’s been a few months, let’s have a look-see:

  • Marta has been home for 2 1/2 years now! And, honestly, it’s better.  It’s far far from perfect.  It’s nothing at all like any of us thought it would be.  But maybe (yup, I”ll say it out loud) just maybe that’s not only ok, but it’s a good thing.  It has it’s own sweetness amidst the baffling hard stuff

  • She is the manager for the varsity girls basketball team.  This not only is something she enjoys, it has given her purpose, joy, and a greater sense of belonging.  Her job is simple, she keeps them in water and towels and fusses over the players a bit.  But, she loves it and the team has seemingly, blessedly, embraced her.  Her coach simply rocks.  And the girls on the team? An amazing bunch of players, but even better, really kind lovely girls.  The whole ‘manager’ gig: it’s all gift.  Thank you Coach Serra.

  • She got a 75 on her 2d art test.  It was a written test, hard for her.  And while we had to discuss it (per her need, not ours, we don’t care what she gets in art), with a couple of tears over a couple of days, she accepted it without meltdown.  Sounds like a no big deal kind of thing? Au Contraire!  So, so big.  She is a perfectionist, a little crazed about it and wants to make an “A” in every class or assignment.  This, even last year, would have been enough to send her off kilter and into a meltdown, possibly for a rocky intense week or more.

  • She made the honor roll.  She had her name in the paper and on the school website.  She felt famous.  Sure her classes are  in the school’s (amazing fantastic) special ed program; different classes/levels.  But, I propose that she studies about as hard as many of the kids at that school and she works possibly harder than most.  She earned it.  She’s so proud.  And so are we.

  • She had a double ear infection last week.  And she coped.  Ear infections hurt. But she even went to school.  And she was a trooper.  This, coping with something  hurting, is a skill she did not have when she first came home.  Not for almost two years, actually.  This is the first time for real and a big step forward for her.

  • And one of my favorites: she is more playful.  Play is a funny thing.   Marta didn’t really play when she came home, not for a long time.  We don’t know if it’s because of the transition, fear, insecurity, or her disabilities.  I’m sure it’s a big old mixture of all of the above.  But, nowadays, she is more playful.  NOT every day, not by a longshot.  She’s still a teen, of course, with all the moods and hormones that entails!  But, she is relaxed enough now, on a good day, to make jokes, to poke fun, to be silly, and to sometimes hang out while we visit instead of disappearing or interrupting to redirect the activity to go do something for her.  (It doesn’t last long, but, apropos of this post, I want to mark that it does happen.).


  • Marta is a great pray-er.   I’ve mentioned before how she is a very devout girl. It’s lovely.  We pray together every day that we can, which is almost every single day  (unless there is a late basketball game).  And, for those in the know, once you make it onto her prayer list, well, you are there  (so far as I can tell) forever.  She is one of my two ‘secret weapons’ when it comes to serious prayer; they have a connection and focus I can only wish for.

  • Last but not least, she has been unseated, for days or weeks at a time, in the “monopolize all the time and attention in the house and my conversation” status.   That might sound kooky or a weird thing to mark, but a dear friend noticed it last week when we were talking and it dawned on me that she was right.  Marta wasn’t top of the roster of my rambling and ranting measured reports anymore.  It’s a tossup on any given day who’s going to be the neediest or highest maintenance child.  She’s among the top three, typically, but to have lost the crown…..that’s a major game changer, right there.  So, I’m marking it.

Voices from the heart…of a birthday

So, sometimes this adoption stuff is a kick in the heart, not only a kick in the gut  There is such beauty and gift and joy.  But make no mistake, there is such heart-ache….and breath-take. Attachment is a lifelong gig, I think.  Attachment and the navigation of those depths and shallows of the heart is an ongoing diving expedition.  It has it’s own phases {weeks, months, days, hours} and tides that ebb and flow.

My Little Man has been working through some stuff lately.   One of the things that doesn’t get mentioned much in the blog-o-verse, or even too much in the literature and the reference books on adoption is that birthdays can be a mine-field.  Of course, right?  Well, yeah, duh.  But, too often, that’s easy to forget.  Too often, it’s easy to overlook that part of it, the loaded moment, the undercurrents.  Because the kid is excited, amped, hyper, for their birthday.  It’s all about the presents and the party, right?  And the parents and family, ideally, they are also so bonded in that it’s just another happy day, another kiddy birthday party.

But, it’s not just that; maybe not ever, I don’t know.  As my kids get older we have moved into different waters in the adoption issues.  I have posts rattling in my head and am not sure how to get them out or if I should.  Heck, even this post was supposed to be a short mention.  But it’s almost impossible to snip this stuff down to a sound bite or a visual blip.

But for this post, we are talking about the heart of a birthday.  Specifically, the backseat voice of my son’s heart on this birthday.

We were driving to basketball practice, again…the night before his birthday.  It was dark in the car, kind of quiet, he had the sniffles and it was drizzly out, we were a touch late.  A standard night.

Then he said, “Mom, I remember when I was a baby and I first met you.”

I said, “You do?”  {He was three months old}.

He said, “Yes.  Do you remember?”

I said, “Yes. I sure do.”

He continued, “I remember you cried and you said, ‘Oh, I love him so much!’ Didn’t you?”

“I did, honey.  That’s right.”  I paused, kind of holding my breath, waiting to hear if he had more to ask or say.

He did.  “I also remember the last time I saw my birth mom.”

“Do you?”  {He was weeks old}.

“Yes, she was crying.  Do you think she cried then?”

“I know she did honey.”

“Well, I remember.  I remember her kissing me and saying ‘I love you.  Blessing, blessing over him. I love him so much.'”

I was blinking now, trying to drive in the drizzly dark with my sweet tender son in the back seat.


I had to gulp, “Yup, buddy?”

“Do you think she said that? I remember?”

“You know, honey, I think she did.  I just bet she did.”

“Yeah,” he said “that’s what I remember.”

Just like that we were at the gym and he was clambering out of the car, running into practice.  Just like it was any night.

I guess, it was.  But I just had to take a minute behind him, to gather up the pieces of my heart that had just broke again a  little bit for my boy.

Adoption is an event.  But it is also a thread of attachment that continues to tug.  With echoing voices from the deep….from the deep jagged shoals in both of our hearts.  Just like that.

After the Rage

When one of your kids has a big ol’ blowout rage -an out of control, can’t really reach them and you have to wait it out and keep them safe kind of rage – the aftermath is it’s own entity.  The exhausted sentinels of the mama heart and the synapses that have whirred themselves into a lather trying to process and evaluate in the charged moment and assist are just flopped down into a heap of……restless tired tangle.

And I only write this because it’s easy to think that it’s only all perfect in any given family.  And the nature of blogging is that we only want to put our best type forward, isn’t it?  I’m vain, you bet.  But, I also know that what I treasure about blogging is that I can and  have connected with so many who say, “Hey, me too! I ‘get’ that!”  And just knowing that others are out there who do understand…well, it’s always a help and a hope.

Because parenting is hard.  It’s not for sissies.  And parenting kids who have issues…well it feels really hard some days.  Whether it’s attachment or adhd or cognitive or development delays or just hormones  or teen stuff some days…..those buggery issues can just throw a wrench into the best laid intentions or desires.

So, you moms out there who are or have been in the trenches?  I get it.  Today, I’m there with you.  Our family is far from the model family and this blog is a real blog of real life not a plastic fabrication. Today I tripped into and am climbing out of that muddy restless tired spot.  I’m thankful for the helping hand of dear friends and watching the dust settle; motes flickering by me in the steel grey sky of this rainy day.

Three o’clock will come and I’m back on duty and need to be able to be present – body mind and heart – to help hang on to those small slippery hearts and  hands.  I say a whispered prayer that they can be calm enough again to be pulled into my lap for awhile and we can breath each other in and feel our hearts beating close together.

Shadows in Adoption, part 2: Food

A while ago I wrote a bit about those “shadows” that you find in adoption.  I was not, and am not, talking about those big monster issues that sometimes are part of the whole adoption process: RAD, or serious attachment issues, and such….rather I’m talking about those remainders that snag here and there.  I want to shine a light, again, on those little flickers of shadow that cross our days or behaviors here in our house with some of our kids.  Because I suspect that they might well have flickered across a few of  yours as well.

So, this post is going to address that gnarly issue that so many of us struggle with: food!

Ah, food issues.  They are legion, no? Yes.  For so many of us, myself included, food has issues.  Some good, some bad, some snarly, some prideful and snobby.  It’s all over the map.  But for our adopted children, especially our children who might have been adopted a bit older (or a lot)….those food issues can be complex and run DEEP.

When we first brought our Gabey home he was 18 months old.  And he had the standard food-transition issues.  First he wouldn’t really eat, only wanted bottles of milk. So many many bottles of milk.  It was total comfort food and we were happy to provide that. In fact we did, and took him BACK to the bottle so we could cuddle and rock and feed him and have that eye contact as much as possible.

He dug it.  But, soon enough he decided that real food was appealing too, and quickly branched out.  He impressed us with his instant taste for spicy salsa (but, hey, he’s Ethiopian, we figured he had some exposure…) and his happy joy in smearing ketchup and gobbling fries and pasta and all the usual toddler  yummies.   After about six months, he seemed very much just like any toddler, some days picky, some days voracious, always up for a cookie.

So, we didn’t pay too much attention to it for awhile.  I mean, he was a busy busy toddler, seeming to be tracking on all counts.  Language?  Yup, gaining at warp speed.  Gross motor? Yup, very fast agile busy little guy; could keep up with big brother, no problem.  Fine motor? Yup, paid attention to tiny details and was in normal zone for a toddler.  Cognition? Oh my, very very sharp, figured things out fast and great memory.  No worries.

But one thing was a little skewed and it was his eating.  Over the past few years, his drive to eat has gained momentum.  And that is an  understatement.  This boy is DRIVEN for food.  He is kind of fixated on it.  Not to the exclusion of everything else.  He loves to play and go wherever someone else is  going, he wants to be in on any activity.  He will follow his uncle around like a puppy; hoping to  help with those cool tools and be allowed to use that wrench or drill or oh any tool he can grab.  But, if he’s not distracted by some fun, if any whisper of boredom hisses, he is begging for food.  Relentlessly.  And when he eats, he will eat to bursting if we let him, asking for seconds, thirds, fourths…. Unless it is green veggies or carrots. No problems there…gross.  Don’t get all shocked, we cut him off -but by redirecting the urge.  

This evolution into this obsession with eating, more more more, initially had me presuming he was simply,  um….gorging.  Then I realized that it’s more than that.  Deeper.  It’s as if his “Off” switch is broken.  Or at least gets stuck.  It is as if he is impossible to fill.  Sometimes, now and then, he will say, “I’m full.”  But not often.  Watching him ask with such need and such a push to the request has sounded a tiny bell in my head.

This boy, my boy, I think he was hungry.

I don’t know.  Not for certain. I don’t have documentation of his being hungry and I don’t want to project drama or be unfair.  But, I think he was hungry.  Not starving maybe.  But the hard facts are that he was unable to be raised by his family.  He is an orphan.  And, the government orphanages and even the best care centers aren’t exactly overrun with funds for the abundance of every nutritive need.  It doesn’t work that way.  And my boy, well, my mama heart has to wonder.  Was he hungry?  Just some? Enough that now, way deep down, he might worry about being hungry again?  Even though we have, thankfully, an abundance of food and no one goes hungry in our house (unless they are putting on a hormonal girl drama, by their own choice and standards of Oscar worthy merit).  

So, what to do? I don’t want him to become obese or unhealthy.  And, truthfully, he is getting really stout.  But I want  him to know, for now and for ever, that he will not be hungry.  Even if he doesn’t know that he needs to know, now.  He does, it seems.  Karen Purvis says, “Never deny food.”  And so, I won’t.  I can’t.

So how do you provide the security/food your child needs and requests while at the same time keeping them healthy?  Well, here is what I’ve got, so far.  [If any of you have other brainstorms, please let me know in the comments!]: I do NOT deny him food.  And yeah, go ahead, tell me to only offer him celery.  Right.  Look at that face and tell me again. 

Ha.  Rather, what we say is “You bet.”  But we also say, “First, finish your dinner (not with extra helpings).” And we also say, “Let’s count, have you counted five fruits today? Or veggies? How many? Two? How about an orange? ”  We go for fiber and produce to fill the need if we can coax him into it.  But, honestly, some days, as he comes home from school and asks for a cookie I just say, “Yup.

Because if I have to pick, I’ll pick attachment and bonding to this boy.  Easy choice, slam dunk.  That security in our love and his safety here in our family is more important than “husky” size pants.  Will I encourage him to move and run and jump and play sports? Yes!  Will I encourage him to eat healthy choices? Yes!  But will I also withhold food when he tells me his tummy is hungry?  No.  I will not.

It’s a shadow.  But one that I think is best to see in the light.  And maybe, with time and yes, good healthy cooking, this one might fade away.

Turn Key in Adoption: Forgiveness

So, I’ve written about turn key’s in adoption, specifically in adoption adjustment and attachment.  If you’ve read my blog  you know that I talk now and then about various keys or concepts in the adjustment process; the turn keys are the ones that seem to really matter.  At least they do ’round here.  If I was really organized, I’d  have them all on a separate page about adjustment  in adoption.  But I’m not that good a housekeeper, even on blog.  In the meantime, if you want to check out the other posts in this series, go here, go here, go here, here, here, here, here, and here.  Whew.  I didn’t realize I’d written all those posts over the past few years.  Guess this is something we just keep dealing with and I keep processing.  Um, yup, yup it is.  If you are parenting an older adopted child and/or a child with hard history or issues,  you might well be in the trenches too.  If you are, read on.  I’ve been thinking and that means I gotta write.

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about attachment lately, due to the awesome Empowered to Connect Conference and ongoing discussions with Coffeedoc.  But also, just the intensity of parenting these past few months has been kind of insane.  I’ve also had some great conversations with friends lately, one more recently got me thinking out loud and hence, this post.

Anyhow, attachment in adoption is a long, nuanced process.  Adjustment to a new family for a child is a long, nuanced process.  It takes much much longer than most folks realize.  Indeed, it’s a lifetime, isn’t it?  Well, yes, of course it is.  And, to stay thematic, there are turnkeys to that process. These are some critical components that can help the process along.  These keys can open doors, to the heart of a new child, to the blending of a family.  But one of the keys, one of the most important keys to attachment in the whole adoption process is a key that is for the mom.  Ok, it’s for the new child and for the sibs and the dad, the whole family.  But, the blingy diamond studded key to this is maybe, especially,  for the mom.  That key is FORGIVENESS.

Ok, set down those flame throwers.  Hang on. Now, attachment is a two way street.  And it’s so SO SO easy to forget that.  We adoptive parents turn cartwheels trying to heal and help our new kids, to check off the copious list of attachment markers and tools.  Are we nurturing, feeding, tutoring, clothing, rocking, walking, singing, playing, holding (and on and on) this new child?  Can we sit out the storm and hold them through their grief, weather their rage, calm the fury, be present through it all?  Can we help them feel safe, can we help them feel heard, can we help them trust?  Yeah, it’s a big list, in more ways than one!  And each and every one of those items on that list is so big, so important.  And each one is critical in helping these kids attach to us, to their new family, their new lives – to bridge from their past to the future in the now.

But the one factor that doesn’t get talked about too much is the attachment flip side.  It’s the dark side of attachment when you’re adjusting to an older child or a child from hard places or with tough behaviors.  It’s so easy to have the best motives and intentions.  It’s so easy to get caught up in the honeymoon of a baby or toddler or new older kid and the romance of it all.  But you know, that honeymoon ends and the romance fades and real life  happens.  Sometimes after, oh, twenty minutes.  Some of you might get a little more lead time.  But sooner (20 mins) or later (20 months), real life hits ya.  And you realize, maybe this isn’t exactly what you expected.  Sure, sure, you read the books.  You took the classes.  You heard the experts and knew the possibilities.  But, a raging storming angry grieving child in a textbook is quite a very different thing than a raging storming LOUD angry crashing grieving child that is turning YOUR ACTUAL household upside down.  And who continues to suck the time and attention and sometimes very air out of a room with their need and the seeming impossibility  of meeting it.

That’s precisely when you need to go looking for your keys.  Take a deep breath, look at your key ring.  Remember, touch that kid, tears are ok, food and dinner is safety.  But, look closer.  There is a small but shiny, flashy diamond key on your key ring.  See it? Grab tight.  Look at it again.  It’s the key of FORGIVING.  Because, ya know….that’s YOUR key.  For you.

You have to forgive that kid.

It’s easy to forget that, though it sounds shocking to say it out loud.  (And don’t flame me, ok? Try to understand where I’m coming from, read the blog backwards if you must).  But that hurt scared little kid, or big teen, didn’t ASK to have this change, this adoption, this move, those hurts, those losses, those disabilities, that complicated brain chemistry, that rage, this new family…you.  I don’t think anyone stands in a cosmic line asking to be handed a big bag of trauma and loss, please, and then “Please, sir, can I have some more?” discombobulation, dislocation, and grief.  Even so, those things are no picnic to be instantly parenting either.  Thus, there is a chasm.  And the only way to cross it is to bridge it….with forgiving.  You, for YOU, have to forgive that kid for the uproar and commotion that is happening in your family.  You have to forgive her for her lack of ability to cope.  You have to forgive him for the tailspin that you are in, due to the dance you two are slamming.

You have to forgive him, not because he needs forgiveness, but because YOU need forgiveness.  You need to lift that burden of responsibility OFF your new child.  And off of you.  Neither one of  you would choose this tough path.  I betcha you’d both rather just instantly fall madly in love with each other and go have ice cream as you feed the ducks in the park.  Well, that’s for Spielberg and  the movies.  What’s true is that you cannot love what or who you cannot forgive.  And you can’t like the one you can’t forgive.  That’s how it’s set up.  That’s the deal.

But ah, forgiveness….?

It heals.


That’s how it’s set up.  That’s the deal.  So, if you can’t intellectually do it, pray for the grace to do it.  It’ll come.  You may have to do it over and over and over.  I hope and pray that my family forgives me over and over and over.  I need it that often.  And, because they are my family, I expect them to try.  And because this new little (or bigger) one is your new family, because you COMMITTED to them, then you need to try too.  That’s how it’s set up.  That’s the deal.

We forgive each other.  And if we turn that key, then the door to healing and love and even like…and maybe even attachment…it opens wide.

Attachment tools and signals: the bandaid.

Kids love Band-aids.

Right? I mean, don’t you sometimes think, “Doh, why, oh WHY didn’t I buy stock in bandaids?” Because your kids go through them by the gross. Because you commonly walk into the kitchen or bedroom and find little discarded fluttery piles of bandaid wrapper remnants, left behind. Because, as you stand in the market and eyeball the different kinds and colors and characters and compare the ridiculous prices relative values of the choices…you think, “I went into the wrong line of business. Forget plastics. I should’a gone into bandaids. I’d have that Bahama beach house already!

No? Ok, maybe that’s just me. I admit it, I’ve been chintzy at times on the bandaids. The bandaid for the invisible booboo, it used to make me (way back when I was much younger of course, ahem) blanch at bit. Then I finally relented and thought, “Meh, whatever helps. Fine, get a bandaid.” Heck, I got all magnanimous and everything about the bandaids. I let. It. Go. Big of me, right? Sigh……

Now, after this Empowered to Connect Conference, my eyes have been opened anew to the beauty and wonder of bandaids!

No kidding!

First, the good stuff. And sure, maybe you hip and savvy moms already had this all figured out. And I’ve had my moments of understanding too, give me a little cred…but still…to have it visibly on big screen shown to me and 900+ other parental unit types….well, it brings the point home: bandaids are a fantastic tool for attachment and healing. What’s more, bandaids are a great signifier of same. What’s that? YEAH! That endless need for bandaids, if brought to you, can show a trust that YOU are the one to help heal a hurt, however small or vanishing. Right. Do to be clear, it’s not actually about the bandaid. I just use that for the catchy title. It’s about the need to be nurtured. It’s about trying to reach across that gap in grab onto your kid on the other side.

Let me back up a moment. In this conference last weekend , one of the first videos that Dr. Purvis showed was of a ‘nurture group’ (I know, the titles make me squirm sometimes, thinking how my kids might react to that term, but, still…) with teen girls in a residential treatment center. Now, I’ll tell you, I typically come to these resources thinking mostly of my newest daughter, adopted as an older child. It’s been a tougher road that one, and it’s easy to get a little stuck on the ruts there. But this video instantly had my hyper focused attention, because one of the girls reminded me so disconcertingly much of one of my other daughters. This other daughter does manifest attachment issues but due to brain injury/trauma/behavioral stuff and the sheer complexity of her little self. And it’s easy to forget that her issues are so there, there. But Friday, I sat up and had that klaxon clanging; because I could’a been looking at a possible future glimpse of my girl in manner and general attitude. Not a certain vision. A possibility. Key point, that.

Anyhow…This video was about the idea of asking for help, for nurturing, by asking for a bandaid for a hurt. And this girl, in the video, she couldn’t or wouldn’t do it. Not in that session anyhow. And Dr Purvis was her usual wonderful accepting nurturing self and didn’t make a big deal of it. Which means, that acceptance allowed/empowered that very girl (by report) to soften – she did ask for that bandaid help, the very next day. Presenting the idea of being accepting to opening up the avenue or idea of healing, allowed this child to be vulnerable enough to take one baby step forward to admit she might need a bit of it. Just one bandaid’s worth. Hugeness.

And what that also shows, is that all those zillions of times your kid(s) come to you for bandaids? Ask YOU to look, see, kiss, comment on, PUT the bandaid on their invisible or visible hurt?

Attachment, people!

I know, you already know all that probably. I did/do too, most of the time. But when you are in the trenches and/or parenting one or more kids from hard places or with needs or whatever…well sometimes that reminder can be a brick on the/my head. And the daughter that we fight so hard to find a way to, to attach to and her to us? Well golly don’t ya know she’s come to me, oh, let me think here, about 700 times I think to show me an owie or a bump or an ouch. To see it. To hear it. To kiss it. To bandaid it. Sometimes it’s not even real, really. Sometimes it’s somatic. I’ve rolled my eyes over it as she walked away. Shame on me. Because I should’a gotten on the table and danced. As Karyn Purvis pointed out this weekend, “That’s paydirt.” I can’t have long conversations with her about her attachment and her issues. She has delay issues that prevent it. But this doesn’t need conversation, it works at any level. And it showed me something that made my heart and head go “zing!” Our issues with her are less attachment than I thought all this time. Our issues with her are more cognition and anxiety (and those are many, but still…). And yes, some attachment, especially when the anxiety makes the survival skills raise their ugly head again. But, still, not as MUCH attachment as I presume too often.

Those hundreds of hurts, of complaints even, of owies that I wondered about in dismay for the past two years….”Really, you fell in the bathroom again? Your knee? Oh, ok, I’ll kiss it. Be careful, ok?” Well, even though we weren’t GETTING each other totally…we were still stepping through the attachment dance.

And it counts.

Are we done? No! Not for a lifetime, I’m guessing. But have we made progress I didn’t even see?

Oh. Yeah.

And my other daughter, the one who I had hyper radar sighting in the video? The one who does/doesn’t have attachment stuff on any given day? One of my other complicated kids? Well, we’ve had some more connected progress after this conference. Not perfection. But strides, steps. Screwups too; me. But, she’s asked me to kiss her forehead and cross it each night at bedtime and getting out of the car at school this week. And Monday she stepped on a toothpick. It hurt. And guess what?

She wanted a bandaid. No, she ASKED ME for a bandaid.


Wanna know what I said?

You betcha honey. Which one would you like? “

Zing went the strings of my heart.

Slam Dancing in Adoption: co-dependency.

Welcome, please join me in the mosh pit…that lovely loud place we call home and family life.

What, you ask? Have I moved the family into a strange new world, am I trying to reclaim a not only lost but never went there youth (yes, once again, dating my old self)? Slam Dancing? I mean, really, what?

Well, ok, what I’m really gonna talk about here is the idea that if you look closely, sometimes, you can find a not so great Co-dependency in adoption. You know: that term where you kind of lose yourself and you stop having your own feelings about things, instead all your feelings are what the other person is feeling. They’re having a bad day? Bummer, you too! They’re ticked? Oh no, I thought my day had started well! Dang! They are sad? Oh, now I have to be sad for them, and with them and…instead of them? Ah, I know what you’re thinking: Again, really, why have I started in on this? Isn’t Co-dependent stuff all about middle aged women who have dysfunctional relationships and/or low self esteem? Or, isn’t it about living with an alcoholic or workaholic and enabling them at the expense of yourself? Isn’t that the baggage for women who just get a little lost along the way? Isn’t it all just that big mess O’ psychobabble???

Well, yeah, it can be those things. Not sure about the psychobabble. But, sure, it’s a much more common issue than we like to realize, unless you overstate it by seeing way too much daytime tv talk shows…you know, the ones where ALL you see are the dysfunctional families and the morose middle aged gals.

But, at the risk of being flamed, here is what I’d like to just mention: This thing, we’ll whisper it: “co-dependency“, can happen, before you know it, when you adopt a kid from hard places, a kid who has more needs for whatever reason (organic or imposed), an older kid from hard places, especially.

Now, hang on. Think about it.

The bare breakdown of that term is not the problem. And I can and have written MUCH about how MUCH we are all dependent upon each other and made for each other and to help each other. I’ve gone on (and on) about the sheer awesome beauty found in that. And I will.

But. Here. In this post. What I’m saying is that the tendency towards this modern, less beautiful, sense of co-dependent feelings and behaviors is almost a set-up with the nature of older child adoption. The adoption process itself nurtures this tendency….it’s all about making things ok. What things? Well, EVERYthing(s)! We have to make sure every paper is signed on the proper lines, certified, sealed and delivered. We wait after getting our referral for the courts to do the same and worry sick over the child stuck waiting too: will they be ok, are the eating well, do they know about us, are they ok or scared, are they safe, will they love us? We become massive caretakers, not only that, but we become the majordomo of ….everything we possible can, when we are in the process of adopting. It’s what we are pushed to do and what we kind of self select to do and be and really, it’s encouraged. Heck, it’s lauded.

..and if I

And it can be a great thing to be a gal who can do much and arrange much and make stuff happen. It feels great! It looks great! It makes things work great! Right?

Well, the bear trap snaps shut and moves from great to not so much when that tendency, that behavior, that need, that desire….starts closing it’s center down on a person….or in this case, the child. And on you. Let me be clear, I am not saying don’t care for or about any child. But, if the urge to care for a child slips beyond the boundaries of what can actually be accomplished by any one human person…then that one human person has just slipped onto the slippery slide toward co-dependency.

Ok, instead of blathering and talking around it, let me give you a for instance from my turf. It’s taken me a long time, heck darn near two years, to realize that what my husband has been telling me all along is true. He didn’t use these words but he pegged it just the same: “You’re too connected to HER feelings, they are not yours and don’t have to be. That doesn’t actually help.” By which he does NOT mean for me to be an insensitive ogre; but rather, to be able to step OUT of the vortex of her feelings that whip up in an instant…the ones that aren’t rational, the ones that are simply trigger response. Seems simple, no? But, oh, so very not. Because when you have a kid from hard places, and or an older child who is new to your big old family, and or has special needs…you want, with every fiber of your being “TO MAKE IT ALL OK.” For them. For you. For the other kids. For the family. Just, because. You have a huge need to pull everything into alignement. To control and direct how it all connects and how it all is gonna play out and how everyone is gonna feel. That’s the majordomo part. Admit it ladies, it happens. If not, then it’s just my own freak, I’ll claim it. But there it is.

But, the trick is…it doesn’t work that way. So, you intellectualize it and realize you can’t actually make it work that way. You can’t majordomo emotions. But then you are staring into the maw of that need. Those emotions. Hers. You can’t actually effect or control or help them, not really, they are HERS. But, if she does A then you all are gonna feel B, and if she feels or does B then you all are gonna feel and or have to do C. The math gets all mucked up and it triggers it’s own little alarm bell in your gut, in direct reaction to your frustrated control instinct. A clanging, even.

Right at this point, is when the band starts playing. The punk new rave music tunes up. Here is the center of the mosh pit; here the co-dependent dance begins. And it’s not a lovely elegant waltz or a breezy two-step. It’s a jangling punk slam dance that bangs up every piece and part of each of you.

Really, once you allow her feelings to dictate yours, then not only are you not helping or being able to rationally address said feelings, you have just been pulled into the chest slam head bang twist of it all. You cannot empathize with her underlying fear or grief or insecurity if you are trying to stem your panic and fear at the recognized loss of control over how things are gonna move. The beat was changed and you didn’t orchestrate it, again. And again. But since her fears and insecurities that launched this dance are simply trigger responses and or reflect her inability to dance any other way, to this music…she’s not gonna be able to regulate that beat either. It’s all you.

What do you do? What now? You’re pulse is racing and your head is banging and you don’t wanna dance this dance. Look away from the fray. Co-dependent feelings suck. Especially for a high ranking majordomo brigadier, the top ranking one: the mom.

Well, the only way out is to let go. Not of them, not the kid. Of you. Of your misperceived ownership and responsibility for every nuance of their feelings. Let go of the grasping tension and flailing pulse. Let go of the control you thought you had because you didn’t have it in the first place. The only way to pick up a dancer/your kid, winded and bruised from the mosh pit is to stand on the sidelines, and be ready to catch them. Call to them to see if they can see their way out through to you. And then wait for them to get there. And then soothe them with a hug and hold them til their breathing steadies. Because let’s face it, if you’re in their getting banged up too, being co-dependent and letting their disregulated moods dicate YOURS, then you are actually no help at all. You actually become part of the problem. I’m not saying to dismiss or move away from that child. Sometimes you have to meet up with them and weather through that clanging hellish beat. But I’m saying you can move out of the emotional slam dance. You must, in order to actually help her. Or him.

So step out.

This isn’t the dance for you. It isn’t for her either, or your child. But it takes time to learn a new one. For both of you. Lessons can help. And they’re a lot of work too. But as with anything, practice makes better. Not perfect. But, better. And lately, working on this…I’ve been able to put my “steel toed doc martins” in the back of the closet sometimes…and I have, a little more often, pulled back out some of my softer dancing shoes.

The Why of It

Why do I love you?

Simple question, no?

We all ask it, don’t we?

Or more, we ask, in our hearts and heads, “Why do you love me?…Really?”

Though, I daresay, that last word might just be a whisper under our breath or in our heart.

I think, however, that it’s a question we need to ask our children.

Sound odd? For US to ask THEM? For US to ask THEM just why we love them?

Maybe it does…but here in our house, we do ask our children this.  Coffeedoc is the best at it, the smoothest. Maybe it’s his quiet voice or his comforting dad self to lean on, I don’t know.  It’s just him.  But we have so many kids from different places, with different issues, needs, concerns….that this question is one we must intentionally address from time to time.  It sounds silly, it almost feels silly…until you step through it and watch their faces as they listen closely.  Sometimes they start by just kind of enduring us beginning this.  But then, holding their hands and looking into their face, often clouded with sullen temper, or angry at an imagined injustice of sorts, or shaded with naive misunderstanding…you see them turn their listening up and they get very still.  Shadows slowly flee, muscles relax.  Because this matters, and especially at certain times it matters oh so very much. They need to hear it.  We all need to hear it.  Those stupid ignorant ideas that float about in our world, for instance: ideas like “color complex” that I want to smash to pieces but come already imprinted in teens from different cultures, (a whole ‘nother post or two, that)…those kinds of ideas make this conversation utterly necessary.  Over and over, spanning years.

The process of stepping our kids through this question is important; for all of them, each of them, individually. No matter if they were born to us biologically, or if they came to us through the process of adoption, if they are “easy” kids or “hard” ones….they all need to step through this question.  They might need to step through this question at different ages and stages, again and again; but I think, we think, that each kid needs to step through this question – explicitly, deliberately.

Heck, I need to step through this question with myself, about each one of my kids, deliberately.  And often.

But, back to the question, how we walk our kids through this:

Why do I love you?”

Is it because you are cute?

Is it because you are smart?

Is it because you have beautiful brown skin, peach skin, olive skin?

Is it because you are good, nice, sweet, funny, obedient?

Is it because you are tall, short, skinny, plump, stylish, artsy, musical?

Is it because you are faithful, diligent, determined, athletic, creative, a dreamer?

Yes…but, more: no.

Yes, I love those things about  you, maybe more maybe less….but let’s face it, there are other things, often many other things, that are really NOT so lovable. Right? Um, yup.

So, can it be I love you on these good things only? Uh-oh…those things might change! You might get cranky or fat or lazy or hurt or frumpy or grow ugly even.  It could happen.  You could lose your hair or a leg or have a brain injury or get really sick…that all kinda changes you, right? Oh no….!

No.  All those things are things I might like or not like about you.

But they do NOT define why I love you.

This and only this does:

I love you because you are Chris.

I love you because you are Jon.

I love you because you are Hannah.

I love you because you are Marta.

I love you because you are Sarah.

I love you because  you are Emmy.

I love you because you are Anthony.

I love you because you are Gabey.

I love you because you are Tom.

You are, you, are intrinsically worth loving.  Just because you exist, because you ARE.

Every one is.  I don’t have to love, personally, every single person ever.

But I have been given YOU.

And you are worth it all.

There is no measure to a life, no qualifying for value.

I love you, because God made you and placed you with me.

Because you are Chris or Jon or Hannah or Marti or Sarah or Emmy or Anthony or Gabe.

Because you are you.

That’s it.

Why do I love you?

Because you are mine.

Don’t forget.

Me either.

>Measuring. Or, how to make yourself crazy in older child adoption…

We do it all the time.
I could go on a tear about how we as Americans do it, with everything, but that might be a whole ‘nother post….and the point is that we do it consciously or unconsciously…ALL THE TIME.

But let’s stay focused: as parents we measure…what? Everything, right? Right!
And no matter  how you became a parent, you still measure everything..right?
Hmmm.  Think maybe not? Well, consider:

My Chris, this pic makes me laugh…goofy baby pics, gotta love em.

If you are having a baby, by which I mean, you are pregnant and are gonna literally give birth to a child…from the very moment you find out you are pregnant, there you are: measuring.
You measure how many weeks along you are, you count the days since your last period, you count how many months ahead til your due date.  Then you go to the doctor and they too immediately start measuring: they measure your belly for the first time (and they will keep that up until it just alarms you) they measure your weight (again, this continues to a shocking gain – unless you tell them to ‘quit that’ as I did when I just couldn’t take the numbers on that scale anymore).  They measure and they measure.  Thus, it’s no surprise that you are unwittingly indoctrinated into this habit of measuring and by the time that baby pops out – or, if you’re measuring, is pushed out after 21 hours of labor that felt like 45, taking what must be 3 years off  your life with the effort – you are measuring without even realizing you’re doing it.  And of course, they whisk the baby away and do all sort of measuring with fancy names like APGAR and fill in fancy charts and graphs with the incessant measuring.

It doesn’t end there, once you are home you measure the amount the baby sleeps or doesn’t, how much they eat or don’t, or if you’re nursing, how often and how long, you measure their hair with your fingertips and count their toes again and again just to be sure they are all there and as cute as you remembered 5 minutes ago.  Then you start the next phase of measuring which is only slightly less number based: the developmental milestones.  As you can see, it just goes on and on and on, in one form or another…the rest of their measured little lives!

Now it’s easy to think, “Aha, but I’m adopting, that doesn’t even apply to me.” 
Well, hang on Roy Rogers…sure it does.
Because if you’re adopting an infant, well you get ALL the infant measuring from the moment of birth onward and then some.  Yeah, you’re gonna get those APGARS and count those toes, don’t think you’ll skip that part.

Sweet Sarah

But you get the added perk, to make up for the personal belly measuring, of measuring Your. Entire. Life. in order to see if it measures up to the standards of your social worker, the agency, the judges, the police FBI feds government, even if it measures up to Homeland Security if you’re adopting internationally.  Nope, you don’t get a “pass” on measuring in the adoption lanes.
So yeah, you’ll be measuring your weight after all, and your spouse’s, your other kids, even your dog’s weight (Think I’m kidding about the dog? Check out our dossier, I kid you not).  You’ll measure your finances and traffic fines, your health and your fitness to parent, and on and on. Let’s not even get started on measuring and counting the wait!
Finally, when that happy day comes and  you are holding that little one in your arms, well, you will sob with amazement and then you’ll go right back to the measuring game like the rest of the parents.

But this post isn’t about that, not really…..
This post is about the measuring done in a whole ‘nother zone: the zone of Older Child Adoption.
In that world, that lane of family building, the measuring takes on all new meaning and form.

And, it’s not good.

The measuring that is done in Older Child Adoption is not nearly so factual or innocuous.
This measuring is more insidious and unconscious and, frankly, is a big huge bear trap.

Because what they don’t tell you in the adoption books is that we moms, we measure us
We measure ourselves against the first mom, against our ideas of what a perfect mom is supposed to be do or how they should appear (…again, like in the fashion ads, it’s always the Benetton mom..but I don’t have a stylist following me around every day..I know you thought I did, lots of folks make that mistake…but I don’t). 
But even all that, that’s not the worst of it.
The measuring that is killing us, we moms who have adopted older children, and/or children from the hard places, is the measuring of our feelings.
Hear that screeching just saying it? Yeah, my voice goes up an octave or two, on the hard days, when I even say that word out loud.
But taking our emotional temperature, checking in with our feelings (love, like, affection, annoyance, disdain, dislike) most of the time, is a trap.
I’m not saying never do it.
But I’m saying  you need to do it far, far, far less often that you think.

In fact, I would like to point out that I believe we moms, in this circumstance of Older Child Adoption, tend to take our emotional temperature…constantly.  I think we, without even realizing it, are always having it on our radar scroll, just like our own personal emotional CNN.  It’s our ENN (Emotional News Network).

But this is one of the huge differences in older versus younger or infant adoption.
These feelings take longer, there is more to build to learn to absorb to work through…for all parties.
In older child adoption the primal human process of bonding is skewed and twisted all around.  The trauma that is inherent in older child adoption (and it is, always, to varying degrees) and/or the prior family experience all influence the new bonding, and it’s efforts; what it looks like, how it plays, how it stalls, what form it eventually takes.
For all involved, all of it, every bit of it, takes time.  Unknowable, unmapped time.
These older children come to us as whole persons; with personalities and traits and hearts already formed and molded to a very very large degree. 
And so, if any or all of you are taking that emotional temperature, if you’re measuring constantly or even daily (much less hourly or minutely)…you will lose your mind.   You’re setting the stage for crazy.

So stop it.
Yup. Stop it.
Stop the measuring!
I might tattoo that, too, on my forehead so I can look at it every time I brush my teeth.
Stop the measuring!
Measuring implies a mark that must be reached.
There is no mark.
A dear friend told me, at the very start of this last adoption, “Don’t take your emotional temperature every day.  Just don’t.”
She’s right.
Another dear friend told me recently, “Stop being so hard on yourself and measuring to what you think it’s supposed to be.  What if this, right now, is ALL it’s supposed to be? This.  This IS good enough.”

And I guess that’s what I am still chewing on, hence this looong rambly post.
But I think we mom’s, me, need permission to accept that we don’t have to measure every moment, every day, every thing.  We can stop the ENN scroll bar.  We don’t have to even know our emotional temperature.  We don’t have to feel our emotional temperature.  Once more: Love is not about the feelings.
So, let’s stop scanning our feeeeelinnngs.
And let’s kick that bit of crazy right out of our days.
With older child adoption, we are here. We are in place.  We are doing it, all of it.

And that’s good enough.
By any measure.

>Turn-Keys in Adoption: Family Dinner

> Ah, the family dinner.
A subject that greater minds and bigger hearts than mine have explored and pondered for many years. Indeed, it’s  a fixation of modern shelter magazines and cable shows; how to cook and create a wonderland of fantasy meals. 

I’m not gonna attempt to lay down new paths or thoughts; that’s above my pay grade.
This post is my ongoing consideration of dinner, supper, and what it means to the family, especially one built through the often messy process of adoption. 

In fact, I have come to believe that the seemingly simple concept of dinner is really, for us at least, a turn key in attachment.
Yep, this is another one of those posts.  I have a series of them, sporadically put up as I need to process things or I start stewing about stuff {go here:trust, touch, transitions, schedules, Christmas, prayer}.

I think that the whole idea of family dinner is one that is super easy to brush off.  We’ve heard it all before, from our own parents to the modern beta parents on tv: Oprah, Dr. Phil, Dr. Spock, Judge Judy…heck, everybody’s got an opinion.  But this forum is mine and thus this blog post is about my meandering musings down the dinner table.

Now, I’d love to say that our family has beautiful Rockwell quality dinners.  That we all sit down in a calm and mannered fashion to an elegant and/or chic table every night and linger easily over interesting and savory local, foodie creative meals that nourish our bodies and souls.  Right.  But if I did, I’d be lying.

Ramare Bearden, Color Screenprint, 1993

 Our dinners are often a jumble; kids needing to be called to the table, fetched from outside,  hollered for repeatedly (yes, we/I holler, it’s not my proudest moment).  Kids race to snag the primo chair; which designation will ever remain an unfathomable mystery to us parents.  {Sometimes it’s a mystery to the racers too, but the race is on, nightly, nevertheless.}  This frequently leads to some sulking about not claiming said spot and  having to sit in the “stupid” spot.  Dinner is considered and often declared “gross” or “yuk” and the sulk extended.  We parental types try to regain calm by lighting a candle or two and then beginning with prayer, going around the table to nudge each kid to come up with something, anything, to be thankful for this day…all the while reminding the wild small boys to sit on their chair, hands off their legos, cars off the table, sshh, with significant looks and the not infrequent verbal cue.  After that, we try to have real conversation as we dine (ok, we eat).  This effort rarely succeeds; what with two teenage girls and two preteen girls, any variation thereof who can often be found nursing some level of mood. Occasionally, one of the girls might be working an angle to get some yet unknown advantage and thus launch a bright and superficially charming conversational gambit.  Those nights the repartee is especially exciting for the unknown results and volatility.  Otherwise the conversation can be rather stilted attempts at extracting details of the day at school (yes, much like pulling teeth, actually) and continuing to referee sulking players; all the while leaving us two over forty craving scintillating discussion of current events or politics or heck, number theory…anything at all to change it up. (I lied, I will never crave discussion of number theory, evah.)

 Jean Foss, “Family Dinner”

Often enough one or three kids will thank me for the cooking, signaling the end of the meal; a truly lovely and appreciated gesture (always Marta, sweet habit) and then bolt to the beyond of upstairs to escape the ensuing chaos that erupts after dinner.  Then the dishes are clattered to the counters and sinks, reminders of dish night assignments handed out, and the dinner comes to a close as I try to scoot/race the little boys up to the bedtime routine.

Thus we have three phases to our dinners: preparation, partaking, and cleanup.   All of them are key to our family dinner and to the foundation that is laid.  It is the whole of the process that makes the family dinner so important, and yes, a turn-key to adjustment.
I want to say that again: I think the whole of the process: the prep, the sitting/eating, and the aftermath, is important to the bonding and attachment found in the family dinner.

The importance of this meal, it’s function as a key for us, is coming more and more clear to me; especially over these past few months of our adjustment to our newest daughter Marta.  She has a need for a very defined order to her days, she counts on it, it is her safety zone.  And the dinner routine, as close to ‘no  matter what’ we can get, is key to her sense of well being, and thus, attachment.
I daresay it is the same for our other children, young and old, bio or adopted. 

Family dinner counts.

The time to prepare it shows our newest daughter, without words, that this time is important to us as family.  She sees me, as do all  my kids, thinking about it in advance, shopping, preparing it, prepping the table for it.  If it wasn’t important I wouldn’t bother.  They all know it.
If I can get it together during the day, I try to have the table set and dinner planned and begun to prep as she/they arrive home from school….yes, it’s very Donna Reed, but it’s very very comforting and secure.  All of my kids, each and every one, ask me, every day within minutes of seeing me after school: “What’s for dinner?”  Each one of them need that answer, sometimes I say “I don’t know!” But, if I name a meal,  it’s an almost visible sigh out of them to hear the answer – even if it’s not their favorite.  Because it signifies that I am on it and life is secure.  Now, they won’t say it that way, but I see it that way now…because of my newest daughter.  Her life was not secure and dinner wasn’t a guarantee or even always an option.  So, yeah, this is important stuff…for all of them, but absolutely critical for her. 
It is a turnkey on so many levels: food, primal sustenance, comfort, family, routine.

Peter Blume, Vegetable Dinner, 1927

The sitting down together is a coming together, a pause in the day to nourish our bodies and us as a group together, to nourish our sense of family.  The kids can’t see that, sometimes it’s just a chore…for me too.  (I can easily, if I were to choose, skip the eating of dinner, most any day…..)
But beyond that obligation and duty lies great unspoken meaning: family, it’s important and this is ours.
And happily enough, that meaning is not reliant on the context of perfection or glossy fantasies of “should be” or “looks like.”
I will go out on a cyber limb and even say that the very chaotic mess of our dinners, and it’s own particular kind of standard chaos, defines our own family culture and is a feature of this key to attaching into our family. 

The cleanup, well, its not nearly the pretty part.  Not that any part of our dinners every really are so much…but cleanup is a mess and a job.  But by having the kids all take part (they rotate dish duty) and their dad usually giving them a boost of help…they learn that they too are contributors to the family. They don’t only take…they too give to each other and the family.  Giving back is part of the key to attachment.  Unless you are invested in something or someone, by serving them in some form (time, attention, effort), it’s very hard to have a two way attachment. Now, that’s just my opinion…but I hold it close.  I think you love by doing.  I think the best way to help a child learn that they are an integral part of the family is to  have them pitch in and help that family, just the same as the other kids (or to their ability).  

So, who’da thunk it?
Family dinner, be it vichyssoise or burgers, means ever so much more than the calorie count.  And really, it’s not even about the actual food or the quality of it; be it fancy french or sub sandwiches.
It’s about the whole process of the dinner, as a family.
I think it’s one of the better keys in your tool belt as a parent.  
I think that so much of what we do, we feel we have to follow the perfect script or recipe or rules or recommendations.  But the beauty in the messy chaos and routine of the family dinner is that it allows for our unique seasonings and tweaks and settings.  It is our own. 
It is in the very making and prepping and sitting and tastings of it, we find our own selves and each other. 
This is a turn key to attachment for each of us, adopted or not, for healing and blending together as a family.  It is a key that is not a hard metal bit to be clanged about…rather this one is as a red ripe tomato, bursting with goodness, begging to be savored.

Jos van Riswick, Tomato 15×15

>Grief Box


 So, yesterday was another day of undefinable mood for our Marti.
And yes, many days with any teen girl are days of undefinable moody mood….but this one had a different tone.  Some of the clues, right away, that we were gonna have “one of those days” were that she got dressed in a gray sweater dress, despite temps starting in the 70’s and said to rise into high 80’s.  I told her that it was warm and gonna be hot, but there was no changing.  So, sweater dress it was.  Saturday also was a foreshadowing of the day; with double naps.  Naps are one of the ways that she copes and pulls in when she is blue (Not a terrible coping mechanism; quiet but oddly disconcerting).  Another, now classic, sign was that her hair was slicked back tight against her head; a sure sign of some dis-regulation and blue or black mood descending or already in. 

Seeing these signs, right at the start of the day were clues.  Tom and I went kind of automatically into mood-day mode and knew to let much slide, not make too many demands, make sure food was set out and available as soon as we got home from Mass and tried to keep to as standard a Sunday routine as possible.  Now, the day could’a gone way way south, and might have in months past.  This one was just very very quiet; with an obviously blue Marta.   She was aloof and yet shadowing us around too; which is this whole contradictory head-spinning quiet hard behavior; so I figured it was better to address it all head on instead of pretending that it was just a regular Sunday.

One of the tools that a dear friend has suggested to me is a “Grief Box.” She came across this in one of her Hague training videos and mentioned it to me, weeks ago.  I finally went and watched the whole grief training video last week.  It is a good video, worth watching, especially if you are new to the older child adoption world or the world of grief in our children.    So, seeing as it was a Sunday afternoon, with time a plenty, I thought of the grief box.   

Now, I know, a lot of these sort of suggestions need to be done with a proper licensed therapist.  Well, we don’t have one for Marta at this point; it’s complicated tremendously by her lack of language and cognition.  So, with that, it was just us and we were winging it as usual (hopefully not to anyone’s detriment – but really ya never really know in all this, flying blind and all)

Anyhow, I sat and talked with Marta about her feeling sad.  I asked her if many days she feels sad and she agreed.  I asked her if she was “afraid she would forget the sad things?”  She agreed again.   I talked with her that sometimes when we have many things that are sad and hard it can feel like we have to hold on tight to them all, every day.  I acted it out, she nodded.  I said, “Would you like to make a box, a safe box to keep, that we could write down all the sad/hard things and put them in your box?  So you can keep them safe; not forget.  And if you wake up feeling sad, you can open the box and think about them, or show me? “  She said yes.

So we picked out a shoe box.  I pulled out a small pile of construction paper and helped her cover the box in the colors she picked out.  She wrote “Marta’s Sad Box” on the top.  Then we sat and  made a list of the sad things she  holds onto, her losses (the one’s she willing to try with this).  We talked about each one of them.  She talked, I listened.  Her list was what you’d expect from a child who lost her culture and family: parents, home, country.  One of her items surprised and yet, didn’t at all: English.  Yes, english is one of her “sad’s.” Because it’s hard.  And she can’t speak it yet, not really.  And it’s very hard to learn under the best of circumstances.  And she has that deck stacked against her.  But if it’s a grief thing, it can go in the box.  It’s her box, her pick.  I wrote each thing simply on a slip of paper, and she drew a picture of it on the back of the slip.  Then she put it in the box.  Then we closed the box up, lid on.  Then I told  her she can keep it in her room and we can talk about it or about anything at all, ever.  Hard, sad, angry, bad things, good things, old, new. 

She went to her room for a short bit, again.  I went in, after a little bit, and told her again, that she can talk to us, me, dad, about anything, any time.  That I was different than her first mom.  But that I loved her and have big ears to hear and will be here.  She hugged tight and smiled.  And last night, well, it was still a smiley good day sticker, not a “hard day” claimed.  Though I pointed out to her that in truth it was hard, and that was ok.  She shook her head and hugged us tight.

So, I’m wondering, have any of you, with kids from hard places or hard starts, have you used a “Grief Box” and has it helped you? If so, please leave a comment, tell me how it worked for you.  If not, have you used something else? Some of these “hards” are so very hard.  Especially without the language to process it all, how to you help your child to acknowledge it, process it, and move beyond it into a healthier place? I’d love to hear your ideas.

>Marking the Days: Attachment Edition

>Last week I wrote about being the Second Best Mom.
Part of that post pointed out how hurt I was by Marta’s perception that EVERY day was hard with me, in one way or another. I mean, talk about massive “mom fail.” As I considered all this however, and talked it over and through with dear coffeedoc….it became clear that we needed a way to mark that really, NOT every day was awful.
We have had, truly and real time, some or many good and happy days.

This is not to diminish the concept that every day IS hard in that I am not her first, adored, mom and thus it is INTRINSICALLY hard, more difficult…the building of this new relationship.
Because that concept is accurate and true and will be in play for, um, ever.
But I’m not sure if my daughter meant something as broad spectrum as that when she made a kind of rueful, “Oh well, that’s the way it is” kind of face and told me that every day was hard with me. I think, I worry, that she was remembering every day as hard. Therein lies a problem

When we globalize (using terms like “always””never”) any problem, as we, or I, am so wont to do, reflexively…then we are shooting ourselves – and whoever gets swept into that global memory vault – in the foot.
We are really kind of crippling that relationship.
At the very least we are seriously undermining it and any progress that is being attempted.

I don’t want Marta, or me, to remember EVERY day as bad. Or hard.
Because they are not.
I tend to be a cynic and/or pessimist to some degree and I can EASILY zip right over there and rememer only the hard stuff too, so I ‘get’ this.
But it’s a mistake.
I think it’s our human nature to remember the bad, perhaps because it stands out glaring against the good. But that pondering gets all big and philosophical and is a whole ‘nother post or series of them (And probably best done by someone far above my pay grade).

Therefore, in order to offset this tendency, dear Coffeedoc had his usual brainstorm and came up with the idea of Marking the Days.
I know, no surprise that, the man loves a spreedsheet and a system. He got a degree in engineering for pete’s sake, no wonder, he can’t help himself.
I, who got my degree in art, usually roll my eyes at his systematic tendencies because they come about as naturally to me as breathing underwater.
But this one, I was ready to hear, what with me being all broken and hurt and blue….

Thus we have, for the past week or so, been Marking our Days.
And I’m posting because it’s helping, a little bit, so it’s worth marking in it’s own right.

Here’s how we are doing it; both low tech and high (because that’s appealing to the teen side).
Every night, right at bedtime, as Marta comes to me to say goodnight, I stop and say “Oh wait! We need to mark the day. Was today a hard day with mom or a good day with mom?”
And she, so far, has chuckled and said, “Good day.
And I have said, “Ok, here we pick ‘green, good day,’ Me too, ‘green, good day with Marta.’
And then I hit the green smiley face for each of us on the little Iphone app that Coffeedoc modified for me. And we get that satisfying “zing” sound. She smiles and hugs and goes off to bed. I tell her each night, if it was a “hard day” that’s ok, we can pick the red sad face. So, far she has picked green happy face. I’m sure soon enough she will pick red sad face. {Now, the cynic in me is sure that as soon as I say we’ve had only good days so far, we’re doomed to a bad one, right away….aw} Then in the morning, on our big ol’ calendar (hub central) on the fridge, I draw a smiley face by her intitials and by mine in that block for that day. That’s the low tech, luddite version; but also a constant freestanding visual.

Now all this may seem so simplistic and even stupid. And it IS simplistic, but it’s not stupid at all. I think it’s very smart (thank you tom).
Even the process of stopping and marking that day, at bedtime, is a theraputic thing to do.
It shows her that I’m paying attention, to it all and to her and to her perception of our time and interactions.
It shows her without telling her with words (that are hard to understand) that this is important to me too.
It shows her that I care that our days grow better and better.
It shows her without telling her that it’s okay to have different days and that one day is just that: ONE day.
It shows her visually and behaviorally that it’s easy to remember one small bad thing and forget all the good things.
It shows her, clearly, in electronic light plus inked calendar poster, that she really DOES have good days.
It shows her, I hope, that I know I’m not her first mom and that I understand it’s hard for both of us and we are working on this together.
Our hope is that even this tiny little process can have some benefit.
Our hope for all this tracking is to be able to also have her be able to start tracking and seeing and feeling the healing in her heart and the grief by the building of a new good relationship with her new second mom.

Because second place can still be very good.
Second place can still be a place of happy goodness in and of itself.
So we are marking our days, hard good, red green: baby steps with smiley face stamps.

>Competing mamas

>There are so many layers to older child adoption.
Well, ok, there are so many layers to ANY kind of adoption.
One of the layers that is there in any kind of adoption is “The Mama Thing.”
This whole mama thing is something that is SO obvious that it’s so easy to brush past it, or through it, or ignore it, or presume you know it all.
It’s especially easy to do that if your adoption seems to be one of the “simple” ones: of a tiny new infant, or one that has lost, to death, both parents, and so on.
But I want to remind you, because I think we all need reminding and I was reminded ALL too clearly this past weekend, that it is never simple.
Domestic adoption or International, newborn or older, relinquished, abandoned, orphaned; it’s never simple.  
I repeat: It’s NEVER simple.
And in so many ways and on so many levels it comes back to this; always the mama thing.

I know, another vague lead in. Forgive me, you should know by now I do stream of consciousness typing.  This is my cheap therapy and scrapbook, and  my very lifeline some times.  So, bear with me, this is all so tangled in my head and heart. I get glimmers of full grasp of it all and then, it floats just out of reach again.

Doesn’t she just look like she was crowned mom of the year?

But, I think the bottom line is that we, as adoptive parents, often, unwillingly and unwittingly either step into or are placed into a “mama competition.”
{Putting on my hazmat suit now, give me a minute to zip up…..}
What I mean by that is this: it is easy to somehow, unconsciously want to be “the BEST mama” for this new child (or older child).
That’s all well and good, that impulse, that natural instinct.
God help us all if we don’t have it.

But, the mirror trick and the trap is that all too often, again, unconsciously and/or unwittingly, that means that we somehow either place ourselves into a sort of weird unrecognized competition with the first mom, or the child does….or both. 
Now hold on, put those blowtorches on “pause,” I am in NO way saying that we all don’t do our darnedest to honor and remember those first mothers.  I KNOW we do. I know only very few who don’t.
But I am saying that in our efforts to connect with this child, we can forget that they have this humungous truly unfathomable primary loss of their FIRST mom.  We can easily sorta forget the immeasurable depth of that loss in the day to day fluff and dross, because it is not ours.  That loss is not our own.  And really, frankly, if it’s not about me, really, it’s kinda hard to keep it on the front burner.  Because yeah, I am just precisely THAT selfish.
I can read and study, I can post and write, I can pray and talk and identify.
But my child(ren’s) loss is not mine.
Only in the furthest reach is it even tangentially connected to me.  It it theirs.  Not mine.
Not this one.
I cannot, ever, fully, experience or appreciate that loss the way the child does.
Because it is theirs and I can’t fix it. 

But, in bringing this child into our home, our family, and our  hearts, we naturally want to be the best we can for this child.
But you know what it is so easy to forget and that we never should?
We/I will never be the BEST mom for this child.
Our very very BEST, my very very BEST, is second best, period.
I am the second best mom for five of my kids.
Just because I’m the one in place does not, in any way, mean that I’m the best mom for them.
Because I’m not.
I lost that competition (“Who’s the best?”) before it ever started, and that is right and proper and bottom line truth.

This was brought home to me this weekend, with my Marta.
My very best still isn’t good enough, and can’t be.
She told me so herself.  After fussing between us, miscued, misread, by both of the after time…She told me, “Every day mom-hard.”
Ow.  I mean….OW! I was bowled over, almost literally.
My type A, defensive self started instantly charting in my mind all the effort all the work, COUNTING the cost of bringing this child into my heart.  Stung, immediately I thought to start scouring my attachment books once again, find a therapist, set up appointments.  (Yes, this is why this post has to be labeled “all about me me me”…..pathetic but there it is)
It was plain to me, though: Massive Mom Fail.
I cried, hurt and overwhelmed by the bigness of it.

But she is right.
Every day IS hard.  
For her, it MUST be.

I cannot give her what she had and lost. 
I cannot give her the life she had and loved and knew and grieves, with her first mom.
I cannot be what her first mom was to her.
I cannot look smell feel touch talk soothe sing discipline feed hug gaze or even sit with her, the same as her first mom. 
I can’t be a mom of an only child, her.
All of her life with her first mom wasn’t a picnic.  There were some ridiculously hard unspeakable things.  Those things may not even be known, or remembered in her grief, or fully understood by my daughter. 
Even so.
That life, the loss of that relationship and life is deeply, daily, still, grieved by my daughter.
And maybe it should be.
And I can’t prescribe or know when that grieving should be done or if it ever will be.
As a dear friend and social worker tells me, the “idea of forgetting is scarier than being angry and being in pain.”  

So, what’s a mom, the SECOND mom, to do with that truth?
Well, THIS  mom, spent a hard emotional Sunday feeling like her insides  had been scraped out and feeling a bit despairing over it all. 

But, after much processing, praying, talking with Tom (Who, yeah, I was feeling kinda resentful about because he didn’t have to measure up this way, or fail to, etc etc etc – why yes, I am that childish why are you surprised?), and to my dear best pal here who brought me coffee and sat sifting through my teary words of tired hurt…..I realize once again what I have known both in my head and heart for so many years:  I am not good enough.
My Type A self has to learn to live with that.  I had thought I had been learning that lesson for the last twelve years.  Oh, no, not at all.  
I will never measure up to the fantasy of the mother that wasn’t known, nor will I measure up to the mother that is remembered and grieved.
Nor should I.
Each one of my kids has the inborn right to honor and revere and put that first mom on a pedestal. 

I am not competing with that first mom.
There is NO mama competition.
I am the second best mama for these kids.
I promised to love them with my whole heart, intellect, and ability, to give them safety, to raise them as best as possible to be the best person they can be. 
That’s the bottom line.
It was never conditional based on their loving me back or thinking I was the bee’s knee’s.   
They never did promise to love me back; they weren’t even asked their opinion.
So, I lost any “all that” crown before I ever started.

But in that loss, I think, I gain.
Because I learn, really, the hard painful lesson, again and again and again, to let go.
I learn to let go.
Because what is so hard to learn and really accept; is that they were never ours to begin with.
First they were their first mamas, but before that and ever, they are their own and God’s.
I’m just a caretaker along the way.
An opinionated passionate fussy moody gal who stands in the kitchen, all-in, with open hands (on the good days). 
I can do that; with prayer and the help of my dear ones, and a whole lotta Grace….I will.

I’m second.
I’m so grateful for that.

>Turn-Keys: Prayer


I’ve written a number of posts on turn-keys in adoption. {Enough of them that if you want to go back and check them out (and please do!)  it’s probably easiest to do a search on the phrase “turn key.” }
Here is another one that I’ve been thinking about for awhile but have hesitated to post because many of you will scoff or immediately click away.  It’s not out of character for me and for this little blog but it’s not always a popular subject.  But, regardless, it’s integral to me, this blog, and this post.

So, here goes:
This turn-key is about prayer.
If you are parenting a kid from hard places, or an older child new-ish to your family, or yes of course, any of your kids…..prayer is simply key.  A turn-key.  Perhaps THE turn-key.
But it’s not nearly so pat or simple as you might presume.

I think prayer works as a super skeleton turn-key in that it unlocks that attachment in both directions.  Read that again.  Prayer helps the bonding and attachment and healing, in both, or all directions.
No surprise that, eh?

I prayed novenas to bring our Marta home.
I prayed novenas after Marta was home to help us grow through those difficult first months.
I prayed the rosary, every day, for over a year, to help bring Marta home – to help her heal from her TB, to help us have the faith and courage to go get her.
I prayed the rosary most days, but not all, after she got home; and am back at it now, more diligently again.
Others, friends and family, have and do pray the rosary then and now, on behalf of our girl, and me.
I don’t of this praying of mine to say I’m all that. Because I’m so not, if anything it reflects how low I can go, and how great my need is. Ever.
But I put this out there to say that ALL of these prayers, and the intentional action of doing them, have carried us to this Now.
I can’t even begin to imagine trying to undertake this without all that prayer, those rosaries, those novenas, the Mass.
{I should also insert my a declaration of my endless bottomless gratitude for all of you who have prayed on our behalf, you know who you are, and oh, my, thank you and please don’t stop!} 

But another important angle in all this is Marta’s part in those prayers.
We have had to teach Marta how to pray, these prayers.
Well, we haven’t had to teach her, but she wanted to be taught.
Even before she had/has the language sufficient to say the prayers in full, still, she understood immediately that this was prayer that she could do with us.  It was similar enough to some of her Ethiopian Orthodox prayers that she could feel a bit of familiarity.
The Mass worked the same way for her.
Marta, from the first day we met her in Addis, has asked us to go to church, to Mass, to pray.

She asks to pray rosaries with me, with us, even though she still doesn’t have all the words down yet.  She asks to go to Mass, every chance she can get (Which is really every day, Mass is a daily event in the Catholic Church, thanks be to God).   She doesn’t get to go EVERY day, but she goes every day we can get her there, of her own volition.
Because she sees that we value this, she can hold onto one of the deep values from her life before us.  She can even grow it into deeper faith and understanding, of faith, of family, of what it means to love….and that’s just pure gift to us all.

More, when  you pray for someone for a year, or every single day…you cannot help but attach to them, to some degree.  The point of prayer is not that WE transform God’s mind, rather it’s that the praying transforms our hearts.

 Prayer, praying, and especially praying together, however rudimentary, transforms each of us little by little into a closer image of God.  And as God is love, that is precisely what we need in this hard road of older child adoption and attaching and healing from hard places.
I need to transform my stony heart into God’s heart, big enough to love someone, all ones, who cannot love me back, not really.
She needs to learn to open her heart to love and trust this new family, letting God himself in more and more by love.

Praying brings us to common ground.
It’s no longer our big old established family and her small tiny new hurting self; it’s each of us, opening our heart’s to love.
Prayer is the key to that door.
It’s a familiar, well worn key….but it’s a golden turn-key.
Because that familiarity, that common ground of praying as a family, WITH her, FOR her but with her, has been a huge, gigantic, encompassing tool for her to find her way to us and us to her.

As prayer should, when it’s at it’s very best, it brings us home.

>Turn-keys: Christmas Edition


The christmas key {find it here}, who knew? Cool huh?

So, it’s still Christmas.  Which means we are still celebrating, but we are still also working on sidestepping triggers and trying to craft a happy successful holiday.  Today many of my kids head back to school (just over half of them) and I’m reviewing our holiday break.
So I think it’s time for an updated turn key post – holiday style.
For another link in a similar vein, go here, to the always wonderful and insightful Thankful Mom.  She inspires me always, and is a good online buddy.  I know we’d chat for days over coffee if only we lived closer!

Anyhow, so this Christmas we had a much better holiday than last year.  Which kind of blows my mind.  Because last  year was so very hard.  It was full of drama and trauma drama triggers and grief and rage and crying and all such things.  We should have expected it, I suppose.  But somehow, even as you are treading water in the new deep end of parenting with kids who have special needs and hard backgrounds…you (or I did) think that the  “magic of Christmas” will carry you through.  Um, not so much.  Instead, what happens is your discombobulated, hypervigilant, disregulated child(ren) only become more so.

All that is to say, this year, we went searching and thinking in advance for some keys to avoid some of those pitfalls.  We are getting slowly smarter, in that we don’t expect hopes and wishes to carry us over bumpy ground.  This year we opened up our toolboxes and tried to think in advance.  We lowered our expectations and prayed like mad.  And guess what? We have had a much more successful Christmas holiday! I’m not saying it was perfect, because I’m not crazy or stupid.  But I’m saying, it was better.  I’m saying that we even had some real progress, for which I am terribly grateful.  We all are.  I’m saying, Christmas was full of some subtle but very big gifts.

There were a few keys, turn-keys if you will, to the progress.
One of the keys is a given, it is time.  Simply put, she has been home now 17 months and she has one Christmas under her belt.  It was not all new.  That is huge.  For a hypervigilant kid, to know precisely what is going to happen, when and how is absolutely critical.  It pains me to think how hard last year was for her, knowing her intense need for routine and fear of change.  This year, however, we had something to build on, and that allowed her to relax somewhat and even enjoy bits of the holiday that repeated from last year.  This year she had ornaments that were repeats from last year, and it tickled her to put each of them on the tree….just like the other kids.

Another holiday key was again the scheduling in advance.  We laid out the schedule in advance, the days were clearly marked and spelled out, so she knew exactly what to expect and when.  We had to go over it again and again, but that is standard and so we did.  It helped.  And we piggybacked it on the key of time, reminding her that we did it this way, the same, last year.

We did a lot of direct assignment of tasks.  Giving her tasks that contributed and helped her feel both part of the preparation and also productive.  Sitting around bored is a killer.  Tasks are good, if well considered.

We did a lot of checking in.  Checking in with her as the day(s) went on, with a word of encouragement or praise and a quick hug and smile with connected eyes.  Such simple things, so easy to forget and so critical to the ongoing mood regulation.

Perhaps the biggest best key this year was Christmas specific: gifts.  She got to give every one in the family a gift.  Sounds like an “of course, doh” kind of thing, right?
Not at all.
Stupidly, last year we were all just so overwhelmed by all the changes that we kind of gave a pass to the kids on giving gifts to each other, individually.
I mean, when you have eight kids, that adds up to a huge logistical nightmare of trekking to stores and buying and wrapping and sorting and oh my goodness I start to swoon just typing about it…….
In fact, this year I advocated with my husband for the large-family classic mode of drawing a name between the sibs, one name/one present.  He wisely enough thought about it and said, “No, I think they should all give gifts to each other.”  At which point I promptly got a massive migraine.  Then he (again, wisely…he may be many things, but he’s not stupid) said, “And I’ll take them, I’ll be in charge of it.”  At which point I promptly gave him a big smooch.
Anyhow, being able to go and pick out a small gift for each member of the family…wrap it, put it under the tree, and then watch it being opened…was just a hugely important thing to her.  No surprise I suppose, it is the joy of giving.  And it enabled her to really participate in Christmas, for the first time in a way that she understood.

So this year, Marta got to get presents but also give them.  And that, perhaps, was the greatest turn-key under our tree this year.  It was the one all fancy, above, that helped us all have a much more relaxed and happy Christmas.  It was a tool and a key, yes, but even more so, it was a gift to us all – literally and figuratively.  It was a key to healing, which is the greatest gift, once again, that any of us can be given.
Attachment only comes, truly, with time and healing and I will gather any and every key I can find to unlock it and bring it closer.  Those keys, they are gifts of gold to me.  They are gifts of family.

>Merry Eve of Christmas for a Mom!

>Well, we still have much of this holiday to come…
but this Christmas eve, this mom/me just got what might be my best Christmas present, below:

That note?  It is a huge giant step forward for my daughter, my newest one from hard places.
Seems like a typical kid love note.
Tomorrow might be hard again.  I hope not.
But even so, I’m marking this.
Because this is big and tonight she was happy enough to write this and hand it to me with a huge grin, ducking her head as she came to hug and kiss me.
It might as well be gold.

It’s good.
It’s progress.
Which is, of course, the best present of all to us both.
Brought, of course, by a “little” child…..and I’ve been given the eyes to see and this is Christmas Joy.

Merry Christmas Eve!

>Dancing with the Holidays: Attachment version

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Matisse. I love his painting.

We are one week away from Thanksgiving, and the advent of um, Advent, and Christmas, and New Year’s; the whole Holiday Season.

We are looking down the barrel of fun of parties and guests and rich food and too much sugar and long talks and late nights and shiny presents and long Mass and extra cooking and cleaning and shopping and on and on.
That’s fun, right?

Well…yes, for the most part.
But even for many of us, it is so easy to get overwhelmed by it all.
How many calls, books, blogs, articles do we see read hear to SIMPLIFY the season?
I’m all for it, really I am.
Because if I can get overwhelmed, and I am a high energy multitasking mom who’s second nature is to live life on overdrive, keep it full to the brim, do something for pity’s sake….then how much easier is it for a kid? How easy is it for a kid from another world to get overwhelmed…especially if she or he is from some hard background or past events, and is still trying to assimilate into a large noisy culture, country, family?

Well, it’s not only easy; it’s part of what you, by which I mean, I, should be anticipating.
It’s practically part of the season; it’s the Holiday Dance.

Edvard Munch
And I don’t mean that in a snarky or mean way, I mean it in the “accept it because it’s gonna happen so prep for it and not let it trip you up” kind of way. Because I think if we, ok I, actually anticipate it, then I can approach those feelings in a much more productive, dare I say, “therapeutic” way?

I know from last year and from living with my newest daughter for sixteen months that any change in the daily routine, no matter how small, throws her. Those routines, no matter how mundane, are her safety net. Her developmental delays aggravate that fact; however they are not the sole source of her seasonal distress. It is the adjustment, the attachment, and the fact that all that takes a really long time. It takes years and years. We are really just baby steps into it all, just learning how to anticipate each other’s steps and turns. Seems like we should be well fitted partners by now. But we are not. Even though it feels often like it should be all figured out and settled by now. But it’s not. It won’t be. It can’t be.

The holiday season takes the dance that we do – and are learning together – every day, and it spins it around in a disco ball kind of frenzy. It makes us all dizzy and while that can be fun and exciting for some of my kids and some days, mostly it makes my daughter either spin out of sorts or out of control or simply shut down from the too much of it all.

So our very careful crafting of the holiday season needs to figure out how to bring in those well loved traditions of the season and the faith and our family, to teach those steps to our new daughter, simply. Sometimes she just doesn’t wanna dance.
She doesn’t wanna see the new steps or shining lights.
She is still in process of grieving the old dances, or still too fearful to let go of her sense of self control and trust us enough to reach out and help us lead her into the new holiday dance and traditions and family ways.

So, I guess that’s where I want to start; with talking about standing on the edge of the dance floor, trying to coax my daughter (who doesn’t really like to dance, yet) out onto the floor. She can hold onto my hand, and her dad’s. We will try hard to anticipate the steps to this dance. We will simplify them.

Matisse, again. “The Dance.” A favorite.

We will, I will, try to remember to brace and embrace her through the dance of this holiday season so that we can all come to enjoy the season and it’s richness in full. And maybe one of these years, when we are looking down the barrel of the holiday seasonal hoopla, we can all anticipate it with glee and deep smiles instead of fear and fretting.

Maybe I will be able to as well, if I can remember that I’m dancing not just with the holidays but with my daughter. And a one, and a two…..