Excalibur

First, Happy Adoption Month!

Secondly, though it may seem like we’re super serious a lot of the time, what with the calls to the local PD, psychiatric hospital stays, running away, my meltdowns, and other stuff, we actually do have a pretty fun time at our house. We camp, we take road trips, we had a great summer vacation to Chicago this year, we dance a LOT (I am the reigning Just Dance champion in our household, for the record), we listen to music, we cook together, we play board games, we swim, we play with our awesome dogs, and we have a fabulous dress up closet.

Some of this fun happens, because we’re just fun people, and some of this fun is very deliberate on my part, because it helps to build attachment with my kids without them really being conscious of it. If they’re having so much fun that they forget to be on guard against attachment, then it sneaks in and starts to build within them before they know it. What is my sturdiest weapon in the “sneaky fun” strategy – ticklefests. Not kidding. Ticklefests combined with dog piles are like a super secret weapon. Ticklefests, combined with dog piles, combined with pillow fights are like the Excalibur of the adoptive parent’s toolbox. I wish some wise person had told me this early on, which is why I’m telling you. I actually learned via Dr. Daniel Hughes’ PLACE model, which has been very good for our family. The “P” stands for “playfulness,” thus the ticklefests.

For example, at our most recent visit to the psychiatrist, my 12-year-old, who has been with me 5 1/2 years, explained that though intellectually she knows I love her, and that she’s safe and taken care of,  she doesn’t really trust any of that. She often doesn’t believe her life is real or that I’m real, which is extremely standard for kiddos like mine. It’s tough for them to trust that they can actually just relax, breathe, and be kids.  So, since that visit, at random times during the day (like when I’m cooking dinner) I’ll look at her very seriously and say, “Hey is this real?” and tickle the crap out of her until she falls on the ground in a giggling mess. I love the giggling mess part. I will also throw in some pokes to the tummy and pats on the head just to mix it up, all the while asking “What about this? Can you feel this? Does this appear real? I just want to make sure.” It is awesome.

Every once in a while, I can actually tickle her away from the tipping point of a violent fit. This is dicey, and sometimes tips her right over the edge, but I’m getting better at knowing when to use it.

If you have found wonderful ways to help your kiddos, whether they’re adopted or not, I’d love for you to share them here. No fair keeping them to yourselves! Check the resources section for the helpful things I’ve found along the way, and have a great, fun-filled day.

 

 

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Excalibur

Mars

My oldest ran away this week. She’s run away multiple times (it’s her thing), but she’s never stayed away overnight before, which she did this time. She apparently landed at her friend’s house where I went to pick her up today and take her to the CALM center where she can stay until we (I, her therapist, her psychiatrist) get her a bed at a psychiatric unit that specializes in traumatized females. I’m a fairly tough individual, but days of wondering where your kid is, especially your kid who is ripe for re-victimization, just wears a person out. Our local police department had been to the house to take my report, then I’d filed paperwork the next day to generate an arrest warrant, and had another officer out the next day to advise me on what to do once I found out where she was. With a RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) kid, it’s not as simple as just going to pick her up. During this time I’d been holding down a fairly demanding job, and parenting my other two kids who were also freaked out that their sister had left.

So, I can’t tell you how pleased I was when I went to pick up my child to get a lecture from her friend’s dad about my parenting fails and his advice for overcoming them. According to him, because I’m single, I can’t possibly spend enough time with my children, and he was sure that none of them feel safe, secure or as though we have an actual home. I confirmed that statement a couple of times, because he was speaking on behalf of all three of my kids, two of whom he’s not actually been around for more than 30 seconds. In the same breath, he told me I should rent out a room in the house to a stranger, to improve our financial situation. And, finally, the best part, that I was clearly not attentive to my children’s spiritual life, because we don’t attend church, and that my children needed a “church family,” just like his daughter has.

So here’s the thing – unless you have raised a severely traumatized child for a minimum of six months, you have no idea in what world I and people like me live. It is a world as foreign to you as Mars. I don’t care if you’ve lived on the streets, made a million bucks, have three doctorates, are black, white or purple – your certainty of your understanding of our family and our issues, and supposed solutions, is absurd. You may have the best intentions in the world and fancy yourself a good Christian, but your unsolicited advice will ring false each and every time. And, you will do harm to a family who is already struggling.

The good news is that to be part of a much-needed support network for families like ours, you need to know a few things. Kids like mine are ridiculously good at manipulation, and they love control. And, I don’t blame them. Those are the tools that kept them alive through their early lives. However, they will say and do anything to appear victims and gain control of the situation. They have high levels of defiance. So, they will likely be very convincing when they charm the pants off of new teachers, therapists, friend’s parents, and neighbors. They’re like tiny politicians. And, after they’ve charmed the pants off these people they will carefully and skillfully convince them that their parent is a monster. They do this with husbands and wives often. Husband is charmed, kid only acts out when husband is not around, husband thinks wife is insane. RAD kids cause a large number of divorces. Hopefully, I don’t have to explain why this is disconcerting. I have friends whose RAD kids have convinced court advocates, psychiatrists, grandparents, teachers, etc. that their parent is an abusive monster to the point that human services is called and sometimes arrests are made. Thankfully, someone who has a clue usually intervenes, but not always.

The other thing that’s good to know is that, especially with single parents of RAD kids, we’re vigilant 24/7. There are no “down” days when you’re parenting traumatized kids. When you let your guard down, they go in for the kill. My daughter opted to run away days after we returned from a really lovely vacation to Chicago. She had a great time, appeared relaxed and comfortable, and then went into defiance mode on the trip back and didn’t speak for 12 hours. There is no rhyme or reason, so you have to be on guard all day, every day. Consequently, we’re a bit emotionally exhausted just about every day.

Finally, there is no magic pill or secret sauce for what ails a RAD kid. Not love, discipline, affection or religion.  I completely respect people for whom religion plays a vital part of their lives, and I’m not undermining those beliefs. I’m actually deeply spiritual, but I find God much more present in Chagall’s America Windows than I do in church. I find spirituality in the miracle that is my children and in how we found each other and became a family.

Keeping all this in mind, the very last thing a RAD parent needs to hear is that she’s failing her kids. My days, and the days of my fellow RAD parents are filled with doubt. Our parenting is basically an informed crap shoot, by necessity. For the record, we are just fine financially, and my kids are pretty awesomely secure. They’re also pretty self-sufficient, because I do not cater to their every whim. They see someone who takes time for her career and for herself, which is what I want to model for them. I think I kind of rock as a parent. I’ve had therapists ask to write theses on us, because my kids are doing so well considering their extreme histories. I know these things intellectually, but when you’re vulnerable, like I was today, it’s pretty tough to hear all the ways in which you’re supposedly failing your child.  I think sometimes people are certain about their answers, because it’s too scary and threatening to them not to be. To consider that the reality of the situation doesn’t have  a quick fix. But in this case, if you’ve not walked the walk, please do not attempt to talk the talk. In the words of my friend, Voltaire, doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.

Mars

Tightrope

Today, I had every foster/adoptive parent’s nightmare – getting a visit from the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, because I had been accused of child abuse. Someone called the child abuse hotline to say that there was a child in my home in handcuffs and shackles. What they didn’t explain to the child abuse hotline was that child was being escorted by two police officers to one of three waiting police cruisers. She was being escorted to a local psychiatric facility, because she was out of control. I’m not sure how the caller missed the two police officers on either side of my daughter, or the cruisers with their flashing lights, but he or she certainly didn’t provide that very valuable context to OKDHS. So, when the ladies arrived, I explained what had happened – that I’d just arrived home with my daughter. They are required by law to fully investigate complaints (for which I’m very thankful), so they proceeded with their questions. I explained my kids’ history, gave vital statistics, and showed them that my kids all had beds and that there was food in the refrigerator and pantry. Then, they interviewed my kids, which they’re required to do. I had already invited all three kids into the front room to laughingly explain what had happened, in hopes that it would transparently lighten the mood for them.  Because what was truly terrifying me about the visit was not what would happen to me, but what it would do to my children on a day when they’d already been seriously traumatized. My kids were removed from their biological parent’s home a day or two after Christmas about seven years ago. They were eventually split up into different homes, spent time in shelters, and sometimes with abusive foster children and with abusive foster parents. So, the very last thing my kids needed was the threat of being removed from me and my home. The very last thing.

The ladies were incredibly compassionate and gentle in their questions. They reassured the kids they could see the kids were well cared for, and the interviews were something they just had to do. So, all three of the kids answered very basic questions about whether they were attending school, if they had enough food, and other mundane things that I’ve honestly forgotten. I offered them coffee, apologized for my messy house, and then they were gone.

We’ve obviously had a tough day today. I’ve written several times about my middle daughter’s issues, and today’s were no different. Violent fit; police called; handcuffs and shackles; waiting for the third cruiser with the cage to arrive so she doesn’t kick out the glass in the cruiser; as soon as I’m out of her sight she calms down; arrive at hospital. What was especially frustrating about today was that there were no beds in our entire county for my daughter. I had already called the three hospitals who provide psychiatric care for juveniles, and none of them had beds. I called COPES and learned that they’re not mobile on the weekends. Eventually, I was told what psychiatric hospital was doing the “rotation,” this weekend, which means they are responsible for figuring out what to do with my daughter, whether they have a bed available or not, and we went there. While there, my daughter calmed, and she and I had a come-to-Jesus meeting, where I explained she can’t ignore her coping skills and throw fits once a week, or she’s going back to the psychiatric facility. She’s twelve and African-American. I’m terrified that if I don’t help her manage her anger now, one day she’ll have a violent rage at school or on the job, and someone who doesn’t understand what’s happening will shoot her dead. I’m hoping that our talk today is enough to help her make good choices, because I wasn’t sending her to another county an hour and forty-five minutes away, which likely would have been my only option. I didn’t complete papers to have her evaluated, because once I did, she would have been in the system, and I wouldn’t have had any control over where she went. It may have been a very poor decision, or a very good one – my parenting life is a constant tightrope. Our life is a circus without a safety net.

The tightrope that I and every other foster/adoptive parent walk is maddening, and one of the reasons I write this blog. I have friends who have been told by psychiatrists that their adoptive children cannot come home from inpatient psychiatric care, because they will be a threat to the other children in the home. But if adoptive parents relinquish rights to their adoptive kids, even in dire circumstances like those I just described, they will owe a substantial amount of child support to the State of Oklahoma until the child turns 18. What kind of option is that for a family? Last year when my oldest daughter was living in our garage (yes, our garage), I was threatened by an intake worker at a psychiatric hospital with a call to OKDHS. That was while I was trying to get help for my daughter who had just created a blaze at our house that required a couple of fire trucks to extinguish. Parents of “normal” children are likely cringing as they read this but when your kid is communicating online with strange men about all the sex acts she’s going to perform on them, and she won’t give up the stolen cell phone she’s using to stay online, then guess what – the garage is a nice alternative to being kidnapped into sexual slavery. It’s warm, dry and safe. It’s just not terribly comfortable, and it’s a pretty serious clue that your mom is going to stubbornly keep you safe from yourself and your incredibly self-defeating behavior. And, it worked ultimately. These are the kinds of creative parenting techniques that parents like me have to come up with every day, and if your world is not quite as gray or complex as mine, then that might look like abuse. Unfortunately, once someone like me has made the decision to adopt, there are very few resources, and lots of living between a rock and a hard place. Our state has a massive effort currently to recruit more foster parents for the 11,000 that are currently in care, but there are no additional resources for those parents. You’re just on your own. And, I’m ridiculously stubborn and resourceful. Consider all the foster/adoptive parents who are not.

After the kind ladies from the Oklahoma Department of Human Services left, the kids and I went to one of our favorite little breakfast places, because we were all worn out and starving. My kids ordered for themselves, then me. Then the very sweet waitress stopped writing, looked right at me, and said, “You have the most polite kids. I could wait on them all day long.” I thanked her and let her know, without sharing details, that we’d had a really tough day and that her words meant more than she knew. And then, the world’s most badass children and I proceeded to make our very own very good day.

Tightrope

Merry, Merry!

This time last year, my now 11-year-old was in the midst of a meltdown that would land her a few days later in the Reactive Attachment Disorder unit at our local psychiatric hospital, where she would stay until August. So, this year, thanks to remarkable therapists, psychiatrists, teachers, family, friends and people we don’t even know who have supported us through caring posts, we have made it to Christmas Eve with barely a hitch. I’m so proud of my kids. They’ve worked so hard to be emotionally healthy this year. They’ve joined in our December family morning mantra without complaining, “I am worthy. I am loved. Christmas is what I make it,” and have shown remarkable empathy and patience for each other. Though they will manage the heartache that comes with Christmas for the entirety of their lives, they are not letting it define them. My 11-year-old is currently sashaying around the house to the festive sounds of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and soon she’ll join me in the kitchen for even more holiday baking.

This year, in honor of all the hard work everyone had done to be emotionally healthy, we decided to do something a little different with our Christmas card. The kids and I decided they should pose like sad, little rich children out of a Wes Anderson film just to show our friends and family how seriously we take ourselves. The card was such a bit hit, I thought we’d share the photos here. Thanks to everyone who reads this blog and helps to keep me sane throughout the year. Merry Christmas (or whatever you celebrate) to you and yours!

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Merry, Merry!

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.

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.

Shadow Mountain