Tag Archives: adoption

Demolition Derby!

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Adopting two boys with a history of early childhood abuse and trauma has had a profound effect on all aspects of our life. It has changed the way we see and navigate our world. It has made me question truths that were once embedded in me and flipped any parenting strategies that were tried and true with my older children, on their head. Parenting a child from trauma requires me to pause, consider how I instinctually would respond to the situation, and then do the complete opposite.

It is like living every day as “Backwards Day.” One area where this is particularly true is how I respond to emotional escalation. When my children were little and they would start to escalate or spin out of control, my instinctual response was to channel my internal “Mr. Rogers,” lower my voice, speak softly and calmly, and decrease the energy level of the situation.

When parenting a child that comes from trauma, this approach is not only ineffective but can have the opposite effect that you are seeking. For children who come from abusive homes calm, quiet, and soft voices are unfamiliar and scary. They are so foreign to these kids that were raised in an environment of chaos and heightened fear. I have discovered that when children from hard places are feeling emotionally out of control often what they are most in need of is external chaos. By increasing the energy level, by bringing an unexpected and crazy response to meet their chaos, their internal anxiety lowers.

I know it sounds so counterproductive to those of us who come from healthy homes, but for children who have lived their entire life in a state of heightened adrenaline, calm is unknown and uncomfortable.

It has taken me a long time to reprogram my approach. It takes presence of mind to walk into one of the boys’ meltdowns and rather than talking calmly and trying to diffuse the escalation, amp up the energy with a pillow fight, a Three Stooges comedy routine, or an impromptu Nerf battle.

I knew Friday was going to be rough. Ozzie was returning home and with his return came heightened emotions on everyone’s part. I knew the situation was a ticking time bomb.

Ozzie was angry and blaming me for his time at the hospital.

Tyler was fearful of Ozzie’s return home.

And everyone else was emotionally on edge.

I knew it was time to pull out the big guns and amp up the energy and chaos is a big way, so as to avoid a crisis. I had to choose a parent driven, fun, healthy form of chaos before the boys tried to meet their own need for chaos in an unhealthy and destructive way.

Friday evening Toby and I just had the two little boys with us. Molly was at work. Rusty was on a white-water rafting adventure with his Boy Scout troop, and Grace was recovering from wisdom teeth surgery (more on those adventures in a future blog) so we made plans to have some one on one time with Tyler and Ozzie. We knew it needed to be high energy and adrenaline filled, given the emotionally instability of everyone with Ozzie’s return home. We were also looking for an activity that would bond and connect Tyler and Ozzie in a healthy way, with the hope some shared fun would dispel the fears Tyler was having of Ozzie’s return home.

So, what did we do??

We headed to the Butler Farm Show for some messy, muddy, noisy fun at the Demolition Derby!

I knew it was the PERFECT activity for the boys.

We arrived at the Butler Farm Show just as the Demolition Derby was beginning. Despite the rain, the crowds were high.

We parked in an outer field and took the tractor-pulled wagon to the front gate.

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At the front gate, we purchased tickets and headed in.

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The sun was just starting to lower in the sky and the neon lights of the rides and booths lit up the fair grounds.

We walked past the buildings that held all the 4-H farm animals.

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We stepped into the arena where the demolition derby was being held and the place was buzzing with excitement.

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We missed the first heat but saw the after effects of the destruction which just fueled the boys’ excitement for what was coming.

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As we sought out seats in the already packed stands we ran across friends and stopped for a quick chat.

We eventually settled ourselves near the top of the stands…seats that allowed us a sweeping view of all the action without any of the flying mud that accompanied the lower seats.

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The next round of cars drove out and lined up for the next heat.

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The competitors drove junk cars that had been dolled up and personalized with paint and props, which was as cosmetically effective as putting lipstick on a pig,

But the results were comical. There was much creativity put into the designs.

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Then the countdown began…

5, 4, 3, 2, 1…

And the destruction began.

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Much like an adult version of bumper cars, the vehicles rammed, crashed, and collided into each other.

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The thrill level increased as tires flew off, bumpers crumpled, and engines caught on fire.

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It was everything a little boy loves: cars, mud, noise and destruction.

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Not only did they love it, but they enjoyed it together. It was a shared thrill, a connecting experience, one step closer to bonding.

As chaos ensued below us I watched as the boys found peace with the thoughts in their head.

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They were still. They were calm. They were happy.

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By feeding their need for chaos with a fun, healthy, high adrenaline experience we found some peace.

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Oh, the irony!

I have a feeling there will be more demolition derbies in our future.

 

A Safe Circle

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On Thursday morning we received news of Ozzie’s discharge date. After three weeks in Mercy’s DAS program for acute stabilization they deemed him safe to return home.

This was good news as we have missed Ozzie being home with his family where he belongs, but I’d be lying if I said that the news didn’t stir up hard emotions in the other children. Ozzie’s absence has been a time of respite for us all. Prior to being admitted things had escalated to a level we had never experienced before, and the effect on everyone was heartbreaking. His heightened level on aggression and rage left the other children fearful of what might happen next.

This has been especially true for Tyler whose trauma background makes him especially susceptible to that fight, flight or freeze response when Ozzie starts escalating. It is a hard, heartbreaking situation to be in as a mom. By meeting the emotional needs of one child I am triggering the memories of trauma and destroying the feelings of safety in another. It is an impossible position to be in and requires a constant, concerted effort to meet everyone’s needs and keep everyone stable.

The news that Ozzie was returning home brought mixed feelings of happiness but also worry and concern and perhaps a bit of dread, knowing what home life was like last time he was home. The emotions of the older kids were evident only to this Momma’s well trained eyes as I saw an increase in sensitivity, irritability and tears over trivial things. I could see that they were struggling with worries about the storm that could be brewing on the horizon, but it was Tyler that most concerned me. The absence of violence and aggression these last few weeks transformed Tyler into a child whose was “lighter.” The absence of fear was apparent in the way he laughed more easily, interacted more joyfully, and engaged more readily. He was a different child.

The news of Ozzie’s discharge date brought back all those old fears of not feeling safe. Memories of the chaos and abuse in his unsafe birth home tend to bubble to the surface when there is emotional chaos and escalation at home.

I didn’t know how desperately he was seeking and begging for safety until the morning of Ozzie’s discharge when I found him outside. He was coloring with chalk on the sidewalk. I sat down beside him and asked him what he was drawing.

“A Safe Circle,” he replied.

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I had never heard him use that term before so I asked him what a safe circle was.

He answered, “It is a place where no one can hurt me.

Now this is not a term or a strategy that has ever come up in therapy. It was a coping tool Tyler created on his own, which is a huge step forward from the emotional “freezes” he has been having lately. Here he felt unsafe and came up with a strategy to bring that feeling of felt safety he was in need of.

I asked him to tell me about his safe circle.

He explained that as long as he sat in his circle Ozzie couldn’t hurt him.

I asked who was allowed in his safe circle and he began to draw.

He drew Toby and I. He drew Grace, Molly and Rusty. He drew the dogs, and then he drew himself.

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It is hard to describe the flood of mixed emotions that crashed over me as I sat on the sidewalk with that broken little boy.

I grieved for the pain he has felt in his short life that makes him so afraid.

I grieved for the pain Ozzie has felt at the hands of his biological parents that make him so angry.

I grieved for the profound loss of what our family once was, a loss that is deeply felt by my older children.

I grieved for all the children that are still living in their own personal hells that haven’t been rescued.

I grieved for those children who may never get a chance at love and a healthy family.

I grieved for the families that are also in the trenches fighting the hard fight to save their children from their past,

I grieved, but I also found myself buoyed up by gratitude…

Gratitude for a testimony of a God greater than earthly heartbreak,

Grateful for His hand in leading us to the people and services that support and help us in this journey,

Grateful for second chances, do-overs, and the unfailing hope that things will get better.

It broke my heart to see the artistic manifestation of Tyler’s deepest fears crudely drawn out at my feet, by it also brought forth a bubble of gratitude and hopefulness. He did it. He faced his dark demons and rather than cower under their power he used his voice to name the fear and then came up with a strategy to face that fear.

A Safe Circle may seem silly and ineffective in facing all that we face in our home but this was the emotional equivalent of Tyler donning his armor for self protection, which is a HUGE step forward in his therapeutic journey towards overcoming his past.

The next step is healing the brokenness of the relationships under our own roof and part of that is helping Ozzie and Tyler connect again with the absence of Fear and Anger getting in their way.

We began healing the past destruction by inviting a different form of chaos and destruction on Friday night with a visit to the demolition derby. Stay tuned for the recap of our muddy, messy, noisy adventure!

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I Love my TRIBE

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Many may be surprised to know this about me..

Those who know me well will not,

but at core of who I am

lies a tried and true introvert.

When I say this to people I often get the response, “No you’re not. You are so outgoing.”

I will correct them and answer, “I fake it. I was raised by a mom who is people lover and extrovert through and through so my survival technique in social settings is to channel the spirit of my mother, ask myself, ‘What would mom do?,’ and conform in the most socially appropriate way until I can escape to the sanctuary of my own company.

I think that is why I love to blog and write letters. Both are activities that allow me that rare duel opportunity of both socializing/conversing while also being alone with my own thoughts and company.

I know this might be completely altering your perception of me and maybe even lowering your opinion of me,  🙂

but I always strive to be honest, and the truth is:

“My name is Katie and I find small talk tedious, talking to strangers burdensome, and being social engaging overwhelming and exhausting.”

I wish I had a bit more of my mother in me. I wish I eagerly sought out new faces with the same driven desire to hear their life story. I wish I cared deeply enough and was emotionally invested enough to remember everyone’s children’s hobbies and interests and birthdays. I wish I could be that person that looks at a room of new strangers with a thrill of anticipation of the possibility of making 200 new friends. I wish my stomach didn’t drop when an invitation comes in the mail or when the phone rings. I wish a night out with a group of ladies held as much appeal as a night at home with a book and a cup of peppermint tea.

Ok…now I really sound bad.

Its not that I don’t love people. It is not that I am anti social. It is not that I am a friend snob. I am just an introvert at the center of my soul.

What does that mean?

This sums it up well:

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And while the introverted side of me struggles with large groups, the strength of an introvert is their loyalty and complete devotion to their closest friends…that small group of safe friends that they deem their “tribe.”

People in general drain me. No, that is not quite right…

It is more like social expectations drain me.

And the more emotionally tapped out I am by stress at home (like the stress we have been consumed with the last 6 months) the more I find myself avoiding social situations that will drain me even more. Others may perceive it as me isolating or pulling away when in reality it is just self preservation. In the midst of the chaos happening at home I am desperately searching for quiet, peace, and alone time to recenter my thoughts and refill my bucket.

 My bucket fills with those closely guarded moments of solitude. The exception to that rule is my tribe.

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My tribe consists of my family and closest friends. Those people I can share my heart with safely. Those are the people that fill my emotional bucket as opposed to draining it. I am not one to have many, many friends, but rather I tend to draw close to a handful of ladies that I shower all of my energy and effort into connecting with. My tribe is my safe place, my happy place, my stabilizing force, my council and my joy. I am grateful for my tribe. I don’t know how I would navigate this heartbreakingly hard season of life without them. I draw from their strength and their friendship.

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This week I had two opportunities for “tribe time.” One came in the form of a Relief Society garden party and the other in the form of a co-op ladies night out. Both filled my bucket. It was so nice to connect with friends I haven’t seen all summer. The show of concern, the words of encouragement, and the opportunity to laugh and be light, free of responsibilities and worries for a few hours was a lovely gift.

I am grateful for my tribe.

 

Tyler’s Gotcha Day

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Today we celebrated our 4 year anniversary of being Tyler’s parents. Today was his “Gotcha Day,” which means four years ago on this day we stood before a judge and committed our hearts, home, and life to Tyler. That was the day he became Tyler McCleery. It was one of the happiest days of my life. My heart grew 10 sizes that day.

Every year on the anniversary of our boys’ adoption days we celebrate the blessing of joining our lives with an activity of their choosing. The activities vary from year to year and from boy to boy. There have been “Gotcha Days” that involved going out for ice cream, playing at the park, seeing a movie and even playing tennis as a family. The only constants are:

1. The “Gotcha Day” boy does the choosing.

2. The activity is a whole family, bonding experience.

This year we were on the road for Tyler’s “Gotcha Day.” We are on our way to Texas for my brother’s wedding and this was our first long driving stretch as we made our way from western Pennsylvania to St. Louis, Missouri.

We got on the road early.

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The kids each received their travel treat bag filled with snacks, games, activity books and bottled water. Everyone settled in and off we went.

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As we drove we had fun playing travel games like “Bingo,” “The Alphabet Game,” and Mad Libs.

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Tyler elected himself navigator thanks to the free maps that are handed out at rest stops along the way.

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As we traveled west we drove through many rain showers.

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Although we had a nine hour drive ahead of us we wanted to do something special to celebrate Tyler’s “Gotcha Day,” so we planned an impromptu stop in  Terre Haute, Indiana after reading some reviews online of the awesome children’s museum found in this smaller Indiana city.

The impressive reviews were the first draw. The second draw for this children’s museum was the price, which was a third of the cost of the large children’s museum found in Indianapolis. At a cost of only $8.00 a person this place was a steal!

My only concern was that perhaps it would be geared too young for the teenagers to enjoy it, but I knew they were such good sports that they would happily tag along so their little brother could enjoy this neat experience on his special day.

I didn’t need to worry. This children’s museum had something for everyone, from 9 month olds to 90 year olds…this place was incredible!

What an awesome hidden gem is tucked away in Terre Haute!

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We walked in and the fun began at the door with a cloud maker.

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We paid and began exploring.

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There was a little of everything, from interactive science exhibits to creative play areas.

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If we lived in Terre Haute when my kids were little this would have been our playground.

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The first big exhibit we encountered was a vacuum powered tube maze that hung on the wall. The kids  placed bath loofahs in the ends of the tubes, press the air button, and watched the loofah balls fly through the maze of tubes then shoot out the various ends. We all had a blast playing with this interactive toy. It set the tone for the rest of the day and gave us a preview of the fun we would have.

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One of the displays the Terre Haute Children’s Museum is best known for is their giant tree house…and rightfully so. It is epic! Tyler ran for it right away, quickly followed by his older siblings. The tree house can be accessed by a walkway on the second floor or could be entered from the base of the tree through a vertical climbing maze. At the top of the tree house there were ball shooters that could be used to launch foam balls across the room into the hanging flowers on the opposite wall. As the balls fell back to the ground they could be gathered and sent back up to the kids at the top of the tree house via a hanging basket that could be loaded with balls and be pulled up pulley style. A lot of our day was spent here.

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Tyler’s second favorite exhibit was the animal race track. Here the kids could pick an animal to race. They would pick a continent, and then pick an animal from that continent that they wanted to try racing. Then they would stand at the end of the race track and begin running down the track. As they raced red squares appeared below their feet, representing the footsteps of the animal they were racing. They had to outrun the red squares to win the race. Then at the end of the track both speeds were posted so they could see how close the race was and who the winner was.

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It was fun to see how fast or slow various animals were. We were shocked by many of them. For instance we had no idea a porcupine was such a slow poke. It only runs 2 miles an hour. Who knew?

On the first floor they also had a cool Dino Dig site,

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a pump piano that Rusty enjoyed,

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and a “Build and Race your own Bottle Car” experience:

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On the second floor there was an agricultural area, which is fitting, I suppose, since we were in Indiana. Here the kids learned more about farming and got to milk a cow, drive a combine, and play with a mommy pig and her piglets. It was so cute!

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On this floor they also had a race car the kids could climb in:

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AND a bubble wand so big that they could climb inside the bubble. It was awesome!

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One of the neatest parts of this children’s museum was the many areas set up for creative play. Here the kids could use their imagination and play pretend.

There was a kitchen:

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A Supermarket:

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A construction site:

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And a Vet’s office:

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All were set up with such wonderful attention to detail, making kids feel as though they had stepped into a mini version of  real world places. Even my big kids had fun playing pretend.

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We stayed until it closed at 5:00 and then continued on to St. Louis for our first night’s stay.

It was an amazing day,

one that will go down in the books…

a “Gotcha Day” that won’t soon be forgotten!

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Thanks for Terre Haute for a fun day.

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And thank you, God, for bringing Tyler into our lives four years ago.

We love you, Tyler!

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I hate Blogging

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Blogging is therapeutic for me,

But sometimes I hate it…

Because by recording our journey with words, the heartbreak and pain of this journey become all the more real.

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When I decided to begin making a recording of our adoption journey I made a promise to myself that my recordings would be real and honest. That I would be brave enough to be authentic, with the hope that others might be strengthened in their own hard journeys, knowing that they aren’t alone in the struggle of mortality.

But it sometimes is hard and disheartening to have to follow a good news blog with a sad news blog…

But this is the heartbreaking reality of raising a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder. Emotionally they can escalate from joyful to enraged at a speed of 0 to 60, especially when faced with a positive, happy, family bonding experience like the vacation we just arrived home from and the trip to my brother’s wedding we are leaving on in a few days.

I won’t go into the specifics of all that has transpired over the last five days, suffice it to say, it had been heartbreaking. Ozzie is in a very dark place and confirmed his struggles at therapy on Tuesday when he told his therapist that he didn’t feel safe with himself. He shared the dark thoughts and fantasies he had been having, as well as the heartbreaking flashbacks that were consuming him. It was decided at once that he had to be hospitalized again.

He wasn’t safe to travel to Texas for the wedding.

Tina was fearful for his life and said he needed to be placed under suicide watch immediately.

Once stabilized he will spend the next 4 weeks at Mercy Hospital’s DAS program where he will undergo more intensive inpatient trauma therapy to help him process the flashbacks of past abuse that are the source of his emotionally instability right now.

My heart is breaking.

This isn’t how I pictured my brother’s wedding.

This isn’t how I pictured our adoption journey.

This isn’t how I pictured my life.

I mourn for all that has been lost.

I mourn for what could have been.

But I especially mourn for this hurting, broken boy who feels so unworthy of life.

This isn’t the blog I wanted to write.

I’d like to end with a note of hope,

But I am empty.

This is me being courageously real and authentic.

Please pray for us.

 

 

Fun at Jellystone Campground

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While the three older kids were pulling handcarts across the rolling hills of Virginia in the 97 degree heat, we were enjoying some more relaxing and cooler activities 30 minutes away in Luray, Virginia.

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Rather than make two 9 hour drives in 52 hours, we opted to stay close and enjoy a mini camping excursion at the world’s best campground! We had stayed here once before but it had been four years since our last visit. Tyler didn’t remember it and Ozzie had never been there before.

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In the days leading up to our trip I went back and forth as to whether I felt brave enough to take these two kiddos camping without a husband or older kids to help. I took a leap of faith, banking on the fact that at Jellystone they would be too busy having fun to fight.

We arrived and set up camp. The boys were motivated to work quickly so that they could start enjoying all the amenities that come free with our campground stay. We love Jellystone campgrounds for that very reason. They are always so clean, so well run, and filled with kid friendly fun which is free to their campers.

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This particular Jellystone however, takes the cake! It is the nicest campground we have EVER stayed at!

The location is breathtaking!

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Check out these views!

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It also offered a huge amount of fun for kids of all ages. We kept very busy boating, bouncing, golfing, swimming and sliding while the big kids were trekking.

Here is some of the fun we enjoyed at Luray’s Jellystone Campground:

The water area was awesome. There were two pools and a fun splash playground to keep us cool…which was a blessing because it was HOT!

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There was also a fun water slide that the boys each slid down about 100 times.

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Located next to the pool was a lake that offered fishing and paddle boats. They were thrilled to find out they were old enough to take the paddle boats out alone, without a grown up.

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Behind the pool was a play area for kids. There were basketball hoops, Gaga ball courts, playground equipment and two huge bouncing pads.

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We spent A LOT of time at the bouncing pads.

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There was also a mini golf course where we enjoyed a competitive game of golf… which this Momma won.

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In addition to all this built in fun, the campground also offered fun/free hourly activities like games, crafts, scavenger hunts, hayrides, Yogi Bear meet and greets, and outdoor movies.

While we were there we walked over to meet the animals at the petting zoo that was brought in for the day,

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As well as attend a reptile class one evening.

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Then there was the simple fun that comes with camping…things like playing with fire, roasting s’mores, cooking outside and sleeping in a tent. Both boys were in heaven!

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Really the only activity we paid extra for was a one hour session of laser tag for $5.00. It was a hit! Well worth the $5.00.

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It was a fun mini vacation with my two youngest kiddos.

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You really can’t beat Jellystone Campgrounds when it comes to an all-inclusive, family focused, budget friendly vacation.

A few days ago I worried that I was crazy for trying to camp alone with the little boys… 5 hours away from reinforcements…especially given their current struggles.

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The experience wasn’t without incident.

We had a few meltdowns and explosions along the way,

But I did it!

And everyone is alive.

And we even managed to have some fun.

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 I must say I’m feeling a bit like Wonder Woman.  🙂

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Crossing the Grand Canyon

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Sometimes I feel like I am drowning under the weight of the trauma that has hijacked our lives.

Not just the trauma playing out in our own home at the hands of hurt children who are the products of past hurt,

But under the enormity of how deep their wounds run, how affecting their past stories are, and how hugely overwhelming the work ahead of us is.

I sometimes feel as though I am standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon with no ropes, no harness, and no mule, and I must figure out how to get myself (and my family) across this chasm safely.

It is enough to make me sit down and cry.

The task seems so impossible.

The work is so overwhelming.

This is the life that comes with adopting children who come from hard places. This is the impossible task I wake up to daily. And just when I think we have found the path that leads to the other side we turn a corner and find ourselves at the edge of another cliff.

I suppose this is an accurate analogy for parenting in general, and certainly relatable for any mother who is raising a child with special needs or unique challenges,

But it is especially true for raising children who have a history of trauma, a past filled with abuse, a diagnosis of PTSD or Reactive Attachment Disorder, or any child with attachment issues.

Each step forward is paved with uncertainty and unpredictability.

I step, never knowing if the ground beneath me will hold or if it will crumble.

A happy moment or a fun experience can turn to heartbreak in an instance as unseen triggers force the primitive fear part of the boys’ brains into fight, flight or freeze mode…

Instantly shutting them down and putting a halt to everything until we can work through it.

Minute by minute I am combatting every traumatic experience, every memory of untrustworthy adults, every failed attachment, every spoken lie that has cemented itself in my boys’ brains…all while working to help them feel safe.

It is a full-time job…and by full time I mean I am on duty 24/7, constantly assessing, watching for triggers, helping them to regulate and pulling them away from the edge of the abyss, all while trying to meet the needs of everyone else in my life.

It can be exhausting,

And I often go to bed feeling like a failure.

I haven’t been the sister, daughter, friend, wife, etc. that I want to be. I am in the trenches. I am trying to save two lives, and unfortunately that effort comes at the expense of other things I want to be doing for the other people in my life that I love.

What makes it doubly hard is the fact that the trauma driven behaviors of one boy will then trigger the trauma driven behaviors of the other, as we have been seeing the last few weeks.

Tyler’s trauma behaviors are very fear based. He acts up or shuts down because of debilitating fears. These fears continue to grow as he has begun remembering more about the abuse that happened in his birth home. Over the last year his fear reaction has evolved from fight mode (the body’s adrenaline-driven response to perceived threats) to the more primitive fear reaction of freeze mode.

Now when he gets anxious or fearful he just shuts down. He literally freezes. He won’t make eye contact or speak or move. He curls up or slouches down, covers his face, and is unable to respond.

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It is then up to Toby or I to help “thaw” him, or regulate him, to the point where he can process, reason, and express what he is fearful of.

It is heartbreaking to watch and literally slams the breaks on any plans we have when this happens, because we can’t move forward or do anything until I can help him out of his frozen state.

This process can take minutes or hours to work through.

The added challenge in our home, currently, is the fact that Ozzie is inducing these fear responses in Tyler.

While Tyler’s trauma behaviors tend to be fear driven, Ozzie’s tend to be anger driven.

He is so enraged about the injustice of all he has endured that his behaviors lately have been very angry and aggressive, and when Ozzie lashes out in angry tantrums, Tyler shuts down in fear.

Both are prisoners of their past abuse.

Both are in crisis.

 Both need help regulating.

Both of their behaviors are trauma driven.

 Both need me.

So, my life has become an exhausting dance of jumping from one boy to another…both in crisis, both in need of my help.

Ozzie’s biggest struggle right now is combatting and challenging the lies in his head. He has expressed that he deserved to be abused by his birth parents, and he is mad that we won’t hurt him as well. The more love and affection we show, the angrier he gets. When we don’t engage in the abusive acts he is begging for he engages in self harming behaviors and suicidal fantasies.

In therapy we are working with him to challenge those thoughts, but it is hard to reprogram the lies that were drilled into his head and heart for so long…

Lies like:

“This is all your fault.”

“If you were a good boy I wouldn’t have to hurt you.”

“This is for your own good.”

“You aren’t worthy to be my son.”

“I am ashamed of you.”

Because that is what he believes.

He doesn’t believe he is worthy of love.

He feels the abuse was completely his fault.

It breaks my heart.

As part of the process to help him understand and believe that a child NEVER deserves to be abused, we are working with baby dolls. This came as a result of a comment he made that babies deserve to be hit if they are bad and cry a lot…a lie he truly believes to be true. We are challenging that thought process by examining the relationship between babies and their parents and talking about what babies can and can’t do for themselves at various ages and what loving moms and dads do to care for their baby.

He is so very uncomfortable with the work.

He gets angry when he sees the baby dolls come out.

He is struggling with feelings of anger and resentment over what should have been his childhood, verses what was his childhood.

As part of the journey to model appropriate parent/child interactions our therapist asked us to pull out the girls’ old baby dolls and when we are sitting as a family, like during our evening devotionals, and for the older children, Toby, and I to all “care” for a baby in Ozzie’s presence. She felt it especially important that Ozzie see Toby and Rusty lovingly handling their baby dolls so that he can witness what a loving and nurturing father looks like.

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And despite the unorthodox approach and slightly uncomfortable assignment thrust upon my men, they have risen to the task beautifully.

Ozzie is still very uncomfortable with the work. He gets angry when he sees us holding the baby dolls and has expressed the fact that he always feels angry inside when he sees moms holding their babies…a sure sign that Miss Tina is emotionally probing in just the right area…but progress is being made and the more he is exposed, the less volatile his anger about the babies seems to be.

It is slow, laborious work healing broken hearts,

But I hold on to hope and lean on faith, trusting that our Heavenly Father, the ultimate example of a loving, caring, nurturing father, is performing a miraculous work in us all…

Healing our hearts,

Mending our hurts,

And molding our lives into something greater than our past.

It can be exhausting, discouraging, heart breaking work, especially if I look beyond today at wide expanse of open canyon that lies ahead.

That is when I get discouraged.

 That is when I get fearful.

That is when I lose hope and my faith falters.

When I look too far ahead I am consumed with fear.

When I spend too much time looking back I get lost in sadness,

But when I keep my eyes focused on the next step in front of me, I am at peace.

 “An accomplished Ironman triathlete once shared the secret of his success. ‘You last the long race by running the short ones.’ Don’t swim 2.4 miles; just swim to the next buoy. Rather than bike 112 miles, ride 10, take a break and bike 10 more. Never tackle more than the challenge ahead. You last the long race by running the short ones.”

This journey is not about the next 10 years, but rather the next 10 minutes.

There are days that I am overwhelmed by the task in front of me. The ravine I stand before is so wide, so deep, and oh, so daunting…

But I know that I am not traveling alone. God placed me at the edge of this cliff, which means He has already laid a path through it.

So, I will take the hands of these two boys that He has placed in my care, and we will cross this canyon together…one small step at a time.

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Moments of Summer

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I was going through my photos the other day and realized how many captured moments of our life have been missed as I blog the big events. It was time for another “catch up” recording of the little moments that make up the molecules of this beautiful life we are living.

Grace is a seminary graduate! In our church the high school students have the opportunity to participate in a daily scripture study course that takes place for an hour, before school each day. This is a huge commitment for the students that choose to participate, but also a magnificent blessing in the lives of these youth. Grace, Molly and Rusty were all seminary students this past year, and Grace completed her fourth and final year. We were attending her high school graduation on the weekend of her seminary graduation so we were unable to attend but she received her diploma and congratulatory poster after arriving back home. Congratulations, Grace! We are so proud of you!

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Around here we have been anxiously engaged in preparing for Trek. Next week my three oldest kids will be joining other youth from our area on a three day adventure in Virginia. Dressed in pioneer clothing they will have the chance to experience the joys and hardships of our pioneer ancestors as they trek across the rolling hills of the Marriott Ranch, pulling handcarts. Grace had the opportunity to participate in Trek 4 years ago and can’t wait to go again. This time the three oldest kids get to share the experience.

In preparation for their days of hiking and handcart pulling, we have been conditioning with daily walks.

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We have also been getting their pioneer clothing ready. The girls opted to sew their skirts and aprons and spent this last week completing their outfits. They can’t wait. It promises to be a life changing experience and a grand adventure!

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In between appointments and extra therapy sessions we have managed to fit in some visits to the pool. We are members of Ellwood City pool and have begun packing a lunch and spending the afternoons there following our daily trek-prep walks on non-therapy/tutoring days.

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It has been lovely to lay out in the sun, read a book, and swim in the pool…fully embracing the lazy days of summer.

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A few nights ago we had an unexpected power outage, following a summer storm. Luckily it happened just as I finished dishing up dinner so we enjoyed a romantic supper and family game night by candlelight. The kids found it to be a fun adventure.

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This summer’s primary focus has been on doing attachment and therapy work with both boys. Summer offers the perfect opportunity to really invest ourselves in a way that can be more challenging during the school year when schoolwork fills our schedules.

One way we have incorporated more intentional therapy efforts is through daily one on one sessions with the two little boys. We have always done weekly one on one sessions with the kids since my big kids were little. During their weekly one on one time they pick an activity they want to do with mom while the other kids play in their rooms. It has been a heart connecting and relationship strengthening tool that has greatly blessed me in my relationship with my kids.

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Tyler playing with edible Play-Doh that we made during his one on one time.

With the three oldest I am still doing a weekly one hour date (like this one with Grace when we made chocolate dipped frozen bananas this week,)

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But with the little boys we have started having shorter, daily one on one times. This comes from education we received at the Empowered to Connect conference this past spring. One of the three principles of Trust Based Relational Intervention is Connecting,

And one of the strategies for connecting in a very structured way is through daily 15 minute one on one time sessions with your child…a strategy I have been using this summer with Tyler and Ozzie. Much of what I was doing with the older kids was exactly what I needed to be doing with the boys, my engagement just needed to be tweaked a bit. Here are the guidelines (from TBRI principles) that I have been following as we have our daily one on one time.

  1. Start the time together by connecting. We do this through touch (taking their hands) and making eye contact.
  2. Use your voice to regulate them. If their energy is extra high use softer voice and slower cadence to bring down the energy level. If they are lethargic use a high energy voice to bring them up.
  3. Play together. This isn’t a time to instruct, teach, or question them. Just play.
  4. Copy or follow what they are doing. If you are painting together and they paint a tree, follow their lead and paint the same thing. This tells them that their ideas are worthwhile, building esteem and attachment.
  5. Praise their character. (Not what they do.) Tell them what a good kid they are, how much you love them, etc.
  6. Be close enough to touch. You want to sit in close enough proximity that you can reach out and pat their back or squeeze their arm as you praise them.
  7. At the end of your play time connect again with touch and eye contact. “Thanks for playing with me today. I love spending time with you!”

It has proven to be a powerful and effective tool to foster greater connection and stronger attachment between me and my boys.

During one of their “special times” this week each boy asked if we could print out pictures of sports cars from the computer and sketch/color our versions of them.

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It was a lot of fun and it was neat to see them both so engaged in such creative pursuits.

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Tyler even went one step further and asked me to print out a photo of him that he could cut out and glue into the drivers seat. The completed picture now hangs on his door. 🙂

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Moments like these are my greatest blessings!

 

American Ninja Warrior

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Are you familiar with the TV show, American Ninja Warrior?

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While on vacation at the beach we stumbled across this gem of a TV show. The kids had watched some clips of it on YouTube previously and while we were surfing through the channels at the beach house (a rare treat for my kids who don’t have cable/satellite TV at home) Tyler yelled, “STOP! It’s American Ninja Warrior.”

“American Ninja Warrior (sometimes abbreviated as ANW) is an American sports entertainment competition that is a spin-off of the Japanese television series Sasuke. It features hundreds of competitors attempting to complete a series of obstacle courses of increasing difficulty, trying to make it to the national finals on the Las Vegas Strip, in hopes of becoming an “American Ninja Warrior”. To date only two competitors, rock-climbers Isaac Caldiero and Geoff Britten, have won the course and achieved “Total Victory”. Caldiero is the only competitor to win the cash prize.”

We were soon all sucked into the excitement of watching these superhuman competitors race through an obstacle coarse without falling.

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Tyler was hooked.

For my competition loving, athletically driven, adrenaline junkie boy, these men and women are modern day Greek gods.

And Tyler wants to be just like them!

He had the opportunity to test his skills at a new playground the other day.

As we were driving past Blueberry Hill Park on our way to an appointment, Ozzie asked if we could stop to play. Blueberry Hill Park is connected to his past. It is located near where he lived with a previous foster family and he has sweet memories of playing there with his biological sister, Zoey. I was happy to meet his request. We stopped and are glad we did. In meeting Ozzie’s request we discovered a new favorite playground…

One Tyler has renamed “The American Ninja Warrior Park.”

And here is why:

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The playground equipment is a loop of climbing challenges, with things like: monkey bars, a moving bridge, and a “zipline.” The boys love playing American Ninja Warrior and racing each other  to the finish line without falling or touching the ground and getting eliminated.

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These two have given me my fair share of grey hairs,

but on days like this one,

when their smiles are as bright as the sunshine,

and their behaviors are driven by joy and not trauma,

I send up a silent prayer of thanks for this moment of ease,

and count my blessings,

and delight in being the Momma to these two warriors…

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They may not be able to scale steep walls or leap great distances, but their lives and stories of survival are the epitome of what it means to be a warrior.

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Finding hope at the Scottish Rite Cathedral

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The Scottish Rite Cathedral was our home away from home for many years. It became the answer to our prayers when Grace and Molly were diagnosed as Dyslexic in early elementary school. Both were struggling academically and as we prayed for answers as to best help them we were led to the Children’s Dyslexia Center of Western Pennsylvania.

It was here the girls found the missing keys to understanding the mechanics of language.

It was here, using an Orton-Gillingham program, that my girls learned to read.

It was here, under the instruction of some awesome tutors, that my girls came to believe that they were not stupid, but that their brains worked differently than their peers. They learned they too could find academic success, it just required a different approach and a lot of perseverance.

The Children’s Dyslexia Center of Western Pennsylvania is outstanding and is completely free to families of students who have a diagnosis of Dyslexia or reading disability. Sponsored and funded by the Scottish Rite Freemasons, this center offers the best therapeutic reading approach for Dyslexic students that is available in our area. This is an incredibly charitable undertaking, as the tutoring cost per student/each year is $5000.00…all funded by this nonprofit organization.

This means we have been beneficiaries of over $25,000.00 of free Dyslexia tutoring over the past decade…

And now we find ourselves here again.

Once again we find the answer to our prayers at this lovely, old building in the heart of New Castle.

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Last fall, after getting the results of Tyler’s most recent testing numbers for his IEP team, I felt prompted to send his file over to the director of the Children’s Dyslexia Center to see if he would qualify or benefit from their method of tutoring. I soon heard back that not only did he qualify but he was an ideal candidate.

We were put on a waiting list, hoping for an opening in the upcoming year.

Because this center is in such high demand,

AND because of the fact they have a limited number of specially trained instructors,

 AND because students remain in the program for two to three years,

there is a waiting list to get in.

This week we got the call we were praying for.

At 8:45 am on Tuesday morning the director called and said they had a spot open unexpectedly and if we could be there in 30 minutes Tyler could be tested and begin the summer session with the tutor that just became free.

Needless to say, we raced over. Un-showered and looking a little worse for wear, we went, grateful for the opportunity, desperate to not lose our spot.

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When we walked through the doors it was like stepping back in time. Nothing had changed. It looked the same. It smelled the same. I think even the magazines were the same. 🙂 

Last time we were here my girls were Tyler’s age. I remember Rusty playing in front of the giant mirror, as I tried to keep him occupied while the girls met with their tutors.

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It was like stepping back into a sweet memory.

This place was such a great blessing in Molly and Gracie’s lives.

I pray it was be an equally great blessing in Tyler’s life.

This now means our Tuesdays and Thursdays are crazy days…but full of activities that are blessing and benefitting Tyler, and giving him the extra help and support he desperately needs.

We leave the house at 8:30 am.

Tyler has tutoring at the Dyslexia Center from 9:00-10:00 am.

Then we drive 45 minutes to Beaver Falls were the boys have back to back therapy sessions from 11:00- 12:45 pm to work through their past trauma with their therapist, Miss Tina.

Then it is 45 more minutes of driving as we head to Wexford for another hour long tutoring session with a Barton trained reading specialist (Miss Jan) who Tyler meets with from 1:30-2:30pm.

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After all that running the boys are rewarded for their hard work with a picnic and playtime at the park before we head back home at 3:30 or 4:00 pm.

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It makes for a LONG day.

By 3:00 we are all spent, especially Tyler who says that his brain hurts by the end of it all,

But we are making huge strides and working toward good things,

Which makes the craziness worth it.

How grateful I am for answered prayers!