Despite being well informed about trauma and its effects, it still is fascinating (and often FRUSTRATING) to watch the effect of trauma play out in our home. In so many ways it is illogical and nonsensical to untrained eyes. For this reason, behaviors triggered by past trauma can’t be addressed in traditional ways. Cause and effect logic is moot and rewards are as powerless to bring about change as punishments. This is because the root of the behaviors that might read as defiance are actuality fear, frustration, guilt and grief. Because the root emotion contradicts the perceived behavior, the behavior must be parented with heightened levels of compassion and connection. Much like a growling or snapping dog might get labeled as aggressive or ferocious by someone who isn’t looking beyond the behavior to the cause beneath the behavior (i.e.: the dog is cornered and feeling threatened because of a history of abuse and neglect), the same is true of my sons who come from hard places.
So often my adopted sons don’t respond with the same expected responses and behaviors as my biological children who have never know the darker side of life. I have to continually remind myself of what I have learned about trauma and its residual effects, so that I can react appropriately. It can be extremely challenging and hurtful when those behavior seem targeted and personal or when those challenging behaviors result in attempted sabotage of special family moments.
The reality is…
Birthdays, holidays and vacations are often a living hell in our home. The happier a moment is the more my traumatized treasures react out of fear, guilt or grief, in explosive and challenging ways.
And nothing invokes those feelings more than two weeks of family togetherness at the “happiest place on Earth.”
The anxiety in our home is palpable. Over the last two weeks we have had children run away from home, verbally attack family members, declare hatred of our family, insisting they are leaving us as soon as they turn 18, destroying other family members’ possessions, breaking a school computer with a punch of frustration to the screen of the laptop, and the addition of a few new holes in the drywall.
The very human part of me struggles to continue planning this magical family trip in the midst of screams of hatred and efforts to destroy their chance of coming. (This is especially true for one boy in particular.)
I’m sure there are some who in reading this account are thinking, “No way would that child be going if it was my kid. I don’t reward bad behaviors.”
And I get it.
I was there 6 years ago.
Had it been Grace, Molly or Rusty acting out in these ways, we probably would have canceled the trip, but things are different now. The past 6 years have been a humbling journey of learning how to parent kids from hard places. I better understand the “why” behind the outbursts and as a result am able to come from a place of compassion rather than judgement. The Lord has taken me on a journey of discovery as I recognize my complete dependence of Him.
The reality is we are headed to Disney World not because their behaviors make them worthy of reward, but because they are worthy of good things and happy moments and unconditional love simply because of their divine worth as children of God!~
Much of the increase in negative behaviors are rooted in feelings of self-hatred and feelings of unworthiness. There are feelings of guilt about feeling happiness away from their birth family. There is fear that if they mess up, all of this will be stolen away, so rather than live in dread of that happening, they will simply hit us with the ugliest behaviors they have in their arsenal so we will send them away and they can get the disappointment over with. There is fear that we will fail them like everyone else in their life has. And the very root of the behaviors is the reality that those warm, fuzzy moments that bring feelings of joy for most, feel downright prickly and uncomfortable for a child whose “normal” in early childhood was fraught with screaming, hitting and hurting, rather than laughing, playing, and connecting in loving ways.
Some might ask why we even bother trying to do fun things. I certainly have had those moments this month when I looked at the chaos reigning supreme and I asked myself, “Why the heck do we even bother trying to have special moments?”
But then I remind myself:
1.I won’t let the ugly choices made by selfish adults in the past steal the present joy of childhood from my children.
2.It isn’t about “deserving.” That is the root of my Christian walk. I am infinitely unworthy of any of the good things my Heavenly Father has blessed me with. My life is fraught with mistakes and He is infinitely merciful…therefore, I will choose to show mercy.
3.I look into the dilated pupils of my child in crisis and know that this behavior isn’t coming from a place of “I won’t” but rather a place of “I can’t.” This is survival.
4.I won’t reinforce the lie “I am not worthy of happiness” by stealing happy moments from my child as a means of consequence.
5.I will challenge the lie they believe to be infallible truth by pulling my child closer when they try to push me away with anger and hateful words, rather than push them away.
6.And finally, I will come by my child and ask them to lean into the discomfort of connection, to whatever degree they are capable of, rather than giving them the “out” of leaving them home from vacation (as long as the behaviors are not unsafe) because the only way to help them be comfortable with family connection is to expose them in a loving way to the thing they fear most: attachment.
None of this is easy in application, but it is so important.
I have cried in the shower and punched many a pillow in the last few weeks as I drown under the frustration of not being able to “fix” the hurts my children carry so that we can just have a normal, happy vacation once and for all.
But the growth doesn’t come when the winds are still. Deep roots form under the strain of high winds and dry soil. And loving these three has created a family tree with strong, deep roots…
And from those deep roots will come a tree that will bear fruit. If not today, if not tomorrow, then someday down the road. I know this to be true.
So, the holes in the drywall will wait to be patched by our personal Mike Tyson after we return home from Disney, and the list of chores to be done to earn the money to replace the computer has been created, but it too can wait.
Today we leave for Disney World,
Because building a family is more important than fixing a house.
The dreaded post-Christmas plague has hit Patchwork Farm. It seems this time of year always comes with a bug of some sort. I am convinced that illness is the natural consequence of the exhaustion that accompanies Christmas, leaving us all susceptible to whatever sickness is making its rounds.
This year’s version is a nasty mix of high fevers, headaches, and cough, with some kids also being hit with vomiting. In our house the passing of the flu began with Tyler, who also won the prize for being hardest hit by the bug. The next to fall was Brandon, followed a day later by Ozzie. The other three escaped contamination by fleeing the farm and camping out at a family member’s house where they will be house sitting for the next week.
My days have been spent moving from boy to boy, trying to make them comfortable in the “sick room” that was previously the living room. With each boy claiming a couch, my days have been spent refilling water bottles, delivering popsicles, taking temperatures, adjusting the thermostat to complaints of being too cold or too hot, and dumping vomit buckets.
Not exactly my idea of a fun and fabulous way to spend the week, but it wasn’t without tender mercies…
The biggest of which was an opportunity to connect and build attachment.
All three of my boys have a history of childhood trauma. This history is accompanied by a wide variety of symptoms that stem from the most basic forms of neglect. An early childhood that was fraught with unmet needs and lack of care results in a child who is fearful of attachment, who believes they must rely on self to meet all their needs, and sabotages connection out of fear and basic survival instincts.
The work that must be done in the adoptive home to help that child break free from that survival mindset is arduous. In our family we work on this challenging task by using a wide variety of strategies and therapeutic parenting, but it is definitely a slow moving, hard climb to the summit of healthy attachment.
When an opportunity arises to magnify the results of those efforts, we take advantage of it, and count it a blessing. Most of those opportunities come disguised as burdens and bad days. For it is when our kids are hardest, and when they are feeling most vulnerable, that our connection work has the greatest impact.
For my boys those moments of vulnerability usually occur during times of emotional brokenness or physical illness, when defenses are down and they are receptive to being taken care of.
It is amazing the amount of relationship growth and parental trust-building that can occur during these hard days of life, bringing profound blessings to times that read as trials.
I have found this to be true with all three of my sons who come from a traumatic past. I remember the astounding growth that occurred a month after Ozzie’s placement in our home when he had to undergo an emergency appendectomy. Here are some of the thoughts I penned at that time, in the midst of a challenging few days spent sitting up next to Ozzie’s hospital bed:
“Through the scare of surgery, IVs, and a hospital stay Ozzie learned that we are trustworthy, that we won’t leave, that we will take care of him. He experienced parental love as we held his hand through procedures, were sitting at his bedside as he woke from surgery, and met his needs on the most basic level as we carried him to the bathroom and spoon fed him Jello. God saw what we were in need of as a family and met our needs in a very creative way.”
This winter flu was our first opportunity to see and meet some of those basic childhood needs when Brandon became the second kiddo to go down with the flu. As much as I didn’t look forward to the extra laundry and missed sleep that accompanies the flu, I knew that there would be wonderful connection opportunities we could take advantage of if we saw this week of sickness for what it could be:
A chance for us to bond in a deeper, more profound way, with our newest son.
And this proved to be the case.
Poor Brandon felt horrible, but in his misery he allowed me to care for him, instead of feeling compelled to care for his own needs. As I tucked him in, took his temperature, rubbed his back and fed him the liquids his stomach would allow, I had the opportunity to meet those very basic, primitive needs that were never met in infancy and early childhood. As a small child he had to care for his own basic needs in order to survive, and in doing so the lesson was soon cemented that, “you can only trust yourself to care for your needs.”
By seeing a need (an empty glass of ginger ale) and meeting that need (by filling it before he asks for a refill) I was able to send a powerful message. That message speaks to the most primitive parts of his brain and rewires that survival mindset that took hold in infancy when he cried and no one came to care for him. By consistently pulling closer when he pushes me away, and affirming connection when he expects me to walk, and by meeting his physical and emotional needs on the most basic, primitive levels, we give him the opportunity to heal the damage done to his brain and rewire his way of seeing the world.
By loving him and showing him care as I would a young child who has a need, and then meeting that need with loving looks, soft touch, and healing care,
I am able to connect, attach, and prove myself to my son.
And sometimes that work is best done amid vomiting and fevers.
The prayer is that this bug will pass quickly. We certainly don’t want this unexpected visitor tagging along on our trip to Disney World!
But until it does, I will thank God for the tender mercy of attachment opportunities with my son.
Let me begin with this great little gem I found online,
Written by a fellow mother raising children with a diagnoses of Reactive Attachment Disorder, commonly referred to as RAD, she has rewritten a classic Christmas favorite to reflect our reality…
Ah, my friends, Listen to the song of my people…
“‘Twas the night before Christmas
and I had it bad, thanks to the chaos from
dealing with RAD
The stockings were ripped from the mantle and strewn
in sad tattered heaps all around the whole room
The children were screaming and fighting and clawing
The littlest one on the dog’s leg was gnawing
Hubby in his pj’s, the cat in my lap,
we’d escaped to the den for an urgent nightcap
When all of a sudden, there arose such a clatter
I put down my gin to see what was the matter
Away to the doorway I flew like a flash
to the family room now I made a mad dash
The moon through the window
and lights from the tree
showed me a scene that I didn’t want to see
For what to my tired bleary eyes did appear
but a nightmare unfolding, the worst one this year
The guinea pig shrieked as he hung from the tree
by the ribbon they’d wrapped ‘round his little belly
A furry white ornament, angry and kicking
while the littlest one now her nose busy picking
The next-oldest one I saw swing from a bough
while the short middle child through the room he did plow
Armed with a hockey stick, the little despot
broke a lamp, then a window, and hit me in the butt
Wildly swinging while onward he came
he screamed like a madman and called us all names
“Hey nose-picking poophead!” he shrieked at the baby
“you bit the dog, now she’s given you rabies!
And you’re such a moron, up there in the tree,
you’re just a baboon-bum, a stupid monkey!”
Our 15-year-old daughter, whom we’d left in charge
screamed at her siblings as Christmas loomed large
“You filthy urchins!” she shrieked next to my ear
“It’s just about midnight and Christmas is near!
I’m sick of you all!” she ranted and raved
“You act just like you were brought up in a cave
with badgers and bobcats, and wolverines, too!
Well, guess what’s going to happen to you!
I’m calling Santa! His name’s in my phone
You’ll be on the bad list, and then you’ll all moan!
You’ll pout and you’ll cry and get nothing at all,
while I’ll get the presents! They’ll be wall-to-wall!”
What happened next, I sure could see coming
the savages attacked, and the eldest went running
But before I could gather my wits and step in
to prevent mass murder, a deplorable sin
up on the roof, there arose a commotion
like battleships fighting it out on the ocean
An explosion that made the entire house rock
and down the chimney my next-eldest fell with a squawk
Dressed in a hoodie now covered in ashes
designer jeans ripped-up and brimming with gashes
One shoe was ruined and the other one missing
His glasses were cracked, and the cat ran off hissing
His eyes, they were huge as he looked wildly around
then out of the fireplace he came with a bound
“Everyone run!” he screamed, ignoring my ire
“I blew up the fake Santa, now the house is on fire!”
The kids all ran shrieking, not waiting for me
as I cut the poor guinea pig down from the tree
The shenanigans done really stuck in my craw
but I ran, shoving guinea pig down in my bra
He did not enjoy the wild bumpy ride
as he squeaked and he clawed, but I kept him inside
The kids were all shivering out in the yard
My eldest corralled them, wouldn’t let down her guard
As I yelled for my husband and started back in,
he emerged with our bottle of Tanqueray gin
We sipped and we slugged and we stared like zombies
as the sirens, they wailed, and the neighbors looked pleased
The dog and the cat had escaped without fail
they ran like the devil was hot on their tails
The fire was soon out, the house it was saved
yet I still had to deal with my clan, so depraved
But first to my bed, where I dropped like a stone
inserted my earplugs and turned off my phone
As I crawled ‘neath the covers, whimpering and sore
exhausted and beaten, and yet I still swore
that when Christmas is over, I’ll do it, you’ll see
Our family is headed to RAD therapy!”
It is only funny because it’s true!
The true test of whether you are raising your own little “RAD-ish” is if you find yourself with tears running down your legs from laughing too hard!
A few days ago I had the opportunity to take part in an interview for an adoption newsletter. The article was penned for the purpose of helping families with older foster children navigate the unique challenges of the Christmas season. As I considered what lessons we have learned after 6 years of Christmases with our kids from hard places, I thought first about the reasons why the Christmas season gets so ugly around our home…
Here are 7 possible “WHYs” behind the holiday struggle:
#1:They feel unworthy.
Abandonment or the perception of abandonment in children who have been adopted can lead to a deep sense of shame. This may make them feel as if they are unworthy of love, unworthy of having good things happen to them, unworthy of gifts or attention. With that entrenched feeling of being unworthy of truly feeling happy, sabotaging behaviors can begin to emerge. They may sabotage so that they can force what they see as inevitable disappointment. If their parent then responds in anger to their sabotaging behavior, it only further validates their belief that they are unlovable.
#2:They find themselves triggered.
During the holidays, triggers are everywhere. Smells, sights, sounds, memories of the past… the holidays can be a minefield to navigate. These triggers can cause a fight, flight or freeze response.
#3:Excitement and anxiety can feel the same in their little bodies.
Butterflies in the stomach, quickening of breathing rate, a loudly thumping heart, sweating, and trouble sleeping are the same body responses whether you are feeling excited or nervous. When your child feels those body sensations, it can bring memories of times of stress when they felt that way due to anxiety and fear.
#4:They are overwhelmed with the weight of expectations.
When a child believes that he will fall short of the expectations placed on him, he may decide to just quickly blow things up to get it over with. The stress that come with anticipating the disappointment they may cause can be overwhelming.
#5:They can’t handle the increased family connections.
For children with Reactive Attachment Disorder, Christmas can be a nightmare because during the holiday season relationships are usually the focus and there is more emphasis put on family togetherness and unity. This feels like a threat to kids who are putting protective walls up when it comes to family relationships.
#6:They are overcome with grief.
Holidays have so many things that can magnify grief, sadness and loss.
#7: They are focused on self-preservation and protection.
Attempting to protect their heart from further disappointment, a child who has experienced early trauma will put walls up and push others away. With everything being magnified during the holidays, those walls have a tendency to go higher and that pushing away can turn to an aggressive shove (literally or figuratively).
Knowing the possible reasons behind the struggle somehow makes the struggle slightly more manageable, or at least makes it feel a little less cruel and personal. It can help us to develop feelings of empathy rather than the resentment and defeat that can penetrate our hearts when the behaviors are all directed at the adoptive mother simply because she is the primary nurturer in the family…AKA “Mortal Enemy #1.”
Knowing the “WHY” then allows us to implement the “HOW TOs” as a family, and successfully navigate the minefield known as the holiday season.
Here are some of the tried and true strategies I shared during the interview:
This is by far the greatest determining factor of whether the holidays will bring joy or disappointment, and it is a lesson that was only learned through a lot of mistakes and failings on our part. I think the holidays can sometimes bring a heightened level of anxiety as we feel the pressure of turning December into a Hallmark channel movie. Our expectations increase as we make plans for a magical Christmas season. I think this pressure is one most Moms can relate to, but those who find themselves opening their homes to children who have not been able to experience the normal childhood magic of Christmas, due to heartbreaking beginnings, might find this pressure increased 10 fold. In an effort to make up for a lost childhood, we increase the Christmas magic factor by 100 and rather than a comfortable sprinkling of Christmas joy, we hit our kiddos with a fire hose blast of Christmas Spirit. What began with such loving intentions very often cannot be received in the same spirit.
For kids whose “normal” is chaos and conflict, the overabundance of cheer, connection, traditions and loving gestures may feel more like an itchy wool sweater than that “warm blanket hug” you were going for. I know this to be true for one of our adoptions treasures specifically. Holidays and birthdays are sure triggers for the most challenging of his behaviors and every special family tradition and gesture of love is met with efforts to sabotage and push away the family. This is a tough pill to swallow as a parent. But the reality is: my December is filled with more chaos than joy (at least the Hallmark version of Christmas joy) but if I can set aside my pre-conceived ideas of what a happy holiday season should look like and accept more time will be spent on the trauma therapist’s couch than on Santa’s lap, I can face our new normal with joyful acceptance.
Prepare for the Inevitable-
This is another HUGE one! I have learned with my kids that is it never a question of “if,” but rather a question of “when.” I know that December will be fraught with meltdowns, broken decorations, holes in the drywall, sleepless nights, self-harming thoughts, suicidal ideation, sabotaging behaviors including coming out of my room to find purchased Christmas presents ripped open and destroyed, or all the Christmas cookies that were baked, gorged on and consumed in the 5 minutes I was out of the room. I know December will probably bring more than one trip to Western Psych., many angry chants of “I hate you!” and more tears than giggles as my kids mourn the families that have failed them. I know more that one night will be spent staying up long past midnight as I hold one of my crying biological children as they struggle with resentment towards a hurting sibling who responds with cruelty to every kind gesture, and inevitably by the 31st of the month I will be so emotionally drained and physically exhausted by the heightened levels in our home for the last 30 days, that I will close out the year with a bout of the flu.
I say this not from a place of pessimism or self pity, but from a place of experience and realistic expectations. If I can enter the month anticipating the patterns that I have seen in the past, then I can be prepared for the inevitable and respond in a more measured and loving way, rather than responding with anger and frustration. I have learned to keep presents hidden and have emergency spares set aside for sibling or teacher gifts that are destroyed in anger. I have learned to keep my bedroom locked with all my most precious items safely tucked away until the heighten season of Christmas is over. I am more diligent with door alarms and security cameras, and I don’t leave my emotionally heightened children alone with siblings or any of the animals, knowing that their ability to make good choices is compromised when they are in fight, flight or freeze mode. I make allowances. I give second chances. I ALWAYS have a plan B figured out. I prepare for the worst so that when it comes it is manageable and hopefully all can make it through the crisis fairly unscathed.
Find Joy in this Season of Life…even if it is not Ideal-
This one is so hard but so important. It took me a while to figure this one out and even longer for me to accept it and embrace it with joyful acceptance. It requires a surrender of self to God’s plan. It means letting go of what Christmas pasts might of looked like and accept that for this season of temper tantrums the good china will be put away and paper plates will showcase Christmas dinner. It may mean the days of large Christmas parties are put on hold for a few years and December evenings are spent watching movies and going to bed early. If the smells of a Christmas dinner trigger your hurting kiddos, then Christmas dinner may have to be Chinese take-out for a few years.
But regardless of what this season of Christmas looks like, the joy of Christmas can be found in the absurd and unorthodox…because the joy is born from love of family.
Last Sunday some of our kids were in crisis. We were at the end of ourselves and I wept tears of defeat after a week of challenges. My magical Christmas season was dissolving before my eyes as words of hate and anger filled the house rather than songs of goodwill. Everyone was hurting. All were grieving. Relationships were crumbling and it was time for emergency triage. We were suffering from blood loss after some major war injuries and we made a judgement call to meet the needs of our hurting children and find joy in our journey even though it wasn’t “ideal.” Everyone was sent to their rooms to put on PJs and we declared it a relationship recovery day. We spent the day praying as a family, watching videos of the birth of Christ, making family memories as we decorated sugar cookies and played games. We served each other and others and ended our day by turning off all the lights, except for the Christmas tree, and participating in a time of worship as we watched a silent Christmas lesson and allowed the spirit of Christmas…the spirit of Christ…to permeate our home and our hearts.
Here is link to the Silent Christmas Lesson we watched as a family:
Was it what an ideal December Sabbath would have looked like five years ago?
But it was exactly what was needed that day, in this season of life.
See the Need/Meet the Need-
Some of our long-time readers might remember a blog post I wrote a few years ago about a strategy we use in our home when our boys are emotionally heightened. It is a strategy we continue to use today and one I shared in the interview…
I am speaking of the McCleery holiday nerf wars!
Entering the Christmas season with expectations that the next four weeks will be fraught with conflict and chaos, we make sure we enter the holiday season armed with tools and strategies to meet our kids’ emotional needs before the explosions occur. This takes preparation and awareness of what your kiddos’ triggers are and what coping skills are most effective for each of them. Knowing this, I am able to make sure we have the tools in place prior to the need. I load up on dollar store stress balls, fidget toys, bouncy balls, etc. but the #1 tool for managing my boys’ need for conflict and chaos during the Christmas season is nerf battles. By giving them a healthy and connecting way to escalate they are able to have their emotional need for chaos met in an emotionally healthy way.
Kids who come from an abusive situations have a different brain chemistry than a child who has never lived in the turbulent, high stress environment of an abusive home. As a result they become accustomed, from a very young age, to a constant surge of adrenaline as they live in “fight or flight mode,” never knowing when the next strike will come.
To feel calm they need that adrenaline release, so our job is to find ways to meet that need in a healthy, happy, PARENT LED way.
Our favorite strategy: family nerf battles!
So, with the tree twinkling in the background we have engaged in frequent, much-needed nerf battles so that our struggling kiddos could have their emotional needs met. As we neared the holiday season we made sure the guns were collected and placed in a basket in the corner and that our nerf bullet supply was replenished, for just a time as this:
Remember the Reason for the Season-
This is by far the strategy I have found to be most affecting. Remembering the reason for the season allows us to regain perspective and adjust our expectations. It allows us to find joy in imperfection. It is important to remember that this time of year isn’t about the traditions, the decorations, the perfect tree, the delicious dinner, the ideal reactions to perfectly wrapped gifts…
It is about love.
It has been from the very beginning.
There was nothing “ideal” about that first Christmas…
There was poverty.
There was homelessness.
There was filth and pain and rejection as a young husband, a simple man with little worldly offerings, begged for a place for his wife to give birth.
A young woman, heavy with child, with no place to lay her head, brought her baby into the world in a place of dirt and filth.
There was no family surrounding her, no words of support from anyone other than her husband.
The only sounds accompanying her moans of pain were the baaing and bleating of farm animals.
There was nothing “ideal” or “Hallmark” about that first Christmas, and yet it was perfect. Not because of where they were, or what they wore, or what they ate, or who was there, or because of the gifts that were given.
It was perfect because it was born of sacrifice.
It was born of redemption.
It was born of faith.
IT WAS BORN OF LOVE!
That is what Christ offers each of us.
That is what He offers our hurting children.
That is what He offers our hurting world.
That is the key to navigating the holidays with children from hard places…
Nothing matters except this:
Let it be born of love and the rest will fall into place.
Finally, after two months, I feel like I have found my footing. Autumn came in like a tornado with our scheduled stretched thinner than it ever has been before. The addition of another family member and all the appointments and obligations that come with that, in addition to deciding to go back to school to start working towards my degree, coupled with two boys in football,
Well, I never thought we’d be able to manage the chaos…
But life is balancing and we have found our new “normal.” Routines are established and I no longer feel as though I am sinking beneath the waves, which is why there has been a renewed influx of action on the blog. Football season has come to a close and I finally have found the missing moments needed to write and it is so good to be back.
Blogging is my lifeline. It is my therapy. It is the selfish indulgence that grounds me and gives me clarity, and I have missed it.
Here are some of the moments lived this last month.
“Exercising our Right to Vote!”
November 6th was Brandon’s 17th birthday as well as being election day! Miss Molly, having turned 18 this year, was able to exercise her right to have a voice and vote in her first election.
I was so proud of her. She took this responsibility seriously and spent hours researching the different candidates running for various offices, taking notes, making pro/con lists about their platforms, and then choosing the candidates that best reflected her beliefs. For her one-on-one time last week, I was able to join her as she researched candidates and we were able to have a meaningful discussion about how to choose a candidate. As a result of her example and effort I found myself walking into the voting booth better informed that I probably ever have been in past elections.
Grace, Molly and I went to vote together. What a special experience it was for me to exercise the blessed right to have a voice, with my two daughters.
“Big Bessie Bit the Dust”
Our big, beautiful 12 passenger van began to show distinct signs of a slipping transmission. Rather than wait for the inevitable, we decided to bite the bullet and begin vehicle shopping, something that is considered a dream evening for Ozzie and a living nightmare for me.
The death of Bessie required us to reevaluate our needs and priorities in a vehicle. As much as I love the space Bessie afforded us, She was killing us in gas consumption. It was finally decided that with the amount of driving I do weekly and the impending winter, that we would sacrifice room to stretch out for all wheel drive and improved gas mileage.
I let Toby take on the car search, with Brandon’s help, happy to remain at home and avoid the wheeling and dealing that comes with car shopping. I assured him that all I needed was a car with an engine, a radio, and a cup holder, and the gift of NOT having to pick out the car would ensure I was grateful for WHATEVER vehicle he brought home.
On a Friday evening after school, Toby and Brandon headed to Ohio to chase down a deal Toby found online. The vehicle was 3 years old, had only 9,000 miles, all wheel drive, got 20 miles to the gallon (compared to Big Bessie’s 10 miles/gallon), and it was an 8 seater. It sounded perfect and it was…
Meet our newest addition…name still to be decided! 🙂
“A Spooky Date with Tyler”
A few weeks before Halloween I received an invitation to join some of Tyler’s buddies from church and their mothers for a mother/son date to Freddy’s Haunts.
“Freddy’s haunts is a family owned and operated haunted trail that was originally opened in 1993 under the name skull mountain haunted trail.
We are an immersive, all enclosed haunted trail that is filled with the monsters from your worst nightmares. Our old-school haunted trail operates rain or moonshine with an enclosed waiting area so that you don’t have to endure the elements along with your worst fears.”
I had my reservations, given Tyler’s history of heightened fearfulness and my history of being a weenie, but Tyler begged to go and I thought it sounded like it could be an awesome bonding opportunity for Tyler and I, as well as a fun memory made with friends. I was glad our friends suggested it because I would have never considered it on my own, but it ended up being a blast!
I think next year we will try to talk the entire family into braving Freddy’s!
“Flying High…Drone Style!”
Rusty has been having a blast with his 17th birthday gift…
A high-flyin’ drone!
Our acreage makes for a perfect flying zone. With each flight Rusty gets stronger and stronger in his skills as a drone pilot and it is fun watching the footage of what he catches on film as the drone flies high above our heads.
As a family we dressed at the gang from Peter Pan for Halloween, but Grace also had a Halloween party to attend, independently, with her YSA group. Feeling that her Halloween costume wasn’t strong enough to stand alone, apart from the rest of Peter Pan’s crew, she began exploring options for a second Halloween costume.
She and two girlfriends ended up creating their own group costume and going as the three witches from the classic Halloween flick, ” Hocus Pocus.”
Grace dove into the family dress-up box of past Halloween costumes and emerged as Winifred Sanders:
This past month we had the opportunity to capture the beautiful faces of some of our favorite seniors on film. Following Molly’s senior photo shoot we were asked by a few of Molly’s friends if we could take their senior photos as well. October provided the perfect backdrop and Grace, Molly and I have had fun playing “photographers” to these beautiful girls. At one photo shoot Molly couldn’t help but jump in front of the camera for some pictures with one of her best buddies!
“Saying Farewell to Family Based Therapy”
Well, after nine months of weekly visits, our family based team is saying “good-bye.” Family Based therapy was put in place when Ozzie exited residential care, as an extra layer of support for his transition home. We were blessed with two awesome ladies as our “team.” They quickly became part of our life as they spent hours in our home and many hours sitting beside me in the ER when Ozzie was in crisis.
For nine months their primary objective was to work with our family on goals of increased safety and sibling connection, while our trauma therapist focused on EMDR therapy with Ozzie. This double layer of therapeutic care proved to be just the ticket and we have seen great growth in Ozzie these last 9 months.
Yesterday was our final session. It was with mixed feelings we closed out our file and said good-bye to these gals with a pizza party and celebratory gifts. They have been so good to us and this final session was no different. They brought the family pizza and gifted the kids with their own game of, “Whoonu,”
A game that became a favorite in our therapy sessions!
They also generously gifted me with a gift certificate for a massage at a local spa with a reminder to continue making self care a priority.
What a blessing Lisa and Val have been to our family. I have come to realize, through this challenging walk of adopting kids from hard places, that angels do walk the earth today, and many are simply known as “therapists.”
Driving down our road we were taken by surprise to see smoke rising from the hillside across the street from our home.
As we neared the field we discovered the entire hillside in flames.
My heart raced as I fumbled to unlock the screen of my cell phone, find the button that allows me to dial (buried within the apps that litter my phone), and dial 911.
It was just Tyler in the car with me. Being my child who is actually extremely competent and calm in emergency situations, he pointed out that the flames were slowly climbing the hillside toward the natural gas well at the top of the hillside. He calmly suggested we finish our phone call from down the street, “You know, just in case everything blows up.”
The dispatcher informed us that police and fire fighters would arrive shortly and that they would want to speak with me, so Tyler and I hung out at the end of the driveway, a safe distance away from the flames rolling across the hillside.
A member from the fire department was the first to arrive and the first to question whether we had seen any other vehicles on the road before he took off in his truck to search for the potential arsonist before returning to us to have a longer conversation.
After being assured that our home wasn’t at risk and there was no risk of explosion we settled in across the street from the fire, well out of the way of the police and firemen who spilled onto the scene, and watched as the fire was brought under control.
This is the second fire on our road in the last two weeks, but one of many that evidently have been taking place in our township. We told the fireman who was first of the scene that a week prior two mattresses had been dumped on the edge of the road, near the bottom of our driveway, and a few days later were set on fire.
We were blessed that it had been a wet week because the damage was contained to a small area near the road. Had it been drier or windier we could have lost everything…and everyone…
The thought of all that could have been lost, as a result of someone else’s criminal mischief, is sobering.
This particular fire was also set by someone who had disposed of an old couch on the side of the road a few days prior and then returned Wednesday afternoon to light it on fire. I suspect we missed crossing paths with this individual by only minutes. The couch was still smoldering when we came upon the fire. On that day, however, the elements didn’t work to our advantage. The drier grass and higher winds made the flames spread quickly.
We were so grateful for the quick response by so many emergency personnel who arrived on the scene and made quick work of subduing a dangerous situation.
An hour later the ground was no longer burning…no longer smoldering, but the effects of one small spark was evident in the charred ground that had replaced the tall, blowing grasses .
I have been thinking a lot about the power found within a small spark…
Power for destruction or power for good.
A few years ago we had the opportunity to visit Sequoia National Park as part of our cross-country road trip. There are no words that can adequately describe the awe- inducing wonder of standing beside one of these mammoth trees.
Giant sequoias are the world’s largest single tree and largest living thing by volume. Giant sequoias grow to an average height of 164–279 feet and 20–26 feet in diameter. Record trees have been measured to be 311 feet in height.
The oldest known giant sequoia based on ring count is 3,500 years old. Giant sequoias are among the oldest living things on Earth.
While visiting Sequoia National Park we learned more about these trees and one thing that stood out to me and left an impression was the important role fire plays in the life of a Sequoia tree. While many forests would find destruction at the hands of a forest fire, the Sequoia tree finds life….
“The Giant Sequoia is truly the most awesome species in the Sierra Nevada ecosystem. As in other living communities, sequoia groves – and the mixed conifer forests that contain them – have evolved with and adapted to natural processes that must continue if the community is to remain healthy. Fire is one of the major processes essential to the health of giant sequoia groves. In the early 1960s, Dr. Richard Hartesveldt explored the connection between fire and sequoia regeneration. His small-scale prescribed fires followed nearly a century of fire suppression, and resulted in the germination of sequoia seeds and the recruitment of sequoia seedlings – something that had not occurred in the absence of fire. Since those first experiments, researchers have further shown the benefits to sequoias from fire. Dendrochronology has determined that low intensity surface fires swept through the big trees approximately every 5 to 15 years. Sequoias rely on fire to release most seeds from their cones, to expose bare mineral soil in which seedlings can take root, to recycle nutrients into the soil, and to open holes in the forest canopy through which sunlight can reach young seedlings.” -National Park Service
Not only is the Sequoia tree designed to withstand the destructive power of fire. The tree actually finds life within those very same flames.
It takes the heat of fire to cause the cones of the tree to open and drop its seeds, leading to new life in the Sequoia forests.
What a beautiful analogy for life.
We are all hit with unexpected sparks in life…
Sparks that can turn into raging infernos of destruction.
Quite often these sparks are set by those intending to harm, while other times they are simply a side effect of life here on earth, like the strike of lightning during a summer storm.
Sometimes we are the “fire starters,” making choices that lead to destructive consequences.
Sometimes these sparks can be contained and managed, but often we find ourselves being hit with the hot wind of an out-of-control inferno that is beyond our ability to battle…we simply must ride out the tragedy and wait for the fire to burn out, hoping that the destruction isn’t too great.
In the wild fire seasons of life it is easy to become so consumed with survival in the midst of destruction that we don’t even notice the hardened scales of our conifer cones opening under the heat of adversity, allowing seeds of new life to fall to the blackened ground.
Often it isn’t until the fire storm has passed that we see the bright shoots of green pressing up from the soil around us bringing with it hope, promises of healing, and the gift of new life.
The same field (10 days later) as life burst forth from the charred soil…
Much like the Giant Sequoias, we have been through the fire and now find ourselves at the other end of this particular inferno. We are seeing the work of God sprouting up from destruction.
We have witnessed God’s promise:
That in life the greatest trials often give birth to the greatest blessings.
I just wanted to take a moment to express the gratitude our family has felt for the healing that has been found within the walls of Harborcreek Youth Services. It was with great heartache, but also great prayer, that we considered an RTF as the next needed step to help Ozzie and the rest of the family heal from immeasurable trauma. Ozzie came into our life four years ago through foster care. Upon meeting him for the first time we knew he was meant to be a forever member of our family. We also recognized that the path we were choosing to step on was not going to be smooth or easy. In addition to our three biological children we also had adopted a son with a similar trauma background to Ozzie’s and the same diagnoses of Reactive Attachment Disorder.
We knew the hard journey that lay before us in helping him heal, but we also knew that God equips those He calls.
Harborcreek has been an integral piece of Ozzie’s healing journey.
The year prior to his stay was fraught with heartbreaking and scary choices as we watched Ozzie spin out of control. Memories of his past abuses overtook any rational thinking and he was consumed with thoughts of hurting himself and others. Each month brought another trip to the emergency room and hospitalization as he was consumed with thoughts of hurting or killing himself to escape the memories of the past that continued to haunt him. Our home became a maximum security facility with cameras installed throughout the house, alarms on bedroom doors and myself acting as Ozzie’s shadow as we moved through the day.
My goal was simple.
I just wanted everyone alive and safe for another day.
My life felt much like I had pitched a tent on a battlefield.
We went through the motions of everyday living; preparing meals, eating dinner as a family, tucking children into bed, all while bullets whistled past our tent. We lived in constant fear that one day one of those threats would hit its mark, so we invested everything we had into helping Ozzie find healing. We soon realized that even with all the services and support we had in place ( trauma therapy, EMDR therapy, equine therapy, medication management, and family based services,) for him to find the healing we wished for him, a higher level of therapeutic support would be needed.
It was with broken hearts we agreed to the next needed level of therapeutic support, which was an RTF.
It was a decision we didn’t make lightly, and while I knew our hands were tied slightly in the decision making process of where the insurance company would approve him to go, I knew that God knew where Ozzie needed to be. After much research and a lot of prayer my hopes lay in Harborcreek Youth Services.
Our first interaction with Harborcreek Youth Services came in the form of an interview with an intake worker at Harborcreek.
He met with us at an Eat n Park, halfway between our home and Erie, and over lunch he got to know us and in turn let us ask questions about the facility. The purpose of the meeting was for him to meet Ozzie in person, recognizing the impossible task of really getting to know a boy through a list of behaviors on paper. He wanted to make sure Ozzie was a good fit for the facility before a bed was offered and that was the first clue that Harborcreek Youth Services was different than other RTFs.
Rather than being driven by a bottom line, he was asking the questions needed to make sure Ozzie would be a good fit with the other boys and that Harborcreek would be the right fit for Ozzie and our family. The motivation was evident. This was not a business motivated by money, but rather motivated by something more divine…helping hurt kids heal.
When we received the call that a bed was available for Ozzie it was with a hard mix of emotions. There was relief and gratitude, but also much sadness that our adoptive journey had strayed so far from where we thought it would take us.
I struggled to hold back the tears on the day we dropped Ozzie off, and it was with great compassion and kindness that the staff helped us with that transition.
The first month was challenging for Ozzie and for the rest of the family as we struggled to find our new “normal,” but we soon saw that this higher level of therapeutic care was exactly what Ozzie needed. We were blown away by all that was offered at Harborcreek. Ozzie’s days were filled with group therapy sessions, music therapy, individual therapy, family therapy, trauma release exercises and EMDR therapy. The fact that Harborcreek offered EMDR therapy was one of the greatest pulls for our family. We have seen how much more effective it is for kids with RAD and PTSD than traditional therapies, and here he was able to really delve into the darkness that haunted him. His therapists worked to help Ozzie strengthen his communication skills, his ability to recognize and name emotions, the ability to feel safe connecting, and thus attaching, to our family.
There is a special spirit at Harborcreek Youth Services.
You can feel it as soon as you step on campus.
It becomes evident that this is a Christian facility from the moment you walk through the doors, and the fact that the kids are offered spiritual feeding, in the form of church services and access to spiritual council, sets this RTF apart from others. I believe this is a key component to why a higher level of healing is found here. Mind, body and spirit are so intertwined that it makes sense that only in a facility that treats all three components would healing be found to this degree.
There are so many elements to life at Harborcreek Youth Services that I appreciated. First and foremost was the staff. I can imagine that in a facility that works with troubled and hurting boys, it would be easy to disconnected and become hardened as a means of self- preservation. I am sure it can be heartbreaking and frustrating to not always see the fruits of your efforts, but I was amazed at how kind, connected, and invested all the staff were.
I was impressed by the level of care put into safety…Elements like house rules and security cameras were used to provide a safe environment for these kids to heal, but just as much effort was put into making sure Ozzie felt safe, not just was safe…a key component to getting the kids out of the fight-or-flight mindset which allows for healing.
Ozzie was placed at Harborcreek to find healing and help but it wasn’t all work. He appreciated his time in the classroom and loved his teacher. He raved about how good the food was…our compliments to the kitchen staff! And the all extras that were part of life at Harborcreek; things like sports, dirt bike classes, and trips off ground were a wonderful way to bring motivation and joy to kids who perhaps have received little of that in their life.
Ozzie spent seven months at Harborcreek Youth Services, and in that time found a level of help and healing that would have been impossible to replicate in an outpatient setting.
Our family is so grateful for all the staff, from the CEO down, who invests so much into this divine calling of helping those boys whom the rest of the world has given up on.
Your facility has the power to change the course of a young man’s life. I have witnessed it myself in my own child and will forever be grateful.
Last night I stepped outside to find this scene before me.
Ozzie and his younger brother were sitting on a blanket under the stars looking for constellations. They sat side by side, talking and laughing.
This was a scene I only dreamt of a year ago.
You have brought healing, joy and laughter back into our home.
This winter had been a weird one in Western Pennsylvania…
A bit bipolar in its behaviors with a sporadic mix of unseasonably warm days followed by an unexpected 10 inches of snow.
There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the recent weather patterns and all creatures, great and small, seem anxious and uncertain as to what the day might bring.
Daffodils reach for the sky, teased out by the warmth of the sun, only to be covered in layer of snow hours later.
Birds are waffling in their duties, uncertain as to whether they should begin laying eggs or hunkering down in their nests for a long winter’s nap.
The furnace has had a workout, shifting from air conditioning to heat in a 12 hour span.
And my 11 year old has given up trying to make any effort in dressing weather-appropriate and has compensated by simply pairing his flip flops with sweaters.
The uncertainty has left everyone feeling a bit unsettled and I find myself taking note of how reflective our outside environment has been of our internal state.
Ozzie has spent the last 7 months in a residential treatment facility about 2 hours away. It was with tremendous heartache and no shortage of prayer that he was admitted. The year leading up to that decision was unimaginably traumatic for Ozzie and the rest of the family as the demons from his past history of abuse reared their ugly heads in heartbreaking, tragic, and dangerous ways. After exhausting all therapeutic support for Ozzie that could be found in an outpatient setting it became clear that for real healing to take place he would need to be immersed in an environment of intensive therapeutic support. For these last 7 months Ozzie has thrived under this higher level of care. With the sheer volume of therapeutic supports like daily therapies (individual and group,) music therapy, EMDR therapy for his PTSD, and trauma release exercises, he has found hope.
We all have.
I recently had a friend comment that they sometimes found my recordings on this blog to be disingenuous to our reality. Although not intended to be critical, merely taking note of the fact that most recent blogs have been lighter and fluffier than the heavier stuff that was more common a year ago, I have since thought much about that comment. As a mom I walk a shaky line in recording the story of my family. I share not for accolades or attention but for a mix of other reasons. I blog to record our story as a gift for my children in the decades to come. I blog as a therapeutic tool for myself. (The act of telling our story helps me process and make sense of this often hard journey.) But mostly I blog because I feel called to allow others to walk with us in the hopes that our trials and our joys might help you in your journey and that I might testify of God’s goodness in ALL seasons of life. Every blog is penned with prayer…A prayer that God might use this walk to support another in their walk. I don’t share all. Some would argue I share too much, others would say not enough, but every blog entry is prayerfully approached.
Often the struggle of what to write is not a debate of how much to share but rather HOW to share.
That is where I find myself today.
As the snow swirls outside on April 17th, I struggle to put words to the uniquely emotional journey we have been on these last 7 months. I don’t know that I have the words to fully convey the muddy mix of emotions that are connected to this unique journey. Much like the winter we have experienced these last 5 months, our experience with having a child in a residential treatment facility is a constant mix of sunshine and snow, with so many heartbreaks connected to the decision, but also immeasurable blessings. Each day I find myself uncertain of what the emotional forecast of the day will be and whether the hope or the heartache of the situation with reign supreme.
Saying good-bye to Ozzie on day one… leaving him in the care of a stranger… while I drove home… was the hardest day of my life. It was an adjustment for the entire family as we tried to find our new “normal” with Ozzie gone. As time passed the sharp ache dulled a bit, and while each home visit and the returning drive back brought tears, the situation didn’t seem so hopeless. We were seeing the fruits of God’s hand in leading us to this particular facility at this particular time.
We have watched Ozzie blossom under the intensive therapy offered him in an inpatient setting. He has worked so hard in his healing journey, has learned new ways to cope with the demons of his past that will inevitably raise their ugly head again in the future, but once again it is with a muddy mix of emotions that we transition into another new “normal.”
How do I fully articulate the emotions that fill our home this week when we ourselves struggle to name them all?
Ozzie will be discharged this Saturday. He has worked through the program and has experienced a level of success that many boys there never find. He has fought hard in his healing journey. He has faced down fears, memories of abuse, and his own destructive behaviors with the courage of a knight battling a dragon. None of this came easily and each step toward healing was paid for with blood, sweat and tears…on all of our parts.
I fully believe he is ready to return home.
Knowing his discharge date was approaching, my focus has been on preparing for that transition. Outpatient therapies have been put in place. With his return home he will continue EMDR therapy with Miss Tina, Family Based Therapy services have been put in place, and Ozzie will begin equine therapy (horse therapy) next week. Contact has been made with the school, his room has been prepared, and our schedule has been altered to account for Ozzie’s weekly appointments.
Once the logistics of this transition had been figured out it was time to address the emotional impact this transition was going to have on all members of the family.
When Ozzie left in September he was in a heightened state of crisis and his behaviors were threatening and unsafe. These last 7 months brought feelings of felt safety to the other children, feelings of safety they had not experienced in the year prior. With Ozzie’s return home pending, the anxiety in the home has increased significantly as the kids brace for the unexpected…
And while I know Ozzie is returning to us stable and safe, it will take time for the other kids to see that themselves and begin the process of trusting him, forgiving him, and reconnecting with him.
To help them express , process, and work through some of those emotions and concerns, I set up a family therapy session with Miss Tina. Knowing that Rusty and Tyler would be less comfortable/capable of using traditional talk therapy to express the emotions churning within, I suggested we do an art project.
At home we have had a great deal of success with Tyler using markers to express his emotions. When he can’t say what he is feeling he will color an abstract work of art, assigning an emotion to each marker color. The result is incredible. He is able to purge the feelings locked within and I am able to get a powerful visual of what he is feeling, and thus know how to best help him.
I suggested we use this same technique with the other kids at our family therapy session. The day before our appointment we sat down and made a list of emotions that we might all be feeling about Ozzie’s return home and then we made an emotion “key” with Tyler selecting which paint colors would be assigned to each emotion.
On Thursday we drove to Miss Tina’s office with our paints, brushes and canvases. While the kids painted their emotions we talked through our crisis/ safety plan. When everyone’s paintings were complete we went around and talked about the emotions (and the corresponding thoughts) that went with each brush stroke of color, allowing the kids to comfortably share the muddy mix of emotions they have been feeling. I think it brought a sense of comfort to look around and see that the rest of the family had the same mix of colors/emotions that we had each been feeling individually.
It is with great joy, gratitude, and relief that we welcome Ozzie back home, but the reality is that there are other emotions that color this transition as well.
Anxiety seems to be the prevailing constant in everyone’s work of art, so as we take this next step in our adoption journey we petition you, our fellow sojourners, to lift our family up in prayer.
We are ready to leave winter behind. We are ready for the new life and hope that comes with spring.
Because by recording our journey with words, the heartbreak and pain of this journey become all the more real.
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.
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.
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…
“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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,)
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.
Start the time together by connecting. We do this through touch (taking their hands) and making eye contact.
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.
Play together. This isn’t a time to instruct, teach, or question them. Just play.
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.
Praise their character. (Not what they do.) Tell them what a good kid they are, how much you love them, etc.
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.
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.
It was a lot of fun and it was neat to see them both so engaged in such creative pursuits.
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. 🙂