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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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!

The end was like the beginning

The first month DC was with us, he couldn’t fall asleep. New place, new crib, new faces, it was all so unfamiliar to him that as soon as he relaxed enough that sleep was possible, all the strangeness rushed in and he’d wake up again, crying. I’d go to him, pat his back if that’s all he needed, or pick him up and rock him. Whatever it took to let him feel more secure and more love. Sometimes I’d be rocking and gently bouncing him, sitting on the corner of the guest room bed, for hours.

That was true the first month that DC was with us, back in July. I was up all hours of the night when he would wake up in a strange place and begin to cry.

And that was true again this past weekend, which was DC’s last weekend with us. I don’t know how he knew what was going on, but he was unsettled again, wanting to be held, and crying when he would not fall asleep instantly. Today he moves to live with his uncle, aunt, and cousins. They are the lucky ones who will get to cuddle him forever.

Maybe he knew *I* needed it. I needed those extra cuddles these last few days, too. I needed hours spent on the exercise ball, lights out, bouncing gently, whispering “I love you”. I needed those little arms reaching up out of the crib, asking for a hug.

I will miss being his mother.

God speed, little DC. May you grow strong in the house with your relatives. May you learn to trust them the way you trusted us. And may God bring us new children who need to be loved, rocked, hugged, and cuddled long into the night. You trained us well, and we’re ready for them.

 

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.

 

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.