Yes, No, Maybe So

It has been a long time since I posted, and with good reason.

The boys are gone. We almost quit foster parenting.

Some types of trauma can not be healed in a family foster home, and that is hard to admit when you are the foster home in question.
Some types of trauma do not show up in a child’s behavior in public, but only in private, behind closed doors, when nobody but a sibling is there to witness it.
Some types of trauma leave no scars on anything but a child’s psyche, and a child’s psyche can not be presented as evidence in a court of law.
Sometimes it isn’t possible to track abuse to its source. We will likely never know the identity of the person who first hurt these boys.

We did our best. We taught them manners, how to ask for things politely and how to say “thank you”. We taught them it was safer to to hold an adult’s hand when crossing the street. We taught them what it was like to be tucked into a clean bed with warm blankets.

In our home, they learned that waiting for something wasn’t the end of the world. They learned that sometimes – sometimes – you can trust an adult to do the right thing. They learned that it was never, ever, ever, EVER acceptable to hit a dog or a cat. They learned how tightly to buckle their own carseat buckles, just in case the adult they were with didn’t know.

The older boy arrived not able to sing the ABC song, and left 4.5 months later able to sing the song, write the alphabet, and identify all its letters both capital and lowercase. He went from a preschool IEP in January to “no accomodations needed” in June. The younger boy’s vocabulary exploded with new nouns, verbs, and adjectives.

All this in spite of behaviors that were rapidly spinning out of control. Ultimately, we knew we were not going to be able to keep these boys safe. Their behind-closed-doors behaviors were just too extreme and dangerous – to each other – and to us.

Did you know it is possible for a preschool aged child to be so traumatized that he will require inpatient psychiatric care in order to heal? And, did you know that psychiatric inpatient programs at hospitals are not available to children that young? Nasty catch-22 there.

In short, the boys are now in homes that are better equipped for helping them heal. Yes, two separate homes. It was eventually determined that in order to heal, the boys must not be constantly triggered by each other’s presence. If they can heal, and learn that siblings should support each other and not hurt each other, they will be placed together again. But they have much healing to do before that can happen – an amount of healing that is more than many adults are able to accomplish.

May God speed you both to full recovery, boys. And may you each get the type of permanent home and family that will enable you to continue healing the rest of your lives. God bless you, Tiny Viking, who upon seeing the sea for the first time, hit it with a stick and demanded “Stop Moving!” and the wave withdrew. God bless you, Puzzle Prince, who upon being told “you’re smart!” for the first time in your life, responded by looking shocked and then slowly saying “yes, I am”.

 

If you are a parent, struggling with a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder or Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or you find yourself being a “Trauma Mama” to a child who has endured unspeakable trauma, feel free to contact me for verbal support via the comments on this blog. I hear you. And I KNOW it is not always the fault of the person doing the parenting right now. We didn’t cause it. We can’t cure it. And we need to stand with each other, no matter what we choose to do (or have to do) to further the healing of these children we love.

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My preschooler’s negotiation skills need work

One of the preschoolers has hit a phase where he wants to negotiate everything. He wants more, he wants better, when given two choices he wants the unnamed third that exists only in his mind.  Completely age appropriate, but of course we’re working on it, especially trying to get him to do his negotiation more politely. But sometimes he is just so funny I have to laugh.

Me: Would you like a peanut butter sandwich for lunch?
Him: Peanut butter and JELLY!

Me: It’s almost time to leave the park. Five minutes more, boys!
Him: Five minutes AND five minutes!

Me: Thank you for behaving so well this morning! Would you like a sucker or a cookie for your treat?
Him: TWO suckers!

Me: Would you like to wear your jacket or your coat today?
Him: Put the jacket on top of the coat!

But sometimes he’s so focused on the negotiating that he completely misses the point.

Me: No, you do not hit your brother. Here, stay in your room and get your body under control. I will come back in three minutes.
Him: NO! Come back in FOUR minutes!

I could not keep myself from laughing. I know he did not intend to sentence himself to a whole extra minute of quiet down time, he’s just a preschooler whose negotiation skills need some work. Hope it makes you smile!

I miss my backyard

I realized today just how long it has been since I have spent any time in my backyard – two months. Yep. That’s WAY TOO LONG. But what’s a mother to do? My priorities are just different at the moment.

But I still miss it. I miss the smell of the grass. I miss the cluck of the hens. And even though I sold the last of my Angora rabbits a few months ago, I’m missing them today too. They went to a great home that will be able to utilize their fiber better than I could.

I’ve hired someone to do some of the maintenance that I have let slip. He’s power-washing the rabbit cages for storage, chopping down the new blackberry vines that keep appearing, and doing some general cleanup. Although I was really happy to notice that last month’s storm did not drop a single tree branch in any part of our yard! That was really nice to discover, given the number of downed branches and entire trees in the rest of the town.

I admired my yard through the window this afternoon as I went back and forth between dealing with laundry and dealing with preschooler tantrums. I will have to make some time to get out there soon. It is so rejuvenating to get into nature of any kind, and nature I can dig my hands into is especially invigorating.

The preschoolers and I planted some seeds last weekend. We had gone to a propagation fair – basically a seed swap with some professional talks. Free admission, free local/organic seeds, free talks, it was great! I picked out some seeds I want to try in my garden this year, and then let the boys each pick out some flower seeds. I got some peat pots and soil that day, and we planted the seeds and placed the pots on the front porch so the boys can see “their plants” every morning on the way to the car. I hope some sprout before the boys lose interest!  I know we’re playing roulette with the weather but the seeds had the boys’ interest so I struck while the iron was hot, so to speak. It’s so rare to get them interested in much of anything.

We still have the chickens, and added a fifth hen to them before Christmas. An opossum or raccoon had decimated a friend’s flock, leaving him with a single  hen. Rather than bring more hens into a coop that needed additional predator protection, he gave her to us. I was pleased with how quickly she was accepted. We placed her on the roost at night in the dark, and she spent about three days being ignored and run off by the others, then everything was fine. No fights, no blood, it was pretty tame as far as introductions go. A beautiful, large, shiny, blue/green-black hen that lays large medium brown eggs.

And about the eggs – I’m glad its winter and the chickens are molting, because I haven’t even been to the chicken coop in those two months! I could have eggs out there and I wouldn’t know about it, but this time of year that is unlikely so at least I’m not wasting eggs. When the preschoolers arrived we realized just how hard everything was going to be for a while, so we opened the coop and run and let the chickens have the run of the backyard. Feeding them now takes 10 seconds in the morning – open the back door to let the dog outside, toss out the day’s ration of chicken feed and call “chick, chick, chick!”. They all come running – five chickens, two legs and wings apiece, no new feathers missing, call it good. Whistle for the dog and close the door.

Although I did get to go in my neighbor’s backyard once! One of the chickens got over the fence. I tossed out the food and only four chickens came running, but I could hear the fifth. Stuck my head out the door and I could see her, running up and down the fenceline. Thankfully I had a guest that morning, someone from the boys’ therapy office, and she was willing to supervise them while I ran next door to catch the recalcitrant hen. It didn’t take long. I opened the gate and shooed her back into our yard where she happily joined the others at eating breakfast, none the worse for wear.

This blog has really undergone some changes in the past two years, hasn’t it? Micro-farming, a crazy amount of pets in a crazy small amount of space, becoming a foster family, and now back to wanting to garden. About the only consistency is that I’m still ranting against the boxes we humans can get stuck in. There is always something else out there that we can see, that tempts us to be more than we currently are. I’m going to get out of my mommy-to-traumatized-kids box pretty soon and get back to nature. It doesn’t mean the kids are going away, it just means that they can no longer be the sole focus of this household, because such single focus isn’t healthy for anyone. Our horizons are going to expand and we will find life outside our current “box”. What box are you going to get out of?

Things I have actually had to say

I used to read all those blog posts about “things you learn when you have boys“, and laugh. I enjoyed them, but surely children who do and say those things are the exception rather than the rule, right?

HA! No. Here is my list of things I have actually heard come out of my mouth. You can imagine all the fun that preceeded me needing to say these things.

Take your bottom out of your brother’s face.
Do not use your brother for a chair.
Please do not fart in the bathwater.
Keep your poop to yourself.
No, you may not pee on your brother.

Stop playing with your penis and finish your bath.
Farts are not supposed to be funny.
Poop belongs in the toilet.
No, you may not both pee in the toilet at the same time.

Did you wipe?
Did you wipe?
Did you wipe?
Go back and wipe.

Do not climb the curtains.
Do not use the window frame to do pull-ups.
Punching the window is not a good idea.
Get off the top of the dresser.
Beds are not to be used as bumper cars.

No wrestling.
No wrestling.
No wrestling.
Stop touching each other.

Do not use your brother for target practice.
Books are not frisbees.
You may not bite people, not even when you are playing dinosaur.

Do not spit at your brother.
Do not spit at me.
Do not spit.
Keep your spit in your mouth.

And this list is not exhaustive! And it represents only 6 weeks with two preschoolers. I’m sure the coming weeks will have many more unexpected things coming out of my mouth. Stay tuned!

You have a child – you will never sleep again!

I know that children, eventually, grow out of a need to know exactly where their mother is at all times of the day and night. Eventually. But mine aren’t there yet.

It’s 3:13 in the morning, and I am just now able to leave their room without one of them shrieking.

We don’t do “cry it out” here. Nuh-uh. Not gonna happen. These kids have had everything taken away from them, literally. I am not going to make them cry their grief, disappointment, anger, whatever it is they’re feeling, alone. Sometimes I have to leave the room to refill cups, dispose of dirty diapers, wash my hands, get spitup rags, use the bathroom, or even take a sanity break… but I always come back. I rock them, rub tummies, pat backs, or sometimes just sit there if that’s what they need. When I think they’re asleep, I leave. And then sometimes I have to come back because one wasn’t really asleep – either that, or they have baby radar that says I’m not close enough – and their fear returns and the crying begins again.

Sure I’m tired. But it’s helping them adjust. And that’s what they need right now – help. Help from an adult who is trustworthy. Help from an adult who won’t get angry at the crying and hit them. Help from an adult who says “I love you” and who sings in a quiet voice, the same songs over and over, until the very consistency of it allows them to relax enough to sleep.

Sometimes one wakes the other up with his crying. And those times I wish I had separate rooms for them. But other times they’re both upset for their own reasons, and I can haul one crib over toward the other, and sit in the middle with one hand patting each little boy. And those are the times I’m glad they sleep together.

I’m sure I’ll catch up on my sleep some time. Like maybe when they’re in college.

 

The cure for too much noise is chocolate

I have a large bag of fun-size 3 Musketeers bars. A very large bag. I got it Thursday and ate one or two. But since FRIDAY, well, let’s just say that was only two days ago and the bag is now almost empty. There is a reason.

Most of you have been in an airport. You know those magazine stores that sell aspirin, bottled water, and chocolate bars? There is a reason they don’t sell vegetables – nobody would buy them. The people are running around in a building designed after a rat’s maze, with loudspeakers and jet engines in their ears. A jet engine at takeoff usually registers about 105 decibels.

Or take professional sports. The concession stands there sell hot dogs, wings, french fries, and ice cream. All greasy, fat-laden foods. Again, no vegetables. After all, a professional sports arena is one of the loudest places to be. A recently played football game had a crowd roar that reached 136.6 decibels! Definitely far exceeding eat-your-vegetables levels.

Which brings me to this weekend. One of my children might have chicken pox and definitely has a very high fever, which results in loud, round the clock sobbing because the poor kid is uncomfortable in his own skin. Baths, Tylenol, and anti-itch medications only work so far. He’s far too young to understand why he feels so bad, so sobbing in my arms is the only outlet he feels he has. In my arms, his mouth is less than a foot from my ear.

And my other child is teething, he has two molars coming in at the same time. His crying is more indicative of actual pain, rather than generalized discomfort. And it comes out in shrieks, rather than sobbing. Tylenol and Orajel help, but they don’t take the pain away completely. He feels his outlet is generalized anger, so he has begun to hit the cat and throw his toys. Picking him up calms him for a moment, but brings his shrieks closer to my ears. He soon continues his anger and pushes me away.

Researchers say that exposure to sounds louder than 85 decibels can contribute to hearing loss. Anecdotal stores from those researchers says that people experience pain in their ears when hearing sounds louder than 100 to 120 decibels (depending on the individual).

Are you ready to learn how many decibels are produced by a crying child?

115 – 136 decibels.

Now that is LOUD. The average jackhammer is only 105 decibels. And rock concerts average 120 decibels. A single shrieking child can be louder than either of those.

So taking my cue from airport kiosks and professional sports stadiums, I respond by eating fatty, sugary, delicious foods. Right now, that means fun-sized 3 Musketeers bars. Many, many fun-sized 3 Musketeers bars. It’s a stress response. And sounds this loud are definitely stressful. My ears rang tonight for about 30 minutes after the kids finally fell asleep.

Chocolate cures many things. It can not cure actual hearing loss from these loud noises, but they can make the sounds themselves much more bearable. I will be purchasing ear plugs this week, ones like contractors use at constructions sites. But until then, chocolate helps.

Please excuse me, I get to go hug one of my children; he woke up and is crying again… I think I’ll get another chocolate bar on the way.

When it rains, it pours (aka: the week of teething, and chickenpox, and several other things)

Being a mom is lovely, absolutely lovely. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Keep your corporate job, keep your million dollars, I’ll keep my stay at home with two toddlers life. Seriously. I waited so long to be able to rock children to sleep that I’ll keep it and love it  even during the phases everyone dreads.

Have I mentioned on here that we have two toddlers now? Two boys, 17 days apart in age but worlds apart in development. One walks, runs, and climbs. The other is still cruising the furniture. One is trying out sign language and is very close to talking. The other has the Early Childhood Intervention people visiting because he is not making any strides toward communicating at all. One is 2’8″ and 30 lbs. The other is 2’3″ and 23 lbs. But both have light brown hair and blue eyes, and the most charming smiles!

If you know anything about adoption, you know that artificially twinning children is a bad idea. I would not have done it if this second child were not a short term placement. But he is – he has an adoptive family already identified! They just haven’t finished their training yet, but everyone is waiting for them because they already adopted two of this toddler’s siblings a couple years ago. So adopting him will bring the family of children together again. And that is worth a lot of waiting and a lot of bother. And because he has delays, having a same age sibling to identify with and to copy for a couple months just might help him out. So we agreed to do it.

The good news is the copying theory seems to be working out just fine. Our first child, DittoChild (DC), does something like take a toy and walk off with it, and our second child, Chipmunk, gets upset and starts cruising the furniture even faster in an attempt to catch up to DC and take the toy from him. Good workout for him.

The downside is really just about me. Because having two children the same age means two children going through things at the same time – like teething. Oi! I hate teething. With a passion. One question I’ll definitely have for God when I get to heaven is why he invented it! I mean, our head produces strands of hair without pain, why can’t our gums produce teeth without pain??? I’m sure he has a reason, but sheesh – I do not know what it is! My mom laughs and says I get to experience all the typical parenting headaches on fast forward because of the ages of these two children.

And now it looks like I get to experience a child with chickenpox. It might be hand/foot/mouth, or some other blister-causing virus… but chickenpox is the leading theory. We’ll know more Monday, 3 days after the first of the high fever and spots. So far just two blisters, and a bunch of red pinpoint sized dots. You know, the doctor at Urgent Care hasn’t seen a case of chickenpox in YEARS – all because most children are vaccinated for it nowadays. We went to Urgent Care because Chipmunk got a fever that spiked very quickly to 105.5 degrees. Noticing the blisters was just icing on that cake. At least I left with doctor’s prescription for how to administer tylenol to a child too small for the smallest dosage on the package – stuff like that gets really sticky when dealing with foster children. It’s always best to just have a doctor write it down and then it’s suddenly OK to give it. A recommendation over the phone is not nearly as official.

So by Monday we’ll know for sure, supposedly. Which means Monday I get to call all the professionals we saw on Friday and tell them what they were exposed to – because Fridays around here are “professionals” days. This week we had the Early Childhood Intervention people out, and the CASA rep. I’m sure I’m not the only person to tell them they’ve been exposed to something, though! It’s probably a professional risk they know about all too well.

So Monday’s schedule includes:
calling for a doctor’s appointment,
going to the doctor’s appointment,
emailing Chipmunk’s worker to say what he has,
griping to Chipmunk’s worker about being told he was up to date on vaccinations when I was told at Urgent Care that he’s 6 months behind,
emailing DC’s worker to tell her what he’s been exposed to,
talking to the medical transportation reimbursement people,
calling the ECI and CASA to tell them what they were exposed to on Friday.
And oh yeah – calling my brother to tell him we probably won’t make it to HIS WEDDING this week. (Oi, that one’s gonna hurt. But if Chipmunk has chickenpox, then we can’t bring him and doubt we could find a babysitter OK with it. So it is what it is.)

I can’t find out until Monday whether DC is vaccinated for chickenpox. He should be, but then again Chipmunk should have been, too. I’m not a proponent of the chickenpox vaccine, in my opinion it is still too new to have documented all side effects so parents can make truly educated decisions for their children. But being in foster care, I am not given a choice about vaccines. I must have them done on schedule. MUST. So now we have to deal with a catch-up schedule for Chipmunk as soon as he’s over this illness.

So: Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
may my kids sleep through the night,
and wake up with fevers LIGHT.

Bless mommy, daddy, Chipmunk and DC.
May all involved adults make the decisions for these children that are in their best interests. And may they wake up healthier and happier than they went to sleep.

Amen

I love watching him learn

This little boy my husband and I are fostering is learning SO MUCH. It’s like his brain is full of little Christmas lights and every day we get to see more of them light up.

The other day I started sneezing…

Me: Achoo!
DC: (with a wondering look in his eyes) Hoo?
Me: ACHOO!
DC: (with more confidence) A-Hoo.
Me: ACHOO! ACHOO!
DC: A-KUU! A-KUU!  And he walked around for several minutes repeating A-KUU as hubby and I laughed.

He has a toy that sings. One of the songs is “If You’re Happy and You Know It” and when it plays I have always clapped my hands when the song tells me to. Now when it comes on he starts clapping his hands right away. Another song it sings is “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and while he is nowhere near coordinated enough to make the spider motions, he is used to seeing me do them and he immediately starts to try.

He and hubby have a game they play in the evenings that I call “in and out”. Hubby takes apart a chain of plastic rings, and sets up some containers. Then he starts putting the rings in the containers one at a time. DC comes over and joins him. Hubby puts in a ring, DC puts in a ring. Hubby puts in a ring, DC puts in a ring. When the rings are all in continers, they laugh and clap and proceed to take them out – hubby takes one out, DC takes one out, hubby takes one out, DC takes one out. And they repeat. (This is apparantly a males-only game. When I try to interest DC in it, I get covered by a shower of plastic rings that he throws out of the container by the handful.)

He had an assessment the other day. It was really cool watching a child development expert assess what DC knew how to do. When the Early Childhood people asked me if DC would pick up a string with his thumb and forefinger, I plopped a string in front of DC and watched him pick it up. When this assessor wanted to know the same thing, he got out a multicolored pull toy, and dangled the string to it in front of DC, swinging it slowly back and forth like a metronome until DC, fascinated, extended his hand and grasped it with his forefinger and thumb.

I have never taught a baby sign language before, although I’m familiar with it. DC doesn’t say any words yet, so baby sign language is helping a TON. I’m surprised at how well I’m remembering it, and how quickly he’s picking it up. “Milk” and “more” are the ones he uses most often, although “food” and “all done” get shown a decent amount too. He learns so quickly!

Parenting is using such different parts of my brain than anything else I’ve ever done. It’s rewarding, and frustrating, and enjoyable, and exhausting. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.