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!

 

 

 

 

The Gas Station

Earlier this week I was in a part of town that I don’t often go. In fact, I haven’t been there since December 2011. And the reason I know this is because when I saw this:20140721_112406I was immediately transported back to that time on a particular day. A wave of overwhelming sorrow that occupied my whole body, my whole being, came rushing back to me. And all the hurt and confusion and sadness too. Not because I was sad, but because my body was remembering.

Why was I sad about a gas station? I’m so glad you asked.

This is the gas station outside of the doctors clinic where I tried to get gas after my appointment, but had forgotten how to fill up my car because my mind was blank. This is where it felt like I had forgotten how to breathe and I had to keep reminding myself to. Where my hands shook, my brain went numb and I felt that the world had just crashed.

I had gone to the doctor for a simple check up and instead I was told that the reason I was feeling tired was because I had Premature Ovarian Failure (POF) and basically I was in menopause. The doctor showed me blood test results from exactly one year before that clearly illustrated diagnosis.

Nobody had called to tell me the results of those tests.

Could I have kids? No.
Would there be other health complications? Yes.
Could you please write this down for me? I asked, knowing I wasn’t really hearing anything.

I called Gord and asked him to meet me at home.

And then I tried to get gas, which seemed like the equivalent of doing quantum physics.

After hours of crying, of Gord being the most amazing (future) husband ever, of calling my dad and telling him, I don’t think Gord knew what to do, so he suggested, clearly, the only logical thing: “Let’s go to the mall and buy you a new sweater” (what the…!?)

So off to the mall we went. And he held me tight the whole time as we walked aimlessly around (I did in fact not want to buy a sweater) and all I remember was seeing ‘old lady’ stores with mom jeans and applique sweaters with bunnies and chickens and I kept saying “I’m going to have to start shopping there because I’m old and broken”

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I have come a long way from that day; I’ve done a lot of work on me, I have defined and redefined what it means to be a mom, there is a sweet and challenging little boy now in our lives, I’ve had the most angry times in my life and happiest times in my life since the day at the gas station and so much more has happened in a few short years that I couldn’t begin to describe it all.

And here’s the funny:

The same day that I drove past the gas station and felt all those crazy emotions instantly rush back, is the same day I bought a pair of pants at one of those old lady stores.

And dammit I like them!

 

Mindfulness

It’s been a while since I’ve written. Anything.

I’ve been trying to be more mindful the last month by trying being away from the computer, put my phone down more often (ok, clearly I still always have it on me and take tons of pictures but I’m trying not to endless scroll thorough feeds) and sometimes, sometimes, even just sit. Gasp! And man oh man is it hard.

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Life was feeling too out of control – all was well and good, but everything was just too busy. Including my brain and it was starting to hurt.

Home has been fantastic; Jonathan has been rockin’ it at school, daycare and home (mostly). There’s a new consistency in his behaviour and he’s been super happy. Anthony is also doing well and Gord and I are both doing things we love outside of work like gardening and playing music. We’ve also started meeting with an ASL tutor and I’m becoming more involved with a local organization that supports families who have experienced hearing loss and deafness.

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Throw in some nice weather and you’ve suddenly also got parks to visit and hikes to do and a yard to take care of and flowers to water and cars to wash and bikes to ride…and then before you know it, the day is done.

Work has also been fantastic; I’ve been facing fears and doing presentations, attending amazing conferences and doing lots of great program planning. But it’s busy and brain consuming.

There’s so much goodness happening right now, yet not enough time for everything, somethings have needed to be sacrificed; like a clean house and swapping dressers for laundry baskets (it just never seems to make it from the basket to the drawers anymore and I gotta say it’s so much more efficient to cut out the middle man). And writing. And although I have let the first two go pretty easily I’ve missed writing. I’ve missed my little adoption community.

I’ve been trying everyday to just sit and let my mind wander. Which I gotta tell ya is real tricky. I’m happy with myself if I can do it for just a couple of minutes. To be able to sit and not be on my phone, make a to do list, talk to or think about Jonathan or anything else. Just be. Be conscious of my breathing, what I see and what I hear. I must say I’m not very good at it but I’m trying.

The next couple of months show no sign of slowing down as we plan to pack in as much summer as we can. We have lots of visitors heading our way, summer camps, new routines, hikes to do and beautiful weather to enjoy. I hope, however, with these busy summer days also come a more laid back pace and more writing. And sitting. And just being.

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The Village

From day one, Gord’s family and my own have been very supportive in out decision to adopt. Our friends and colleagues were also excited and everybody asked lots of questions and gave us lots of love.

Over the past 11 months, I don’t think we would have survived without the support from these same family and friends. There were days when we felt, and still do, very alone. You know, those really tough hard days that feel like things will be terrible forever? But often there is my sister, a friend, a coworker…a stranger (I tend to chat with cashiers a lot) willing (or at least nodding along and letting me blab) to listen, offer suggestions and, at the least, to empathize and encourage.

A couple of weeks ago Jonathan spent the night with his last foster mom, Monique. Or as Jonathan calls her “my Moni”. She’s an amazing lady. She hadn’t seen him for while and remarked on how full of love he was and that we are doing such a good job with him. I told her that in no way have we done this alone; it started with her and it was every teacher, therapist, friend, family member, daycare staff and any one else who has every hugged him, showed him they care and loved him unconditionally. She remarked back “the village!” and I thought that was a truly fitting description.

To everyone in our Village, thank you for your support.

The Box

Jonathan has officially thrown me off of all of what I know about children and disabilities.

I have written before how between Gord and I, we should have this down to a science; I know disability, it’s my job and I think I’m pretty darn good at my job. But throw in adoption dynamics and it blurs my vision. Thrown in emotion and some days I feel blind.

But I can handle a little blurriness. I am slowly swimming my way through and getting to know this incredible little boy and all his quirks. I’m failing and making mistakes and retrying…and retrying and retrying again. And sometimes we both learn and move forward.

Day to day it sometimes can be too much, but when I step back and look at the bigger picture, we are doing it; we are changing old patterns and behaviours and seeing this kind sweet boy grow and start to figure out this world (and let’s not even start the conversation of what I’ve learned too).

It’s hard. He’s hard. But I feel like I know him, what he’s capable of, what he needs and doesn’t need. For the most part anyway.
I know disability, I’ve learned (am learning) very quickly attachment and all it’s ugliness.

But then there are other people’s opinions. There are doctors, counselors, school staff, SLP’s, aides, and daycare staff. To name a few.

Between the ‘whoa, uh, you’ve got your hands full’ comments and ‘you can tell, he’s incredibly smart’ and the ‘he’s about X amount delayed in these areas’ and ‘he’s doing so well, I can understand him so much better’ and ‘oh wow! we got a lot to work with here’ things don’t just get blurry but they get down right hard to define.

Jonathan has a disability. He is Deaf. Period.

Jonathan has a history that has given him some behaviours and challenges that other kids don’t have. Period.

I know this to be true. It is fact. But how much it impacts him is becoming more and more of a grey area.
Conflicting comments, opinions, reactions…it all makes me question his needs and abilities and what I know.

Some people don’t bat an eyelash, which is exactly what you hope for. For example, we met a new day care, they asked a few questions about his hearing, gave a few suggestions about how they could maybe support him better but it was an easy breezy yes we have a spot when would you like to start conversation. The end. Exactly what I had hoped for but wasn’t expecting to find.

So are his needs really a big deal? Am I making them a bigger deal than they are because of my own experiences?

Then we get the complete opposite messages – He’s in a program for kids with special needs, he gets special funding because of his needs. We get counseling and play therapy because of his needs and we are registering him in a specialized kindergarten program instead of our school up the road because of his needs and we can’t just have Joe next door baby sit because of his needs.

So yes, he undoubtedly needs some different approaches and programing and help. It’s right before our eyes.

Clearly this is my problem; he’s not fitting in my disability box.

And a part of me likes that.

It’s challenging me, it’s changing me. It makes me think and be uncomfortable and we all need that from time to time. It’s how we grow and learn become better. Better parents, better at our jobs, better partners and friends.

It is hard work. I am not able to pinpoint how I feel about labeling or defining his 4 (almost 5!) years of little history. It is in fact not so obvious what he needs, but a constant guessing game of reading him and testing ideas and strategies, and starting over again and again. What fits today may not fit tomorrow and in his own little, sometimes shouty way, he’ll let me know that what I’m doing ain’t his cup of tea.

I am a planner. A list connoisseur. I like order and predictable, with a little side of spontaneity and spice on the side…but wrapped up in a nice box that I can clearly define. But I will do my best to embrace this new challenge. I will try to think not so box-ish.

5 Years

Five years ago today I sat in that spot right there, with my heart beating fast and my palms sweating.IMG_20130418_024744

I was in fact waiting in the wrong spot, but that’s besides the point. I guess it was a first date of sorts; after a few encounters at work and many, many emails (not work related;), I was waiting to meet Gord for a walk through this park.

We walked for hours, talked about everything, and then some more, and fell for each other.gordandmedrum

Within a couple of weeks, we were in love.

Three weeks after our walk, while I was visiting my family in Ontario, I told my dad at lunch one day that this was it; he was the one. I could tell my dad thought I was crazy. But I knew.

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I love you so much Gordy.

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