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.

EMDR Update

It’s been about a month since we did EMDR with Jonathan. During the session I kept thinking “Really? This is it? Might as well wave a magic wand and dance naked in the rain on a full moon.”

But, the last few weeks have been veeeeryy interesting. Immediately, Jonathan would say and do things that I kept thinking “Hmm, interesting. Is that a coincidence or….?” He wasn’t calmer in any way, but he seemed more agreeable and assured…? Maybe that’s not the right word, but something was a bit different.

The most notable things were:
– The next day he repeated back everything she said to him (our hearts are stretchy to love lots of people, moving lots can be scary, he’s now safe etc.)
– When we talked about going to visit family for the weekend he told me “But I’m not going to live there, I’m not”. Where as before any place we visited, or new house we went to, he would ask if that was his new house.
– While visiting family (just 4 days after our first session) he refused to go sleep (he never does) and just kept saying “I don’t like sleeping”. We just laid together and I told him he didn’t have to sleep but he had to lay quietly. Eventually he slept but he repeated it in the morning too. And then never again. That was weird.
– He asked why we had to go see Tara (New Therapist Lady) and was open to talking about it.
– He has been having mostly ‘green’ days at school and last week was all green (green is the best kind of day). And, he comforted a friend who was upset without any prompting…yes I wrote about this in my last post you are not having dejavue, but showing real and true empathy is something I think worth repeating.
– He is decreasing the immediacy of asking what’s for dinner when I picked him up after work from when I walk in the door of his day home to half way home or almost home.
– He let the school, and me, put band aids on him when he fell at school and got a nasty cut on his hand. He has always refused this kind of grown up care just outright now allowing us to clean a cut or put band aids on cuts. Hmmmm, interesting….

And two of the most interesting (I think):
One night between after school and his shower he was a mess – I couldn’t even look at Gord without him squawking, banging the table at dinner, interrupting etc. I sat him down before his shower, just the two of us, and asked what was going on. We had some cuddles and did some breathing and talked about how sometimes he gets nervous or scared and it’s hard even though he lives here forever and mom and dad love him etc. and he hugged me and said it was scary moving to all those houses. A week earlier when I asked if it was scary he answered “No, I was brave!”
And…
One night we are talking before bed about first mom and dad and I told him it was ok if he loved them because his heart was big and stretchy enough to love anybody he wanted to. He told me that he didn’t love them. I asked why and he told me “I don’t know them”. Makes sense to me! I think that’s pretty good logic for a 6-year-old.

Was some of those things coincidences? Maybe. Am I looking for positive outcomes and I’m paying attention to tiny changes or comments more than I usually would? For sure.
But there are more than just a couple (and more little changes in behaviour or comments than I have listed have occurred) to be coincidences, I think. We go back again to see our lovely New Therapist Lady in a week or so and I am looking forward to more voodoo, singing to the trauma gods, spinning three times around a fire while citing passages backwards…or you know, something like that.

New Therapist Lady

At the same time that we hit the compliant truckin’ along wall, a therapist friend met a therapist who works in adoption. Now fancy that.

A few weeks later, I’m in new therapist’s office and there’s an immediate connection. I like her. I like her a lot. She gets it. She makes sense. She makes Jonathan make sense. She’s good with him. She doesn’t just tell me “you’re doing great!” like some others have. (It’s nice and all to be complimented once in a while on how great you’re doing and all, but I’m generally sitting in somebody’s office because things aren’t great and I don’t need confidence, I need help). She is speaking my language and telling actual strategies and things I can do to create some change and forward movement in attachment with Jonathan.

New therapist lady had actual practical, concrete, strategies that I began to use immediately. She talked about brain stuff, filling in holes, anxiety and heart rates. She explained things in a way that made sense. I wanted to hug her. But I didn’t. Because I do still want her to think I’m great even if I don’t want her to tell me and if I hugged her she may not think I’m great and perhaps suggest I need therapy. Which I don’t have time for. Instead I blog.

Next week new therapist lady is  going to do some EMDR work with Jonathan. I would never even think of trying this because it sounds hokey to me but, my therapist friend who just got trained in EMDR (which is how she met new therapist lady) had it done on herself and BAM! years of trauma dealt with (not completely but in in many ways). She couldn’t believe it herself. It really does seem too good to be true, but there are lots of studies out there, I trust my therapist friend and new therapist lady gave me tons of examples of how she’s used it with kids. If you want to read more about it you can click here. I shall keep you posted on how things go !

For now though, we are doing a few everyday things and are immediately seeing some push-back, which I take as a positive sign of it being effective. Man alive, I forgot how asking for help usually results in a LOT of extra work. Good thing Gord and I booked our first vacation (4 whole days) away in May! We’ll need it!