Baby Steps

It’s been about 6 weeks since our newly implemented plan ‘operation-no-fun’ with Jonathan (see ‘So this happened’…) and we are starting to reap some benefits. And we are having fun despite our best efforts not to;)

It’s extremely gratifying to say the least.

Gord and Jonathan’s relationship has been blooming; they have been doing a regimented routine after school including some attachment activities, lots of praise and reward, and lots of ‘team work’ like packing a box together (we are moving…another story).

It’s going so well and we’ve both noticed a…something.

Like many adoption things it’s hard to put words to it, it’s more of a feeling, a knowing. We can feel his trust in Gord growing. We can feel a shift in their relationship but it’s hard to tell exactly what it is. There are also some little signs too; a slight increase in ‘I love you’s’ to Gord and a slight decrease in his incessantness with the ‘I love you’s’ towards me. His greetings and goodbyes towards Gord are more natural seeming – he’s not as ambivalent when greeting/departing, but genuinely seems happy to see him and makes a point of saying goodbye with the ritualistic hug/kiss/I love you/see you later/have a good day routine. Uh-mazing.

School also has been going very well. Good days are increasing and bad days are fewer between. And Jonathan seems really proud of having and all ‘green’ day, and more importantly not lying or hiding bad days/incidences. Yesterday at his parent/teacher interview we were told about the amazing progress he’s been having socially, emotionally and academically. They also told us how Jonathan is the only kid who will invite a medically fragile boy with no language to come and play with him, even though it’s a little frustrating sometimes for him. And, the best part is that a few other kids in his class are following his lead and interacting more with this boy. My everybody belongs and mama heart is bursting.

Me and Jonathan have been doing A LOT of co-regulating (yoga, breathing, swinging, playing simple games, breathing, rocking, colouring, cuddling, breathing and ridged routines in the evenings. I’ve seen a few shining moments including an apology all on his own for being rude AND a change in his behaviour afterwards (as in a connection between his behaviour – apology – behaviour). He is also handling his frustration and anger better by accepting help in calming down. HUGE people. HUGE.
He has also been requesting AND letting me put band aids on him. This is a big shift from the kid who use to run and hide and not let you come near him with a band aide.

We’ve been keeping a low profile, saying no to invitations, keeping him physically close, keeping lots of control in our court and although it’s extremely boring and exhausting, BUT it sure is a heck of a lot easier than being kicked, punched and screamed at on a regular basis (there have been no incidences since we started this). 6 weeks is the longest he’s gone by FAR without a full meltdown and aggression since July. It’s lovely.

The coming weeks will be a real test; we are headed to our friends house (just a few of us for dinner and he’s famliar with them and been at the house before, otherwise it would have been a ‘no’) and with the excitement of Christmas, my dad coming to visit soon, and we are taking a family trip to San Diego. Hello disruption. AND because that’s not enough, we are moving on December 20. All lovely and wonderful things but potential attachment nightmare! However, we feel like we are on the right track with Jonathan (only took 3 years) and we are finally having a real impact on him. Not just his behaviour but his brain and his whole being. Love wins…although sometimes it’s tough love for a while;)

So this happened…

Grab a spot of tea and get cozy…it’s a long one!

We have tried many many things in the three years that wee Johnny Rocket has been with us to make him feel safe, to curb his many behaviours, to get him to attach to us…but this, this we have not tried.

Seriously, where is your tea? Get it now!

When Jonathan lost his mind, and I in turn lost mine, a couple of weeks ago for the 853rd time I was stick in a fork in me done like dinner. Done, done, done. So, so, done. And for the first time I wondered if we could continue parenting him. And it was a sad long night with that thought floating through me for the first time. A really dark and sad night. It would seem that freak out #853 is my breaking point

When Gord came home from work later that night we strategized. Again. And I was all in. I was willing to do anything, try ANYTHING. And so we took EVERYTHING.

In his bedroom Jonathan now has a bed, an empty bookshelf and a small rug. That is all.

His dresser is in our room, most of his belongings in the garage. In the living room he has some books and 5 toys (a castle, army men, bucket of cars, firetruck and Baymax) to play with. When we decide.

No choices. At all. We decide what he will wear, what he will eat, what goes in his lunch, if he will have a bath or a shower, what books to read before bed, if he gets the blue cup or red cup, what toy to play with. And on it goes. Seemingly meaningless choices have been stripped.

After school Gord and Jonathan do the same. thing. every. day. In the evenings I do the same. thing. every.night. No exceptions (well, very very very few exceptions…we are human after all). All that can be in our control, is in our control.

The idea is that he will (hopefully) learn to rely on and eventually trust that we can and will provide for him what he needs. Simple to state, hard to achieve.

We are on a stricter than I thought possible strictness schedule. It’s regimented. It’s boring. It’s a lot of work. But it was a lot of work before, so…

However, as always there are blips to plans; a few days after our implementation of operation-no-fun we had two days away with family for Thanksgiving, the following weekend we had 2 nights of respite (we actually had conversations that weren’t interrupted! It was Uh-mazing! And slept! A lot! Thank you Monique!). And he has respite for a couple of hours one time a week too. So, although strict is our name and no fun is our game, there has been many times and opportunities for him to exercise choice and break from our new plan.

But…that doesn’t seem to matter. With US he is learning. With US he is understanding that he doesn’t have to take care of himself anymore. With US he is realizing that we are the grownups and grownups can provide for him and be trusted.

Before our new plan, Gord was spending more time with him after school because of his new work schedule, and now with the plan on top of that time we are seeing benefits…or it could just be a honeymoon…or it could be working…

School is improving (hooray!) One more day this week (tomorrow) and he will have 5 great days in a row!

His constant “I love you mum I love you mum I love you mum look at me mum! hey mom watch me!  I love you mum I love you mum mum hey mom look look look look at me I love you mum I love you mum I love you mum I love you mum I love you mum” has decreased slightly, giving me a small window of opportunity to preempt him with my own “I love you” and other proactive attachment strategies. AND, we are seeing him say “I love you” more towards Gord. He even will sometimes go to Gord for simple things instead of me. Hello breakthrough, there you are. You can almost feel their relationship getting better!

He has tried twice since operation-no-fun was implemented (with me alone of course – he only is aggressive with me and has major meltdowns with me) to gain control in a BIG way. However, one was without aggression and one, although a constant battle for it (he tried so hard, it was a valiant effort!) did not result in aggression or screaming equaling meltdown #854 (which I was sure where we were headed), but instead he relinquished control after a period of time.

I went to bed that night feeling like a champ! I had done it! HE had done it. It felt soooo good. That’s the night I became the official Jonathan one woman reptilian brain cheerleading squad. I’m all in. Whatever it takes.

Unfortunately, my uniform is on back order.

Adoption is a constant one step forward eight steps back. But maybe, just maybe we are on a path of one step forward and only seven back. And I will take any progress at this point as a very very awesomely glorious victory. Insert happy dance.

*****

Have any of you fellow adopters ever tried more extreme interventions with your kids? (We also did ‘holding therapy’ when he was 4). What was your experience? Did you see changes? I’d love for you to share!

 

 

 

 

Oh School

The beginning of each school year is t.e.r.r.i.b.l.e. It has been in Kindergarten, Grade 1 and now Grade 2.

And even though Jonathan is at the same school, and even though the teachers know him and he knows them (and likes them), and even though we have awesome transition plans in place for end of the year AND the beginning of the year it’s still t.e.r.r.i.b.l.e.

In 20 days of school, 3 have been good, 1 has been great and the rest have been very shaky or horrible. Lots of yelling, hitting, not listening, knocking kids down, throwing rocks, refusing work, and a new one – running up to kids calling them ugly, and on and on. (I know it’s hard for some to believe that (based on my Instagram pictures) that the sweet little smiling boy you see in a 2×2 square can do those things…but you fellow adopters, I’m sure, are pickin’ up what I’m putting’ down, right?! Are you with me?! This is part of the trauma gig people; most lovely one moment, most destructive and angry the next. Carrying on!)

The teachers are UH-MA-ZING (see Everybody Needs a Tracy). The whole school from principle down have been great over the last two years. But I thought this year I’d up the adoption/trauma info to the teacher, if she was open. Of course she was because… UH-MA-ZING.

After asking for The Family of Five’s advice (Thank you!) to confirm my crazy on sending a 4 page document that nobody would have the time to read and taking some of her other advice, I came up with the document below. I also sent them links to several short articles/blogs that I thought also helped explain things. They are also listed below.

And although Jonathan’s behaviour is still all over the map there is a greater understanding, not only with his teacher and aide, but they shared (with permission) to the entire DHH (deaf and hard of hearing) teaching team. Even the lady who greets the bus students in the morning! How do I know? Because she stopped and THANKED ME. I have been thanked by various staff for letting them know about Jonathan’s behaviours and what they mean because they don’t have any adoption/trauma training. The tell me there are more kids in the school (of course there are!) who come from not so great places or are currently in not so great places and the teachers don’t know how to support them at school. I was even asked to come and do a workshop (I’ll keep you posted if it ever happens!)

So, I thought I’d share it here. Please feel free to change and adapt it to fit your child if you think it would be helpful to share with teachers, babysitters, family members etc.

ALL ABOUT JONATHANS BEHAVIOUR AND WHAT THEY MEAN
(clicking on the link above opens a word document, if you have
difficulties let me know and I can email you the document)

Helpful, short, articles/blogs that explain trauma, adoption and what it’s really like:

Attachment, Trauma and Education

Rage Against the Minivan – How to talk to teachers about adoption

Jane Evans – Trauma parenting specialist and trainer

The Mighty – Why ‘All Kids Do That’ Doesn’t Apply to Kids Who Have Experienced Trauma

 

Why hey there blogging land!

It’s been a very busy last couple of months and I have been lacking motivation to write. Or do anything at all to be honest. Just getting through the days was enough, never mind adding any extra things/activities/hobbies/outings etc.

It hasn’t been all terrible. However, it has been busy; Gord started teaching (yeah!) but it is 4 evenings a week and Saturdays (booo) and that has been a pretty big adjustment – mostly for me. Everyone else seems to be just fine with it all. Jonathan and I visited my sister and her family in Vancouver for a week back in July (which I could describe with many many colourful words but perhaps will just settle with…. ‘difficult’. For him. And me. Everyone else was a-o-k). We topped that off with summer camp and summer camp challenges (even at a camp for kids with special needs. Sheesh), sprinkled it with me getting really sick for several weeks and then sprinkled the start of school on top – to the tune of yelling, throwing rocks, hitting, running, calling kids names, not listening, refusing work etc. etc. All of it has added up to a heaping dose of overwhelming with an extra side of anxiety (really fighting the desire to up my meds about now).

BUT…

Anthony is doing great in GRADE FREAKIN’ EIGHT, Gord is in love with this job and is home during the day to do appointments with Jonathan and can be home for both kids after school (yeah! no after school care!). We have Thanksgiving with family and a weekend (shhh it’s a surprise to Gord) of respite in October to look forward to AND a family trip to San Diego for Christmas to think about. So it’s not all bad.

Although I often write in my head it is time to, perhaps, start writing it all down again. It’s like a small dose of therapy, which I clearly need right about now, and besides that, I miss my adoption community:) That means YOU!

Look out blogging world! I’m here again! (And I have soooo much more to catch up all up on:) )

Or, well, maybe, sometimes I’ll be here; I can’t handle adding any more to my plate right now otherwise it just may cause me to fully crumble instead of partially crumble so instead I should really say “I’m here hopefully more often than I have been!” or “I’m here…except when I’m not”. Or something like that.

Under the Surface

We’ve had a rough couple of weeks with Jonathan since returning from 5 days away. At school, daycare and home he’s been bossy and rude and talking back, hitting, yelling, refusing activities at school, has a really low frustration tolerance…and having a really hard time overall.

As of yesterday I think we may have finally reached a turning point. I asked him why he’s been like this and was very direct about my words and asked if he was mad at us for going away, if he was scared we weren’t coming back etc. He said no, but obviously he feels something about it as it’s just too much of a coincidence of timing.

Before bed he asked to look as his photo album, the one we gave to him to help him transition to our home. He asked lots of questions about the pictures and I also told him a bit more about his adoption.

The next morning we had a picnic breakfast in his bedroom and he asked “what do you want to talk about?” I replied I didn’t know and he suggested “me being adopted”

HOLD UP!

He has never brought this up, it’s always us telling him. He has never initiated a conversation about adoption.

I tried not to choke on my cheerios as he asked me questions like “why my first mommy can’t take care of me?” and “what things you do before I adopted?”

Whoa.

I know he wasn’t consciously scared or nervous when he stayed at grandma’s and grandpa’s house (and in fact had a great time with no issues) but deep down in brain trauma land there was something there.

It is such a reminder that no matter how good things get, no matter how amazing his speech is coming and how much he is learning and how much he seemingly calms down and really truly settles in and seems more secure….that trauma is always lurking right under the surface. It’s just waiting for a moment to poke through all the security and safety and scream LOOK AT ME! I’M STILL HERE AND I’M FREAKING CONFUSED AND SCARED AND SAD AND NERVOUS AND I DON’T LIKE THIS!

But on we go, kicking trauma to the curb one day at a time.

What You See

Now that we are out of the shock and awe phase of being new adopters and have a bit of clear space in our heads (most days), we can really see some patterns emerging with Jonathan. I’ve been watching and observing and wondering the last few months about the intention behind the things he does and really been able to see common ‘trauma’ patterns in his everyday actions.

On the outside he seems like a pretty typical kid – a happy healthy boy who is learning his way in the world, is active, asks lots of questions, wants to know how things work and loves to play. I see that too, but, there’s also underlying behaviour and patterns that I see. I know when he licks the back of his hand, quickly and almost secretly, or starts scratching at his forearms that he’s feeling worried and insecure. I know when I’m talking to him and he looks at me with one eye scrunched half shut that he’s scared or nervous he’s getting in trouble. And there are other small behaviours that unless you know his past, unless you know trauma, that you probably wouldn’t notice either.

What you see is probably just a typical 6 year old who gets excited over new and novel things. A new toy – best day ever, a new book – score, new game on his ipad – it’s like Christmas day. And in five minutes you may see a boy who appears to care less about his new things, you might even think he’s ungrateful, selfish, spoiled.

But what you may not know is that Jonathan was severely neglected for the first couple years of his life. And so what I see is a boy who moved so much and had a constant supply of ‘new to him’ toys at new foster homes that new wore off very quickly. I see a kid who had a parade of new people coming into his life who gave him new presents for being in his new place (us included), that new and novel sets off some kind of weird signal to his brain and he knows that it’s meaningless.

Very rarely is a new toy or book or game played with after the initial excitement of a few minutes wears off. My dad visited in the fall and brought a little wooden truck that they put together and played with for about an hour.  Two weeks later I hadn’t see it at all, until I found it in it’s box, in his suitcase under his bed.

What you probably see is our little rocket boy and think he is very sweet kind boy who loves his mama when he constantly throughout the day tells, shouts, signs, whispers and would send smoke signals if we let him have the matches “mummy, I love you”.

But what you may not know is that our boy had lived in 6 foster homes by the age of four and when he came to us at four and half years old, he didn’t know how to give a kiss (he’d come at you with his mouth wide open if you asked for a kiss which was cute and all but…) and he didn’t know how respond when we told him ‘I love you’. Because I do know this, what I see is a boy who now knows what love and family is and is afraid of loosing it so he needs constant reassurance that it is there. All the time. Every day. 492 times a day. And if he doesn’t get that reassurance then his anxiety increases and then his behaviour escalates and then he says it more and we enter the vicious-cycle-drive-you-crazy-if–I-hear-I-love-you-one-more-time-I-might-loose-it-zone.

What you probably see when you look at Jonathan is an amazing eater. You may see a boy who loves food and is not picky like many 6 year olds. He’ll eat sushi, salad, any fruit or vegetable, fish, meat, home cooked, take out, fast food and his new favorite – oysters. You name it, he’s all over it. You probably think we are so lucky to have such a great eater.

But what you may not know is that Jonathan spent the first couple years of his life with no consistency, no being held or rocked to sleep, no tickles and giggles and ooohs and awwws, no hearing a sound in the world, no communication and some brightly coloured koolaide in his bottle (at least that’s what it looks like from some pictures we have). So, what I see is a boy who didn’t get consistent, nutritious, good food, many times a day. Every day. I see a boy who asks what’s for dinner after breakfast because he needs reassurance that there will indeed be dinner. I see a boy who will eat and eat and eat because somewhere deep in neuroconnection land there is still something telling him that this may be the last so pack it in while you can kid. At any given meal he will eat more than his dad if we don’t control his food. While I am so grateful to have a kid that is not picky and that is adventurous in food, like most adopted families we gots food issues.

You might see a boy who is just being a kid – one who likes to keep all kinds of things that seem meaningless – bits of paper, string, fliers, random objects, garbage, bits and pieces of this and that. You may think he is very clever and imaginative to create stories and be able to play with nothing but a scrap of paper, a domino and a bread tab.

But what you may not know is that all of his worldly belongings fit in one box and one suitcase and one garbage bag when he moved in with us. And so what I see is a boy who had nothing and lost everything in his short life and so he holds onto it all. Every scrap, every bead, random card, receipt, community newsletter, craft from school, tags from new clothes etc. gets stashed away into every nook and cranny of his room.

A few days before Christmas I did a major toy/room clean up to make room for what was about to be unwrapped and threw out a whole garbage bag of paper and bits. And his room isn’t that big or even that messy. It was all stashed away in boxes and drawers and containers and bags.

There are more little trauma quirks and patterns emerging all the time and we are doing our best to calm anxieties, create safety, consistency and make sure he knows he is loved. And maybe over time these little quirks will lessen, his self regulation will increase and his confidence in himself and his place in this family will be stronger.

If you are lucky enough to have met Jonathan though, what you probably do know is that he is a smart, funny, clever, curious, helpful, polite, giving, sharing, sweet and loving, willing to try most anything adventurous boy. And I know that too.

Not So Little Anymore

The few weeks I’ve been noticing how Jonathan isn’t so little anymore.

He has grown up in so many ways in the two years since he came to us. His chubby cheeks have disappeared, he’s taller, he’s so heavy I can barely lift him (but I still do because I love it:)  He’s also calmer (that could be a combo mix of meds and maturity…?) and overall happier. He listens so much more, he’s less aggressive, and more independent, although he’ll still ask for help with things I know he can do but he just wants my attention and I’m mostly happy to give it.

His speech, oh my word his speech. I’ve spent a lot of time lately watching videos of him two years ago and ones of him recently. In the videos he’s singing or telling a story and 2 years ago it was incomprehensible, if you weren’t there you wouldn’t know what he was talking about. I remember having to interpret constantly for friends what he was saying. Now, that doesn’t happen. You can understand 90% of what he is saying.

The other night while tucking him into bed he said to me “mummy, why did i scratch you?” First, where the heck did that come from? And second, the last time he got to the point of restraining and he scratched me was 7 months ago. So much growth in so many ways.

These past couple weeks there’s a tiny voice that says “maybe we could do it again…” But I think that’s more the missing the preschool years (my favourite) and reflecting on how far he’s come, how far we’ve all come. But I know we won’t adopt again, it’s a looong hard journey that is not in our cards. For now I will just try to enjoy this new phase and period of relative calmness, and workout harder so I can pick him up a little bit longer:)

20130307_135108-2       20140804_192226-2

 

 

(Fall 2012 and Fall 2014 – where did my little chubby cheeked boy go?!)