Tag Archives: trauma

A Sweet End to a Bitter Beginning

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Sometimes I feel as though my life has “Multiple Personality Disorder,” with multiple lifetimes occurring at the same time under the umbrella of one life.  

(Let me reiterate: My LIFE,  not my child)

Much like made for TV character that transforms from controlled to chaotic, kind to cruel, joyful to drowning in despair, our life has evolved into a hair raising, out of control ride…

Stable one minute,

 completely derailed the next.

We find ourselves living in a constant state of hyper alert watchfulness.

We spend the minutes of our day always assessing, monitoring, and anticipating what sight, smell, sound, thought or memories will transform our life from calm, controlled and happy, to raging, fearful and hopeless.

It is a hard way to live, and the effect of past traumas on my already struggling son, can result in a whole family in crisis.

The last 24 hours have been surreal, and as I sat down to record the reality of our life  I debated breaking the happenings of the last day between two blogs, one reporting the good and the other reporting the struggles, but I stopped myself. Our life can not and will not be compartmentalized. As much as I crave the order and control of defining my days in the black and white categories of “good days or bad days,”  the reality of our life is that most days are a messy mix of trauma driven struggles and merciful moments of goodness and joy.

This particular pocket of time began Friday night with heartache.

We are all living out the effects of the early childhood trauma that has reduced my once happy boy into a child filled with despair and hopelessness.

At the root of Ozzie’s hurt is a deep-seated belief, a belief that was planted in his tender soul by abusive parents from the time he was small, that he deserves the abuse he endured, that he is not worthy of anything better, and  as a result he has decided he will sentence himself to a life of hurt and abuse if no one else will meet that request.

“What won’t you just punch me?” he will yell in desperation,

“I just need someone to hurt me!”


When those desperate requests are answered with tokens of love, nurturing acts, and additional support, he lashes out in desperation, hurting the very people who are offering him a safe harbor from the pain.

His behaviors have escalated.  

His desperation has increased.

He is determined to hurt.

He is terrified of being loved and will do anything to keep the thing he fears most, attachment to his adoptive family, at bay.

He is drowning in new flashbacks of horrific acts of abuse and is desperate to quiet the voices in his head.

 All he wants is a way out.

All I want is to keep him safe.

So my life has become a 24/7 vigil, as I work to protect him from himself. Every possible threat has been locked up, and cameras have been installed around the home, allowing for extra eyes of protection on him at all times. I don’t walk away. I don’t take a break. I am on guard. Fighting for this child who can’t fight for himself.

Things escalated to a new level last Friday when he wrote out a plan of how he was going to take his life.

Back to the Emergency Room we went.

Back to be assessed and monitored.

Back to inpatient care for another stay and another shot at stabilization.

By the time the ambulance arrived to take him back to the juvenile mental hospital that he was discharged from just weeks ago, my heart was heavy… heavier than it has ever been. There I stood, staying goodbye to my child who looks and acts more like a ten-year-old than a 13-year-old, in the hallway of the ER at 4:30 in the morning, weary.

So weary of the fight.

So weary of the battles.

So weary of the constant vigilance.

So weary of trying to hold onto hope in the midst of hopelessness.

So weary of trying to keep my family intact in the midst of constant battles against the trauma of Ozzie’s past.

So weary of smiling through the tears and finding the good in an absurdly bad situation.

So weary of being the Mom…the one who must remain hopeful, positive, optimistic and strong. The one who must help everyone else ride the waves of RAD and help the other children process the secondary PTSD occurring in the home. Being the one who must help create normalcy for the rest of the family in a situation that is anything but normal.

But weary or not, we go on.

I climbed into the car, exhausted down to the tips of my toes, drove home and crawled into bed to get a few hours of sleep before a new day began. It was going to be a full day of packing for Girls’ Camp (where I will be serving as a level leader over the 7th year girls) and then our annual strawberry picking, because despite how crazy the night was the dawn will come and the show must go on. There are other people in my family who need me, so I wake up day after day, and keep on keeping on…

Praying for strength.

Praying for grace.

Praying for hope.

Praying for wisdom.

Praying for the capacity to forgive…

And praying that there was a caffeinated Diet Coke in the fridge to fuel my efforts. 😉

From suicide watch to strawberry picking in a 12 hour stretch…

because that’s how we roll.

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Did I mention my life has Multiple Personality Disorder?

Over the last 7 or 8 years we have enjoyed the annual tradition of going strawberry picking as a family. It always seems to fall on the Saturday before Father’s Day, resulting in many strawberry themed treats for the day.

When we moved into this house we were introduced to Catalpa Farms by friends, when they invited us to go pea picking with them one year.

Since then Catalpa’s has been our go-to “you pick” farm in the area.

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Saturday was chaos (understatement of the year!) and really not the ideal day to go berry picking, but knowing the unavailability of free Saturdays for the next two weeks, and knowing how short-lived strawberry season is, it was now or never.

So, after a hard, traumatic previous 12 hours, we rallied as only the McCleerys can, gathered our strawberry boxes, and headed to Ohio.

Grace had spent the day working, while Molly and I packed and prepped for Girls’ Camp. At the end of Gracie’s shift, we drove over, picked her up, and drove out to Catalpa’s for some strawberry picking.

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Since we arrived at 4:00 in the afternoon, there was no one left in the field (pickers or field bosses) so we had free reign to pick anywhere we wanted in rows 1 and 2.

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We are accustomed to arriving early in the morning with dozens of other families and being given a small stretch of field to strip clean. It was kind of fun to be able to roam freely and have the farm to ourselves.

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Since Ozzie was back at the hospital, it was just the six of us picking. We knew we only had an hour until closing so we made quick work of berry picking.

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The job moved at a much quicker clip than usual, with the freedom of being able to move around the field, searching for untouched patches thick with strawberries.

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What a beautiful crop they had this year. The strawberries were large and sweet…a rare combination.

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One of the many reasons we love this “you pick” farm is because of their encouragement to “eat as you pick.” The kids love biting into sun-warmed, just-off-the-vine berries. It becomes a “one for me, one for the basket” dance of indulgence as the strawberry cartons slowly fill.

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We did well. In our hour, we managed to fill 24 quarts to overflowing…

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And I felt my heart lightening and my soul healing a bit under the rays of the afternoon sun.

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We finished at 5:00pm and headed back to the front to pay and treat ourselves to our traditional berry picking reward for our hard work: homemade strawberry slushies.

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Made from crushed ice and their home-grown strawberries, this sweet nectar of the gods is incredible…a perfect way to end our strawberry picking fun at Catalpa Farms!

Then it was back home for hours and hours of cleaning, hulling, chopping and canning of strawberry treats for us to enjoy in the upcoming year.

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From heartbreak to happy moment,

The tides turn as quick as that…

All within 24 hours.

A sweet end to a bitter beginning.

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Longing to heal him

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I never really experienced pain until I was a mother.

As a teen I certainly thought that my level of anguish over what seemed catastrophic to my teen self was beyond any pain anyone else, living or dead, ever experienced…

Oh, to be 16 and stupidly self-focused again.

But I had no idea what real pain and deep heartache felt like until I cared more for another than myself.

For me, this transfer of focus and newly honed empathy came with the birth of my first child when my heart first began walking around outside my body.

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With the addition of every child, biological or adopted, I lost more and more of my heart protection and experienced real, raw, heart wrenching heartache as I had to stand by powerless to protect or free my children from their pains.

This feeling of powerlessness is all the more intense when the hurts they are dealing with are not ones that I can simply “love away.” These “boo boos” are far too deep and festering to simply kiss and make better.

This weekend I spent 12 hours on Friday night at the Emergency Room, sitting by the bedside of one of my children who was in incredible pain.

As we watched the hours pass on the clock above the bed,

waiting for relief from the pain,

while listening to the incessant beep of a monitor,

completely helpless in my ability to take away the pain,

I wanted to weep.

I have never known pain as deep, and raw, and aching as the pain I feel watching my son suffer.

The last few months have been heartbreakingly hard for one of our adopted sons. This child is being consumed with newly developed flashbacks of abuse that he had blocked out. Abuse far worse than any that were reported when he was taken from his birth family. Abuse memories that cause him to curl up in a ball, squeeze his eyes shut, and cover his ears, as he tries to “turn off” the movie playing in his head.

These memories of abuse are so painful that he expressed a need to do whatever he had to, to make them go away.

He yelled, and then cried, and then whispered in defeat, exhausted by the constant torment of the past …”I think it would be better to just die. Please, just let me die.”

So there we were, at 4:30 in the morning, waiting for the ambulance to take him from the ER to a place where he could be monitored, and stabilized, and get more help than could be offered in outpatient therapy.

And it was one of the hardest nights of my life.

You know, I once thought I knew what pain felt like.

But I didn’t…not really.

Watching your son, who has lived his entire life fighting for a chance to be loved and longing to feel worthy of love, drown under the nightmares of the past…

Nightmares so horrid that death seems preferable…

That is pain.

But while suffering through the shared pain of hate and abuse, I have also discovered the redeeming power of LOVE.

Maybe I can’t “love” the pain away from my suffering son, but I know someone who can.

Because He also suffered such pain. He chose it and bore it so that He could say to each of us,

“You are not alone.”

That is the pain of Gethsemane.

That is the suffering of Christ,

From our pain,

brokenness,

hopelessness

and suffering

blooms redemption.

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Please pray for my son.

holland

A different sort of Mother’s Day

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I recently revisited a book I first picked up in high school. It is funny how two decades and a boatload of life experiences can alter a piece of literature. The words on the page may remain static and unchanging, but the interpretation and affect of those words are as varied as the hands that pick it up to read it.

The book I am reading is called, “A Child Called IT,” by Dave Pelzer. I don’t remember which friend first recommended it, but I remember the first time I read it. I was enthralled and horrified, as well as a bit skeptical. Surely, there is a sprinkling of fiction in this author’s recounting of a childhood riddled with the most horrific of abuse, I thought to myself.  Surely it wasn’t as bad as he recounts on paper. I thought there must have been some level of sensationalism added to sell the book. I couldn’t fathom the idea that a mother would hurt a child…so horrifically…so intentionally.

Last Saturday, while spending the day in Wooster with my mother for Mother’s Day, we stopped in her local bookstore and I saw this same book sitting on the shelf. I picked it up and found myself adding it to my pile of books to purchase. I felt compelled to revisit the story again. I began reading it two days later and devoured it in a day.

I still find the story of abuse horrifying, but far more believable than I did at age 17. What’s more, I found myself reading the account through new eyes. Not only did I believe its truth, but I found myself paralleling the story of young David with the stories of my boys and their own journey through neglect and abuse on their road to safety. As the author spoke the thoughts, worries, and reasons for his behaviors through the mindset of a little boy in survival mode, I felt like I was listening into the thoughts of my own adopted sons, who while now in a safe and secure home, still live with a survival mindset and struggle with survival behaviors.

When we chose to adopt our lives were changed forever. There is not one aspect of our lives that has remain the same. God has used this journey to mold all of us into beings far different than who we were five years ago. It has been the hardest journey of our lives but by far the most affecting. God has expanded our hearts, revealed our flaws, given us a depth of character and capacity for compassion that can only come from Him and His work.

I have learned so many life lessons along the way. Too many to count…too many to name. But one of the greatest lessons I have learned about myself is how naïve I was about the reality of life for so many, and how easy it is to judge the path of those who chose differently than us because of life circumstances far darker than any I’ve ever had to navigate.

When I was little and we would hear the story of another’s struggle or burden or misguided choice, my mother would wisely pull us away from the path of judgement and lead us towards the path of compassion with a single phrase:

“There but for the grace of God, go I.”

Oh, the power in that simple phrase.

It is a humbling reminder that all that I am, all that I have, all that I have accomplished, is because of God’s good grace.

Who is to say how my life would have played out had I been dealt a different set of cards.

I recognize that a huge part of my blessings come from having been blessed with a good mother and father…healthy parents, who learned from generations of good, healthy, capable, loving parents before them. I used to take this blessing for granted. A loving mother was all I have ever known and I assumed all were blessed in the same way. My perception changed when we began reading the files of children in foster care and we got a small peek into what reality looks like for millions of children. It humbled me and made me realize that all that I am, and all that is good in my life, is not because of anything I did or didn’t do. I didn’t make the right choice because I am awesome. I was able to make healthy life choices because it had been modeled for me my loving parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

We are currently fully immersed in the TBRI world of Karyn Purvis, as we relearn how to parent children from hard places. Our journey began a little over a month ago with the Empowered to Connect conference we attended. Oh, how it has changed our world, and our perception of our boys and their stories. It has made me realize the great, intrinsic value the relationship between mother and child has on every aspect of a child, from their brain chemistry, to their relationships with others, to how they perceive their world. What it takes to grow a healthy human being begins with the simplest ritual of holding a baby when it cries and meeting a baby’s most basic needs. The result of that not occurring as it should is horrific and heart breaking and life affecting for that child and everyone that attempts to attach to them. I am better understanding the great, divine role of mothers in God’s plan and how a disruption in God’s plan causes chaos and destruction. I also now better understand that a mother’s inability to meet these most basic needs in her child is usually a result of a history of unhealthy relationships perpetuating over time. A “bad” mother isn’t made, she is taught.

As I celebrated Mother’s Day this year my heart was in a different place. It meant something different this year. It meant something more. It was less about my role as a mother and more about reflecting on how blessed I have been to learn from the best. I come from a long line of women who have been loved and nurtured and as result have loved and nurtured me. This is a gift I don’t know that I fully acknowledged before. Toby comes from a long line of women who were loved and nurtured, and thus were capable of loving and nurturing him. The result is being able to raise healthy, happy, stable, loved children. And we can take no credit for their goodness, for who knows who we would be and what our life would look like had we been dealt different cards.

“There but for the Grace of God, go I.”

I also find myself remembering the women who gave birth to my adopted sons. I am grateful for their gift of life to two of the most important people in my life. Women who parented the only way they knew how. My connection with them is complicated and wrought with mixed emotions. I hate the hurt they inflicted on my boys, and I hate the hurt that they must have endured to make the choices they did.

“There but for the Grace of God, go I”

Mother’s Day is a hard holiday in my home. My boys struggle through that day dedicated to the celebration of the role of mothers and all the emotional baggage and great feelings of loss that brings it with it, but that said, this was the healthiest and happiest Mother’s Day we have had in the last 4 years, due in part to the TBRI principles we are applying and a lot of upfront prevention we invested in the day.

To begin we went into the holiday with a new approach. I began by putting myself in a good place emotionally. Past Mother’s Days have been hard. Ozzie struggles with such anger and feelings of hurt towards his biological mother that Mother’s Day has been a day full of sabotage and hurts directed at me. Prior to the Empowered to Connect conference I struggled with understanding the complex, over-the-top emotions that drive his behaviors on special holidays, and as a result didn’t approach the day with the level of compassion I should have.

I have learned better and now can do better.

This year I hedged my bets for having a more loving and compassionate response to his sabotage efforts by celebrating Mother’s Day on Saturday with my own Mom. I drove out to Ohio to spend the day, one-on-one, with my own mommy and by doing so filled her love tank and had mine filled in return. We shopped, had a fun lunch, and celebrated motherhood together.

And in doing so was able to return home Saturday night filled with love and peaceful acceptance for however Sunday would play out. I met my own emotional needs so that I could better meet Ozzie’s emotional needs.

While I was gone, the big kids and Toby hedged their bets too. They wanted me to have a special day, but knew all too well how most holidays play out in our home, so they were proactive and invested a huge amount of love and time into surprising me Saturday night with a beautiful yard.

While I was gone they went shopping at Home Depot, bought mulch and flowers, and mowed, trimmed, weeded, and planted their love into my heart. They spoke to me in my love language of service, and made me feel so loved and valued for Mother’s Day.

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I am so grateful for my kids and their big hearts!

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Tyler made my Mother’s Day sign.

 

The scope of Gracie’s love acts spread even further when she took Tyler shopping for ingredients for my Mother’s Day dinner. She had the lovely idea of buying a dozen roses and then letting Tyler hand them out, a rose at a time, while they grocery shopped, to mothers with children.

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I felt like this was a gift to me too, as she (with her own sacrifice of time and money) taught the valuable lesson of “love of service to Tyler” and showed him that the greatest joy in life comes from giving to others.

We were also proactive this year in choosing to not attend church for Mother’s Day, but worship at home. I knew Ozzie was unstable with all the emotions connected to Mother’s Day and I recognized that the kindest, healthiest way to help him through the day would be to hibernate at home, away from the Mother’s Day talks and lessons about loving mothers and gratitude for mothers, all which tear new wounds into an already fragile soul. I knew we needed to just lock the doors, and connect as a family, without external stimuli, so that is what we did.

And the love of God permeated our home.

The kids gave me their gifts of love and heartfelt, homemade cards, and we just hugged, loved, and prayed our way through the most difficult day of the year.

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Gracie gifted me with a manicure date with her and Molly this coming Friday. I was so touched!

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Fancy Bath and Body Works hand soaps from Molly.

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Molly’s words of love.

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A new paper towel holder from Rusty.

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And the cutest cookie jar ever from Tyler!!

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Tyler made his card all by himself this year. The portrait of the two of us melts my heart. He loves my eyes! 🙂

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Candles from Ozzie.

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Oh, those words. ❤

 

That day we felt the strengthening love of God as we celebrated mothers…The birth mothers that bore them, the foster mothers who raised them, and this mother who tries daily to live worthy of calling them her forever sons.

God is here.

God is healing.

God is Good!

Therapeutic Thursdays: Lessons I’ve Learned Along the Way

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At Patchwork Farm we are on a journey of discovery and healing. 6 weeks ago I attended a two day Empowered to Connect simulcast conference, at a local church near us. It was my first exposure to a parenting technique developed by the late Karyn Purvis and her co-author, Dr. Davis Cross, for kids from hard places. This therapeutic parenting approach is called TBRI (Trust-based Relational Intervention,) and it is the revolutionary parenting program that has saved our family and turned our lives back around.

Those who have been following this blog since the start know the unique challenges we have navigated in our adoption of two older, foster child placements. They both have a history of early neglect and abuse. That early history has affected them in so many ways like physical development, sensory processing issues, learning disabilities, relationship struggles, and has resulted in their development of “survival behaviors.”

        At the Empowered to Connect conference I learned the “whys” behind the behaviors we deal with, and the “hows” of what to do to address the needs behind the behaviors. As a result of that education, and applying the strategies we have learned, healing is happening. Praise God!

I have felt called to share some of these strategies with other families that might find themselves engulfed in that same hopelessness we felt as parents of two boys with Reactive Attachment Disorder. These techniques are incredibly affective for RAD kids and kids from hard places, but can be equally affectively applied to our children who don’t come from trauma. TBRI is just good, healthy, Christ-like parenting that works!

I look forward to sharing our life changing journey with you as we focus on one applicable technique of TBRI with you every Therapeutic Thursday. These will be fed to you a bite at the time so that you have the opportunity to put a piece of the program into practice, try it out, and see how it works before I introduce another piece of the TBRI puzzle.

We will kick off this new segment with a throwback blog about some of the lessons we have learned so far, on this crazy journey we call adoption.

When we first felt God calling us to adopt,

our vision of what they journey would look like was far different from the reality that was ahead of us.

Not better, not worse, just different.

We thought we had a handle on things. We had parenting experience and felt we were pretty competent at it, so this adoption thing was bound to be a breeze, right?

Ummm…nope. 🙂

Through this process we quickly learned how little we actually knew. We discovered that there are lessons that can’t be learned ahead of time. Some things must be learned in the trenches.

With that being said, here are some of the lessons we have learned

as we have navigated the road of adoption:

#1: Adoption is HARD!

I remember attending an adoption prep class prior to having Tyler move in with us in which the speaker compared adoption to giving birth. She made the profound comparison that growing your family requires labor. For a woman giving birth that is a physical labor that stretches over the course of hours or days as you brace yourself to bear each painful contraction. Adoption labor is also a necessity. It may not cause the same physical pain, but it is a labor of love none the less

that hurts your heart and tires your spirit. It requires that same commitment as birthing labor

to keep pushing through the pain to enjoy the reward that comes after the pain.

#2: If God calls you to it, He will qualify you for it.

This has been, by far, the sweetest blessing of our adoption journey. We have witnessed the Lord’s hand in powerful ways, as a result of our complete dependence on Him, as we have traveled these uncharted waters. We quickly learned how ill-equipped we were to do this alone. That humbling realization led to a deeper relationship with the ONE who can do it all…

and can equip us to do it all.

Through this process I have discovered that, with the Lord’s help, I can do hard things. Things I never felt I could manage…

– Driving through crazy, scary, Pittsburgh traffic by myself to get to a court hearing.

– Battle epic temper tantrums that would last for hours

– Dodge sharp flying projectiles with the greatest of ease.

🙂

God truly gives you superhero powers when you are fighting for a noble cause…

the life of a child.

# 3: Sometimes this journey is about embracing Plan B:

As I observe the adoption journey of many friends and acquaintances, I am struck by how many have been placed on this road as a result of circumstances beyond their control. Many of them had a different vision for how this journey would play out. Perhaps they assumed they would grow their family through birth. Perhaps they signed up for adoption with a certain type of child in mind. Perhaps it is the timing of the process that is different from expected. I have come to realize, through our own journey toward adoption, that what you think the path will look like is often very different from reality.

We began considering adoption 10 years ago with domestic infant adoption in mind. When we felt God calling us to foster child adoption we thought it would be a child under 5 or a young sibling group. We began with a list of non-negotiables…things we didn’t want in our home. Then we witnessed the truth in that old adage, “When we make plans, God laughs.”

Everything we thought we didn’t want is exactly what we received and we gained a testimony of the importance of embracing Plan B

because our Plan B is quite often God’s Plan A…

If we would trust the Lord when the road bends in an unexpected way we would see the great blessing of His plan…

the BEST plan.

#4: Glean all the wisdom you can from the experiences of others.

It is humbling when you have to face the reality of your own inadequacies.  We were flabbergasted when we applied all our “tried and true” parenting tools to our adopted treasures and discovered they were ineffective. We quickly leaned that parenting a child who had experienced trauma was far different that parenting a child whose early years had been filled with love and security. We needed a new play book. After depleting our “tried and true” parenting tool box we began seeking out support.

We discovered the gems of wisdom that could be found in others’ experiences. Tapping into the lessons learned by those who walked before us turned out to be our greatest asset. We felt like we had finally been given a code book to the behaviors we were seeing.

It was therapeutic to talk to others who “got it.” We discovered the great blessing of adoption books, great social workers, support groups and a good therapist.

# 5: Self care is essential!

Toby and I have an ongoing joke in our family about a little idiosyncrasy of mine that drives him CRAZY. It is my  tendency to allow my gas tank to run down to EMPTY. He doesn’t get it. He is of the mind-set that you should always have a half  a tank of gas in your car. When his truck’s gas gauge drops below the 1/2 mark he stops at a gas station to fill it up. This is very different from how I work. There have been many times in our marriage that Toby has had to come and rescue me by the side of the road because I had run out of gas. He lovingly arrives with a container of gas, shaking his head, just not getting it. I try  to explain,

when he asks, “How does someone run out of gas?? The gauge tells you that you are almost out?”

that I just hate stopping for gas. I am busy and it always seems like a waste of time. Instead I push my car to the limit to see how far I can go before I have to stop for gas.

Toby always points out the obvious, “You just wasted A LOT more time waiting for me to bring gas than the time it would have taken you to just stop and fill up.”

I realize this. I don’t know why I do it. But I find it is an accurate reflection on how we both manage self-care. When he is running low on gas he makes sure to address the issue before he runs out of gas. I, on the other hand, run on fumes and push myself to the brink of exhaustion, and then discover that I am stuck.

This last year has taught me a lot about the importance of self-care. If you are raising a child who has been a victim of trauma, you are walking a hard road. You must fill your tank regularly or you WILL run out of gas…

and then you are no help to anyone.

For each of us that “fill up” will look a little different. You must make sure you are carving out some time for yourself…

Get adequate sleep, feed your body regularly, take time to do something that makes you happy….

It is so important!

# 6: Take care and nurture the primary relationships in your life.

The road to adoption can be all-consuming. I had no idea how it would consume my time, my energy, my creativity, my whole self. Because it is so consuming it is very easy to let the primary relationships in your life get pushed to the back burner. We found that during the hardest times of our journey we would collapse in bed at the end of the day with nothing else left to give. It is tiring and it is very easy to put off the things that are most important for those things that are most urgent…

in essence, those “fires” you are putting out all day.

But it is when things are toughest that we most need the strength we gain from our deepest relationships…

The relationships we have with our Lord, with our spouse, with our other children…

This sometimes requires digging deep and engaging when all you want to do is crawl in bed and pull the covers over your head.

This also requires planning and effort.

It means waking early to have quiet time with the Lord and filling your spiritual bucket when all you want to do is sleep another 30 minutes.

It means carving out a date night with your spouse, even if all that date night can be (in this season of life) is pizza and a movie in bed.

It means staying up a little later, after the little boys are tucked into bed, to have heart-felt talks with your teenagers.

Making the effort, even when you feel you have nothing left to give, pays back a hundred fold…

# 7: Let go of the guilt.

I know no other way to say this than to be blunt:

You are doing the best you can.

Give yourself a break.

Let go of the guilt.

Do the best that you can and then give the rest to God.

# 8: Embrace the Ridiculousness.

Sometimes it feels like we are living in an alternate reality. Sometimes Toby and I will catch each others’ eye across the chaos filled room and we just smile. “We just can’t make this stuff up,” we say to each other. We find ourselves saying things to our children that we never thought would come out of our mouth like,

“Get the cat out of the toilet.”

We find ourselves parenting behaviors that border on the absurd.

There are days so filled with CRAZY that we learned early on that the only choice to be made in the midst of them is whether to laugh or to cry…

As Marjorie Hinckley said:

“The only way to get through life is to laugh your way through it. You either have to laugh or cry. I prefer to laugh. Crying gives me a headache.”

🙂

# 9: Adoption is not about changing a child’s life.

We entered into the adoption journey with the belief that we were being altruistic.

We thought we would bless the life of a child…

we would save the unfortunate.

That was not the reality.

While, yes, their lives may have been changed, it was us whose life was most blessed. It was our lessons that needed to be learned, it was our spiritual and emotional growth that needed to happen, it was us that God was working on.

Through this journey we have all been blessed with increased patience, deeper empathy, a greater realization of our own weaknesses and a deeper testimony of God’s ability to heal.  We have learned lessons that we may never had fully understood if not for the struggles we had to overcome along the way. While this road has been challenging at times, I have watched my children rise to the challenge and all of us blossom as a result of the struggle.

 And we are a better family for it.

# 10: It is worth it.

For those who are still in the darkest part of the journey I speak to you about hope. In the midst of the storms it can be hard to see the end from the beginning. It can feel hopeless, and scary, and you question whether it was the right decision. It can be hard to look forward to the future when you are drowning today. But I am here to tell you that it will be worth it. The hard times are building a foundation for a bright future. And as you struggle through day after day of tantrums and worries you will eventually find yourself on the other side.

One morning, not too far in the future, you will take a deep breath and exhale. You will realize that you are no longer holding your breath and things are ok.

It is a long road…

but it is worth it!

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“Empowered to Connect”

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On April 7th and 8th I had the opportunity to attend an “Empowered to Connect” seminar, offered as a simulcast through a church in Beaver. It was 16 hours of education and insight into the effects of trauma on kids and how to parent kids from hard places.

I attended with hope that I would glean even a crumb of knowledge that would help me parent my adopted sons. We have been in crisis mode for the last six months and it has taken its toll on our family. I went, desperate for help, hoping for the missing key…and I got it.

It is not an exaggeration to say it was life changing.

And for the first time in a long time I felt HOPE.

It has been a dark, long, lonely winter and it was as though I had caught sight of the first frail crocus pressing up through the snow with promises of spring on its petals.

I felt the hope of “what could be” course through my veins as I drank in the answers to all the “whys” and hows” that have consumed me for so long.

I felt God calling.

I finally had the map to this foreign land I have been wandering through for the last four years. The key is in the trauma and how we address the trauma, rather than focusing on the behaviors which are the external manifestation to the trauma.

It was my Oprah Winfrey “ah ha” moment.

We had some pieces of the puzzle. Some of these things we were doing instinctually, some were tips we had read, and much of our wisdom came in the form of puzzle pieces given to us by our therapist, Miss Tina , but this experience was as though someone finally showed us the lid to the puzzle box. I finally understood what all those pieces were meant to look like when put together and it gave me an end vision of what we were working toward. It finally all made sense.

Now that we have answers we jump into this new way of parenting. It will be hard. It will require commitment. It will be a long, tiring, ever evolving road. But we now understand where that road began and where we are headed, and so we will begin again, better prepared for the journey!

I now give “an out” to all of you who follow and support us but perhaps aren’t in the trenches yourself from having to finish reading the second half of this blog in which I share a small sprinkling of this amazing therapeutic parenting strategy,

But if you are one of my fellow RADish families, or you are a friend or family member of someone who is struggling, perhaps you will find a nugget of wisdom that will help ease some of the weight you carry or someone you love is carrying.

For local friends: If you read this and feel so called to learn more there will be a rebroadcast of this incredible seminar, “Empowered to Connect”

“Pathway Church will be hosting the rebroadcast of the Empowered to Connect conference on Friday and Saturday, April 28th and 29th from 10:00am.-6:00pm. The program was developed by the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, a child development expert. Since its a rebroadcast, it will be a free event however childcare and lunch will not be provided. If you would like more information about the event, please contact Michelle Smith at milomiche410@gmail.com

(What you will get from the conference far exceeds what little information you can glean from my notes!)

Here is a smidgen of what I learned:

Understanding the science behind the effectiveness of TBRI:

The trauma our kids have experienced have had a neurological effect on how their brains function. Kids from hard places tend to have an underdeveloped “upstairs brain,” the part of the brain that allows us to think, reason, learn, remember and regulate our emotions. They also have a hypersensitive “downstairs brain,” that is responsible for survival responses. This means kids who have been traumatized react in extreme ways and take more time to regulate and calm down. They may even perceive non-threatening situations as threatening.

Trauma is a wounding. It overwhelms the ordinary adaptations to life. Trauma can create PTSD.   This is not just an emotional response to troubling events; it’s the expression of a persistent deregulation of body and brain chemistry.   Brain is assaulted by neurotransmitters — brain chemistry can be altered for decades.  With this change, arousing events can trigger flashbacks.

Trauma creates chaos in our brain.   The amygdala is a small, almond-shaped portion of the brain.  It’s the emotional part. It’s the primitive part of the brain.  It interprets messages that there’s danger or it’s safe.  It knows nothing about reasoning or cognitive functions. It deals with feelings and emotions. It controls emotional reactions such as fear & anger.

(Amygdala) It’s the alarm portion of the brain. It becomes highly active during and while remembering a traumatic incident.  It controls our behavior. When you’ve been in trauma it’s hypersensitive–overreacts to normal stimuli.

 Trauma freezes thinking.

Traumatized people have alterations in their brain. Memory is affected by lapses–there are deficits in verbal recall.

The frontal cortex ability is decreased. Less ability to do left-brain functions–it can’t distinguish a real threat from a false threat.  Intense stress or trauma is accompanied by the release of hormones.   A nerve running out of the brain to the adrenal glands triggers adrenaline and noradrenaline secretions.   Adrenaline and noradrenaline surge through the blood stream causing the heart to beat faster and prime the body for an emergency.

Then these hormones activate receptors on the vagus nerve running back to the brain. This causes the heart to continue to beat faster, but also signals various parts of the brain to supercharge that intense emotional memory.   These hormones assist the individual to mobilize in the event of emergency. They also sweep through the body, return to the brain, and trigger the release of more equally powerful hormones (cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine, oxytocin, vasopressin and opioids).

This flood of hormones produces the “fight-flight” response in most people.  When a trauma hits up to 70% of your brain-bound oxygen is diverted into your muscles to propel you somewhere else.

(This will read as bad behavior in our kids…hitting, breaking, biting, bolting)

But for a few individuals, it produces a “freeze” mode. In this instance, all those hormones are rushing through the body and have no appropriate physical response.  The stress has paralyzed the victim.

(This can read as defiance in our kids)

The behaviors can’t be fixed through consequences or bribes because what we are dealing with isn’t a “I won’t” issue. It is a “I can’t” issue. The response is a deep seeded physiological response to a perceived threat.

Every behavior has a function so we must ask ourselves, “What is the need behind the behavior?” In other words, “The behavior is the smoke. The need is the fire. We must train ourselves to look past the smoke to see the fire.”

When parenting kids from hard places we must see the trauma behind the behavior if we are to respond in a healthy healing way.

 

“If we attack behavior without compassionate insight as to why a behavior exists, then we never generate true lasting healing for our children.” -Karyn Purvis

What does that mean in a practical sense?

Step 1: Recognize what is happening in that moment by practicing mindfulness in our parenting. We must think “trauma” not “behaviors” when we see our children losing control (ie: fight, flight, or freeze mode.)

Step 2: Once we are in the trauma mindset we must step in to help our children regulate. We do this by approaching our children calmly and connecting by getting on their level, making eye contact, through touch, behavioral matching and playful interaction.  “Connection must come before correction.”

Step 3: Ask our child two key questions:

  1. Do you need help regulating? (We need to serve as our child’s external modem until they learn to self-regulate)
  2. Then ask, “What do you need?”

Step 4:  As you engage with your child apply strategies that empower our kids to succeed.

  1. Consider their physiological state. Are we addressing their cognitive well-being by meeting their physical needs? (i.e.: sleep needs, managing hydration, managing blood sugar, regular physical activity, etc.)
  2. Apply ecological strategies. The ecological strategies help us design our schedule and environment so that we can avoid common breakdowns through the day. We do this by:
  3. Managing transitions. Transitions are hard for our kids (even good transitions) because they represent change and the unknown. Consider our children’s life experiences and what transitions they have lived through and we suddenly become more empathetic with the heightened emotional response we get when a daily or life transition takes place for our kids. We can help them manage by giving them reminders, announcing upcoming transitions, and giving five minute warnings.
  4. Develop regular rituals (routines that foster connection) to anchor parts of your day which will increase feeling of security in kids that come from hard places (i.e.: prayer times, bedtime stories, playtimes)

Step 5: Give our children the tools needed to self-regulate. Help them discover a tool box of self-regulation tools that help them regulate when they go into fight, flight or freeze mode. Some ideas include: the use of a weighted blanket, chewing gum, physical activity, or calming activities.

Step 6: Respond in an IDEAL way.

Immediately. We should be addressing behaviors within 3 seconds.

Directly. Go to them, make eye contact, use an authoritative voice, use appropriate touch and playful interaction.

Efficiently. Our level of response needs to meet the level of the behavior. “Don’t use an elephant gun to kill a fly.”

            Levels of escalation:

Level 1: (Playful Engagement) Low level of escalation, sassy tones,  interrupting.    Parent response: playful engagement, “re-dos,” actively learning.

Level 2: (Structured Engagement) Higher level but there is no physical threat. No one is in danger. Parent response: Be firmer, try to get them to express their needs verbally through negotiation rather than using behaviors to express their frustration.

Level 3: (Calming Engagement) Situation has escalated to the point where a child needs help regulating and calming themselves. Parent response: help the child regulate.

Level 4: (Protective Engagement) Active threat of danger and harm.  Parent response: Provide safety for all involved.

(If engaging in an IDEAL way the situation should never escalate to a level 4.)

 

Action Based. Resolution should be action based, allowing our kids to make amends through their actions.

Leveled at the Behavior. We never attack the child’s character. That only feeds into feelings of self-loathing and shame. Correction should ALWAYS be leveled at the behavior not the child. Making it clear that while their behavior is not o.k. they are still deeply loved. Children who come from a trauma background have a very powerful shame core. Our interactions with our children should never feed into that internal shame. “These children bled before they came to us. They shouldn’t bleed in our care.”

Step 7: Powerful response tools to help our children and the situation from escalating:

  1. “Are you asking me or telling me?” (level 1)
  2. “Try that again with respect.” (level 1)
  3. “Do you need a re-do?” (level 1)
  4. “No hurts. Please try that again.” (level 1)
  5. Give two choices. “Which one do you choose?” (level 2)
  6. “Do you need a compromise?” (level 2)
  7. “It looks like you are having a hard time regulating. What do you need right now?” (level 3)

Step 8:  After the interaction everyone involved should leave the experience feeling calm, connected, and content. That is successful engagement.

Step 9: Other strategies that build trust and foster attachment:

–         Say “yes.” For every “no” you give your child you should be seeking seven opportunities in the day to say, “yes.”

–         Use Time-in rather than Time-outs.

–         When things are hard bring the child closer rather than sending them away.

–         Parent with resolutions rather than consequences.

–         Have daily planned one on one time daily to connect with each child. This time (10 minutes) should begin with connection (eye contact and touch), should be child led play. During this time the parent should not teach, parent, or question. Let the child lead the play. Match their behavior, praise their character and engage in healthy touch. Daily one-on-one time fosters attachment.

–          Create purposeful learning activities to teach life skills during non-escalated times. During a meltdown is not the time to teach the importance of saying, “please.” Instead these important life skills should be taught through playful engagement. (ie: playing “Mother may I “PLEASE” take three steps?”)

So how will you know if TBRI is working? Karyn Purvis’s answer:

“You will know it is working when joy and laughter return to your home.”

“Equipped with deep understanding of attachment, sensory processing, brain chemistry of fear, the impact of my history, and strategies to connect, we can bring deep healing to our children.” – Karyn Purvis

 

Molly Turns 17!

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Molly is 17!

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We woke to snow on her birthday!

 

Early spring is a busy time at Patchwork Farm as we celebrate three birthdays in a row with Ozzie, Grace, and Molly’s birthdays each falling a month apart.

This birthday began as all birthdays do here at Patchwork Farm with an early morning wake-up serenade and cake for breakfast.

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This year was a bit different, however, due to an unusually packed Friday. Grace was on the schedule to work, Toby was at work, and I had committed myself to a two day simulcast conference…something I was struggling to remain committed to after Ozzie woke up itching for a fight.

Holidays are hard for Ozzie. Birthdays, in particular, are hard for Ozzie. Through therapy we have discovered that the motive behind the sabotage that often occurs on other’s birthdays are result of hard feelings he has about memories of his birthdays in his birth home. They were not nice and he struggles with feelings of anger and resentment towards the parents that stole his childhood from him. When he sees another one of our children being celebrated and loved he feels threatened and fears that by them receiving, he is losing out. What he deals with is not unique for kids from a trauma background, but it does make holidays and birthdays hard. I struggle to find the balance in addressing his trauma triggers while still protecting the birthday child from Ozzie’s efforts to sabotage and derail their special day.

This is why I was so worried when I committed to spend 8 hours of Molly’s birthday outside the home and leave Ozzie home with the other children. It was only the prompting of the Holy Spirit and hope that through this conference we would get much needed help and direction with the crisis at home, that I left the house for the day.

But, even with many prayers prayed, I hedged my bets with a special deposit in Molly’s love tank before I left for the day in hopes that even if things derailed in my absence the day would not be a complete washout.

My solution: an early morning breakfast with Molly before I left and before her school day began. I took her to Eat n’ Park for the breakfast buffet, where we enjoyed a very special hour of waffles, bacon, and one-on-one time before our day began.

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The conference was life changing and I recognized God’s hand in leading me there as soon as the first speaker began talking (more on that in the next blog.) Meanwhile everyone survived at home.

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That evening we enjoyed a family dinner. Molly requested spaghetti pizza, salad and garlic bread.

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We also has “fancy “soda, which then evolved into a concert of epic proportions when the empty soda bottles were turned into musical instruments.

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Gracie got home from work at 9:00 and we celebrated Molly’s birthday as a family with cake and gifts.

Everyone had put much thought into their gifts for Molly. As is tradition, the gifts were given from youngest to oldest. Tyler gave Molly three new lipsticks that he picked out himself.

Ozzie bought her a Bambi pillow.

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He was thrilled that she was thrilled.

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Rusty bought Molly the Disney movie, The Princess and the Frog.

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Grace was excited to give Molly the gift she had been working on for quite a while. She decided she wanted to paint Molly a painting that was reflective of Molly. She decided to combine this with their shared love of American Sign Language and paint her the sign of a word that describes Molly, and then finger spell her name at the bottom. Gracie’s biggest struggle with this project was to decide which adjective best describes Molly. She came to me with a list, hoping for help deciding. In the end she chose the word, “Special.”

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The gift was received with as much love as it was given.

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Molly was touched to tears.

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Our gift was also a hit, although much less sentimental and a lot more practical. For Molly’s 17th birthday she received her first cell phone. In our family we have the rule that ownership of a cell phone comes only with a need for a cell phone. Which means: a driver’s license or a job. Molly now meets the prerequisites which means she is now the owner of her first cell phone. She was very excited.

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The next day we enjoyed the birthday activity that couldn’t happen on her actual birthday due to our crazy schedules that day. We surprised her with tickets for the family to go see “Shrek: The Musical” at Lincoln Park, a performing arts high school near us.

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It was so much fun. The caliber of talent was exceptional. The costumes, backdrops, and use of puppetry were unreal. It was hard to believe that we were watching high school students. Molly loved it!

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Even the little boys enjoyed themselves. There were just enough 10-year-old boy jokes sprinkled in to make a play enjoyable for them as well.

Happy birthday, Miss Molly. I hope you had a good day!

 

 

Welcome Home, Ozzie!

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A potholder Ozzie made me in art therapy.

Ozzie is back home.
And it is a blessing.
This last month ended up being a true gift from God and we witnessed God’s hand in the entire experience from start to finish. I am grateful for Tina’s nudge to consider the 28 day program because the experience was life changing for all involved.
It gave my other children a month of respite to heal from secondary trauma, as well as get some therapeutic help to address the hurts and fears that come with living with a loved one who has Reactive Attachment Disorder.
It also gave Toby and I an opportunity to regroup, be still, and make adjustments to our home life and parenting techniques, changes that are hard to give thought to in the midst of a crisis. We were able to do some family triage and assess the condition of our other children and address their hurts and needs during this period that Ozzie was at Mercy Hospital. We were able to move from a stance of reactive parenting to proactive parenting, considering the needs of all five of our children and putting plans and programs in place during this quiet time of rest.
And I was able to do this without any worry or guilt, knowing that God was the driving force behind this experience and that Ozzie was in a good, safe, therapeutic place getting the help he needed while we were preparing for his return home.
The 28 day treatment program he was in was through Mercy Hospital. When pushed to consider sending Ozzie away for more intensive, in-treatment therapy I was a nervous wreck. I hated the idea of one of my kids being away and I worried that the experience would expose Ozzie to worse influences as he interacted and lived with other traumatized children. I worried that he would take his hospitalization as rejection or abandonment and that would lead to a bigger setback in our attachment work. I worried that in our effort to help him heal the experience would only lead to more hurt, but God was merciful and His hand was in every step of the process, and I was given peace about this needed step, and Ozzie agreed that he needed more help than Tina could offer in outpatient therapy, so five weeks ago today we drove him down, checked him in, and said, “We love you,” as Ozzie was led back into the hospital by staff members.
It was a hard day.
But that day was the beginning of huge breakthroughs for Ozzie.
You see, as incredible as Tina is, as an outpatient therapist she only sees Ozzie once a week for an hour, and as much amazing work as she has been able to do with both my boys in their therapy sessions, at the end of that hour, despite what breakthrough we might be on the cusp of, we must end the session and pick it up again in a week. This is the greatest blessing of an in-treatment program. The breakthrough happens and then there are staff with Ozzie 24/7 that can immediately help him process the experience, and that rolls right into an individual therapy session the next hour, and then group therapy two hours after that, etc. There is a momentum that is gained through therapy session after therapy session that results in huge leaps that simply can’t be gained in outpatient therapy.
Ozzie’s experience at Mercy was incredible and I have nothing but accolades to share about the program. I appreciated how incredible the staff was. They work with highly traumatized kids, many with a diagnoses of Reactive Attachment Disorder, so they get our journey in a way that many other medical professionals don’t, and are incredibly proficient at addressing the needs of these kids. On many visits to the unit I watched as they dealt with tantrums and meltdowns and did so in a kind, but effective way, quickly establishing control over the situation.
I loved how structured the program was. This is a necessity when dealing when a floor full of kids with special needs but was especially effective for Ozzie who, as a child on the Autism Spectrum, responds well to routine, schedules, and predictability.Each day followed the same format with mealtimes, school, individual therapy, group therapy, art therapy,  gym time, and quiet time in rooms for journaling.
I love that the system for addressing behaviors is a reward based system, which I find (when dealing with traumatized children) far more effective and healthy than a consequence driven system. This tends to be the case for children who have been abused because, honestly, what consequence can one even come up with that will have any impact given the horrors they have already experienced in their young lives. This makes these kids unaffected by most consequences for their behaviors, so here they use a point system in which kids can earn points for good behavior and good choices. Their earned points give them a level ranking that determines their privileges. For example a child on level one gets to stay up an hour later than a child on level three. For snack time they can have cookies or chips while the child on level one gets to pick from the fruit bowl. A child on level one earns a longer phone call home or the privilege of picking the movie for movie night, etc. and if they stay at level one all week then on Saturday they get to pick a prize from a prize box that contains new toys like stuffed animals, books, puzzles and other fun treats.
I appreciated how strong the communication between staff and family was here. I never worried for Ozzie’s safety because everything that happened was so well documented. At our weekly update we would be read the staff’s notes for the week that would explain everything that happened that week from how many servings he had at each meal, to every good and poor choice he made in his interactions with staff and peers, as well as how staff addressed each of these incidents.
Communication with family was a high priority, as was improving family relationships. We had a family therapy session weekly, phone calls with Ozzie twice a day, and home visits weekly where he could spend up to 12 hours at home before returning to Mercy. This was an important piece of his treatment plan. First it ensured a continued, strong connection with family, dispelling any of Ozzie’s worries that his new family was leaving him, but also gave the therapist a better idea of his behaviors, as we were able to report about his interactions at home and they could talk in therapy about behaviors that maybe don’t reveal themselves in the hospital setting.
Another huge benefit of hospitalization is the fact that you have doctors and nurses on staff 24/7 which allow for drastic medication adjustments that couldn’t happen in an outpatient setting at the quick rate they can be adjusted when being monitored by medical staff. This was a key component in his treatment as we had to reduce his extreme anxiety that was at the root of many of his behaviors.
It was a month of breakthroughs for Ozzie as he delved into the past trauma and abuse at the hands of his biological parents. In one group therapy session he was asked to color a mask, reflective of his past trauma. The results were heartbreaking as he held up to his face a paper mask covered in black and blue bruises and red cuts. Following that session he was struggling so a male staff member took him for a walk to help him process the emotions he was feeling following the therapy session. He suggested another therapeutic tool and told Ozzie to imagine that he was Seth or Trista and say to his birth parents what seven year old Ozzie wished he could have said when he was being hurt by them.
Ozzie did.
He shouted and swore and released years of anger, hurt, and heartbreak that he never felt safe enough to express before…
and it was life-changing.
It was the first step in a series of major breakthroughs this past month.
Ozzie is now home, but no he is not “healed.”
The experiences he lived through will take decades to work through and process.
I don’t know that one ever completely “heals” after living through childhood abuse.
But he is feeling safer, more stable, and so much better than he was a month ago. He was very brave these past 28 days, facing some horrific demons in therapy, and making great strides which we will continue moving forward with in outpatient therapy. He is happy to be home and we are happy to have our little family back together again.
God is Good!

Healing Deep Hurts

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Adoption is supposed to be forever.

Dissolving or terminating an adoption is the biggest “no no” in the adoption handbook.

All the classes, training, and hoop-jumping that a family goes through in the year or years leading up to adoption day are obstacles designed to weed out those who don’t have staying power.

Terminating an adoption carries with it a stigma.

It is a sticky subject and one I feel uncomfortable with because of the strong feelings of judgement I find myself engulfed in when I think about it.

Like so many of the parenting judgements I had when we began the adoption journey I couldn’t believe that anyone would be so cruel, so week, so lacking as to give up on a child they adopted into their forever home, but over the last few years I have had my eyes opened to the heartbreaking reality of the darker side of adoption. Where there once was only judgement there is now added empathy.

Most cases of dissolved adoptions don’t happen because a family gets bored or lazy or decides they’ve changed their mind. No, to dissolve an adoption is far too heartbreaking to pursue over something so trivial. No, usually a family’s decision to dissolve an adoption comes as a result of a family being at the end of their rope, seeing no other solutions, being fearful for their lives or the lives of their other children, feeling as though they are ill equipped to parent trauma as significant and scary as their child’s.

Let me be quite clear, saying goodbye to an adopted child is as heartbreaking and devastating as the thought of having to terminate your relationship with your birth child.

This is why this adoption taboo is rarely talked about. It is the hush hush, dark closet shame thrust upon families in crisis. And most often this controversy revolves around a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder. There is not a family on earth who can successfully parent a child with RAD and have everyone live to tell the tale without a powerful support system and a mighty God. For many families even that is not enough.

In my interactions with other RAD families I have heard the horror stories that would lead  most people to terminate an adoption. Stories like their RAD kid killing the family cat and leaving it by the front door for Mom to find…a family narrowly avoiding being poisoned by their RAD child after noticing dinner tasted a bit “off.”…fire starting, sexually deviant behavior, risk taking choices like climbing in a car with a stranger. These haven’t been our experiences with our two boys who have a diagnoses of RAD, but this is the reality of people in this community who have adopted children with severe early childhood trauma.

So while I don’t believe termination is ever the answer (there are other solutions to removing an unsafe child from a home and other solutions for stabilization) I do get it. I understand what it means to be a family in crisis. I understand having to parent hurts so deep and dark that no light can get in. I understand the walk of trying to love a child that is TERRIFIED of attachment and will do everything in his power to be unlovable so as to push you away. I understand the hurt, the fear, and the hopelessness of RAD, and I am less quick to judge those who feel they must give up.

We are being personally affected by another’s decision to terminate their adoption. The biological sibling of one of my boys now is back in foster care after that family has made the decision that they can’t parent that child anymore.

My heart has been aching for that child and also for that family.

The result of their decision has also profoundly affected our family. For the last month we have been a family in crisis. The news of a adoption termination with one of their bio siblings has destroyed any stability, trust and attachment that we have built. For the last few years we have, through word and action, worked to prove to our boys that families are forever, that adoption is forever, that we are going nowhere. My mantra repeated over and over again to the boys while they are raging is, ” I love you. There is nothing you can do that will make me stop loving you. You are not going anywhere.”

Because the root of RAD is fear.

These kids learned from an early age that adults can not be trusted. Adults hurt you. And connecting with and bonding with adults makes you vulnerable to more hurt. So they will do anything to keep you at arms length. It begins with subtle, passive aggressive behaviors and if that doesn’t scare you away they up the ante with harder and scarier behaviors until the moment of reckoning when that family gives up on them or they finally believe that there truly is nothing they can do that will make you leave. Every behavior is a test of your sticking power. So while they are raging and seem to be yelling, “I hate you! You’re not my mom! If you don’t let me go to a new home you’ll be sorry!” they are really crying out, “How about this? Will this scare you away? Will you love me still? Can I trust you?” And the trick is to look past the hate and see the fear that drives the behaviors.

This is what has been happening in our home this last month with Ozzie. Any security that has been built over the last few years has been shattered with that single bit of news. He now has it in his head that he is headed for foster care and is doing everything in his power to speed up his exit. It is heartbreaking to watch and has made for a month of violent, scary, and disruptive behaviors…behaviors that have resulted in Ozzie needing additional therapeutic help that exceeds what we are able to provide him with in outpatient treatment.

We share this mainly for the benefit of our other children who we would like to shield from the inquiries of where Ozzie is. They have suffered greatly this last month and we don’t want the added responsibility of having to explain Ozzie’s absence from church and other activities to rest on their shoulders.

Ozzie is in a special in treatment program for children with Reactive Attachment Disorder, getting 24/7 therapeutic care to stabilize him so that he can return home and continue forward with his outpatient therapy.

We have explained the necessity of inpatient therapy to Ozzie and the other kids by likening his emotional struggles to a person with a physical sickness. We discussed the treatment plan for a stomachache and compared it to someone’s emotional struggles. Initially a stomachache could be addressed at home with Mom. She might lay you on the couch, give you ginger ale and crackers and medication, and that might be enough to get better. If not the next stop would be a trip to MedExpress to see a doctor with more expertise who could dig a little deeper, trying to figure out the cause of the stomach ache, and give you new techniques or medication to try. This is comparable to outpatient therapy with Miss Tina. If you still were not feeling any better then the next step would be to go to the hospital where doctors with specialized diagnostic tools, and 24/7 care would be available, while they worked to figure out what was causing the stomachache and then stabilize you so that you can return home feeling better.

This is where Ozzie is at.

He is getting the help he needs to stabilize and the family is using this period of respite to regroup, to address the wounds inflicted on the other children, to reconnect as a family, and to rest and work on reconnecting as a couple. We will work on healing and stabilizing our home while Ozzie works on stabilizing himself.

He needed care beyond what could be offered at home or with Miss Tina. She made a case for why inpatient care was necessary and after prayer and many late night discussions we agreed, so Ozzie is working with the best to get the care he needs so he can return home,

and he can start believing we are in this for the long haul…

we are not going anywhere…

He is ours forever.

Great Dane = Great Love

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“When someone says “Great Dane,” the term conjures up a picture of the gangly and troublesome Marmaduke ruining the neighbor’s yard, or Shaggy’s clumsy canine companion in a Scooby Doo mystery, cowering or devouring everything in sight. The most we get from these caricatures are lovable, bumbling giants generally causing mayhem. Does the Great Dane personality live up to its cartoonish hype?

The Great Dane Personality—An Inside Scoop

Matching or surpassing the size of an Irish wolfhound, cut by sleek greyhound lines, and bearing the muscularity of a mastiff…the Great Dane makes an impressive figure. You might assume that large, sturdy frame craves the outdoor life—but the Dane is a bit of a couch potato.

Since these house dogs by nature are huge, you may want an appropriately spacious home. As for property damage, well…let’s face it, some of us were boisterous and destructive as adolescents, right? How upset can we be with our formidable, four-legged friend as they go through a similar phase?

The Great Dane temperament in adolescent years can be marked by wild abandon, their terrible twos (and threes) quite hectic if you don’t have sufficient time to watch and train them. This sense of growing glee can lead to testing limits, jumping and leaping over objects and furniture, and exulting in their rapidly developing bodies. Their height also allows them to counter surf if you leave food out, so you’ll need to be as disciplined as your dog when it comes to keeping house.

Looks are deceiving (in a good way)

Size coupled with all that energy might sound intimidating, but the Great Dane is a lover, not a fighter. One value for a dog devotee: This breed provides an imposing image for home protection while actually being low on aggression.

The Great Dane delivers a protective visual deterrent, while actually being friendly and fantastic with kids. Strangers stay away, but friends and family needn’t be wary. As they grow and grow—often clocking in as the tallest dogs on the planet—make no mistake…hiding within their large and striking stature is a little dog mentality.

Down deep in a Great Dane personality, they just want to be your lapdog—provided your lap can sustain close to 200 pounds! Thanks to their friendly nature, they want to curl up with you, so you can’t have a body bubble with this breed. They want to stand with weighty paws on your shoes, leaning into your body, showing that demonstrative attachment. If you’re easily bowled over or have very tender feet, tread carefully when considering a Great Dane.

Big appetite, small workout

One thing is true: that Scooby Doo hunger isn’t just animated fantasy. This robust breed consumes mass quantities of food, so a Dane lover needs to factor that ongoing budgetary requirement into their plans.

The impetuous Great Dane temperament makes them gobblers, so you’ll need to break up their diet of 7 to 10 cups of food per day into at least two sittings, or they’re prone to serious health problems like bloat. While they require a lot of food and look enormous, these giant dogs have slower metabolisms and don’t require an equally enormous amount of exercise. They’re inherently playful, so interaction is vital to build relationships and reinforce training, but they don’t need the exercise time of smaller dogs.

Great Danes are know for being of average intelligence but they are actually very easy to housebreak and train. They do well in obedience classes and can follow commands such as sit, stay, down, come and heel quite easily. They can also be in agility classes since they were bred to be working dogs. As a breed, the Great Dane temperament includes a strong want to please and so treats and positive reinforcement can work really well while trying to train a Great Dane.”

This was one of many articles we read as we were researching Great Danes after a trainer suggested this breed as a good emotional support animal for Tyler. Living with extreme anxiety and PTSD as a result of abuse in early childhood before we adopted him, his therapist suggested a dog might be just the therapy tool needed to reduce anxiety and bring some relief to the night terrors that haunt him.

We were looking for a large, intimidating looking dog that Tyler could believe would be able to protect him from the birth father he worries will find him and try to kill him, despite all the “logical proof” we present to convince him that he is safe and protected. But we were also looking for a gentle, easy going temperament in that same support animal. A trainer suggested a Great Dane.

Two months ago God led us to Olive.

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She was 10 weeks old and 15 pounds when we brought her home.

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She is now 18 weeks old and 52 pounds.

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Her affect on Tyler and on our home is nothing short of miraculous. She has secured her place in all of our hearts, but especially Tyler’s, as protector, beloved companion, and best friend.

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We are finding the article’s description of the breed to be completely on point. She is a couch potato through and through, sleeping for hours a day, only to be overcome with crazy bursts of energy that cause her to race around the room, bouncing from couch to chair in a hilariously comical dance of clumsy steps, flying legs, and flopping ears.

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She is over the moon in love with her family and will never sit on the other side of the couch when there is the option of laying across a warm body. She always has to have some part of her touching someone whether it is laying her head on our lap or leaning against our legs as she stands beside us.

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She gallops like a filly just learning to run, and is quickly growing to the size of a small horse, doubling her weight every few weeks.

She can now reach the counter and our need to “baby proof” has become more complicated by her growing reach.

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The good news is she has proven to be very easy to train. Her innate love for her family and her people pleasing personality has made her the most trainable breed we have ever owned. She is almost done with her basic puppy training class that takes place every Tuesday night and has loved it. She has blossomed with the experience, becoming less nervous and timid with each experience and encounter she is exposed to. She loves her buddies in puppy class and always sleeps well after  playing hard with the other puppies for an hour.

Tyler is her Daddy and he is her first choice when she wants to romp and play,

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but when it comes to the other fur babies in the house she has eyes only for Ellie, our Bashar. Sweet Ellie has become the adoptive momma to Olive and is incredibly patient with this horse-like puppy that is twice her size who wants to always snuggle.

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I’m sure Ellie sometimes tires of the puppy, but she never pushes the puppy away when Olive curls up next to her (or climbs up on her) to sleep.

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What a blessing this goofy dog has been!

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#Light the World

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This Christmas season has been different from past Christmas seasons. Our usual traditions, timing, and routine have been adjusted to compensate for Toby’s absence and the struggles that have resulted from his absence. We have put off some of the Christmas activities that we usually participate in at the beginning of the month until the last moments so as to allow us to do them as a family.

Some activities we have scrapped all together simply because doing them without Daddy is too hard for the boys and results in heightened anxiety and hard behaviors.

The result of these adjustments, all put into place to help us all survive this challenging stretch, have resulted in a very different December. There has been less festivities and running about, and a lot more quiet, at-home moments as a family.

Initially I struggled with a Christmas season that didn’t align with my vision of what a happy Christmas build-up should look and feel like. I resented the fact that this last Christmas season with Grace home to participate in the four weeks of festivities were stolen from me because of the pressing need to address much harder and darker issues with my boys.

As we enter Gracie’s senior year I find myself looking at every holiday, activity and tradition with feelings of finality and thoughts of “the last one.” I know it is silly. It is not as though Grace is leaving forever but I recognize the shuttle shift that is occurring as the kids get older and closer to leaving the nest.  Things are changing and although Grace will be home for Christmas next year, whether she chooses to live at home or venture far away for college, it will not be the same. As she steps into adulthood there will be additional responsibilities and pulls on her time that will keep her from participating in all the December festivities leading up to Christmas. Things will be different. And that is hard.

So I really wanted this Christmas season to be perfect.

I wanted to do it all…participating in and recreating the Christmas magic from the last 18 years of her life, one last time.

But that is not how this December has played out.

One could look at the past 2 months and declare them an utter catastrophe with challenges and heartbreak being the theme of the season, but God has taken our less than ideal holiday season and turned it into something deeper and more meaningful.

It is December 14th and not a gift has been purchased. There is no tree cut down and decorated. Christmas cookies have not been decorated and not a light hangs outside my home. In fact the only “to do” item on my Christmas list that has been marked off is the mailing of Christmas cards, a task that was expedited by the need to finish them by midnight one night to take advantage of a Shutterfly 50% off coupon.

One would think this season has been a failure of epic proportion, after all Christmas is only 10 days away, but the panic that would normally be consuming me is absent.

I feel completely at peace.

And it has nothing to do with what has been done or not done. In fact it has nothing to do with me at all. This peace comes from a presence more powerful than any Christmas magic I can create for my family. It is the presence of God. The need to surrender my grand plans because of unforeseen circumstances has resulted in a surrendering to God and His vision for our Christmas season.

It has been a holy Christmas season and quite reminiscent of Christmas three years ago when we opened our home to two young children who had no place to spend Christmas that year. Opening up our home to strangers that Christmas resulted in a Christmas that was imperfect, messy, noisy, and a bit uncomfortable. We had to give up  our own vision for the holiday in order to make Christmas happen for those two children. We had to decide, much like that inn keeper in Bethlehem, if there was room in the inn and if we would find room for two strangers in our home.

But more than that…could we find room for them in our hearts?

Those two strangers were Ozzie and Zoey, and the result of saying “yes” and taking that leap of faith was the adoption of Ozzie. When we invited him into our home for Christmas we had no idea the work God was doing and the mountains He was moving to bring our lost son home.

This Christmas season has had a similar feel. Except when asked if we can find room in our hearts it wasn’t for a child, but for the Lord.

This December we have, as a family, been participating in the Light the World challenge and it has transformed our Christmas season and transformed our family.

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It is a daily challenge found at:

https://www.mormon.org/?cid=HP_FR_25-11-2016_dMIS_fmorg_xLIDyL1-A_

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This daily devotional offers a scripture and video reflecting on a trait of the Savior and then challenges us to follow the Savior’s example and serve in a similar way.

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Some of the daily themes include:

“Jesus honored his parents and so can you.”

“Jesus prayed for others and so can you.”

“Jesus helped people to walk and so can you.”

It has been moving to see how this simple challenge of focusing daily on a trait of Jesus Christ, and following his example through acts of service, has changed our family and brought a sweetness and depth to our Christmas season.

Some of these acts of service have been small and individual with us coming together every evening to share with each other, and with Toby via the phone, what ways we honored Christ that day. While other acts of service were larger and organized by someone else.

These service activities have been extra fun for our family as we have been able to participate all together and experience the joy of service as a family. I am so grateful for the organizers that put together these larger service opportunities. I know the work that goes into these sort of events and it was such a joy to be able to simply show up and join in the effort.

Here are some opportunities the Lord has provided our family  to #Light the World:

“Jesus helped others to see and so can you”

On this day one of the services suggested was to donate old eyeglasses that are no longer in use to those in need. Ozzie was so excited to be able to offer up two pairs of his old glasses that he brought with him when he moved in that are no longer the correct prescription for him.

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“Jesus fed the hungry and so can you”

At co-op the kids have the opportunity once a month to help the church we meet at for co-op help set up food for the backpack program. This program sends two days worth of food home for children in need over the weekend when school breakfasts and lunches aren’t available. The backpacks are assembled on another day but the kids at co-op are able to sort and organize the food items for easy packing. On the first Wednesday of the month the kids were able to participate in this wonderful program that helps feed  hungry children.

“Jesus ministered to children and so can you”

The opportunity to minister to children came through an event planned by the youth leaders at church for the young men and women to offer free babysitting for young families one evening in December. Parents were able to drop off their children for two hours and Christmas shop or enjoy a date night, while the youth volunteered their time to entertain the kids with activities, games and crafts.

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Jesus taught us to clothe the naked”

Molly has been working on a personal project for the last few months that fell perfectly under this category of service. She has been making winter hats to donate to our local hospital for newborn babies. She has quite the pile ready to be dropped off at the hospital.

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Jesus showed humility and so can you”

One suggestion under “Jesus showed humility and so can you” was to brag a little…about someone else! So as part of our evening devotional we played a fun game using a ball of yarn. For this game we stood in a circle. I started the game by tossing the ball of yarn to someone else while holding onto the end of the yarn.  I then shared something I appreciated about that person. Then that person wrapped the yarn around a finger and tossed the ball of yarn to someone else in the circle until the finished result was a web of appreciation and gratitude for the other members of the family.

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“Jesus lifted others burdens and so can you”

We had an awesome opportunity to participate in a special service activity last Friday that lifted the burdens of struggling moms and dads in the area when we attended a field trip in New Castle with our co-op at a Toys for Tots location. Here donations of toys and clothes are collected to fulfill wish cards for local children in need.

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The activity was sponsored by Pa Cyber and was so much fun. For 3 hours we helped fill Christmas gift bags. The kids would get a wish card containing the age, sex, favorite color and needs/wishes of a child and then “shop” for them off the shelves of donations.

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What a joyful challenge it was scouring the shelves to find the perfect toys for each child based on the wishes that their parents wrote down.

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Tyler expressed the joy felt that day perfectly when he said, “It was like getting to be Santa’s elves.”

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It was a gift to see my kids delight in bringing Christmas joy to unknown boys and girls. And getting to participate with friends made it even more fun.

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It was a service project we hope to be involved in again next year!

The Light the World challenge has blessed our family.

I share these experiences not to glorify self but to glorify God and testify the transforming affect this inspired program has had on our family. I am grateful for the focused direction and creative suggestions of service ideas. I am grateful for the healing power that has come from looking outside ourselves and our individual trials and challenges to take notice of the greater needs that exist in the world around us. It has humbled me. It has made me more grateful. It has redirected my focus from self to others and given greater meaning to this Christmas season as our family focuses on the attributes of our Savior and the life he led.

I encourage all to give it a try.

Go out there and

Light the World!