Legacy. Food, Fun, and Family!

     Legacy. Webster’s defines legacy as, “something (as memories or knowledge) that comes from the past or a person of the past.” I have been thinking about what legacy I will leave for my children and others that I love. Perhaps others in my path will be impacted, too.

      While we were in church this morning a fellow was giving the communion message and mentioned 12 step programs. My mind immediately wandered to my dad. He passed away seven months ago and left behind a true legacy through his work with the Celebrate Recovery Ministry at his church in Houston, Texas. http://gateway-community.org/event/597123-2014-05-26-celebrate-recovery/  He poured his heart and soul into folks recovering from drug and alcohol addiction.  While speaking at his funeral, I looked into the seats and saw many faces I didn’t know. I live in New England and don’t get to Houston very often. I knew there would be unfamiliar faces, but I hadn’t realized there would be hundreds. I was moved to tears that day by the multitude of people who came to me and said how instrumental my dad was in their recovery journey. He was able to honestly tell his story and how he came to know Jesus. Dad was open about his struggle with addiction- how it hurt those he loved and how he had to make sincere efforts to repair those relationships. He also knew, deep in his heart, what it meant to receive God’s grace. He felt it. He lived it. Was he perfect? Nope. Did he admit that? Yes.

   I have been thinking about my own life. My struggles are different from my dad’s struggles.  I sometimes think I am pretty boring.  My three children are watching me closely. Their keen little ears are tuned into my words. Their eyes are following my movements. My oldest son doesn’t know why in the world we would ever want to walk down this foster and adoption road. If we asked him about the legacy I am leaving behind right now, he might just tell you that his parents are completely nuts.  

     Our days can be hard here. The little girl is slowly molding into our family. Sometimes I step back and think about all she really has to learn to fit into the culture of this family. We have pizza night on Thursdays, the boys play Minecraft (almost obsessively), and we talk to our pets. She didn’t have routine – or the opportunity to enjoy games, pets, or too much pizza.

     This silly home must be a bit like landing on an alien planet. The lifeforms here speak Minecraft lingo and get into heated discussion about politics.  She is soaking it all in.  Kids with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) and PTSD are hypervigilant. Our little girl has supersonic hearing (my oldest said that is her superpower). She can smell things a mile away, too. She is also adept at interpreting a situation and figuring out how to disrupt and cause chaos as quickly as possible. We are learning, too, to recognize the little flicker in her eyes that signals oncoming wrath. We try to anticipate it and diffuse it as soon as possible. It is a journey.

    Back to what I hope my legacy will be…I am hoping that my kids look upon their lives and say that their parents pointed them to Christ. I want them to have had a ton of fun, learned to think for themselves and have a passion to be of service to others. Todd and I hope they see those qualities in us each day.

      Since losing my dad, my mind frequently wanders back in time. I have been a bit more sensitive to the small memories of my youth. I recall some really fabulous Chinese food, going crabbing at a local dock, and eating the boatload of crabs we caught right on my living floor. I am quite certain food is the thread that holds the fabric of my youth together. My family is big on eating. Eating out, eating interesting stuff, eating together. It is just what we do. It is still a big part of my family’s dynamic- so much so, that my brother owns a catering company.  http://melangeevents.com/ 

       My kids are growing up with their dad making yummy pulled pork, growing our own chickens and buying lobsters straight off of the boat in Maine near Acadia National Park. They have camped in the pouring rain, paddled the French Broad River in North Carolina and seen the Aquarium in Atlanta.  Making memories together, sharing adventures and planning the next adventure brings us all closer together.

    I will continue to reflect on, and make positive, purposeful steps toward, leaving the legacy that will weave my children, and future generations of my family, together. What will your legacy be?

 

      

In the trenches with RAD!

     The last few weeks have been a continued crash course in Reactive Attachment Disorder. Pair this up with a couple of sick boys and two tired parents, and you have a complete set of the grumpies.

     Reactive Attachment Disorder is a hefty diagnosis. It is found in children who have experienced significant abuse or neglect between birth and age 3 or 4. It is often found in children who have been adopted from orphanages in a foreign country. Those little ones didn’t get held, snuggled, or have their emotional needs met. The effect of early trauma or neglect on a developing brain is significant. I have been doing a fair amount of reading about RAD.  One great resource is  The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog by  Dr. Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavitz.  They explain that these children’s brains are actually smaller, less developed, than children who benefitted from a secure relationship with their caregiver early in life.

   Understanding the science behind RAD helps me, at least a little, to understand our foster daughter’s behavior. Kids like our foster daughter, with RAD and PTSD combined, live in a constant state of fight or flight. This means that their reactions to everyday situations are basal. They react in extremes – fight you or run for the hills. Some kids freeze and disassociate. We live with a fighter (in my head a Brad Stein quote is on repeat…She’s a fighter…). This also means that these children are thinking and processing without the full use of their brain.

     Our bodies are amazing. In a fight or flight situation, our bodies release cortisol (the stress hormone) to enable us to manage the threat coming our way. This increases our heart rate and respirations. It gives us a boost of adrenaline for strength. Having lots of stress hormone in a small child’s system, for extended periods of time, has been shown to keep their brain from developing normally. It is essentially wired differently from a neurotypical/securely attached child’s brain. In fact, these kids miss developmental milestones because of their high cortisol levels. The kids are actually thinking and acting without the use of their frontal cortex. This has a huge impact on behavior.

     For our family, it means that our little fighter is really aggressive and doesn’t understand how to play or have a conversation with us or her peers. She has learned some maladaptive skills as a result of her difficult early years. She is sneaky and craves negative attention. We hypothesize that she doesn’t believe that positive attention will last, so, in her mind, the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.  

    So, how do we function? What tips can I give anyone else out there struggling with RAD?     

1.       Figure out how to get some space. If both child and caregiver need a time out, take it. Lots of “experts” will tell you that child needs “time in” (a time out right next to you). I have found that works when I am calm and can handle the situation at hand. If the little cherub has just hit, kicked and spit in my face, I need some space. Quite frankly, she needs to understand that behaving in that manner doesn’t exactly make me want to stay close by.

 

2.       Tag team the care with your partner and respite providers. My husband and I take turns getting our foster daughter out of bed in the morning. It is almost always a struggle, so we each get a break if we alternate this task. We have friends who helps us with some respite. We try to line up care in order to give us some quality time with our two boys or to just get daily life tasks done (cleaning, yard work, grocery shopping).

 

3.       Maximize your sense of humor. My husband and I try to joke about things (not in the presence of our foster daughter). We have to laugh, or else we will sink to the floor and have a pity party.

 

4.       Don’t believe everything the experts and therapists tell you. They are well-intended, but they do not live with your child. Many of the experts in our lives say nice things, “She is just so adorable, I can’t imagine that she would hurt a fly.”  Someone really said that. They had to rethink their opinion after the little cutie pie pulled their hair from behind in the car and wouldn’t let go. Most well meaning people that you meet will offer up all kids of advice and say all kinds of stupid things to you (“It really can’t be that bad at home. You must be exaggerating.” This is the most hurtful thing that people say). Use your best judgment. Read up on this diagnosis. Be wary of anyone who tells you that the fool-proof method of dealing with RAD is to do …. Each child is different. Trust your gut on this one.

 

5.       The vast majority of the research I have read boils down to this: The best help for these children is to have positive relationships with as many people as possible.  Parents, grandparents, siblings, classmates, teachers, and friends.  They can learn by watching all of these people interacting, living, loving, and being safe. Experience is the best teacher. Just getting the child out to garden, play in the yard, building positive experiences is really valuable. It helps replace the negative script in their head and builds positive memories.

 

6.       Consistency is key. We try to be consistent about discipline, reminders and choices for our RAD child. She needs predictability as much as possible. When she thinks a situation is unpredictable, she will act out in an attempt to create what she knows – negativity.

 

     I hope these tips help. We are earning more gray hair each day we journey on with our foster daughter. I am just hoping for a good nap…for me!

    Have a great day, everyone!

 

 

Foster Parenting Boot Camp!

Foster Parenting Boot Camp!

     We roasted marshmallows last night and made s’mores.  The taste and smell of the marshmallows properly browned over the blazing coals was heavenly. It reminded me of so many family campouts in the Texas Hill Country. The smell of the marshmallows sparked many wonderful scenes to flash through my mind.  I can remember my parents, brother, and extended family camping beside the Frio River. We spent the hot days swimming and the evenings defending ourselves from mosquitos. We roasted lots of marshmallows and debated the superiority of flaming marshmallows over evenly browned ones.

     Tastes and smells can carry us back over a lifetime of memories. I love catching glimpses of long forgotten moments. I love holding brand new babies. The wonderful smell of a newborn floods me with memories of when my boys were born. I remember all of the dreams and hopes I started with for each of them. I clearly remember never wanting anything to hurt them. As I held each of them just after they were born, I wanted nothing more than to protect them from harm. I dreaded the thought that they would ever get hurt, endure trials, and experience sadness.  My oldest son was born nine years ago and my youngest son five years ago. They have had plenty of scrapes, cuts and ER visits. They have been scared and sad. Now, they are enduring quite a trial – their foster sister. She is six. She is trouble with a capital T.

     We roasted marshmallows yesterday evening. I envisioned a lovely evening around a campfire. I was hoping that we could all sit sweetly and gaze into the fire. I hoped we could tell stories and just have a laugh. Well, I think each child sat for a few minutes each. The only sentences we spoke were, “Sit down! No, you can’t hold the flaming marshmallow right now.  Stop running around like a maniac. Good Grief!” There were other utterances not worth mentioning.

    Our current foster daughter arrived about five months ago. She arrived at 5:45 p.m. on February 12th. The day lives on in infamy. We had just a few hours warning. We got the call from our local agency asking if we could take on a five-year-old little girl.  They said she was busy and inquisitive. Understatement of the century.  My husband and I figured we could handle a busy little girl. After all, we have two very busy boys. Our house is equipped with a swing, a climbing wall and a trampoline inside. We have space for playing and getting energy out. We thought busy was no big deal. We were wrong!

    February 12th was the beginning of our foster parenting boot camp. We had no idea that this little lady would be frantic. Running through the house grabbing everything she could get her hands on and putting everything in her mouth. Within the first thirty seconds of her arrival, she pushed our oldest son down and hit him in the back. The social worker had just walked in the door with her. Huh?! We thought she was just stressed out from having to move to yet another new home. We are her fourth placement. She ran so much the first weekend she was here that I injured my feet. I now have plantar fasciitis.  I am still trying to get this under control.

    Inquisitive. This means that she asks about ten questions per minute. Really. I am not exaggerating. She asks what the neighbors think about her (we have no idea). She asks why all the time.  Busy. That is code for having the attention span of a gnat. She could not focus on one activity for more than ten seconds. Again, I am serious about the ten seconds. By the time I got crayons out and on the table, she would be asking for a book. Once the book was in front of her she would be asking for a puzzle. This can go on for hours. At first, she would wake up at all hours in the night. We found her wandering the house, digging in the pantry and eating dry noodles. She was up for the day at 4:00 a.m.. I am not remotely conscious at that hour- neither is my hubby. We quickly learned we needed to take shifts. Todd would take the early morning routine, and I would take the late night shift.  

     We had not child-proofed our home for a child with Pica. After all, our youngest was long past this stage.  We did not know that everything not nailed down was going into her mouth. Todd quickly installed cabinets up high in each bathroom. We had to install locks on the inside of the boys’ bedroom doors so that they could lock her out of their space. We installed locks up high on doors leading outside. We had to alarm her door and remove all hard objects from her room.  

     We weren’t told that our new little girl was hell-bent on hurting herself and running away as a means of getting attention.  We have fostered teens before, so we thought we had endured all the hard stuff. We never imagined that a little tiny girl would not be able to keep herself safe if we turned our head for even a second. Exhausted. This is our new normal. Wary. This is our boys’ new normal. Things are improving… at a snail’s pace.

   Todd and I took a number of classes to become foster parents and have to take 24 hours of classes each year to maintain our license. We learned that these precious, vulnerable children would be stressed, may have odd food habits, may act out. We intuitively knew those things. We understood that these children need more supervision and patience than the typical kiddo. Nothing could have prepared us for a little girl with huge brown eyes to drop the “F bomb” over one-hundred times in the first night she was with us.

    We have heard the words Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) before. We had a baseline idea of what it is. I figured that my undergrad Psychology degree would be somewhat helpful in this foster parenting endeavor. I also thought that having worked with fifth graders and youth group kids for years would have prepared me for this experience. I would say that those experiences gave me a foundation, but in no way foreshadowed this fostering experience.

     There is so much to this story. I will keep writing posts about our foster care experiences. I am hoping to do a post soon about RAD and some tips and tricks to help other people caring for kids with this disorder.

      Wrapping up- my deepest desire to keep my children from experiencing any pain has changed to a prayer that they would be transformed by the tough times. They are learning about compassion for those who are less fortunate. They can’t possibly understand all of this right now. They know the little girl is annoying. They know she is limited in so many ways. I pray that we all just learn to love her a little more each day.

   

 

   

Happy Independence Day Weekend!

I had the great honor of raising our American Flag this morning. It reminded me that I was one of the students that raised and lowered the flag each day during 9th grade.  It still gives me goosebumps. I am proud to be an American. I love our country and our Constitution. I have been thinking about our First Amendment Rights a great deal lately.

Offended. That is the word that has me bugged. Perhaps it is because I am pondering my legacy, or that I just committed to not shying away from tough topics, I just don’t get the whole “I am offended” crowd.

Here’s why – (spoken in my best grandma voice…) in the good ol’ days, before we all had our noses glued to our smartphones, adults would get together to talk. We could share opinions on all of the taboo subjects: religion, politics, money, gender issues, and child rearing. In fact, we could agree to disagree. That simple truce meant that discourse could continue without anyone thinking the person with opposing views was unintelligent or completely misguided. There was no need to call the person on the other side names or make mean comments to them.

I love having conversations with people who have different ideas and opinions on a topic. What a great way to get to know people and build relationships. It is perfectly acceptable to have a healthy debate, shake hands and make a time to hang out again soon.

Lately, all I hear, or see on social media, is that someone is offended by someone else’s ideas or positions on various topics. Really?! What someone else has in their head is offensive? Ridiculous. You see, simply stating an opinion or having a deeply held belief is a guaranteed right here in the United States.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  U. S. Constitution, Amendment 1.

This text is a masterpiece. I studied this in my Constitutional Law class. I remember thinking that all the great Justices and wave-making attorneys stood their ground using the Constitution as their rock. We are blessed to have these rights woven into the fabric of our society. The First Amendment doesn’t require us to agree with each other. It doesn’t say that I am dirt bag if I don’t believe like you. It doesn’t say I need to go to your church, eat your food, or think like you do.

The right to speak freely is a blessing. It is foundational to our freedom. It is the basis upon which we can gather and encourage one another. Sharing ideas and views publicly gives us a chance to consider our own paradigm and, perhaps, change it.  So, this weekend, ask someone to tell you a little more about their views. Listen to your internal dialogue and try to quiet it for a time. I am going to work on my active listening skills during a gathering this holiday weekend. Just food for thought to accompany your barbecue and watermelon. Have a wonderful Independence Day. Deb