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;)

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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!

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

Beyond the Behaviour Growing Love

*I started writing this a long time ago but found it recently and finished it off. It’s amazing to think how far we’ve come in just a couple of years.

*****

I remember the moment that the idea of adoption turned into a real thing with a little human attached to it. It was when I first saw a picture of my son. I was in my bosses office and had just told her that we were in the process of adopting. She pulled up a picture of a little boy on her phone that she had been doing respite with and said “you should adopt him!”

It became real.

This boy needed a home, we needed a little boy. This boy had high needs, we were capable. He needed love, we had love to give.

From that day forward, a little piece of my heart started to love him. Although it would 7ish more months until we knew we were the right parents for him and it would be 9ish more months until he knew of us, the foundation was being built, very slowly, very carefully in my head and in my heart.

When it became official that we had been matched with Jonathan and we went through our panel meeting, I could feel the love grow just a tiny bit more. The night that we met him, it shifted again.

Loving him wasn’t instant, but grew over time. There wasn’t any one moment of fireworks and marching bands, but it was steady. And when I stopped and checked in with myself every so often, I could feel it changing and morphing and growing.

But man alive, was it tough.

How do you love a stranger when they scream at you, hit and kick you, bite and spit at you? How do you love a stranger when they have turned everything you know inside out and upside down, regardless of how bad you wanted it?

Slowly.

How do you love a little boy who fights you, comes between your marriage, turns you into a stranger to yourself and throws your whole world into a giant puddle of crazy?

Intentionally.

I stuffed all the ‘what have we done?’ and ‘get me outta here’ feelings as deep inside as I could and I took all the ‘I give ups’ and the ‘I can’t do it any mores’ and hid them away.

I smiled at him, hugged him and told him I loved him, even when all I was feeling was anger and exhaustion and sorry for myself.

I did it because I knew that’s what he needed. I did it because I knew my feelings were secondary to how he felt. And I knew I had to see beyond the behaviour to the boy who under it all needed and wanted to be accepted and loved.

And so, I played with him, fed and clothed him, consequenced and praised him and told him that he was safe and wanted and important. All day, everyday. That out of all the little boys in the whole world, we wanted him to be our boy.

When he continued to hit again and again, we talked about how it doesn’t matter if he hits he will still be loved, still stay in this house, still be part of our family. I may not have always felt it, but I said it. And when he ran away over and over after hurting himself I followed him every time and patiently waited while he screamed for me to go away. I did it so that in between the screams I could tell him tell him that I loved him and it was my job to make sure he was safe.

And when he went to bed at night, I cried from exhaustion and frustration and loss of sanity and identity and everything that I knew for sure. And I cried from anger towards all the people who let him down in his short life. I cried from happiness because I had my boy.

Then I got up again the next day and repeated it all.

And one day I checked in with myself and I realize that the love had grown more. My heart was bigger, stronger, more full than the last time I checked. I realized that he wasn’t a stranger any more and that it had been a few days since he screamed or hit or spit, and that he hadn’t run away when he fell down yesterday.

And so on I went, looking beyond the behaviour and growing love.