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.


Metaphysics in Adoption

By which I mean….in the processing of adoption and the trauma that comes with it.  Always, big or small, young or old, domestic or international.  There are metaphysical questions and pondering all the way through.

See, you all didn’t know you were immersed in such big thoughts now, did ya?

Nope, neither did I.

I’ve been an adoptive mama for almost fourteen years.  I’ve grown along the continuum of thoughts and ideas about adoption.  I’ve ranged from the not totally naive and ignorant (my mom was adopted; I had some exposure within my own family, but still, you dont’ know until you know…ya know?) to the much more experienced, sometimes jaded, but older and hopefully wiser zones.   I’ve adopted, as most of you know, newborn, infant, toddler, older, domestic, international, transracial, special needs, gifted, known trauma, virtual twins, singles,…the list is a long one.  But every now and then I still am just gobsmacked regarding the depths of what this is all about.  I’ve written so many words on adoption.  All of those words are still true for me, even as they sometimes conflict and even as I might be in a different place now, or then.

Today it occurred to me that really, adoption has a very metaphysical layer to it.  Seriously.  And when you’re homeschooling because you’re working on some of those adoption and attachment issues (while not wanting to blow off the whole educating your kid concept), the metaphysics might just rise up and smack you right in the face.

Once again, today was a rough day with the school stuff and my son.  He was just kind of amped and antsy and tough on the connection angle.  I was working the steps of connecting and redirecting and having moderate, sporadic success with his attention, focus and engagement.  I quickly braced for a ‘working day.’  And so we did.  We took breaks from our activities, we redirected, he got his energy out with big physical activity like basketball and whatnot.  It all helped.  But, there, just under the surface, it was bubbling.  Those BIG feelings.  The ones that are just too big and too hard to contain.  The ones that usually come out with just a few small extra wrong nudges, or one ill timed angry tone or sharp sentence.  These big feelings came out as anger, again:  uncontainable, billowing, loud, physical, pushy, mouthy anger.  They were spoiling for a fight.  Nothing was gonna stop ’em, they were like a freight train.  So, thats when, if you’re smart and on you’re game, you step out of the way.  And if you’re tired and not totally on point, you make worse by not disengaging quietly and waiting it out even as you stay present.  These are the ones that rumble and roll, loud and jangly.  It’s kind of like a slam dance.  And yeah, it’s not elegant and it’s loud and can hurt toes and feelings sometimes.  T

This time, his dad talked to him on speakerphone, helping redirect with that dad voice and words.  After he hung up, we started over…but quietly and with a measured distance.  Still too raw, those BIG feelings.  Needing space.  Not a few minutes later they billowed out again.  Rage.  Shouting at me, hard angry words about the reality of me as mom.  Meaning, the accusations of me questioning my reality as mom.  Then, heartbreakingly, the wide eyed words of the deepest hurt lost little boy.  And the wracking tears.   My own heart split in two, again,  I held him and rocked him, sitting there on the step in the afternoon sun.

But now, the rage was gone.  The cracked open space had room to talk. Directly, we talked about how that feels and how it’s a hard hurting thing. Those deep feelings, they are real and ok to have and ok to talk about.  We shuffled through some of those hard places, brushing against them.  The leaves brustled around our feet as the words sank in and the time, I swear, stilled for a few moments.

I felt beyond time and place, I felt our hearts beat together again in this hurt spot.  As my southern sister put it, “All that time brings the safety to make the unconscious, conscious.”  That’s what we have here.  It’s the opening up of space and time and hearts and hurts.  It’s a metaphysical equation.  It’s the beauty in homeschool, for this young boy.  It’s the hard work of adoptive parenting.  It’s the growing and healing of a broken heart in a beautiful boy.  My son.

Some might fault me for writing about this, that someday he might read this.  But, it’s not just about him.  This stuff, the hurt, the BIG feelings, the time and emotions billowing and stilling, ebbing and flowing…it’s all our kids.  It’s adoption.  It’s not considered much, not enough.  But it’s a key component of adoption: metaphysics. Metaphysics studies the essence, the deeps, the origins, the why’s, the hows.

We are called into the deep of it, to see and hear and feel these things, each of us. For our kid’s sake.  Consider the metaphysics of adoption. The essence…..indeed, the heart.

Building trust in older child adoption

“Trust me.”  Such a simple phrase.  We say it all the time.  The problem is, it IS said all the time, by all kinds of people.  Thus, it becomes meaningless, or worse, a sure marker to do just the opposite.

So, given that, how do you build trust in older child adoption? Well, that right there is the million dollar question.  And if I had the short answer and the sure fire key, I’d be a buying a house on the Big Island.  But, I don’t.  I don’t have any pat answers.

When you adopt an older child, trust is the huge issue.  It is the elephant in the room.  It is a barrier like the Berlin Wall, some days.  I wonder if it is a bigger problem or issue corresponding to the aging up of a child.  As we adopted a teen, we find it a big prickly deal; a frequent barrier.  Big.   So, part of me wonders if the younger a child is at placement, the easier it might be to build trust again? But, I’m sure that’s naive and it’s also a bit of “grass is greener’ thinking, so don’t flame me.  I know it must be also dependent upon their prior history and background and trauma and attachment and on and on.  But even so, TRUST.  It’s the holy grail in so many ways for us adoptive families, isn’t it?

Trust, or the lack of it, is such a barrier.  We each tiptoe to the wall of it and peek over the side now and then….sometimes we wave.  But it is still there, sharp and solid between us, all too often.  She doesn’t trust us.  Not yet.  At almost three years home, not yet.   Oh she trusts that I will have dinner each night and that we will drive her to events and I will get her new socks and wash the dirty ones.  But the big stuff, or even new small stuff? No.  On the flip side of that coin, I need to trust her, fully, too.  And, I don’t.  Not deeply to the core.  (Shame on me? Perhaps. Indeed.) OH, I can give her the benefit of the doubt…but even trust on my side has a ways to go to be fully rooted. (And, really, when you’re talking about teens in general…I think the motto needs to be “trust, but verify.” So we’re already in a caution/hazard zone to begin with.)  For you folks who have a relatively recent adoption of an older child, take note.  Things take longer than most presume.

It’s a funny thing about Trust.  It cannot be GIVEN.  If so, I would have heaped it upon my hypervigilent teen daughter, and had her soak in vats of it in order to have it seep into her pores and bones, and heart and mind.  I would wrap it around her to tamp down her anxieties.  Heck, I would weave a shawl from it and keep it wrapped around ME; for my own trust issues.  However, it cannot be given.  It must be EARNED.  And it has to be EARNED in each direction.  I have to earn her trust; she has to earn mine.  Mine for her is further along, I understand her very well now and can anticipate most of her behaviors, even as some frustrate and wear on me.  Her trust for me, for us?  Well…that’s a thing that might very well be a LONG time coming.  And of course, I hate that.  She cannot understand so much of this new world and culture and family.  Her disabilities make this so terribly much more difficult, she cannot understand always the steps we take or what we say/do when we are working for her good. Her trauma background, the hypervigilence and anxiety that result just  throw fuel on the fire of her fretting suspicions.

So  how to earn trust? I don’t know.  Truly, I don’t.  Other than just walking the walk and putting in the time and proving to her, again and again and again – in the small things and the big ones –  that we always work for her best good.  Showing her that we mean what we say and we say what we  mean.  “An elephant’s word is 100%” 

How do you moms ALL deal with these trust issues? I’d love to hear how they are handled.  Right now, I suspect the best answer is simple: “Time.”  But, as an impatient mom, I want to pull a Ronnie Reagan and say, “{Mr. Gorbachev}, tear down this wall!

Little Girl Lamb

It’s the feast of St Agnes today.

St Agnes by Zurburan

She is often depicted in art with a lamb; her name means “lamb” in Latin, “pure” in the Greek.  Thus, the iconography.  Not surprisingly, she is the patron of  young girls…more specifically,  the patron of young girls who have been victims of sexual assault.  Correspondingly, she is the patron of chastity, which is a topic I have been mulling for years now with the teens filling my house.  How to teach what the concept really means, the fullness of that word..not the tiny limited prudery that is inferred by our attention deficit surface dweller culture, but rather the mind blowing actuality of what true chastity/keeping to the truth of who we are – heart soul and body – can bring.  But that’s a whole ‘nother post, to be sure.

Anyhow, I  have four teens now. St Agnes is a patron I will continue to hit up for prayers; for my girls’ courage and perseverance and sure inner guidance to what’s true and truly good….for them not to get sucked into and wounded, literally or emotionally or spiritually, by this sordid hard world we live in.  Because we all need all the help we can get.

St Agnes, by El Greco, of course.

From the Collect (prayers for the day): 

Almighty ever-living God, who choose what is weak in the world to confound the strong, mercifully grant, that we, who celebrate the heavenly birthday of your Martyr Saint Agnes, may follow her constancy in the faith. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.


Turn Key in Adoption: Forgiveness

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

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

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

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

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

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

You have to forgive that kid.

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

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

But ah, forgiveness….?

It heals.


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

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

Attachment tools and signals: the bandaid.

Kids love Band-aids.

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

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

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

No kidding!

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

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

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

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

Attachment, people!

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

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

And it counts.

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

Oh. Yeah.

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

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


Wanna know what I said?

You betcha honey. Which one would you like? “

Zing went the strings of my heart.

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.

Slam Dancing in Adoption: co-dependency.

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

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

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

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

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

Now, hang on. Think about it.

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

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

..and if I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So step out.

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

>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.

>When rain is just wet


Rain clouds, Lalibella, Ethiopia
This travel blog photo’s source is TravelPod page: Gob smacked in Lalibella

 I have written before about “marking the good,” especially when you are parenting a kid from hard places and with attachment issues; heck anytime, really.  If you are parenting teens or tweens or many or special ones, ya better try to remember to mark the good.

One of my heroes and blog friend Lisa has recently had a few posts about what has worked and the positive changes.  Go there and be encouraged!  It got me thinking, and reminded me to look again (Yes, we moms have to remind ourselves to do that some days.  Ok, me.) for those positive changes instead of merely looking at the crowded to-do list.   Therefore, as spring is upon us (hooray!), I want to mark a good that is ever so timely:


Yup, it’s raining again.  Not snow, anymore, thank goodness.  Spring is upon us. Which means we have entered the rainy season; which in my neck of the woods means downpours and crashing storms, tornadoes, hail, straight line winds, and just a whole lotta water.
It’s been awhile since we’ve had a bunch of rain, and I kinda….forgot.
I forgot about how Marta reacts to rain.
I think I mighta just boxed the whole thing up and set it away in denial.
Because for this particular girl, rain is a big trigger.
It is a trigger to a whole trauma cascade reaction.

Rain in Addis. Rachel Landman, Under African Skies blog

Last rainy season, Marti had only been home a little over six months, ok, eight to be precise (yes, I was counting….).  We had experienced a few rainstorms the first few months she was home, and they always put her into a sad mood and she became very out of sorts and anxious, often angry.
But last spring, as we entered the rainy season, we hit a whole new level.  Marta has loss from cars in the rain, her father.  This is a loss, huge of course, that perhaps wasn’t fully grieved, I don’t know.  But the onset of rain here made it all come gushing forth in it’s own short-looped torrent.
Every time it rained last spring, without fail, it also rained a talking loop that continued for the duration of the storm.  This was a very hard downward spiral for her, and all we/I could do was listen.  Again. And again.  And say small comforting words or sounds, be there, and listen some more.  The need seems to be to say it, out loud, to be heard. I don’t know how many times, or how many times were or are needed.  But, the need was relentless and unleashed with the rain. Much the same way as the rain fell, so did this torrent of words and sad. 
We had rainstorms and sad storms.

And now it is raining again.
But, and this is huge: it seems her clouds are clearing.
She has spoken of “Ethiopia, rain, very bad, hard, car die.”
But, she also has spoken, more, of “Rain nice. No snow. Flowers good. School ok.”

It seems her sad storms are healing a bit.
Because, so far, this spring, rain is just wet.
Rain is not a trigger to spiral cascade of unbearable grief.
The memories surely arise, how can they not?
But I rejoice to see this and pause to give her a big grin and hug.
Because this year, now, she can laugh that her puppy HATES to go out in the rain and shivers and shakes and balks.  She scolds her pup and rubs her off with a towel, laughing.
We can talk about hair and rain and oh my goodness crazy mess.
She mentioned cars and the rain, once so far.  But then moved on after a hug.
Because now, maybe my girl can see too, progress.
Rain doesn’t have to be scary or freezing sadness. 
Maybe it is now ok for her to feel it: rain is just wet.

So I’m finding the galoshes, and marking the good.

>Turn-Keys: Prayer


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

>Turn-keys: Christmas Edition


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

>Merry Eve of Christmas for a Mom!

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

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

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

Merry Christmas Eve!

>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…..

>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.

>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.