Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Managing Holidays and Minimizing Meltdowns

The holidays are too much for many of our kids. Though it seems to us regular adults from regular childhoods that this should be the most wonderful time of year, for a kid who struggles getting though a normal day, getting through a series of high-expectation days with multiple events is stressful.

I have learned a few things over the years about managing the holidays with a child who has Reactive Attachment Disorder, Bipolar Disorder and DSM-NOS. Things which have worked to help Genea remain on the planet during times of stress, and I thought I would pass them on. I'm not an expert and I don't even play one on TV.

With holidays and school breaks, schedules are haywire and can knock kids off track for weeks, even months. Most childcare professionals will verify- kids who are sensitive  to change often destabilize this time of year.

First and foremost, be mindful that your RADish will probably struggle. Work from the perspective that there will be problems  and try to contain them before the fallout. Anticipate. Think to previous years and plan. Understand what is causing the blowouts and why.

RADishes do not like change!
My RADish (affectionate term for a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder) does not like change. She has every day scheduled to be exactly the same as yesterday. It might seem as if a  holiday like Thanksgiving where my little food hoarder/sneaker can eat all she wants would be a positive. However, the overriding feeling will be anxiety due to change in schedules, locations, people and rules.

But.. but... but... it's Christmas! She's getting presents! How could she flip out about that? That was my question until I realized, it's because of the changes. All change- even good change- is bad.

When things are predictable, she feels safe. Even though she knows it's Christmas, maybe she didn't realize that meant her regularly scheduled breakfast would be at 7:05 instead of 7:00 and there would be a parade to watch on tv instead of her usual cartoon. A typical kid wouldn't think twice about it but for the child with RAD, one change means everything could change, and that is dangerous.

Anxiety always comes out.

When your child starts up with provoking behaviors, incessant demands and/or does bizarre things it probably means she is feeling unsure and unsafe.

So what do you do? You talk it through at every opportunity. Describe every single thing  ahead of time. We are going to Grandma's house. We are taking the blue car and leaving our house at 12:00. It will be a long car ride and I want you to bring a few books. We will try to drive straight there without stopping. When we get to Grandma's, remember her 2 dogs will bark at you at first. We will not eat right away, it will be about 2 hours after we get there but she always has snacks out for you right? She's having ham and those mashed potatoes you love (and sweet mother of tequila, those potatoes better be there) for dinner. These are the people who are coming.

But wait! Do not tell her too far ahead of time because then she will freak out anticipating The Day of Changes. For Genea, usually the night before a big event is good. Sometimes, the day of. Seriously, rarely more notice than that. Where you have anticipatory anxiety you have a meltdown.  Or twenty.

The other thing that helps is to commiserate. You know change makes her feel nervous. It is hard! You don't know what to expect when things are changed up and you aren't sure the people in charge will take care of things. But you, the parent, will be there to help her.

Do what you have to do to keep the chances for failure at a minimum.

My child could not control her urine when stressed. Even though she was 7 and fully capable, unfortunately her continence was always one of the first things to go. We used protective garments at the homes of other people. If she didn't need the back up, she didn't need it but if she does it will not ruin the whole day, her clothes, or the furniture of others.

Know your child's signs of stress and look for them.

Genea can look perfectly calm, even happy, on the outside. I know she is feeling anxious because her pupils dilate. That may well be the only sign at all that she is internally dysregulated. And where does all that go if left to fester? After all, she looks good on the outside, why not take that for the truth? Here is why: because the meltdown is coming- it never just fades away. Maybe not at Grandma's for Christmas, but the next day? The next 7 unstructured days at home without school? Oh yeah, you will feel it!

Check in with your child often with physical contact.

I am always amazed when I casually hug Genea and I can feel her heart thumping like the drummer from a death metal band has moved into her chest cavity. Another cue she is feeling stress! I make her sit  next to me and I firmly hold her. Not forcefully, but as the adult in charge. We might discreetly work on breathing or counting. I will have her place her hand on her chest to feel her heart beat and work on slowing it down (I call that biofeedback for the poor, lol). I'll slowly "draw" the infinity symbol on her back, purposefully crossing the medial line to engage both sides of the brain.

We might escape to a bedroom and close the door and do some strong sitting in quiet.  We can do quick brain shifts or some academics. I might ask her to spell "frog" or use the math trick. The answer doesn't matter in the slightest- it will shift the brain out of panic and fear and away from fight/ flight/ freeze. Other ideas- ask her favorite color, favorite tv show, etc. Think of it as driving a car with a manual transmission (good God, why do those things still exist). If the car is in 1st gear going 45 miles an hour you are going to wind up with a messed up car. You have to shift to bring it into safety.

Other things that have helped Genea and I survive:
  • Keep visits to other homes short. Short.  Short as you can.
  • Plate your child's food for her. A buffet style or family style meal is going to overwhelm and freak out your little loved one.
  • Keep as many rules from home as possible. Example- we have a rule that you have to try everything on your plate with one bite, then you can decide not to eat it. Awkward and annoying to keep that rule at another persons home, but rules are reminders that someone is in charge and the child is safe.
  • Try not to "let it go because it is a holiday". I have wound up with 2 ungrateful, overstimulated brats on many occasions thinking I was giving the gift of fun and freedom from structure.
Get over the idea that this is your holiday too and you should be able to have some fun. Maybe you will, maybe you won't. Yes this will all be a lot of work. No, it probably isn't fair.

What about pushy relatives?

Those that are sure your RADish needs a fistful of crackers and you are just being too strict, you know them? They spend half the holiday trying to convince you that you are too hard on the child, you need to loosen up. Or the other where your child runs off totally out of control and just needs a good spanking. I have two lines that I have found will stop all opinions, second guessing, and unwanted "help".

1. Say this with your head tilted to the side and try to look tragic.

"You know, she will just never be totally sure that we won't abandon her too. No matter how long it has been she still doesn't quite fully believe we will always bring her home. Our rules may seem odd but she functions so much better with them".

Without fail, the "helpful" relative will make sad clucking noises, look off into the distance, and wander away. I think the it helps kick open the door that reminds people, we are not working from a regular box of chocolates here. Half the box isn't even candy.

2. Looking helpless or a little doubtful, shift the focus (blame) off of yourself.

"Mmmm hmmmm, her therapist (insert whatever professional you want) says we have to 'blank' for her to get better. You know, after all she's been through".

Around my relatives that will move immediately into a discussion about this feelings crap in society now-a-days, psychiatrists are nothing but drug pushers and the Big Pharmaceutical Companies are running the world. 

I realize the above ideas may turn folks off completely. Do what works for you. This is what has worked for me. 

Now, on to gifts!

Around here, my kids get a lot of gifts. What a problem, right? No, it's not something I complain about. However too many new things at one time overwhelms them. Then they wind up playing with the box or an old cat toy from way under the couch. Spread it out.

We will do our family gifts 3 days before Christmas. No one has ever been arrested for opening gifts early. Winter Break from school starts five full days before the actual holiday this year- that's a long time and I'm sitting on a pile of new toys? Gifts mailed out from relatives get opened two days before. That will give the kids most of the next day to play with their new stuff.

I know many people feel they should be teaching their children delayed gratification. That kids should darn good and well learn to wait and they'll be better people for it. That is totally valid, and I get it. It's true. My thinking though, is that my daughter spent the first year and a half of her life in abject neglect. She was forced into a life where delayed gratification was the standard. Only it wasn't a new my- little- pony doll, it was food that was insubstantial. Hugs that never happened. Non existent stimulation. She knows too well what delayed gratification is because it damaged her brain and torpedoed her development.

New Segment- What to Give Her

I often lurk around facebook pages for parents of children with RAD, and this is a subject that comes up regularly. What can you give a child who destroys toys? Or the child who rarely plays with toys? Or the child who places no value on "things" and will lose it?

Whenever people ask what my kids want I will tell them a few specific items if they insist, otherwise we request experiences. Actual physical things to do. A week of dance camp. A card for ChuckE. A pool membership or swimming lessons.   Zoo or museum memberships. Spa cards to get manicures together. A salon card to get a streak of green in the hair. Horse riding lessons. Donation to a charity in her name. Have a few of these handy so when people ask, you can supply a website or phone number.

Some folks feel it is important the child have something to open on the holiday. Actually, the unknown of a wrapped package can be stressful. At any rate, suggest those things be small and inexpensive. Thrift stores are a fantastic source for cheaper than dirt kids books.

Anyway, like I said, these are the things that have worked for us. You may have already tried every single thing on the list and none of it worked. For me, it's about maximizing the fun and minimizing (not eradicating!) the meltdowns. We will absolutely still have fallout, but if we try to work out the problems ahead of time and have a plan for the other stuff, it helps.

I actually wrote this a few years back, but to this day we still do most of the same things. I've updated it and added a little. Of course Genea is older now and able to respond better so that helps.  At this point, I can straight up ask her what would help her manage her anxiety and she will come up with her own idea's. Age limits apply, but for us the boys and girls club helps greatly to occupy days off with structure.

Last thing. Let's be certain there will never be a statue for me unless it meets the same fate as Saddam Husseins. Today Genea told me she was feeling stressed because of the changes coming up this week. Then she pointed out that I get "super frustrated" when we are going off somewhere. This makes her nervous and then I get frustrated with her. Notwithstanding the fact that I have to be the brain for 3 extra people, get everyone and everything ready, she's right. I get frustrated and it shows. I will work on it.

So, opinions? Suggestions? What has worked for you and your family that is not typical? Fill me in, I will take all the help I can get!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

This post is about a cat.

Comparing your child to an animal is something only the most ill- mannered parent would do. So I won't. This post is about our cat, Bindi.

Bindi was approximately 2 years old when she came to live with us, about 18 months ago. Nothing was known about her first year of life except that she was picked up as a pregnant stray. She spent some time in a foster home, had her babies, then was moved to an animal shelter where she stayed in a cage. She was fed and cared for, but not really cared about. Cats were rotated out to stretch and jump around, sometimes "handled".  I have no idea how often.

When she came to live with us, she stayed in her own small area at first. Mostly she hid for a few days, and when she moved around it was behind, under or in furniture, and only along a wall. A year and a half later, we've all gotten to know each other. Things she does, little quirks and big quirks, began to look familiar. Is "shockingly" a word? Shockingly familiar.

Per the listed requirements for residence in the Midwest, I have a big-ass recliner to watch TV from. Bindi loves to lounge on it with me, but only across the top part of the back. Possibly she feels safer being above me so if I decided to do something stupid, she would have the advantage. Anyway, once a month-ish, I pull her down and lay her across me. Her purr sounds like a diesel engine with these cute little high pitched hiccoughs interspersed. She squishes around to settle in and lets me scratch her head/neck/ears. I get 5 minutes, give or take 30 seconds, and She. Is. Done. She scrambles onto her feet and jumps over to the couch where she flops down out of my reach and out of my sight. She never returns to her perch above me until the next day.

Why does she jump away? I've shown her I'm safe and reliable, not prone to startling movements!

She wants to be petted. Only when she wants to be, is a person allowed. She lets us know she wants attention by dramatically hurling herself across the area you were about to walk over. She's a talker, so she writhes around chirping her little sounds, trying to look cute while completely blocking you from anything else. Pet her, rub her chin, and she bites you when she's had enough. Ouch. If you are not a smart person (don't ask how I know this detail) and keep trying to pet her anyway (since she is still purring like a Harley Davidson) she will remind you with a swift slash of claw. Human skin is soft.

Why would she hurt me? She seemed so happy, it makes no sense.

Pet her firmly, with heft. She will smash her head into your hand to increase the pressure. When she rolls around, shows her tummy and gives the Pet Me Now look, it seems like she wants you to rub her tummy. She does not. Every person in this house has made the mistake. Once.

Seriously? What's with the mixed signal there?

She doesn't like our other cat Boo Boo. Growling, hissing, and that ungodly screech that only cats seem to make. She attacks him randomly. She wears a collar with a bell so he/we can hear her coming.

She shouldn't try to hurt Boo Boo. Brothers and sisters are supposed to love each other!

She likes secure places, where she's surrounded by something.

Why does she need that? She's been in a safe place for longer than she was unsafe!

She doesn't like to play. She'll destroy stuff though.

She doesn't use toys how they were intended. When she does play with something she wrecks it.

She's scared of storms and doesn't care much for high winds either. I'm guessing she was caught in a storm when she was homeless but we'll never really know. Was she hungry? Wet? Was there hail? Did a raccoon trap her? When she's scared she hides or paces. She doesn't sleep. Don't try to calm her.

Ok really? Say she was caught in a storm. That was years ago and she absolutely has not encountered a drop of vertical water since then. She can't possibly remember it but anyway, she's safe, warm and dry now and it's been years!

She's hungry all the time. When her dish is not full she paces, scratches furniture or walls, and hollers. Loudly.

(food is very low in this picture but I don't have a better one)

Obviously she is always fed. Always. Her weight is direct and irrefutable evidence. Why does she act as if she is going to collapse in front of deaths door?

She wants to be by us, but only barely. She follows me around if no one else is home but won't ever sit with me.

Gosh that part is frustrating. She's always there, twisting under my feet or following me or running ahead of me only to abruptly slow so I trip over her. Yet when it's easy, laying on the couch or something, she will have no part of it.

With Genea though, it's all different. When it's time for Genea to come home, she waits by the door. Sits with her, waits for her, sleeps in her bed. Maybe hurt beings recognize other hurt beings.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Too Many Good Things

"I don't like it when too many good things happen in a row. It makes me feel nervous".


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Everything You Ever Wanted

When someone asks you "how has it been now that you've adopted your son/daughter"? The answer is supposed to be "Its everything I ever wanted", which makes the phrase a great title for Jillian Laurens new book, Everything You Ever Wanted.

It's a memoire about the adoption of her little boy from Ethiopia. There aren't any unicorns floating on rainbows made of fairy wings in this story. We wind through the authors start in life as an adopted infant, through some wild years (putting it mildly), and into her marriage and desire for children. The little boy she adopts has significant challenges, and she truthfully describes the realities. Her writing is like art, her masters degree shows. You feel the pain and the love and the charm all together.

Honestly this book hit close to home for me. I found myself laughing at familiar scenes (even ones probably not intended to be funny), commiserating with others, and breaking down towards the end. I love the way Jillian Lauren writes- it's how I imagine I would write had I that level of talent. One sentence carried so much insight I had to stop reading to think about it. Writing of her own birth and subsequent adoption, she says....

"To be so unwanted and so wanted at the same time can carve a fault line in you".

Imagine my surprise to read of my IRL friend Christine Moers in there! It seems Ms Lauren is a blog reader and at some point contacted Christine, which turned into a friendship as well. So, we have a mutual friend!

At any rate, I was sent a copy of this book to review and I adored it. I'm struggling with how to describe it, so if it sounds weird, well, I warned you. It's such a good story I wanted to read fast to see what would happen next, and yet the phrasing and descriptions made me want to slow down to take in all that the author intended with her word choices.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

towards trust

Of the 997,000 issues that have come out of this here "adoption journey", a big one has been the pathetic lack of helpful information. With Genea's history, the diagnosis of Reactive Attachment Disorder was tossed on the pile early. But what to do about it? (I eventually wrote my own book *shameless plug* Parenting Pandora ).

Books, research, multiple doctors, therapists, etc helped, but didn't actually make a difference with the day to day. So many vague concepts,  my head popped off more than once. Build a relationship! Develop trust! Be loving! Okay, maaaaaaaaybe I could figure out what to do with that advice had my newly adopted daughter come equipped with mental stability, but she did not. How do you do any of those things when the tiny little slip of a girl rips the book away from you and knocks you over the head with it, instead of having a loving moment reading. When everything you suggest, say for example a million dollars with a scoop of ice cream, is met with NO! and leads to a shrieking meltdown.  When you hug her she recoils. Kiss her cheek, she wipes it off. Pat her gently on the back and it's like you set her on fire. Um, ?

And so I was reactive. Ahem. That's my code word for flipping my own shit, screaming back, yelling, freaking out and so forth. Stay calm? Is that supposed to be a joke?  Did Chris Rock say it? I felt like she needed to know what result her actions had, that everyone has a limit and you cannot keep dragging them there. She wasn't getting it, I had to try harder. Her "theory of mind" was non existent and she had to learn nobody is going to put up with this shit!

I misunderstood, that it was not about her testing limits and boundaries. It was about her testing my trustworthiness and I did not pass. There are tons of groups on facebook for RAD parents or people with RAD. It was on one of them that I read from a young woman who said that her constant pushing was to try to make her parents blow up. Her perspective was that if she could make you angry, then she was actually the person with control in the family. Since the parent was unable to maintain control, they could not be trusted and she had to stay in charge.

I'd known this, but for some reason the lightbulb exploded over my head and I really understood it. If the adults cannot be trusted to control their own selves, SHE was sure not going to trust them. No adult could help her who could not stay in charge through her tests. In my case, the tests were  relentless. I could hold it together through 3 or 4 episodes, but by number five (usually an hour after waking up, seriously) I'd blow from the cumulation and together, Genea and I became an avalanche.

Okay then, that covers what not to do, still leaving my persistent question- "what TO do?".  These days, I try to mix it up I guess. Tell a joke, change the subject, move away, send her on a task, get her doing something with me. None of that is really teaching her how to manage, but defuses the situation and it helps. If she will not be distracted, I send her to blow off her steam in another room (incidentally, a reason for never putting away laundry, we use the laundry room here and there as a 'calm down place' and the  piles of clothes make for a great acoustic shield! I know, lots of people  don't approve of the separation, but I cannot let the tantrums of one person hold the rest of the family hostage. Cue end to the longest parenthetical ever).

Let there be no mistake- I have no pedestal to lug around with me. I am a yeller who comes from a long line of yellers. It's in my epigenetics. Many times (a day *ahem*) I have to almost cauterize my vocal cords to keep from yelling and I OFTEN fail. But I'm trying. Yelling doesn't help and usually makes the situation worse.  This information about trusting only the person who can remain in control gives me a little more ammunition to try harder.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Just... fail

In conclusion, it is apparent that I am a ginormous fail in all things domestic, up to and including the very ground this house sits upon.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Dear Carolina

I was sent a new book to read, y'all!

"Dear Carolina" is a story by Kristy Woodson Harvey about two women, Khaki and Jodi, whose lives become permanently spun together following the birth of baby Carolina.

It's not easy to describe the pregnancy of a young alcoholic and keep the reader liking the character. Likewise, when the possibility of adoption came up, it felt like I was rooting for both women equally. An author has to have considerable skill to pull that off with topics so easily judged.

There are unexpected pops of humor, and the book is loaded with "southern-isms", which is a word I just made up. Just when you think the story has settled down, another twist flies in to keep things interesting.

Its the sort of book that is easy to read and moves quickly. Yet I kept finding bits and pieces jumping around in my brain later and realized, A is connected to B, but also to J, Q and possibly E. So while its a great summer beach read, there are depths and complexities that surface when you're done.

I'm not going to say anymore because I'd have to give away story details to do it!

So! I recommend it!
Here's the link!


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Now featuring theft!

And so, as we whittle our way through the list of symptoms that make for a diagnosis of RAD, we have moved into stealing. Woo hoo?

For most of her life with us, Genea has only shown the stealing habits of a typical kid but with her DSM- NOS spin. You know, swiping cookies, taking her sisters toy, that sort of thing, but with the exponential that RAD seems to add to everything. Once she took a full orange juice carton into the bathroom, slammed every last drop and left the carton weeping on the floor. We dealt with it firmly, so of course that led to a host of wonky/wtf thefts. Crackers under the bed! Binged through a box of cookies! 2 inch high crumb trail leading to her room!

This past summer though, with the Middle School of Doom approaching, she went off the rails in about 90 directions and one of those directions involved Things That Belong To Mom. So normally, we have been lucky that our RAD does not single out "MOM" for her RAD fun but has always divided it equally between The Husband and I. Sure, most people think of winning the lottery as lucky, my perspective is skewed.

While I can maintain a poker face for just about any offense Genea can think up (which took hella practice and could rescind itself at any time) , I made a rookie error late last summer and absolutely flipped my shit on her.

She had stolen my candy bar.

Not just any candy bar, but one of those uber fancy chi-chi foo-foo handmade by a glitter fairy candy bars. The kind of thing you buy yourself once a year to make just one day suck less. Dark chocolate with the perfect amount of caramel and sea salt, I pinched off tiny little crumbs to indulge in, meaning to make it last. This candy bar, I tell you, it was an orgasm for the mouth. Then it vanished.

I tried, really I did, to maintain composure as I cornered the two potential criminals and noted one no longer had beautiful brown eyes because her pupils had been replaced by 2 black cantaloupes. My poker face devolved into Freddy Krueger face and my voice may or may not have elevated to where only dogs could hear it. I. Was. So. PISSED! And so, I sabotaged myself.

Most of the Pre- Middle School of Doom behavior has faded, but stealing has evolved and progressed. No candy is safe. Box of candy for my birthday? Swiped. I left a few dollars laying on my desk. Swiped. Now expanded to lifting cash out of my purse in increments of 20. Jewelry? Gone.

Maybe it's me being stubborn, but I REFUSE to lock up stuff. It's my goddam house (though seriously if the issue were knives or antiques or something, it would be different). I can prevent her from stealing things I lock up sure, but it is guaranteed she will find something else. I wouldn't be surprised to see her hauling my couch down the street. In therapy, she blames me for the thefts. She doesn't steal from daddy because he doesn't leave stuff out. HE thinks I should lock my stuff up too.

Here's the thing- it's not impulse control. It not lack of cause and effect. Its not because she's hungry or needs something we are not providing. It's to "get" me. She actually told her therapist, "I know Mama is the one who loves me the most, so that's why I do it". Don't bother re-reading that looking for the logic, it's not there. It's RAD logic, push-pull on steroids sucking a crack pipe.

We quickly and uselessly moved through the usual. Natural consequences. Manufactured consequences. Room time. Restitution. LOTS of restitution. Banking money ahead of time. Moral discussions. Lectures. How-would- you- like- it conversations.

What is sorta- kinda working now is a combination of things. Manufactured Natural Consequences, like, "I'm sorry you can't go to your voice lesson today. You stole the money I was going to pay for it with". Hitting it heavy in therapy. Paying me back with chores. And traps. Cookie traps and money traps. I tell her I set out money for her to take and she resists stealing it, proving to us both that she can stop herself. High, super high structure with any free time being used for calming meditation. Since she has to be supervised, she has to go to bed early because no one can watch her. In my bizarro opposite world all this is actually easier than the usual day to day, and harder for her.

(that's me not reacting in the moment)

Oops! Almost forgot- If anyone has advice, suggestions, tips etc., for the love of Xanax,  puh-leaaaaase share!


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