Creative Parenting

Tomorrow I will present to a room full of strangers about my “creative parenting.” I was nominated to present at a PechaKucha event by someone who I had respected from afar, but never realized knew who I was. I’m always excited to talk to anyone about our family’s foster/adoptive journey, and I was especially honored to speak at this event.

Tonight, though, I have a nagging feeling in my gut that I really shouldn’t do it. I feel like a fraud and a huckster talking about parenting. I created images of my smiling kids, and planned on talking about our trials and tribulations in a way that might lead someone in the crowd to consider doing the same. But tonight I have to admit that I really don’t have any hope left for my oldest daughter. After 5+ years, I’ve shifted into thinking how I can protect the rest of my family from her, rather than thinking about how to help her.

I behave like a warden in my own home. I discovered a cell phone this morning during a random pocket check (this happens 2-3 times per week). I bought a charger on the way to work, charged it up, and realized that she had asked her friends to pitch in money so she could buy it from a kid who rides her bus. They pitched in but didn’t have enough money, so she gave the kid her birthday check from my mother as collateral. Then, he said he lost the check, so she offered to steal her 8-year-old brother’s check to give him. I’ve created a Frankenstein who thinks she’s street smart, but is actually terrifically gullible.  A girl who fancies herself ghetto, but who has actually become quite comfortable living a middle class lifestyle.

I had to call my sweet mother today and tell her that the birthday check – the one that came in the sparkly card that she took ten minutes to pick out, telling my daughter how much she was adored and loved – had to be cancelled, along with her entire checking account, because of what my daughter had done. In the 5 years I’ve been a mother, I’ve never been so embarrassed and ashamed.

Today I fully realized that this may be as good as it gets for my daughter, and that the next few years may be about protecting my other kids and husband from her. The phone was the tip of the iceberg. In the last few weeks, she’s stolen my phone, she’s stolen the money she used to buy her phone. Tonight she stole her brother’s house key (because she’s not allowed to have one). She’s created a second facebook profile that she used to bully another girl at school and to engage in remarkably pornographic and abusive discussions. She lies to her therapist. She lies to me. She chooses not to heal.

Two weeks ago, she tried living on the streets and lasted 2 hours. I thought that might be the wake up call she needed, but by the next week, she was up to her same tricks.

My daughter is living in our garage, because I don’t trust her to live in the house. That’s my creative parenting for today. My daughter is living in my garage.

As Good As It Gets

Usually when I write, I try to come up with some kind of lesson, something I’m supposed to learn, some bigger picture reason for why things happen the way they happen. Today, though, I’m just amazingly angry.

I just left T, my 10-year-old, at inpatient psychiatric care for the second time since November. It’s her third stay – the first one was a little over a year ago. She arrived at psychiatric care via a police patrol car. The same incredibly kind police officer who showed up at our house last Tuesday (five days ago) called me after she heard our address on her radio today and said “I’m on my way. I heard dispatch give your address, and I said “I know that kid.” I’m coming over.” By the time she arrived, I was drenched in sweat, shaking, afraid I might be having a heart attack, and pushing with all the strength I had left in my legs to keep our attic door closed as T threw her weight against it from the other side, as she screamed and yelled to be let out and kicked holes in it. She hurled her tiny little 10-year-old body like a weapon against the years of abuse and neglect that she suffered and can’t escape, though she’s been safe, loved and cared for for almost four years.

That’s where I find myself more and more lately. Sweating, exhausted, terrified and praying to God that my daughter doesn’t get out of wherever I’ve been lucky enough to trap her and accidentally break her neck or throw herself into the covered pool and drown. For years she would at least stay in her room while she was raging, which provided some level of safety. But over the last few months, she leaves her room, roams the house, the yard and our neighborhood if I don’t physically restrain her, which is getting harder and harder. Last Tuesday, with both my husband and I home, she managed to throw her closet door down the stairs, nearly falling down with it, then get out the back door, narrowly miss falling into the covered pool, out the gate, and run down the street wailing hysterically and tearing off her clothes. My husband and I stood in the driveway, knowing if we chased after her it would only get worse. So, we stood, feeling hopeless, doing nothing, hoping the police arrived soon.

So, here’s where I have to ask, how in the hell is this as good as it gets for mentally ill children in this country? I read with both horror and relief  “Thinking the Unthinkable” by the Anarchist Soccer Mom where she writes “I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza’s mother,” and I thought, “yeah, that’s me. Is my kid the next one on the national news?”And I know a lot of other parents who are thinking the same thing.

My husband and I both have advanced degrees, we make what is an upper income for the state in which we live, we’re resourceful, and I’m assertive to the point that I’m sure I’ve been called a b*tch more than once. I’ve got a great supportive network, including a wonderful extended family, and I’ve read every book I can find on Reactive Attachment Disorder (her diagnosis). She has therapy weekly, takes medication, sees a good psychiatrist, and is on the waiting list for the Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) unit in our community. Though the RAD unit has a good reputation, there aren’t very many beds, and the stay there is a minimum of 6 months, so the beds don’t open up often.

There’s not much written about her diagnosis – in fact if you read attachment texts it’s generally not covered. My kids’ therapist has asked to write his doctoral thesis on our family, because both of my girls have RAD diagnoses, and in his words “are not burning down our house nor stabbing us to death in our sleep,” so we must be doing something right. So, basically, I’m the Mrs. Cleaver of the RAD set. I’m the Mrs. Cleaver, and I still can’t help my kid. I’m doing every damn thing I can think of, and I still can not help my kid.

In ten days, the psychiatric hospital will likely send T home, because she will no longer be “acute,” – no longer a danger to herself nor others. T can do 10 days in a psych ward like it’s Six Flags. She won’t show any of her defiance. She’ll be a super sweet kiddo, because she’s smart and she knows how the system works, and she wants to be in control. In foster/adoptive circles, we call this the honeymoon. If she didn’t have a RAD diagnosis, she’d be stepped down into residential care once she was no longer acute. But, because she has a RAD diagnosis, the hospital will send her home, because they know they can’t help her in the 90 days or so they could keep her and actually get paid. They know she needs the RAD unit (6 months to 2 years). So, they’ll send her home, and she’ll continue to have rages that require police intervention once a week, with no end in site, and it will traumatize my two other already traumatized children and stress my marriage and slowly but surely destroy our family. And, the best I can hope for is that she doesn’t hurt anyone else. And, this is as good as it gets.

Shadow Mountain

For all you very kind people who have been asking about my middle kiddo, T, here’s an update:

Eight days ago, T, my 10-year-old who I have fostered, then adopted, for the last 3 1/2 years, was taken by several Tulsa Police Department officers to Shadow Mountain for inpatient psychiatric care. Many of you may wonder, “How can a sweet girl who is making As and got elected to Student Council have to be strapped to a gurney in a psychotic state and taken to a psych hospital?” The answer is Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), which both of my girls have been diagnosed with.  Basically, it occurs when a child doesn’t form healthy attachments as an infant. Combine that with all that results from years of neglect and abuse (even in foster care), and you also get PSTD. She’s also been diagnosed with ADHD (potentially caused by in utero exposure to cocaine) as well.

So, last weekend, we had a really good weekend. My mom came to visit, and we talked about Christmas lists and generally just hung out. Good weekends make my kiddos nervous, because they begin to feel close to me (attached), and their fight or flight kicks in, because they consider that attachment a threat. In addition, I accidentally uncovered a stash of food T had been hoarding (another symptom), which embarrassed her (it’s a little like being seen naked), and that combined with the good weekend triggered her into a rage. Often, she can calm herself, but on this day she took it to a new level and after throwing most of her room down the stairs , bashing her head into the wall repeatedly, and trying to make a run for it down the street while tearing off her clothes I called our local police department and my husband for help, because I couldn’t transport her alone. So, she’s been there for eight days, and I was hoping she would be transferred to the RAD unit, which is one of the few that exists, but they have no available beds. And, since she’s RAD, they know they won’t be able to help her in the short time she’d be allowed to stay in residential care (three months or so), Consequently, they’ll boot her so they can accept other kids who can actually be helped in residential care. So, she’s likely coming home this week, and then we just have to wait for a bed to open up on the RAD unit.When she goes into the RAD unit, she’ll be there for a minimum of three months, but likely more like 6 to 12 months. I’m hoping losing my kiddo for 6 to 12 months will result in her never having to be institutionalized again, but it’s not a guarantee. So, because you’re all kind and wonderful, you’ll ask what can you do. Here’s what you can do – Pay attention to who you elect and hold them accountable for funding programs that help the mentally ill, help people get job skills, and provide a functioning foster care system. If you think of these things as handouts or entitlements, consider the economic impact of my kiddo’s bio mother – only one Oklahoman who was affected by mental illness (including drug & alcohol addiction), teen pregnancy, generational poverty, and lack of job skills. She has cost the State of Oklahoma hundreds of thousands of dollars if not a million or more just in the amount of money she has been paid in social services benefits, that has been paid for her to be incarcerated, that has been paid to me and other foster/adoptive parents for caring for her kids, and for my children’s weekly therapy visits, psychiatric visits, medication, and inpatient psychiatric stays (which taxpayers pay for).

This is complicated stuff, and you can’t look at it in a simplistic way. Not funding social programs results in more money paid by all of us, and tremendous trauma for kiddos like mine. And, there are thousands of kiddos like mine in the state of Oklahoma. So, think of the impact you, your family, your place of worship, or your civic group could do by standing up for Oklahoma’s kids and ensuring that Oklahoma funds its social programs adequately. I can’t think of a better return on investment. Unless you’d like to build even more prisons to put the next few generations in, because that’s where they’re headed. End o’ diatribe.

Library Books

Tonight, as I was tucking in my kiddos, my 8-year-old proudly showed me her “libary” books.  I said your “what” books?  She giggled and said “library books,” smiling broadly.  I joked with her that if she left the “r” out often enough, the “r” might get its feeling hurt, go away and never come back.  Then “rivers” would be “ivers” and “roses” would be “oses,” and it would be all her fault!  She added “rainbows” would be “ainbows” and then randomly, but thoughtfully, moved on to all the words that would be different if “p” got its feelings hurt and ran off.

It was a fun game, but fun wasn’t the point.  The point was to use humor and creative fun to get us past the sticky situation we face every day, which is that my kids struggle to speak “properly.”

When my oldest adoptive daughter came to me as a then 9-year-old African-American foster child, I remember correcting her pronunciation of “library” the first time. Being a white, educated, 40-year-old woman, correcting her pronunciation was an obvious thing to do, and I didn’t give it a second thought.

For her, it was an affront.  She snapped her head around and said, “it’s libary, not library.”  I explained that it was indeed “library” with an “r” and breezily assured her that it was okay that she was learning the correct pronunciation because everyone had to at one point or another.   She glared at me with a look that only she has and said “that’s how my mom says it.  And, that’s how my auntie says it. It’s libary.

Consequently what was a simple correction of pronunciation for me became an insult to her family and to her culture, and that’s not easy to come back from, especially when you’ve not yet built trust with a child.  I let it go, having no clue how to proceed, and we continued to run our errands

Within about ten minutes a fellow shopper caught my eye.  She was 10 years older than me and African-American.  As she was walking past us, I said “Excuse me, ma’am.  Could you explain to my daughter how you pronounce the place where one checks out books?”  She stared at me for a split second before she understood what I was asking and then calmly looked at my then foster daughter and said. “Yes.  It’s the library.”  My daughter proceeded to argue with her that it was in fact the “libary” sans the “r.”  And this total stranger calmly explained to her, “No, honey.  It’s “library” with an “r.”  That’s how you say it.  “Library.”  I thanked her as she walked away.  Thank God for total strangers.

That was the beginning of what has been a nearly three year struggle for my kiddos, and one that will likely last their lifetimes.   It may seem small, but for them it’s about far more than a few dropped letters or slang words.  At times they’ve yelled “I don’t want to talk white!” or “I want to talk like my mama!” Eventually, with help from their biological great-aunt, they began to relent and relax a bit.  She graciously explained that people judged her for the way she spoke, and she wanted something better for them.  She helped them understand they weren’t abandoning their biological family by changing their speech, and her words reassured them and gave them permission to grow, learn and change. And, now their speech is greatly improved, although they still struggle with some problem words like “library.”

However, every time I correct their speech, I’m reminded of the dual worlds my children will always balance between, and a small part of me thinks I’m chipping away at them a bit, oppressing some part of their soul that’s tied to a world I can never give them and that may never again be fully within their grasp.  And, my world becomes grayer and grayer.  It’s a world where “proper” doesn’t ring quite as true as it once did.

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