“What’s your love language, Mrs G?”

That’s the question of the summer, I think.

My summer, in a way, was started with that question.  In May, a lovely young woman asked me that question at a “Theology on Tap” evening.  I kind of blinked.  I said, “I don’t know….” and then I rambled a bit, thinking out loud.  She, being young and smart and quick, said, “Oh! You’re ‘Acts of Service’!”  And I said, “Hmm…maybe….

Thus, I knew I’d better finally go and read the book.  Nothing like being stumped by a twenty-something to light a fire under me.  And so I did.

This book, it’s been around for a bit.  I knew of it, and it’s companions.  But I’d not taken the time to sit and read it through, even though it was not long.  Frankly, I kind of blew it off.  There are SO many theories and modes and ways to approach parenting stuff that it’s simply impossible to be on top of it all.  I’d been absorbed in the therapeutic parenting realm for a good while now and this seemed so simplistic that I could get a good gloss from the title; more excuses, not my mode, and so on.

But her question made me think I might need to give it another chance.  What I found was this: there is quite a bit there worth thinking about and, more, worth applying.  It’s not the be all and end all answer to everything.  But it’s another very good set of tools in the toolbox and I’m all about that! I’ll take every tool I/we can get!

So, to put it in the short gloss here: love languages are the modes that we each have, instinctively, naturally, in which we understand, give, and receive love.  It’s how we communicate love.  Sounds drippy? Maybe, but it’s got some real substance and value to consider.  We are all about communication in our  house.  We have one kid who is language impaired.  We have others who just don’t have great communication skills.  Plus, we have multiple teenagers….talk about communication snafu’s! Ok, kidding, kinda, maybe not so much…..  So, if I can find ways to their love languages, and speak to them more clearly???  What’s not to love?

The five love languages, as put forth by Chapman and Campbell, are, in no particular order: Touch, Time, Words (of affirmation), Gifts, and Acts of Service.

First, as it’s always all about me…I realized, that savvy young gal was right.  My love language IS Acts of Service.  Which explains so  much.  It’s why I DO for my family (Which works out well, as there is SO MUCH to do.  God’s no dummy).  It’s why I am tickled pink to cook favorites of returning college boys, and to give second helpings to guests.  It’s why I get so bent when I return home from the market and the kitchen has been trashed even though I asked to have it tidied.  It’s why I get my feelings hurt when no one, ever, sees the laundry bucket on the stairs and takes it up, and why the rogue shoes are no big deal until they make me come unglued.  {Why yes, I’m just all that petty, thanks for asking.}  But now I know, the temper is because I feel like no one is caring about me enough to do for me…when the reality is, they just don’t speak my love language.  All this time it’s like I was talking to them in Greek and they were just smiling and nodding because they couldn’t understand anyhow.  So I’d get bent and upset and they’d be dismayed  -wondering what was my problem and why I was so upset?  Because they didn’t/don’t understand my love language and I didn’t even realize it was mine.

That very insight made me realize I’d better figure out theirs, and quick.  Because no one likes being misunderstood and/or feeling unloved.

So, I’ve been evaluating and testing it out.  And I’ve got folks across the spectrum of love languages, no surprise.  I’m the only Acts of Service (bummer, but best to know).  I’ve got 4-6 Touch, 3-4 Time, 3 Words, 2 gifts.  If that math doesn’t seem to add up, it’s because you can have more than one love language.  And of course, there is overlap of for us all and everyone needs all of them…but the primary language is one that is WELL worth finding.  And using.

WIth this new perspective, I’ve (we, tom and I) have been trying to speak the languages of the kids, and each other.  The love languages.  Not that we didn’t before, but intentionally, more consistently.  It’s a work in progress….

But here is what we’ve noticed.  I’m not gonna go into each kid, privacy and all, but a few high points: Gabriel, who has moved into a phase of whiney and difficult over the past number of months…..is a total Touch speaker.  It explains why he has taken to careening into us and he must DIVE into a lap if it’s available and even swifter if it show signs of occupation by any other kid.  His way of getting that touch has been to bump and thump and push us around, literally, in his five year old rough and tumble way of learning a language of love.  Discovering this, we’ve ramped up the cuddles and hugs and he has been simply blossoming under it.  Not that we didn’t squeeze him and tell him we love him before, but we have stopped fussing about his careening around into us all and instead directing it toward more functional touch.  On his part, he has ramped up the affirmations and is visibly relishing the cuddles.  He crawls into my lap in the rocking chair and says “I want to rock with you forever.”  He says, “I love you you,” more and first.  His attachment needs are being met, better.  Age and stage? Maybe? Better communication in his love language? Oh yeah.

The others too, they are noticeably responding to the touches on the shoulders, the passing hugs.  They open up with the time and words, focused.  The gifts is a tricky tricky thing in a house of hypervigilant kids (with a sharp eye for equity)..but we are brainstorming on meeting that need and seeing their gifts to us when they happen.  Marking them.  The intention to speak each kid/person’s love language is a very helpful tack; it opens up paths that were narrow, makes them wider.

The defensive side of me wants to say that we’ve done all these things, the touch, the words, the time spent.  We did. We do.  But when you KNOW it’s the language that your kid receives and give love…it takes on a different depth.  And intention.  And that makes a difference.  Is our house filled with rainbows and unicorns now? Um, no.  But is there more growth in the garden of connections and is communication a bit easier to acheive? Yes, I think so. It’s all a continuum, of course.  Teens are still prickly, but might be a tad easier to soothe, to reach through the static.  Those kisses and  hugs and hand holdings are even more meaningful…what’s not to love?  The trash waiting to go out and the rogue shoes? They are still there, but now I can remind myself that it’s just that I speak greek, and not that they don’t care.  And I can switch to another language instead.

Becoming multi-lingual….it’s paramount in my big family.  Even now, I’m learning.

Eyes Open: Marking the Reading Good

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conference, day two

So here I am at lunch, day two (and final) of this conference. I guess I’m doing wht they call “live blogging”…..yeah thats right, I’m just hip like that!

Another great morning. I have missed running into a new friend (Elaine, where are you?) but have a good seat and the talks have been very good, meaty, much to digest. Additionally, we’ve heard two personal stories from extra guest speakers: moms who have been “through the fire,” so to speak. One of them was the great fav blogger pal of mine, Lisa Qualls (from the “one thankful mom” blog, a minimum daily requirement blog for me). No surprise, she gave a moving talk; brought numerous folks to tears…inspired. Another speaker was a gal named Debbie (I’m sorry I can’t remember her last name at this second) and her story also was just inspirational. And all too close to home for me…not in all ways, but, the ones that count. Yeah, blinking away in my seat again.

The other talks this morning laid the groundwork for the afternoon sessions: talking about sensory processing deficits and integration, the effects of history of brain development and so on. This afternoon is about addressing behaviors arising from some of these issues and finding ways to heal and connect. Of course, because thats what this conference is all about.

And i am grateful to be here. I’m getting close to maximum saturation myself…fantasizing a bit about a double espresso and some good chocolate to perk me up. ( I know, supposed to pound the water instead….what can I say, old dog, not many new tricks, etc etc…). But I’m gonna take notes in these afternoon sessions….I know they will be helpful. And they are, not only for my kids who have difficult needs or backgrounds…but really so much of this is good for all of my kids. Each and every one. And can I use reminders, refreshers, and new ideas? Oh. Yeah. Absolutely. Every single day.

So, heading back in. I have met some really nice people- Jamey of Zehlalum family! Lisa! Buttercup from Farmboy and buttercup (old virtual pals,that one, very nice to connect in person!)….and tho I still feel like my usual doofy self, I do love meeting these gals…a great treat! So, this afternoon if any of you are here or reading this, come say hi! I’m still the old gray mom, looking desperate for more caffeine and maybe some M&M’s…..

Connections and conferences – great buoys in the adoptive life.

Be there or be square…

This is where I’m gonna be this Friday and Saturday! I missed it last year, simply due to swamped parenting and sitter snafus.  But this year, Coffedoc has stepped up to the plate to be in place, so I can be free to attend.  Yay, and thank you Tom!

ETC Conference in Nashville, TN (Sept. 23-24, 2011) from Tapestry on Vimeo.

So, if you think you might be interested, go! Dr. Purvis is terrific, I learn something new every time I listen to her or read her work.  If you are going, look for me and say hello…I’ll be the frumpy old gray haired mom, holding a big cup of coffee throughout.  I’m excited to go and connect, with new ideas and new and old friends.  I’m excited to go and be reminded of basics that I keep forgetting as I muddle through the trenches.  I’m glad to go and be reminded that I’m not alone on this road.  Because when you are parenting kids from hard places, kids with different needs, those adopted as older children…..those connections, they mean so much. And those connections have helped me more times than I can say.  Adoption isn’t for sissies.  Heck, parenting isn’t for sissies….this conference is a great resource.

See you there!

Bank Deposits, kid version

So, this is in many ways an oldie but a goodie….this concept of banking with your kids.

No, I’m not talking about the allowance or financial planning; coins and greenbacks.  I’m talking, rather, about the most important kind of banking: the Bank of Our Children.  What I mean is this, an old parenting nugget is to make sure you make “deposits” in  your child’s bank account of affection, daily.  Sounds simple, no? Simplistic even.  That very aspect, so basic, doh, makes this an easy nugget to drop or brush off. It’s easy to nod in agreement and then blithely trip along on our daily treadmill.

But that would be a mistake.

It’s one I’ve made all too often and even too recently.  This has been an intensive summer, to say the least.  You all know that.  But numerous other events and things have been cranking up the pressure as well and with that vise, something has to give.  That would be me.  Or, more precisely, that would be my equanimity and even on some days, my kindness and affection.  One of my kids, in particular, has born the brunt of this, fueled by my frustration and disappointment in some of their choices, but aggravated by the general stresses of this summer and simply, mostly, by my sheer laziness and/or burnout in keeping that razor sharp tongue and lightning fast temper locked up.  Happily, Coffeedoc is most excellent at doing this, he doesn’t fall into that bear trap of temper and intensity.  He’s the most even keeled guy I know.  Thank goodness for such gifts.

Suffice it to say, I’ve made more withdrawals than deposits in this bank account lately.

So, I’m once again, flipping back the pages to the basics for a refresher course in parenting basics 101.  And the most fundamental one is: make sure you make sure your kid knows you think they are great, good, even awesome.  Even if they are frustrating you, you (ok, me) can look ’em in the eye and kiss them on their forhead and smile at them with soft eyes a couple of times in the day.  You can tell them “I love you,” without it sounding snarky.  Really, you can.  And if you can’t, you can touch their shoulder as you pass by them in the kitchen and you can let them see you looking at them with a smile.  Really. You can.  Ok, that’s right, I can.  But some days, some of those hard brittle parenting teen days…or five year old days, or kids from hard places days…..you have to intentionally MAKE yourself do it.

That’s right, you have to MAKE yourself do it.  Because you might want to growl at them, you might want to tug their ear to get them to listen, you might want to hold up your palm toward their face and glare instead of hearing them.  But that would be a mistake.  Because then your ‘bank account’ {by which I mean: THEIR bank account of this resource too} of closeness and affection with that kid, your kid, is draining like a sieve.  And if you (ok, me) can just pull them into even a half shoulder hug….you’re changing that pattern and building that interest and that reserve back up again.

But, this particular bank account….it’s not only your best resource for happiness and heck, even retirement (fair warning children!) but it’s theirs.  For their future too.  It’s their most important IRA, it’s  an IKA  – Individual Kid Account.  And you are the steward of it.  Those deposits may seem fleeting and ephemeral, but they are worth more than platinum or 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.
Touch.
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.
Touch.
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.