Hope and Healing in Older Child Adoption


How long does it take to heal the body? How long does it take to bring a child from hard places, especially places where they spent a long time in deprivation and/or sick, to a healthy level? How long does it take to say, for certain, “Ah, they are healthy now, really”?

The answer: Far far longer than you might imagine.

The other answer: Be patient, because it can happen.

Our Marta has been home for over three years. They have, at times, felt like forever. Those years have, at times, felt like a blink. She came home to us bearing scars from her past life that will never leave her, inside and out. She came home to us much less well than we expected; thought not actively ill. Perhaps, that sounds like I’m using double-speak. I’m not trying to, rather, I’m trying to be accurate because I think this discussion of our older adopted kid’s health is important. It’s not discussed at length, possibly because each child is unique, of course, and each one comes with their own constellation of issues and needs and whatnot, on every level.

Adopting older children is complicated beyond imagining. All too often that phrase is thrown out and folks nod their head and then move on. Unless you’re actually in the trenches of older child adoption. Then you might sigh with recognition, shudder with dread, break down weeping that someone else has said it out loud, or lift a wry toast of your martini in homage. But, it is – challenging.

One of the really complicated parts of older child adoption can be the nurturing them back to health. And I used the term “nurturing” not “nursing” them back to health. Because only sometimes does the child come home actively ill and needing to be ‘nursed.” And then, I presume, the transition to a base level of recovery from that illness is marked; but then you fall back into this category of health/wellness that marker is much more blurry.

We must NURTURE our older children back to health. For their heart, that nurture will be a lifetime job. For their body, it can take so very much longer than expected. Indeed, new physical issues and problems can take time to reveal themselves just because they have to get over more serious issues first. For instance, they might have a certain parasite issue that you couldn’t even know about because of their overall lack of nutrition and/or other illness or bacterial problems. It can be like peeling an onion. But even once you’ve gotten the bases covered, seen platoons of specialists and had reams of tests, you might not be there. You might think that kid is healthy now, SO much more healthy. And they are….they are objectively healthier than they were on arrival.

But health, it’s a continuum, isn’t it? And that continuum is so much longer and wider than I realized. As I said, Marta has been home almost 3.5 years. She came home just recovered from a very serious bout of TB. But she came home well. On paper. As the years have passed, we have watched her health improving in her skin, her hair, her body filling out, her immune system strengthening. In fact, I thought by last year, about this time that we had made it. We had nurtured her to a really good, lasting base level of health.

But ya know what? She had more leaps to make! Who knew? This girl had more health to gain and grab onto. I was sure she was as healthy as she could be. And she was, for that point (2+ years in). But, guess what she did? Not only has Marta finally gained about 10-15 pounds, last spring she GREW AN INCH!!!! NO kidding! I know! I was stunned myself! I had to remeasure twice, no three times. She grew. She grew!

Marta came to us as a tiny girl. Not a young little girl. Just a tiny person girl. Her age is roughly a mid teen. Her growth was stunted due to deprivation. Her growth was FINISHED by every standard medical marker. Her health got better, and we knew that she would always have compromised lungs from scarring and a big cough and asthma. We feared she’d always be first down to any bug. But, we had no expectations of her actually growing, in any way, certainly not taller. BUT SHE DID. She grew. An inch. That’s HUGE! Maybe not huge on the yardstick but huge in terms of wellness. But -and mark this- it took almost THREE years home to before she was able to grow one inch! She is healthier, she is NOT first down with any bug. Her immune system can be a touch fragile but she was one of the last to get the most recent cold in the house. Her cough is dreadful and lasting, but it’s just a cough. We got her another of her biannual chest x-rays this week. And it is noticeably improved!! Scarred, yes. But, her doc said she her films just keep improving.

How long is that? How much time and patience and work and nurture and food and care and safety and relaxing into a new home does the body need to deeply heal? Because that’s what this is: DEEP HEALING of the body. Her heart and head will be a lifetime of the same nurture, with skirmishes from hormones and trauma triggers. But her body, it’s healing. It’s healing not just on the surface with her now luminous skin and her bright eyes and her features filled out instead of gaunt. It’s healing on a deep inner level, a truer wellness.

So, how long should you expect that deep healing to take when you bring home a child from hard places? I think you should be thrilled by the first stages of healing, heck, by every stage. But, I think that I wish someone had told me to be patient and to hope for more than we first imagined. To expect it to take so very very much longer to heal deeply, physically, than I ever could guess. Don’t get me wrong, I also know that every new marker is so worth it, and such a welcome sign of healing and hope. And I’m so grateful. I’m amazed. I’m shocked that her health is still making such forward progress. It’s been so long. A second lifetime. But this one, it’s all about the healing.


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.

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.


We are seeing change.



Change right before our very eyes.

And, really, it’s kind of nice because for once we get to SEE progress instead of only try to analyze and infer progress. For my tired old mind, that’s just a nice change-up. I realize that this is a routine passage for most kids in our modern culture. But let me remind you that it is NOTHING like routine for some of our kids. In fact, for my daughter from Ethiopia, this was unthinkable. Literally, unthinkable. Not even a dream.

You see, this little girl had never been to a dentist and this little girl was so SO shy and so SO self-conscious that she hid her smile behind her hands. Sometimes, if you could delight her or make her laugh at some silly slapstick physical comedy, then her smile would light up a room. But she would quickly catch herself and hide it. Not long after we brought her home, a few months, she asked about the braces on her older sister’s teeth. She pointed at them and then pointed at herself and asked, “Me?”

Oooh. We discussed it, alone, as parents of a newly home teen. We evaluated the lack of words to convey the process, the difficulty, the length of time, the pain. We talked about it with her as best as we could, we showed pictures of the process, we looked at calendars. She was insistent, “Me? Yes, ok, please. Me?” We thought of putting it off for a long time, until she had more english, more security, more time at home. But, she can be a stubborn, pushy little gal…..and so, finally, we caved said, “We can go talk to the doctor.”

And so we did. And we spoke with him at length about the particular challenges of this set of teeth and patient. He was game to try. He understood the need to be EXTRA gentle, and slow, and careful, and KIND. He understood her need to have me by her side, literally sitting on the edge of the chair, at each and every checkup and procedure. His office and staff didn’t blink. They just did it. Kindly. Patiently. Always, always, with a smile. For TWO years.

Now, yesterday, they once again, had an appointment with my Marti. But this one was MUCH anticipated and dreamt about. This one was to remove those braces.

This one, once again, was done with kindness and gentle hands but also much pomp and circumstance to celebrate the big day: balloons, gifts of forbidden snacks (popcorn, starburst), photos, hugs, high fives. She also got her new retainer for nighttime, and practiced taking it in and out a few times to make sure she could do it well. It was fine tuned to keep her new smile all beautiful and in place.

So we have our shy girl, the one who came to a new country and new family. She said to me in her first months home that she was “No pretty,” she cried and hid her mouth. Nowadays she’s feeling pretty good about herself, I think. She talks daily of her “Magic Hair” (‘nother post that!). And, now, she laughs with joy at her new megawatt smile and when I told her she was beautiful, she laughed and hugged me tight. Her smile lights up her face and she is all grins now about that smile; she says it is “SO pretty! Me happy!” Which makes me grin.

And, just because it’s kinda perfect, there is this: when she picked out her colors for her retainer, she picked a hot pink {of course}. Then she was asked if she wanted to pick any decals. She picked a butterfly. I didn’t think anything of it, til I saw her yesterday, giggling and smiling ear to ear without those braces. And there it was, right next to her, emblematic. She has grown out of her cocoon. She has changed in her own metamorphosis.

Our Marta has become that very butterfly.

Conference day

So today is the day and I’m at the Empowered to Connect conference!

Let me say I was kind of nervous to come, but also really looking forward to it! Dr. Purvis is amazing. Really. And while I thought I was coming to refresh my brain cells and knowledge base about my child from hard places….i’m finding that I’m seeing the connections ever more to a couple of my kids who have other tough behaviors and issues. These kids have been home since infancy but have some difficult behaviors and over time it’s oh so easy to fall into the trap of worn down burnout. But, as you know and as I know…that is a mistake. And this conference is a refresher course on what can be done to help, in small simple but profound ways. This conference is a reminder to always connect – to not forget to try. Because their hearts still cry out for it. As does mine.

Thanks so much for helping make this happen tom! Plus, bonus points, I just got to say hello to a rock star blogger and mom: Lisa from “One Thankful Mom.”. Make my day! Shes just as beautiful and nice in person as you’d guess. Lovely.

Great day. Gonna be tired. Totally worth it.

>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.

>Tattoo You


That’s right, once again I have stepped into my own personal quicksand and emotional bear trap.
I was joking with a girlfriend that I need to tattoo this on my forehead, so I’ll see it every single time I brush my teeth:

It’s not about me.
Right here.  That’s where it needs to go…

Yuh…see, because, it always so is, I make it so (Just like Jean Luc Picard! But not so elegantly. Not near….).  And, yeah, by posting I’m continuing the cycle..I know I know…you see how I get stuck?!
But I need to remember it, chant it, memorize, do homeschool copy work:

it’s not about me its not about me its not about me its not about me it’s not about me its not about me its not about me its not about me it’s not about me its not about me its not about me its not about me it’s not about me its not about me its not about me its not about me it’s not about me its not about me its not about me its not about me it’s not about me its not about me its not about me its not about me it’s not about me its not about me its not about me its not about me it’s not about me its not about me its not about me its not about me it’s not about me its not about me its not about me its not about me...

Anyhow, you get the idea.  One of my favorite mama trauma bloggers had a post all too similar up like this, except hers really wasn’t about her, it was about someone else who was terrific and a link to their post.  I am sure I’ve stolen it in some lesser form out of my tortured memory today….See, still, not good.  Go read her blog tho, if you want insight or profundity or just a breather from some of the tough time in parenting land….

Because, no, it’s not about me.  So if it’s not….why can’t I step out of it all, parent more SIMPLY, take the breather that the concept offers…and stop the hard and hurt of it all on the bad days? Parent the behavior and not the emotions.
Why can’t I just let go?
Simple huh?
Apparently…not so much.

Tattoos….looking better all the time.

>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 us..in 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.

>Happy Sad. Mark the good.

>I’ve had a few posts on “marking the good.”
This is another.
I think it’s important, for me personally, but also in general to mark the good.
When you’re talking about older child adoption and/or working with kids from hard places or with hard needs, I think it’s absolutely critical to mark the good.
Because if you don’t you might just drown.
Marking the good is a lifeline.
It is a critical point of reference that must be indelibly inked in your consciousness, lest it flees from the mire.

That said, I want to mark the good.
This is one of those small but huge ones.  Most of these are really.  Because with these kids  you don’t usually have the brass band events of good to let you know, “hey, this is a good one, this is progress, file it away.”  You get these tiny fleeting moments that might even pass you by in the actual moment…until you think back on it and get that ‘aha!”
I love an “aha!”

Anyhow, this is all to preface another tiny but huge good we’ve come to here in the coffeehouse, and with our Miss Marti.
We’ve just passed through the minefield commonly referred to as “The Christmas Holidays.”
We managed to tiptoe through it fairly well, with only a few tripped landmines and a minor loss of limbs and scorching.  Overall, really, it was much more successful than we anticipated or hoped for.  (I still feel the need to kind of whisper that, just in case somehow it jinxes it.  I know, I’m Catholic, not supposed to fall for that kind of superstition…I told you this was tricky stuff…)  

But then, along came Christmas night:
We had done the vigil Mass. We had done the giddy hysteria of opening presents.

We had done the excess of birthday on top of the excess of Christmas.

 Finally, we were at that ebbing tide of the day: evening.  Everyone was tired, but a happy, sated tired.  The kids were roaming quietly, fooling with new toys or gadgets.  New pj’s had been donned, dishes done.  My eldest, Chris did what he usually does and  made for the piano.  Tom joined him to sit and listen.  Marta quickly found her way to snuggle up next to dad.  I donned my goofy christmas pj’s, in solidarity with the girls (and to show them that there is a certain wonderfulness in super soft flannel warm pj’s despite the old fashioned print…. if not because of it).  I had tucked the small boys in, at last.  So I too, was beckoned down to listen to my son play and sing.  By this time, he had gone through his own choices of warm ups and tunes and he had begun taking requests.

Now, let me be clear..this is always a dicey time for me.  I love listening to my son play and sing more than I can say.  Truly. At this point however, it is a tough thing for me to do, as it  makes me cry…it pulls those tears from the depths of my inner heart.  They are so sweet, and bittersweet and just a salty mess.
I am careful, very careful, about my tears…if at all possible.
Because Marta has radar, or sonar, or whatever you’d like to call it.  But if she sees me crying she cries.
Every. Time.
And so, to even step into that room and sit, knowing that I couldn’t stem the tears well..was an act of …I don’t know. I’d like to say faith…but maybe it was sheer stupidity, or tired or resignation.  I don’t remember.
But I did. I gave her a big smile when I came in.  She gave me one back and hugged her dad.
Dad made a few requests…..I could feel the tears pricking but busied myself looking at book spines.  Blinking hard and fast, head turned.  Marta was intent, watching Chris.  All good.
Then, she called out, “Chris.  Marta song, pleeeasseeeee!?”
Chris looked at me, looked at her, looked at dad.
He chuckled. Dad chuckled. I held my breath.
It had been a long day.
Tom nodded at me. It will be ok.  I gave him, “the look.” You know that look, the one that says, “do you know what you’re doing? It’s been a long day and I went to sleep at four and woke at six and I don’t know if I have the reserve to deal with any meltdown, really…?”
He nodded again.
So Chris played it.  It’s this song:

That is Chris playing “All will be well,” By Gabe Dixon.
It’s the song we  used for our “passing court” video on blog. Marta considers it her song, she is QUITE proprietary about it.
And so he played it.  He gets better and better all the time.
I held my breath and closed my eyes.  Then I opened them and glanced her way.
Sure enough, she was crying.
She was rubbing her eyes and nose, mouth kind of grimaced.
I felt the tension immediately, in my gut, my neck.
She came over to  me, and climbed on my lap, spilling over it.
I hugged her and said, “You ok? It’s ok.”
And she said……wait for it……..”Ok mom. Happy Sad.”
And she hugged me.

Happy sad.
These two emotions haven’t been able to be pieced together by this young girl, since she came home.  There was no such thing as happy tears.  Tears  have only been sad. Ever. Even when I’ve tried to tell her and show her and she’s seen me cry them at, oh, every birthday and holiday.  And tears and/or sad always have led to deep running grief.
But this Christmas, we got a gift.
And I’m marking it down.
Happy Sad.
She was crying, but happy. She knows what that song  means and she can feel that pang of deep happy that makes you cry.
She LOVES to have Chris sing and play that song.
She makes me turn it up if we hear it on the radio.
And this Christmas, in the quieting of the evening….she hit another marker.
Tears, happy tears.
“Happy Sad.”
Healing goodness. Happy Sad.

>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.

>Annnnd, Action!

>Sounds like I’ve moved back to LA and am joining the throngs of movie director wannabe’s, right?
Not so much. 

 {I fear if I did it would end up like a bizarro Luis Bunuel movie….}

This is a short bit on learning and living with kids; those from hard places and working on learning to live comfortably with new families in new places, but even those kids who are just in the normal hard places of teenager-hood or middle school… heck, really this works for any kid.

But this post isn’t really about the kids at all.
It’s about the mom, the me.
It’s a long steep learning curve and a slippery one at that, for me.  I’ve been doing this parenting thing for over twenty-one years now…you might well presume I’ve got it down, pat.
Not so much.

Because I have some very bad habits and personality quirks, the kind that keep knocking  me back when I’m trying my darnedest to move forward.
This is one of the biggies.
I am a “reactor.”
I am what we call around here a “high responder.”
Yuh.  Me.
I bet you’re surprised.
Ok, not so much, I know. 

This tendency of mine can be a very good thing when it’s all about the high high’s, the high fives, and the parties and the cheering successes.  It can be a very good thing when it’s passion and caring and persevering with intensity, like when you are going to bat for your kid.
But it’s not so good when you are responding, or reacting, to the other high responders in the house.
Because that is when you need to play against type, and you need to pull back and chill down, slow down.  And then, in that pause that you’ve just given yourself before you react without thinking, in response to whatever blowing….you get, you need, to act.

Deliberate, intentional action, is a much better choice, always, than reaction when you are talking about kids who have high responder natures, or buttons.
To act, instead of react, is key.
And if you’re like me, you might, just maybe, tend to react in anticipation of the event.
Which of course makes it all doubly difficult.

I am trying, mindfully, {no, really honey, I am} to try to not anticipate, to only act after the fact, and then only to what is actually happening (rather than react to my expansive imagination on the multitude of possibles). 
Sounds really good, doesn’t it?
Not so easy though, all this deliberateness.
It’s the anticipation of the blow and the immediate visceral reaction that is the hardest to stem, actually.  When I know something is gonna trigger a blowout or a domino reaction snit and attitude, my stomach immediately knots up and my breathing changes.  It’s my own trigger.  But I am working on slowing, stopping, and setting the anticipation aside.  Because it’s unfair, it’s a disservice to whichever child is in mind.  And I am forcing myself to wait, trying trying.  (Another weak skill.) To just wait to see if the anticipated fallout um, falls out…and only then, ONLY then, start dealing with it.  And then, deal with it in an intentional way, not an expanded way, but an intentional action of empathy and logical consequences.

Again, sounds really great, lofty even, huh?
Not so much.
It’s a total work in progress.
But progess it is.
And progress I’m seeing, baby baby steps.
Because ya know what? Sometimes, my expectations are left wanting.  That fallout…it doesn’t happen, or it is smaller than I imagined.  Not always, but maybe it’s getting more of a chance to be so.  Because I’m not escalating it myself in advance.  Ouch. But, I’ll take that hit, the ouch, mea culpa….if it means that we can have less drama overall.  Even mine, maybe.

Not reaction. Not anticipatory reaction.  Just action.  Deliberate.  On time.
What a concept. Awfully challenging.  But, what a concept.

>I am her

>So I have a jumble of thoughts crowding and pushing around my brain. A tangle of them, if you will.  Which means, once again, I have to type them to sort them out.  But they seem to have some measure of need to be brought to light and examined, here, in this forum; my blog. Maybe so that others can help me understand them more clearly, I’m not sure.  But, here goes and fair warning.

With several of my kids, but especially with my newest to the tribe, it can be hard to connect.  For me.  That doesn’t make me proud, in fact in humbles me, embarrases me and shames me; it brings me quite literally to my knees.
I desire to connect.
I desire to feel that squooshy goodness of warm loving feelings, and fierce mama love towards them.
But all too often, many days, it’s kind of, um, missing.  And it’s all too easy to blame the kid.
This kid. That kid.  Her.
And it’s all to easy to say, “She’s difficult.  She’s so needy.  She’s attention seeking, again. She’s/he’s whining.  She’s angry, again, over nothing.”  I know, awful, isn’t it?? And it’s all too easy to harrumph and sigh and throw a quick roll of eyes as I march over to meet the need, once again, resenting this imposition on my activity, my attention, my time.  Me me me.  Yeah, it’s not only you who noticed…me.  It’s all about me.  Sigh.
But, in a whole ‘nother way, that – densely – I am only just being willing to admit: it really is all about me once again.  And not in a good way, if there can EVER be a good way to that (No, there can’t.  So in an even worse way).

Ack, see a jumble.  Sorry.  Stay with me.
You see, I realize that all the things that make me most crazed about this girl in particular, ok, any and or all of my kids….are the things that are JUST. LIKE. ME.
I know, there’s that old adage: “The things you hate most in another person, are your own worst habits.” Or something like that, but that’s the gist.
Gah.  I hate that!
Truth hurts, eh?

Yeh, this truth hurts….especially when you are trying to bond and grow into love with a young kid from hard places and trauma responses and survival skills.  Those ingrained behaviors that  you think are so foreign to you and your neat tidy family….maybe aren’t so much, maybe aren’t so foreign after all.  Those annoying behaviors might be just more intensified and or frequented mimics of the very things that you do too, or ok, I do too.
But, think about it.  That might be.
I’m thinking about it.
It is.

I am  her.
I am the same girl who wants to crawl up into my husband’s lap after a tough day, and doesn’t always like to share that attention.
I am the same girl who wants to make sure someone, maybe lots of someones, know if I’m in a bad mood.  Or very tired.  Or angry.
I am the same girl who wants to make sure the dad sees her hurt leg, and looks at it, and preferably kisses it and hugs her.
I am the same girl who wants to lean against someone if her head hurts.
I am the same girl who gets frustrated and sometimes snitty if she is misunderstood.
I am the same girl who wants to have what she likes for dinner, and will kind of eat less if she doesn’t.
I am the same girl who needs a lot of sleep and if I don’t get it, might just get frazzled the next day and sigh and fuss and roll her eyes at reasonable requests.
I am the same girl who can cry when just so frazzled, when it’s too much and she’s past the point of coping.
I am the same girl who can be hypervigilant, because she wants to control….everything.
I am the same girl who wants desperately to be understood, and to understand, especially when she isn’t.

I might not use my skills for manipulation (which, if I say so myself, are rather impressive), so much anymore; but I’m older and I don’t really need those skills because I’m in charge and call most of the shots.
I might be able to withstand most discomfort now, but I’m older and have learned that most things pass.
I might be able to tolerate annoying sounds or people, for a little longer anyhow, because I have loved them from babyhood.
I might be able to trust because I know these people intimately; through and through over so many years (Heck, I can know what they will do many times before they do).

So, this is all to say….it humbles me that the very one that I fuss about because I am slow to connect….she is me.  I am her.
I don’t know whether this means I need to forgive myself for these traits, or her.  Or both of us.
Because I certainly want to be loved and believe I am lovable.
Isn’t it only fair that she does and is too?

I can only guess that, once again, God gave me this child, this one, so that I can learn to love better.
And I pray, every day, to be able to love better, more truly, less selfishly.

God gives me extra lessons, because I am such a hard case, a slow learner, and my selfish heart needs to see the hard truth:  

I am not so loveable, so much of the time.
I am sure I make so many crazy, sorry Tom, kids.
But, if I claim that love….so can she.

Because I am her.
She is me.
She has the same stake, the same claim.
We gave it to her.
God gave it to her.
She deserves it as much as anyone, certainly as much as me.
I daresay more so.

>Mark the good, belated redux

>I’ve written before about “marking the good.”
I think it’s an important thing to do, and it’s one I too often fail to do, either here in this forum or, truly, in my own chatter and mind.
It’s oh so much too easy to only see or remember the bad, the hard, the challenge.
And, it’s probably my inborn gripey moody nature to do so.

But I think it’s worth trying to step over and beyond our complacent habits of being and doing…especially when it comes to being able to see the good that surrounds us.
Because, really, if we blink we might miss it.
Especially when you are talking about the good in older child adoption adjustment and/or kids with difficult needs or special needs and/or attachment and/or grief/trauma issues.
Just in that sentence alone, as you can see, the bad can easily sink the good.

So, I want to go on the record that over this last weekend of Thanksgiving holiday, we had some good. Some good to mark.
Some good to give hope – certainly to me, but also, maybe, to any other mom who is doing the day in day out work of adjusting and theraputic parenting and such.  This mom encourages me all the time in her blog, go see, she is of the same mind this week: mark the good, note the progress. I wish I lived closer to her and could hang out over coffee and shortbread cookies….

Anyhow, back to the good, noticing and marking…
These things weren’t glaring or obvious trumpeted things.
As usual, they were subtle moments, or, more even, they were an absence of tough and a presence of um, kinda normal.
 Read that again, there was more time without drama.
There was a sort of calm coping. Or “undrama,” if  you will.
Yes, I just made that word up, because somehow, it relates to the trauma drama that can be a pervasive silent ghostly but tangible enough cloudiness in a  house.  “Undrama” is the hoped for flip or even a passing by on a tricky weekend.

Anyhow, as I was saying, or want to say….this past weekend had much craziness built in to the festivities: guests, extra guests, boys home from college, no school, big cooking and house prep, schedules whacked out.

 (homey buffet, but it was the requested fav’s of the college boys, so we ran with it…
because being HOME was the point of the weekend in many ways)

 I wrote about it here, and hoped that it some advance prep would help.
Well, it did!!
Not to say that everything was perfect or that this was the only reason, but overall, we had an ok, kinda normal level of behavior weekend.  Which, considering the potential, is amazing.
Now, we also worked hard on keeping coping methods in the forefront and this one child in particular on radar (though not solo on that radar, if you get my drift, there is managing multiple kids out the wazoo during weekends like this).

But here is what worked:
– staying tuned in to the ‘weather’ of mood and coping,
– redirecting her to a special given task of help if there was drifting into the dark mood,
– going for a walk – just her and dad and puppy to get some breathing time again (one of the trump cards that is usually a win and can almost always rescue a mood swing),
– checking in with a whisper and a hug and a “good job” with a wink,
– discussing in advance the nervous making parts,
– and allowing flight to a calmer safer quiet place (bedroom) if she was feeling overwhelmed.
Now, we don’t use those words (flight, overwhelmed, etc) as we discuss and prep in advance, but we try to convey the feelings and actions to help in words she can understand.

 {As you can see, the presence of my Chris, her adored big bro, didn’t hurt either.  Huge help.}

I put all these up there not to say, “Oh wow, we did great” but rather to say, “O wow, SHE did great!” These things made a difference.
The seventeen months’ she’s been home and safe have made a difference.
The seventeen months of working on these things have made a difference.
But these things, this weekend, they also made a difference.  It wasn’t a heavenly light show with a choir kind of difference, but it was a weekend without a major screeching halt to deal with a trigger reaction.
And that, right there, is a bit of a a heavenly choir in my mind. 

So I want to mark the good. We had a good, great, exhausting, kinda normal Thanksgiving weekend.  And that is a world of good different from last year and it gives me hope for maybe, maybe, a better Christmas this year too.  It’s progress.  I’ll take it. 

{Two of M’s other favorite people: dear sweet Leslie and her other adored big bro!}

I saw the good; I’m marking it.

>Turn-key: Schedules (holiday edition)


I’ve written before a few times about the process of adjusting in adoption, especially with older child adoption.  I’ve talked about the idea of the turn key: one key that can turn the lock and you step right into a functioning enterprise (business, relationship, whatever).  As I stated before, adoption is NOTHING like that.  Ever. 
Yet, we, or I, fantasize about it all the time.
I wish I had a turn-key to adoption adjustment, really, really I do.
But I’m starting to get used to the idea that, I don’t, no one does.
As you embark on the process of an adoption, any adoption at all, those fantasies are rampant. 
Sure they get a little dull and bogged down by the cumbersome invasive excruciatingly slow process of adoption:  homestudies, background checks, financial and medical letters, references, duplicated certified stamped filed and stamped some more.
But even so, once you are through all that and you actually have the new family member, the child, home in the house…that’s when it all just gels, right? You’ve turned the key and stepped across the threshold to a brand new life!
Well, sort of anyhow.
This process of adjusting once you have a new child is what has me still and continually obsessing thoughtfully pondering about what makes it work and what doesn’t.
But this post, this series of posts, is about what has worked – for us.  I couldn’t begin to expand it further than our own wacky family; that would be wrong.  Because this is all only my own two pence.  But if I find something that consistently makes a difference, I want to throw it out there in case it might help smooth any path for anyone else.  Those stubbed toes on this sometimes-rocky path of adoption adjustment – they hurt!
So, with that long prelude, we come to this post. 
This post is about an important key to the adjustment in our house: schedules. 
Especially during the holiday season, schedules are critical.
They are a turn-key to unlocking a feeling of control and safety during a very uncertain time in a new family member’s life. 
They are, and I can’t say this quite strongly enough, a safety net
We have a big calendar on our fridge; one of the ones with large empty squares, plenty of room to write appointments, games, events.  Yes, it gets cluttered, especially as the month goes on.  Big family… Many in the house largely ignore it.  It is vital to me, to juggle everything.  The only person who looks at it as closely as me (actually, she examines it daily) is Marta.  It is a critical tool for her to keep her clued in to the daily routines.  Those predictable events are a safety net for her.  They provide a feeling of control and safety in a world that is not fully understood yet – not culturally, not with language, not with nuance or tradition.  
But this week, even that big monthly calendar isn’t cutting it.  This weekend was rocky; nervous anticipation of the holiday this week brought up bad behaviors and acting out.  Finally Sunday afternoon we were able to have a conversation about the nervousness of this week ahead: house-guests, shifting schedules, no school.  
 I decided to make Marta her own daily schedule, and asked her to help me.  We sat down with scratch paper (this doesn’t have to be a fancy thing) and we blocked out each day, so she could see what would happen.  This helps her to anticipate the things that are the same, and to prepare for the shifts and things that are different.  It provides something for her to hold onto, again, it is a safety net.  
Imagine, if you will, how it might be if you didn’t really know how things were going to work the next week, just that it would be quite different from the routine you’ve begun to know and understand….how would that make you feel? Now add on a lack of familiarity with the culture or the holiday traditions and the lack of language to learn it by talking about it.  Now add on a background of trauma and hurt,which brings up reactions that surprise everyone, even yourself,  and see if you don’t get a bit stressed out.  I know I would.  I am stressed out a bit in anticipation of it and I am the Mom of the house!  
 So, we made the daily schedules.  One for each day this week.  We taped them up the the wall in the center hub of the house, the kitchen.  

She knows roughly (Not minute to minute, that would be TOO tight of a schedule and then  you would have fallout from that schedule not being met…this is a blocked out schedule) what is happening when this whole week.  She has already referred to it many times.

And I am hoping.
I am hoping this will help my daughter cope.
I am hoping this will help  my daughter move out of stress response into a softer place.
I am hoping this will help my daughter relax just enough to really be able to BE with the family and enjoy a bit more of this holiday.
I’m not expecting miracles.
But I’m hoping for another little babystep forward.
I’m hoping to turn the key and open the door to family and home, a new family and new home, just a little wider.  
So this is our turn-key of this week: schedules.  
Use this tool, this key, to help a hypervigilant child be able to see what is ahead and anticipate it.  Because that is empowering, that knowledge means safety.
And giving any child a sense of safety is one of the best keys in your pocket.  

>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…..

>Sonar: Older Child Adoption Adjustment

>I’ve been thinking a lot about Sonar.  Radar systems.  About technology that can scan the skies or the voids and have different weather patterns or objects be visible, from eddys in water flows to wind patterns….storm systems to cold fronts, big fish to submerged danger.

How do you make what can’t be seen to the naked eye, be seen?
Sonar Display
Well, that’s where these systems come in, and really, they are cool.
I want one.  
But I want the interpersonal mood system format.
Because with four, count em, four girls in the house, I need an ongoing alert system to the changing mood patterns and storm systems in our changeable girly mood house.  

But, hang on, actually, I have one. 

No, not mine…though I do have a pretty good radar system for all that.  And perhaps, as it’s been pointed out to me (ahem) I lean on that too much, and overstep.  Sigh.

But what I have come to realize is that we have, in our newest daughter, a very finely tuned system of mood alert. 

I was thinking it’s really a radar system, akin to mine.  
But it’s not, it’s different. 
In fact, I’ve decided it’s a SONAR system.
It is not for the above the surface interactions or flaunted attitude or mood; not for the  nuances of interaction and reaction. That would be radar.  

Her scanning is remarkable for the subsurface sweeps of the moods that are, or are trying to be, submerged.  It’s definitely a SONAR system.  

Yup, we have a high grade finely tuned, walking sonar in our house.  
It’s called “Marta.”
She has a constantly alert scanning sweeping sonar beam for any little shift or frisson of mood.  
It’s remarkable.
And, often it’s pain in the backside.  

Because it’s sweeping scans are trained tightly on her new mom and dad, the other kids will get caught in the sweep sometimes, but really only on the periphery.  The tight lock-on…that’s for mom and dad.  

So, if I am in a funk…….lock on.
A snit….lock on, beep beep beep!
Heaven forbid, her dad and I have had any disagreement, big or small…..clanging alarms go off for this girl and she breaks down. 
Because her sonar is equipped with the bells and alerts and reactive torpedos.
Unfortunately, it is not equipped with a sorting device to decide which of those mood alarms are “threats” and/or which are “friendlies.”  
Meaning, if I am crying happy tears over a sweet song one of my big boys wrote and played for me, or if I am cranky from a sleepless night or actually stewing over an argument…there is no differentiating.  It sends her into a mirroring funk and/or tears; hers not so simple to stem.  

On the other hand, her sonar translates to the skill of empathy.  
This sonar, this remarkable pain in the neck silent constant sweep of alert, translates into both a protective mechanism/survival skill for her but also into an inate ability that surely can be trained into a skill to grow on.  To grow with and into.  

It is challenging to translate and explain it all to her, those nuances that are usually embedded in the moods she locks onto. 
Much of the time, it is impossible.  
Thus, it challenges us, her mom and dad.  
It challenges us to be stronger steadier; to not fall into the ease of a sucking gripping mood.  It challenges us, no, ME, to get a grip and detach from what’s useless and focus on what’s important.  Which usually means to let go of my own selfish hurts (which is why I’m still failing at this and being challenged by it) and to keep my eyes on the bigger picture….even as I have to look at the very small 4’11” picture of a real life girl just trying to surf those subsurface tides.  

Tom has a GPS/sonar on his boat.  It shows him all the submerged hazards and the deep channels and the shallow shoals.  
He uses it to safely navigate the waters of a murky lake.  
Our Marti, she has this same GPS sonar built into her small self.  It has surely helped her navigate the murky waters of this new family and new phase in her life.   The trick for us all is and will be to learn how to use this sonar together, to help each other understand the pings that alert each other to the shoals and shallows and deep waters.  


>Meeting: Adoption adjustment

>There is a scene in a movie that I can’t get out of my head.
The movie is “What dreams May Come.”
Many absolutely despise this movie, and as a Catholic there is clearly questionable theology throughout….but even so, I liked the movie. It was a visual feast, from the oil paintings of the wife to the Bosch-like horrific visions of hell. But those things aren’t what keeps sticking in my head lately.

It’s the hell scene.
Now, disregard the dicey theology here. Go the essence of it: the meetup.

Robin Williams goes to hell to find his wife.
He GOES to hell and when she is incapable of seeing him, mired in her own pain and unable look up and out of herself (which IS hell)...then he sits there.
He sits with her.
He can’t talk with her, really, she can’t hear him.
He can’t just bodily lift her up and move her out of this place.
He meets her where she is.
Read that again:
He meets her where she is.

And it’s the meeting her where she is that gives her the rung to hold onto, him, and to look up, to blink to awareness of what’s real, for just a moment.

Now, hang with me here.
(And again, I realize that many think this is the worst movie of all time. I get it, be that as it may, this scene has been rattling in my brain – thus blog post).
You moms and folks who are trying to live with a kid from hard places…
You moms and families who are working through an older child adoption, especially teenage…
You moms who have kids who have trauma backgrounds and/or various special needs….
Think about that.
Because we all know that “meeting up” is one of the only ways to help.
We have to meet them where they are…at that moment.
Often, more than often, it’s a mini slice o’ hell.

And we have to go there too.
Because they can’t get out of there on their own.
Kids who have attachment issues, trauma triggers, who can’t regulate their triggered emotions and reactions…they can’t just get out of that personal hell.
We have to go to them.
Which means, we have to go to them, and often go through hell to do it, and yup, sit there a spell with them.
Because they are just kids, or teens even, but kids.

And that can sound so very lofty.
We think, at the start, and say with a trill, “Yes, darling, I will go to hell and back for you!”
But, um, ya know…going to hell and back?
Well it is, um, HELL.
It’s exhausting and makes you (ok, me) want to cry and say “Forget it, I’m done.
I have family and friends sometimes say “Can’t you just tell ’em to toughen up? I mean, cmon!!”
Now as a mom of eight, my standard M.O. is not too much coddling– if kids are crying and such and I know that bone is not poking through skin and a hospital rush isn’t imminent, I say “You’re fine, you’ll be ok.
Thus, my other kids, pals, and family might well expect me to fall into that mode.
However, this is different, exhaustingly so…….I sigh and say, “Well, I wish I could. But nope. Can’t.
Because even though sometimes I try to selfishly avoid and tiptoe around whatever acting out or somatic fallout or whatever is playing out…..if it’s a trigger response (and not just moody teen)…then you can’t ignore it, you can’t go around it, or over it, (isn’t there a kiddy song like that??) you have to go through it.
You have go to it, meet it, and go through it…with them.
Again, sounds all noble, right?
Um, not.
It’s usually messy and causes fallout with the other kids and even between the parental unit types, even for yourself.
Because it’s hell.
But unless you go sit there and BE with them, somehow, it’s not gonna get better.
It might get worse.

So. Ya gotta go.
Meet them.
Wherever they are.

Maybe then, they will blink a bit and be able look up and to breathe a bit.
And then maybe you can both step out of hell, back into the “heaven in our hands”….. back into family.

>Older Child Adoption Adjustment: Niches

>You know, this world of older child adoption is weird.  Ok, I guess the world of adoption itself can be strange and ok, ok, the world of parenting in general has it’s oddities.  Ok ok ok….maybe it’s just my kids and our house.  Ok ok ok ok! It’s me!  It’s always me.  Geez!
 I’m weird, and a dorky goofball who has to overthink things and even so Still can’t figure them out to my satisfaction.
Hence, I have to post and blather on so you all can take pity on me and throw me a bone and pitch in some ideas.
So, now that we know what we are dealing with today, are we ready to move forward with today’s post?  Yes?  Ok, then….

I’ve been thinking about how to talk about this…not because it’s all so profound or important, but as you might gather from my disclaimer in the paragraph above, it’s all about me and I’m stewing about this but it’s a delicate subject.  It’s also the same subject that I have a chronic, just-below-the-surface rant simmering.  I’ll spare you that, you can go here for my lead in on that one if you can’t stand the curiosity.
But in the past few days or weeks, I’ve decided that it comes down to niches.

Yup, that’s right: niches.

What I mean by that, is that I think we all want a niche.  We are surely all so doggone quick to slot everyone else into a niche, aren’t we? Well, I sure am…..really I think we all do it all the time, I know I do consciously or not.  Sue me.  It’s true.  It’s kind of how we make sense in a shorthand way of our world…that’s my theory anyhow, today at least, and I’m sticking to it.
Anyhow…..I think this slotting of things and folks into niches is not just the slick snobbery or critique that it seems on the surface.  I think it has a lot to do with the yearning to connect.  I think it is probably socially quite primal.  Us, them, other….and while my thoughts on “other” do factor in here, they are also sometimes a rant and also really too big for this post.  Another post, another day.  Lucky you.  But, today I want to talk about the inclusive side or concept of niches.
Meaning, today I want to talk about one particular niche: older child adoption.
And I’m telling ya: this niche…it’s kinda lonely.
This niche has little sub-niches.  Honestly, being a very visual gal, I see it almost as sort of a cave/niche (yeah, blog) system.  There is this big sheltered cave: adoptive families, and then there are the big warm welcoming cozy caves connected to that: the domestic, the international, the babies, the toddlers caves, the various countries….heck  you’ve already got a nice little cozy cave city to check out and circulate through and set down and stay a spell (as they say here in the south).

But then back in the beyond of these nice cozy lit up niches and caves, carved and polished smooth and well fortified with gleaming information and supports, are some other niches that are smaller, not as many are back there hanging out, and if they are, it’s so busy and so tough or so unique that there isnt’ a whole lotta room, in fact, I’d say they don’t even really see each other too much.
And one of those niches is a newly carved out niche, and it fits a family of ten it seems…..but it’s far from being polished and it’s got rough walls and a few nice smooth spots of support but really, it’s feels kind of empty; kind of smallish.
That’s our niche.
That’s my niche.
It’s the niche of “older international adoption of teen with developmental delays.”

See how fast that niche cleared out? See how all of those who were kind of peeking in quickly withdrew and moved on? Not because they were mean or threatened or uncaring…but just because they instantly saw, um, no common ground there.  Hard to sit down and get comfy and compare notes or stories or tools because they don’t have that toolkit.
When I add in, “and with a background from hard places“….well, that just scares most anyone else off too.  Not everyone….this gal is one of the bravest women I’ve seen in the blogosphere.  I love her.  Her niche is overlapping mine, close enough that I find comfort there too.  Go see.
As one of the gals from our agency put it, when I asked if they had any connections to folks in the same or similar boat…”um, noooo, that’s a pretty singular niche.”
So, that’s why I’m thinking of niches.
Because I want to compare notes with brighter minds who’ve gone before me, who have tools and ideas for this niche and our particular snags that surely would be common if there were others in this niche too.

I want to connect with others who have adopted a teen (preferably internationally so we can talk about language acquisition) who has developmental delays.

Now I can also go off on one of my numbered rants about the loneliness of being in this niche, and not being able to say it out loud.  Having to whisper “developmental delays” out of some sort of weird political correctness just chafes me.  It is what it is.  It’s not a judgement, it’s not a slur.  It’s objective and shouldn’t be a stigma and if you saw her smile you would never think otherwise.  She’s a teen, with all that entails.
She is a moody hormonal teenage girl who has a caring bossy sweet devout selfish intense stubborn sensitive nature.
Like, um, most teenage girls.
She is exhausting and good.
Like most teenage girls.
She is manipulative and wants to get her way and preferably go shopping as often as possible.
Like most teenage girls.
She has developmental delays and we didn’t raise her from birth and thus learn all about this for the past 13+ years, only for the past year, so that is why my map is limited, and my toolbox is sparse.  It’s why it can be lonely for us all, working with that.  It’s frustrating and glorious both on any given day.  Maybe often even at the same time.

But this niche is lonely…I don’t know anyone else in this niche.
I wish I did.
And yeah, before you get all lofty, we still venture out to all the other niches because our family walks through and fits many many different niches and labels and communities.  We live in them all. Messily.
I don’t even want to leave this niche; I want company.   I want to make this niche beautiful with the companionship and shiny ideas and successes of others who’ve rested here too.
I’m not sure they are out there.
If you are, and you happen upon this blog, please drop me a line and say hello.
Our niche is actually a pretty friendly place.

Actually, I lied up there.  Misspoke, perhaps.  But I would love to leave this niche.  I would love to only have wide open streets with sunshine and walk away from every harder stony niche forever.
But that’s not gonna happen in this life.  Because we create our own niches to define our comfort zones…it’s when the niches are thrust upon us or we into them, alone, unwilling, that we find ourselves, ok, myself, out of sorts and feeling lonely.
So, I think the trick is to stop whispering.
To move that niche if it’s darker or not comfy or lonely.
 Really, I suppose….If it’s my/our niche then we define it and we open it up to company and ideas and other contributions of beauty and support and I learn to see and create the beauty within it.
So I will continue to wish for companions in this niche, but I’m trying to move it to the sun….and maybe, here in the blogosphere someone else will see  a sunny niche where real life is said out loud, not in a hushed whisper, and decide to stop by and stay and visit for a spell.

>And Amat.

>And Amat. One Year.
Aamata Bal. Anniversary.

That’s what today is.
Today is one year since we met our Marta, and she met us, in person, for real.

This is her “family day.”
We usually don’t do “gotcha days” and such, as most of our kids came home so young.
But for Marta, after this year, and since she is a teen, it’s a big deal.
It’s something that IS important to mark.
{As is the day she set foot in America, post on that one next week…}

For Marti, these days were physical real touchable everlasting change.
Change that rocked her world in more ways than any of us can count.
Change that rocked our family’s world too, in more ways than we can count.
Some great, some hard, some beautiful, some funny, some raw, some Divine, some hellishly selfishly not.

This is our Marta Therese, now.

This is our Marta Therese, then.

One year.
Here is what I know, now.

is Ethiopian
is American
loves to swim
loves to play bananagrams
loves movies and popcorn
loves to go to the store, any store
loves to shop for clothes
does not like shots
or doctor visits
loves pasta
and pizza
and shiro
and shopping
does NOT like flying
loves dogs,
some days big dogs, other days small
loves babies
loves shopping
loves sports
except maybe tennis
loves watching football games
Notre Dame is her favorite team (and mine)
loves to swim
and shop
gets easily bored
does not like mom or dad leaving
loves her big brothers
learning to love her small sibs
loves church
gets homesick for Ethiopia sometimes
thinks english is very hard to learn
and it is.

Struggles with holidays
and grief
and trauma triggers
but tries hard to hang on.
Works hard on understanding the differences here in America
but finds much of it confusing
and sometimes overwhelming
even though she loves so much of it.
We have found she has some special needs and delays.
But are working on this new learning curve together.
She struggles to get used a big family
after being an only child.
Still grieves her parents and losses.
And will for a very long time.
And that’s very hard,
but it’s ok.

Is very very excited about a new school
and hoping for new friends.
Loves to sing
loves music
is learning drums
which makes her grin
but she won’t practice.
Is all about the hair,
just like every girl

Is very very stubborn,
and tidy,
and sweet-natured
and pushy
and devout
and opinionated…
which fits in fine in our opinionated family.

Is torn between trying to be a big kid
and enjoying the safety of being a younger kid.
Loves watching tv
and huffs when told no.
Loves playing cards,
even with Anthony.
Which is a minor miracle.

Is getting healthier
though she will always have asthma and breathing issues
which frustrate her
and scare her sometimes.
But she is learning we will take care of her
but not give her medicine every time she asks,
which is very way too often,
which irritates her.
Is fussy about eating sometimes
which makes me foolishly fuss at her right back,
and makes us each stare and sigh.
Because she is stubborn.
But so am I.
Then she will usually eat.

Loves sun
and the water
and to go boating.
Doesn’t like rain,
it makes her sad.
Likes snow
at first
and then wants it warm again.
Gasped seeing the ocean for the first time
and loves it like we all do
and wants to go there as often as possible.

Has been to California,
and Lalibela.
Has seen many new things, all over the world,
and is beginning to understand
that the world is a big big place.
Which can be a hard bit of knowledge to digest,
in it’s own way.
But is also cool too,
especially the churches
and the shopping….

Seems to love having a big, extended family,
with many aunts uncles and cousins…
even when her own new big family can feel like a lot
and sometimes too much.
Seems to understand that it’s forever…
and that is why today is a big day for her
and she feels it.
She has been smiling and hugging this morning.
And so, even though we don’t usually mark this day..

Today we do, and it is a big day for us all.
Which also means, of course….cake.

>Bottom line: Older Child Adoption

>So, I’ve been writing about adoption, mine anyhow, for awhile. Reading about it for longer.
There is so much out there. When I was considering adopting that first time, over 12 years ago, I hunted for books on adoption. Then the second and third time, I was pretty set, had a few shelves of books already, knew what I was doing (for the most part…). The fourth adoption was a whole new deal: International, Ethiopian, and a toddler. So, a new research set. Fun! In a way. Then we came to this last adoption, my Marta, an older child, a teen from Ethiopia.
**I know, I drone on about this topic a lot. What can I say? I think about this stuff, constantly…I’m living it and it’s a big deal around here.**

And as I went into my standard compulsive research mode, I found…..almost nothing. Trying to wrestle with the decision to move forward in bringing this girl home, to intellectually get a handle on if we could or should; all those “what if’s” that crowd my brain when I feel that nudge nudge nudge toward another adoption…..I searched high and low for, um, anything, that addressed older child adoption. I found precious little. I found some really scary books (which I now use but aren’t nearly so scary…) on hurt children and therapeutic parenting. There were a few on international adoption with a chapter or two on “older children”…but those typically meant five year olds, not teens. I even went so far as to stalk blogs and then cold call (with a quick explanation that I wasn’t a stalker for real) other families who had adopted older teens, girls, from Ethiopia. (Thank you again to any of you who talked to me, if you read this!)

Lately, I have gotten a number of emails asking me about adoption and specifically older child adoption. I am happy to answer any email I get, and do and will.
But it’s kinda hard….in that they ask, “What can you tell me about adopting _____________ (fill in the blank: older boy, older girl, toddler, etc etc). “
That question always stumps me a bit.
Because I hardly know where to begin.

But I do know where to end it.
Adopting an older child is not all rainbows and pink pony’s, it’s not a fairy tale or fantasy.
I know you know that…mostly, but it is so easy to kind of slip over to that view, because, well…it’s a really great view from there.
But this is where you need to stand and gaze and consider things.
No one ever told me and I didn’t read it anywhere except maybe in the harder books, but buried in the therapeutic reports. So, for any of you in the process of adoption, especially that of an older child, or considering it….I’m distilling the countless calm conversations and gulping dismayed discussions between Tom and I (Coffeedad and messy me), here.
It comes down to a very important, easy to dismiss, oh so easy to forget, basic:

Adopt an older child because you are ready and willing to PARENT them.

That’s it.
You can hope to add a child to your family.
You can hope to love them with that fierce mama love.
You can hope to have them love you back.
You can hope for instant bonding.
You can hope for eventual bonding.
You can hope to grow into family.
But it’s not about the luv….
(I know! I struggle -still – with this too, you all know this…)

They might not be able to love, anyone, much less you.
They might well want to fit in but can’t figure out how.
They might want to love but not really know how to get there.
They might want to trust but simply utterly NOT be able to.
They might be so hurt or angry that they don’t even know how to process it all.
They might simply just not have learned the tools yet.
They may have tools, finely honed, that don’t work here, now.
They might simply need to learn what it feels like to be safe, for real, again or ever.

But they do need, are desperate for, a parent.
A parent.
Preferably two.
Every child, even the hardest, needs a parent, preferably two.

(**Disclaimer here, I am not not not addressing the adoptions that disrupt due to RAD or other such hard hard things. I am not in their shoes, and I will never ever ever judge that as I can’t imagine the difficulty, I am too busy surfing through our own and failing too often even there. And even parents who end up disrupting and finding a more therapeutic home, they are parenting to the best of their abilities…sometimes a kid needs more skills or resources than a family has. Sometimes it does take a village of sorts.)

But the point I want to make is that the ‘LOVE” is gravy.
The love is what we ALL crave and fantasize about.
Oh boy, do I!!!!!
The trust is years, maybe decades, in the making. Only with real trust can come real love.
But the DOING of love is the parenting.
And that is the love these kids need.
Especially kids from hard places (to co-opt Dr. Purvis’ term);  they need to be parented.

So. That is the foundation, the bottom line.
Older child adoption (from anywhere), means taking on the job of parent.
That is not a job for sissies.
Let me repeat that and please, really really think about it: they need parents.
It is NOT a job for sissies.
It is the hardest work you will ever do.
If you get anything else: love, cuddles, soaring mama bear feelings, all those wonderful hallmark feelings: it’s gravy.
And you can do the happy dance.
Heck, I’ll do one for you.
But in the meantime, you’re on the job.
You’re the parent. You’re the mama.
And that kid? The one who is glaring at you when you weren’t expecting it, when they should be happy sitting on the beach or out to dinner? Pulling away from everyone when they are just overwhelmed? Sometimes they just need some time. But, ever……well, they need you (even if you’re just giving them space).

This is the bottom line though, that you should know about older child adoption.
It’s the parents.
They need them.
More than you know.
More than they know.

So if you are investigating older child adoption…please keep this in mind.
If you’re already doing it: good job, well done, keep running this race.
And know this: you’re not alone, I’m running right next to you.

>Flying Triggers

>Catchy post title, eh? Sounds kinda “Kung Fu” or “martial arts slow motion special effects”: “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragons” no?

Maybe it is in it’s own bizarro way – in that this post is about how or IF you can bend backwards and or jump over the flying sharpened knives of flying triggers.
But this post is also about how flying itself is a trigger for our newest daughter.
Maybe I shoulda titled the post: “Crouching Mama, Hidden Triggers.

Hang on, explanation follows:

So, we’ve just come back from a once in a lifetime kinda crazed huge family vacation.
By which I mean, we are a huge family, it was a huge vacation, it is always kinda crazed…..full of rollercoaster highs and lows as well as some peaceful lazy times in the Tuscan sun.

All of this, the highs the lows the crazy loud messy spectacle of our family in general, was kind of expected….we knew to a large degree what we were getting into.  I mean, look at  us! It’s not hard to figure out and we’ve lived with us long enough to know most of the land mines, even the recurring big ones.

Except a few key ones.
The Triggers.

And as these key triggers, or this one key trigger, might be something that could give some insight into others in a similar boat (or, erm..plane…)…. I’m posting.

It took us until the end of our trip to figure it out.  Ok, me.  And honestly, I think it was a little bit of Mercy (yeah, capital M) showered down on desperate me (Thanks be to God) that it even clicked.

But, finally, something did click during another bout of inexplicable weepy meltdown and acting out by Marta….and I realized: she’s scared.  Not sick, as claimed. Not sad, as claimed.  Not angry. Scared.  Not just scared, even.
And thus her terror had triggered a cascade of trauma response: fussing, mean, weeping, grimacing, freezing out, complaining, dragging, coughing, getting sick in various ways… I’m not talking about weeks or days of this. This plays out over the course of a morning, or afternoon.

A swift collapse of a fragile house of cards.

That’s a trauma response.
Very easy to slot it into the generic kid slot of: kid behaving badly.
But that would be a mistake.
One that I’ve made often enough.

But in older child, hurt child, adoption…you cannot forget that you are dealing with a kid who has more hurt than  you can know, more fear triggers than you can realize.
It’s so easy to forget that.
And get aggravated at manipulation or another round of acting out (Yeah, see, no wonder mom awards here….).
And often it can be just those mundane but annoying things.
But then there are the times, which look identical, that the behavior has another layer or many.
And those times are the ones you need to sift through, to brace them through.
To hold on and weather it, even if it’s not fun….and just be there, with them so they can ride out that fear.
And get to the other side.
And maybe, next time…maybe, have a slightly lower fear trigger response.

Anyhow.  This particular trigger response was due to the whole travel passport thing.  As you might remember, our Marta wasn’t allowed to travel in a timely manner, due to the change in regulations regarding TB cultures.  Not only that, she had been told that we were coming to see her and then we didn’t.  And even now, that is still something that imprinted on her – despite explanations – that we didn’t show.  (Thank you very much, CDC and Homeland Security).  Thus, nowadays, if we fly, she gets very very nervous.  It manifests as illness, grief, anger….all the “fun” stuff.  If a passport is involved? Even if it’s a BLUE USA passport???? A kind of terror.  Truly, irrationally.

Yeah, I blame that whole nasty delay of ours.  I suspect if she hadn’t had such a hard time getting home, she wouldn’t be so terrified of the process of it.  But she did. And she is.  And it makes flying hard.  Exhausting for all, but most especially for her.  Tom and I {He is MUCH better than I at doing this} have to leap over the flying triggers, reach through the tears and wiping nose and tense hunched shoulders and pull her back – hang on tight to her to let her know, somehow, that she will come with us.  No matter what.

But trust is a long time coming – true trust.
So, in the meantime, we jump and bend and twist to get past the daggers of terror.  Not as gracefully as the folks in the clip above.  Not very gracefully at all.  Clumsily, stumbling, we muddle along.  Hoping for a bit of improvement next time, and a memory that “it can be easy” to replace the seared memory of it being impossible.

This is older child adoption.  The part that isn’t talked about too much: the stumbling gymnastics of trying to read the body and behavior language of a child who comes with history.  It is a constant work in progress, sometimes beautiful even in the leaping…sometimes a slow waiting game for that trust and understanding to be laid down.

But here is the hope:  when Marta finally landed on our last leg of the flight home, she hurried off our little plane and stopped in the terminal. I was catching up with Gabey and saw her fling her arms out wide, and say, in a big voice with  big grin, with big relief “I LOVE America!”

So we landed with a happy relieved laugh for us all.  Home again.  Whew.

>Go Girl Go…


Do we like Suess books and sun?
Why yes we do, every one!

Marta has been working very hard on her reading and Dr. Suess has been one of the mainstays of her effort: specifically, this book and also her chuckle of this week, The Foot Book. Below, we have some really great progress on “Go Dog Go!”

>CSI: Adoption edition

>Maybe I should title it “ASI” : Adoption scene investigation.
Because ok, “crime scene”….no. But, “investigation”…yes.

Got your attention tho, huh? Good.
Because I need to call out for input; trying to figure something out.

Name changes.
Marta just told me that she had “baby name!”
NOT a nickname, a wholly different name.  
Now, I think it was so cute (and so did her mom)! Not sharing it online tho, not yet, maybe not at all (just because I haven’t asked permission, cut also because she says she didn’t like it and “13.  Marta, no baby, Marta”).

However, I want to find out what this is/was about:
1. a custom?
2. a religous event, similar to our confirmation in the Catholic church?  She is/was Orthodox, but they confirm at the same time as baptism, in infancy.
3. a legal thing, since they don’t track birth certificates?
4. something having to do with school?

Ideas? Knowledge?
Any of  you Ethiopians out there who have stopped by the blog (yes, I know, a reach, just trying to brainstorm…) have info on this?
Any of you parents of older Ethiopian kids have any info, or can ask?

Marta’s name change involved her and her father consulting with the “Abbat”, or priest, and writing it down in a book in their church for the record.  Thus, my conclusion that it might be sacramental.  However, seems upon my quick research…. maybe not.
It might just be an individual way of changing a  name as she said her dad wanted to do so. 
I don’t know.  But, our info is so limited that I am hoping to find out more.  Please comment or email me if  you have further knowledge or possible links.  Thanks all!

>Turn-keys: Transitions


 Photo by Danielle, from Domodossola, Italia, from Wikimedia Commons

Ok, so I’ve written about a couple of turn-keys in adoption adjustment, here, and here, and here
There is another key in the process of adjusting in an adoption.  {Now, if you haven’t adopted older kids, a lot of this might just be gabble to you…I know.  And I will put up this disclaimer…this will be disjointed due to my hard to pin down thoughts but also due to the assault on my mind from allergies, and my muzzy head which swings back around to my meandering thoughts. Fair warning.  But if you have adopted older child, I think you will probably understand what I’m talking about.}
It’s a player in all adoptions but I’d say, in my experience, it is a very BIG player in older child adoption.   And really, you could quite fairly say it’s more of a pass key than a turn-key.  But it is a turn-key in that I don’t think you get in, make progress, continue to connect, without this:

Another simple term.
To go from one state to another, one place to another, a change on some level.
Transitions are hard.
Heck, transitions mean change and change can be hard on all levels, for any or all of us.
Lots of kids have problems with change, transitions, big or small.
How often have you had to give the “five minute warning” that it’s gonna be time to go?
Like, every day, right?
Right then, you see what I mean. 

In adoption adjustment, that term comes in all shapes and sizes and forms.
Because adoption is pretty much NOTHING BUT transition.  
It’s all transition, all the time.
Whew, no wonder it’s hard!
No wonder we are all so tired!

Of course there are all the obvious, literal transitions:
from the past to the future,
from then to now,
from first family to second,
to new ways,
new families,
new language possibly,
new culture,
new city and country,
new place, new people.
With no time out to breath the familiar.

But the transitions that are the turn keys, the ones that open the doors or close them shut, are usually the emotional transitions.  Yeah, swinging emotions and moods. And those, well, those are complicated.

The parent trying to help a newly or recently adopted child, especially an older child, adjust faces a steep and swift learning curve for navigating these emotional transitions.  And there are NO books or articles or experts who can guide  you precisely through them.

But those emotional transitions, the swings, pack a wallop.
And I guess the reason I want to post on it is that it’s just SO easy to get blindsided by them.
By which I mean, and this is one of those keys:  Transition comes at a cost.

I think that it is best to know that MOST of the time, it seems, one step forward, or two, or more, will almost always be followed with the two step cha cha back.
Sometimes giant steps backwards, sometimes, if you’re lucky, only small ones.
But those steps aren’t only simple regressions, they can be emotional spirals of grief or anger or dark deep untouchable mood or acting out.
Because that’s how it plays, it seems.

Maybe those steps forward, are just kind of so scary, way deep down where it can’t be touched or explained completely, that the only thing that makes sense somehow is to follow the trigger, ride the swing down.
It’s primal reaction in a way.
It can’t be just halted.
If it could, oh I think, I know,  all of us would.
Halt it.
But it can’t.
It seems that it has to be moved through.

And it’s in the moving through it, the swinging through it, that the healing comes. 
Hard to remember…but it is.
That’s why it’s a key.
A passkey AND a turn-key.
Emotional transition.
Without that emotional, moving, transitioning, through it, they can’t get beyond it.
It will snag you, them.
It has to be passed through and over and beyond.
But sometimes it has to be done again and again.
Yes, swung through again and again.
Yes, it’s exhausting.
For the them, for you, for everyone.

Luckily, a key is made of strong stuff.
And it works to turn those locks, to tumble them…as many times as necessary.

Then, at some point, different for each emotional scar or hard place, for each child, that key finally turns, tumbles open that lock for good.
The swinging can stop.

We aren’t there yet on most of these transitions.
We are still swinging.
But I trust, and pray, that sooner or later (hopefully sooner), that key will turn that lock for good.
And my child from hard places can leap out of that swing, flying free from the spiraling hard emotions.

I’ll be waiting to catch her and laugh with her at the giddy free air of it.

Until then, I hang on tight to the key, holding her, holding on to the swing.
Waiting for that leap.

>Bloggy Road Trip

>I am doing a guest post today!  Who’da thunk it!?
No kidding.   Yup, surprised me too..but I’m  honored (and shocked and surprised…another mini “Sally Field” moment).
Lisa at “A Bushel and a Peck” asked me to babysit a post day on her blog while she’s out of town.
So, I’m no fool, I said “You betcha!”

Now if you all haven’t checked out her blog, you should go, right now.  (No, not only to read my post…) You should bookmark it and check it daily, or at least really really often.  She is one of  my daily hits and mom heroes.  She has eleven beautiful kids and is a talented, amazing mom.  She is an inspiration to me; and a great resource both for regular old family stuff, larger family ideas, and also the full spectrum of adoption topics. 

My post today, on her blog, is another about older child adoption and adjustment.  About the dance of older child adjustment.  I’ve written about the dance of waiting, here.   But now that dance has changed.  It’s a very different sort of dance indeed.  Go, read, let me know what you think.  Say hello to Lisa for me and update your blog list if she’s not on it.  You’ll be glad you did.

>The turn-keys: Tears


So, here we are again.  Turn-keys.  Those things that I’m finding to be critical, yeah – Key – to our adjustment with this older child adoption. I’ve written about a couple already, here, and here.  And now, I want to write about another: Tears.

What? Tears?
How can those be so important?
Well, they are.
Yeah, it surprises me too.

I am learning that those tears are very important, critical, on different levels and in different ways.  Those tears are part of the adjusting, and I am not sure you can really adjust to all the new of an adoption without them.  And those tears are for everyone, of course.  Because each person in the family needs them….to process the intensity of the changes and the building of new relationships. Now I’ll spare  you the blathering about the tears of the rest of us: the jealous tears, the overwhelmed, the frazzled, the blue ones (yeah, it’s tough on moms too).  Those are fodder for a different post.

With a younger child, toddler or infant adoption, there are also many tears.  They are also critical to the adjustment process.  But they are easier to parse out, to understand.  They are typically more, not completely, but a bit more developmentally tracked and explained.  They are simpler because the child is still slightly simpler.  No less heartbreaking, but easier to console and repair.   The tears of the turn-key I’m talking about here are the tears of the older adopted child.  In this case, our daughter.

It’s hard to sort through all this coherently.  But I’ll give it a go.
It seems like it wouldn’t be complex, I mean, it’s crying, right?
Crying is a no brainer.
Kids cry all the time.
They cry, you console.
Except, not.

When an adjusting older child cries, honestly, at first you kind of brace yourself in dread.  You wonder, and fear a little bit, is this going to slip into something bad?  Is it going to blow in like a hurricane – tank the day? Because you don’t know this child so intimately yet. You haven’t always seen this before.  And you know the potential.  So, you brace for it…..whatever IT is.  And sometimes, it IS something very hard: rage, deep scarred grief, irrational fear.  Sometimes, it’s just overwhelmed or misconception or misunderstanding.  Sometimes, it’s just mundane, but ever so powerful, hormones.  Or lack of sleep.  Or an incoming virus.  It’s all over the map, crying.  Tears. 

Even so.  It’s all good.  Seems counter intuitive.  Our (ok, my) first reaction might, or is, naturally to wish it away, to sigh, to find the fastest way around it all.  But, that’s not necessarily the answer either.  Those tears are important.  If this child is grieving the life they left behind, no matter if that seems unlikely as that life might have been very very harsh, then that grieving must be done.  It’s valid; that life was what they knew, loved (some parts) and grew to themselves in. 

It’s all too easy to think of grief as a ‘hanging on’ to something.  It is and it isn’t.  When done right, it’s a ‘hanging on’ to the good, and letting go of the bad.  It’s ok to miss the ones or the place  you loved.  And that can totally jive with learning to love new ones or new places.  But, I don’t think it can be done without the tears of it.

Then there are the tears of rage and grief of the hurt – for both old and new hard things.  Those are kind of scary – for everyone.  And it’s so hard to know how to help.  And I”m not sure there is any way to really truly help – at least in the overt sense.  You can’t fix it.  I can’t fix it, or what has happened.  But you/I can BE there.  Just be there.  Hold on to them, sit next to them, let yourself get their tears dripped onto you.

That, that mess, is a fix.  It’s the only and best one.  Because you are there, they are not alone, and you’re not gonna run away from it.  And so, it gets less scary, for both of you.  But, oh, those tears…they hurt.  Both of you. 

Then there are the new tears.  These are the tears that can be both wonderful and frustrating.  The frustrating ones are the ones that you, and maybe she, doesn’t understand.  They just kind of spring up….from a misunderstanding, frazzled nerves, hormones.  From being a teen girl.  From sensory overload in a new country.   From language gap, culture gap….all sorts of gaps. Those too, mostly just need a little time, maybe a little space, maybe a time to hold or sit nearby.  They need to wash away….the weary effort, the bruised feelings.  And they do.  

Way back, oh 85 years or so ago, I learned in science class that water is the universal solvent.  Well, I would say that the water shed in tears, when you are talking about an older child adoption and adjusting, is one of the universal glues.  Can be.  Maybe not always (I’m talking about us, here, always, ever…that’s all I know), but oh so often they are.  These tears are bonding.  The happy over the top joyful tears…they are  just fun.  They pull you all in with a grin.  But the other kind….It’s hard not to care about a child who is sobbing next to you (even when you wish it weren’t so).  For the child to allow you to see them, hold them, at their most vulnerable….that is the beginning of trust.  For you to sit with them, hold them, get soaked by their tears…console them.  That is the beginning of family. 

A few days ago, a sibling moment occurred.  It was a pretty typical moment – if had happened between most of the kids.  However, it was the first between Marta and another.  And it was a a flash.  But, it cut to the quick for her.  It launched one of those tear spilling, walking away times.  It meant the evening would now be redirected.  And it was.  But, it was one of those turn-key times.  Because as I consoled Marta and talked to her about what happened, she slowly sat up in bed and hugged her pillow to her.  Then Bananas came in and flopped on her bed on the other side of the room they share.  And she saw Marta, still crying.  I said, “Has this happened to you?”  And Bananas laughed and said, “Oh yeah!  See, Marta, it’s like this…..” and she went on to act out the same interaction with the same sib.

And very soon, Marta was laughing with us as she snuffled up her tears, eyes red rimmed.  And I froze the moment in my mind.  These tears were healing.  These tears were bonding.  These tears were typical of any sibling scuffle.  And this image, two sisters laughing about a sib, both on their beds in pj’s, while one allowed us to see her snuffling and gulping a bit as she came to calm, the other trying  hard to make her laugh and move on…that’s a FAMILY.  That’s what happens in families.  So, yeah, these tears: they helped turn a bit closer to family.  And I am grateful for even this tough turn-key.  Another one made of gold.

>Turn-keys: touch

>I’ve written a bit about what I have found, for us at least, to be “turn-keys” in the process of adoption and adjustment. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about another key (again, disclaimer: These are just my humble bossy opinions, not any expert or professional claim to knowledge). This key is one of the oldest and most important, for all parenting, but ever more so – if possible – for the process of adjustment in adoption. Yup, it’s “touch.”

I know, doh.
A no-brainer, right?

Well, maybe not so much. Maybe it’s a no brainer if you are a naturally ‘touchy-feely’ person (And really, I think most would say I am, but still…). Maybe its a no-brainer if you are talking about giving birth to a child, or even adopting a tiny infant. With babies, bio or otherwise, our species is biologically programmed to respond to the cries of an infant, to hold to soothe to touch it to comfort. It’s a natural, right?

But with any child, and I mean ANY child, regardless of their mode of arrival into your family…..there are times when, you know, you just don’t really feel like touching them so much.

Shocked, are you?
Have I revealed too much of my cold stony selfish heart?
Hmmm, c’mon, admit it, who hasn’t been grossed out by the quantity and quality of projectile vomit that a smallish baby or child can, um, expel?
Who hasn’t been gagging when their baby smears the contents of their diaper all around the crib? (Hey, 8 kids, yes, they’ve done that. Don’t judge me.)
Call me crazy, but I’m not so into the cuddly canoodling at those times. I am more than happy for a little personal space….
And really, who hasn’t thought “Fine then” when the attitude riven teen throws a snit and stomps out of the room? Who hasn’t been grateful, even ONCE, to have them sleep in, just a little while for that peaceful solo quiet time in the morning?
Not you? Well, then, stop reading, this post is not for you.

But for the rest of us, for ME, this is a huge deal.
For your standard issue kid, its a huge deal when they are tots and need all that imprinting bonding caring loving. It’s at least as big or a bigger deal as they move through their stages of wild little kid, to the scary times as the world opens up to them in school and beyond, to the awkward times of preteen and the touchy times of full blown “I know everything” teenagerhood. This is when you have to remember: touch them.
Hug them, they need it so much.
They might only lean against you as a hug back. They might not even seem to register that pat on the arm, but it makes a difference. A huge huge difference. Prickly or not, possibly even more then, those little touches during a day can bridge a lot of troubled water.

This brings me to the turn-key. If touch can make such a huge, ongoing, difference in the relationship and life of a child in your home from infancy, imagine the importance of touch with a child who is new to your home. And if you are talking about an older child (And, of course, I am now), and if that child is a hurt child (Which most older children who are adopted are, of course), and if that child doesn’t have your language….well, this turn-key is made of gold.

So it seems, again, simple, a no brainer, right?
Touch the kid.
Let them touch you.
Hug them.
And yet, it’s not nearly so simple after all. Because what you don’t read so much in all those stacks of adoption books is that it can be hard, touch-wise, with an older child. Cuddling a baby or toddler is automatic, almost, we are primed and programmed and enchanted to do it. An older child is, forgive me as this is not so “politically correct,” not necessarily always so enchanting and we are not primed and programmed to touch them. We are strangers. We have not crossed those boundaries yet. Formally, on paper, yes. But in actual practice, no.

The initial meet and hugs and kisses are kind of driven along by adrenaline on both sides. But then comes the moment when you all kind of look at each other and wonder. It’s much like an arranged marriage, without the extended courtship and chaperones.

Many older adopted children are also simply starved for physical affection. Starved. Hungry. Hungry to touch and be touched. And so you do, they do, you must. They are starved for safe comforting embracing touch – touch that doesn’t hurt in any way. So, we had, and so many have, an intense instant need on Marta’s part for touch, kiss, hugs, holds, just skin on skin. And it’s weird. In a way, it’s strange to immediately jump boundaries that our modern American ways have fixed into place over decades.

But this is a key, one of THE keys. You touch.
You do it.
And its by the doing, the touching that you start to step over those walls, you stop being strangers, you start being family. The more I touch her, in the caring mode of mom, the closer I get – literally and figuratively. The more I sit nestled next to her, with her feet draped over my shins, the more time our skin is next to skin, the more we blend together.

It sounds so simple, but in practice, it can be an act of will. Wash her back, paint her nails, do her hair, put lotion on face, hold her when she’s sobbing, hold her when she’s sick.

And oddly enough this touching is a sort of claiming.
At first it’s a formal dance of sorts, an acting out of the proper roles.
Eventually, it starts to become real. It’s an intimacy of family. Only family brings the sick kid into mom and dad’s bed, clammy, with her holding your hand to her sore throat, not letting go.
Babies claim you as they sleep snuggle and cling to you for their every need.
Toddlers and little kids claim you in passing fierce hugs and climbing on you when needy.
Older kids, they claim you by leaning on you, by sitting next to you or draped across you, asking you to do their hair, fix their clothes, feel their forehead.
I know, this is all obvious.
But the part of the key that is important, for me, is the part that “fits in my hand”. See the keys up top? See the scrolled beautiful head of the key? This is the part I, or you, hold. And this is MY part. Because now I see that by touching this child, caring for her, letting her claim me by touch and touching her back as mine, giving her a sponge bath for a fever, checking her eyes for stray lashes, her braces for sprung wire…I claim her too. And I think, or am learning, that if I hold back from those touches, no matter how strange at first, then I lose.

It’s the touch itself that seals the claim, builds it, and turns it into family.