Mommy 2 Cents

Mommy 2 Cents

0 comment Thursday, April 17, 2014 |
Adopted children can be big on control. They have learnt that adults aren't trustworthy and are therefore damn sure that they can do a better job than you. At anything and everything. There are lots of ways that their need for control can manifest itself and most of them are pretty annoying. Let's take a look how the need for control, however subtle, can be part of a simple trip out ...
It's a warm and sun-drenched, if windy, Sunday of a Bank Holiday weekend. Husband and I are going with the kids to a Cotswold village called Broadway, for a bit of an outing. The plan is to wander around a bit looking in shop windows and buy an ice cream or cake or something, and if that goes well then drive up to Snow Hill Lavender Farm for a drink, before heading back home. Keep it simple. Don't expect too much.
It takes us just under an hour to get there and all seems well. Then we get out of the car. My son, a bit of an adrenalin junky, wants his ice cream now, right away, this minute. It is explained to him that we are looking around the shops first, then doing ice cream after that. But he can't leave it alone. Explaining doesn't work, distracting doesn't work, and so in the end it's the old failsafe - 'if you say the word ice cream once more you will not get one.'
We have wandered by this time into our first shop, a kind of Past Times meets National Trust gift shop. Daughter and I are cooing over all the pretty purses and trinkets and stuff. Son's mood has gone from excited to destructive. He keeps saying everything is rubbish or stupid, keeps touching things, looking at me, subtly threatening to damage stuff. He flops his feet loudly on the floor when he walks and he blows raspberries. He is not getting what he wants and so he wants to spoil things for the rest of us. I say to my husband something along the lines of 'can you please get this vile boy away from me.'
We leave the shop, wander along the High Street. The coffee shops and pubs are doing good trade today and along the pavement there's an ice cream paddler and an Italian market, selling olives and cheeses and such. We enter another shop, one that sells fancy stuff for the kitchen, and I tell daughter she can let go of my hand here. She lets go of my hand, but she will not let go of my attention. She wants my attention on every thing her eyes fall upon. If I wander on to look at something she calls me back to look at what she's looking at. She asks me what things are. She asks if she can buy things. It's not possible for me just to browse because that would mean, for my daughter, that my attention was elsewhere. That cannot be allowed.
We leave, cross the road, and start wandering up the other side of the High Street. Horror of Horrors, there's a toy shop! Husband and I say that we don't know anyone who would want to go in there and the kids giggle and get all excited. We go inside with them and they start to go a little crazy with this sudden abundance of fun items before them. They want this, no, they want that, no, they want that instead, or maybe, they want this, or that. Or this and that. They're both quite lovely to watch, abandoning all self-consciousness to happiness.
But! No buying things until after the ice cream, and no ice cream until after we've wandered all the High Street! So, we leave and wander on.
I keep passing shops that I would love to browse inside, but I know that would be a hiding to nothing. So, now, we go for an ice cream. Except daughter wants a cake, suddenly. All the coffee shops and such are busy, but the ice cream vendors out on the High Street are not. I tell daughter we're having ice cream from the vendors and I explain to her why. Daughter's mood darkens. She doesn't want stupid ice cream from the stupid ice cream vendor. Why can't we go into a shop and get an ice cream. She starts pulling on my hand and dragging her feet. I tell her it's ice cream from the vendor or nothing. She continues to pull down on my arm, trying to assert some physical control over me.
We buy the ice creams (for two children who have suddenly gone very quiet) and hang around on the sunny, breezy High Street that is exceptionally pretty, lined with its honeycomb coloured buildings and its trees in blossom.
Inspirations strikes! The children know that they cannot go into a shop whilst they are eating their ice creams! And so I leave them with their dad and go browsing in one of my favourite shops. Alone. It feels so indulgent and I happily buy a large fat white cathedral candle. I would have bought a couple more 'nice things' but I know the kids will find that hard to handle as they are only allowed to buy one item.
Meanwhile, daughter is still eating her ice cream. As punishment, I presume, for not getting her way over where the ice cream was purchased, daughter is eating her raspberry ripple in an exceptionally slow manner. She knows we can't do much whilst she's still eating and she's so happy to keep us hanging around. Control over all of us! Awesome!
Except, not. I tell son he can go buy the thing he wants to buy with his dad whilst I stand and wait with daughter. She really doesn't like that and her ice cream disappears in seconds.
It's been a success, relatively speaking, and so we head off to the lavender farm on Snow Hill. Daughter's mood is still a little dark. The surprise of entering a cafe and being told she can choose any drink she likes momentarily throws her. Perhaps she'll just relax and enjoy herself for a bit. But then son chooses the same drink as daughter, a strawberry milkshake, and now daughter wants to keep hold of the particular carton that she picked up. Literally. I am carrying a tray with a hot drink and a glass bottle on it and she is trying to keep her hand on the milkshake carton, also on the tray. It's silly and it's not safe. I order her to go and get a table with her dad, she has a little tantrum. I insist, and she goes.
By the time I have paid for these items and join my family at the table, her mood has got even darker. Nobody would sit where she wanted them to sit.
We're done with our drinks long before daughter is, but again, she soon finishes up when she sees me take son to go and have a look in the gift shop.
We start the drive back home along the long flat top of the lavender covered hill, with spectacular views of the Vale of Evesham far beyond it. Husband puts the radio on and starts searching for some good tunes to play as we race along the bright country lanes. But daughter cannot have this! Heart FM is what we usually listen to and Heart FM is what she wants on now! Husband picks up a station playing a Eurythmics track and he tells the kids that this was one of his favourite bands when he was a teenager. But it's not Heart FM! So daughter starts to complain loudly over the track that husband is singing along to. I turn the music up.
That does it! TANTRUM! She has been continually thwarted in her attempts to control things and this is the last straw! She cries, she wails, she shouts. We ignore, ignore, ignore. She keeps it up for several more songs and when she finally gets it that this isn't going to get her what she wants, she shuts up and puts her coat over her head.
We'd kept all stress to a minimum. The kids weren't tired and they weren't hungry and the place wasn't especially busy. Excusing the drive there and back, we were only out for about an hour and a half. But still they couldn't relax. With daughter I get the impression that her mind is always racing, trying to figure out what her options are and how to get what she wants. With son, I suspect he's ruled by a fear of boredom and gets anxious when no adrenalin hit is in sight.
This is a fairly typical day out for our family. In fact, it's pretty much one of the better days out we've had. It's sad really, that they can't just enjoy a sunny afternoon out with mum and dad, lap up the ice cream, enjoy the drinks and the drive. I used to love it when our family had daytrips like this when I was growing up, although it didn't happen very often. I don't ever remember causing a fuss when an ice cream was bought for me, I just remember being very pleased about it.

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0 comment Wednesday, April 16, 2014 |
Went on another course last Wednesday, again run by Louise Sydney, psychotherapist and specialist adoption consultant, and I do dig his stuff.
One thing I wanted to put down in writing was his suggestion for keeping stress levels down, because then I might actually remember to do it.
He suggests a meditative/reflective five minutes to help keep us in a 'good place'. Five minutes of doing nothing but watching your thoughts, mentally checking your body over, and listening to the sounds all around. No distractions like books, or TV, or having fantasy arguments with people in your head (a favourite pastime of mine). No having a snooze. No planning the next days activities. Just you being with yourself, checking how you are. Louis said something about it fusing the left and right thinking parts of the brain, and husband, who used to study tai chi, says that such meditations do actually alter your alpha and beta brain waves.
I've tried doing it whilst in the shower or cleaning my teeth, but I felt nothing. You have to just sit somewhere, I think, and give yourself the full focus of your own attention. Imagine that!
I'm not much into airy fairy hippy stuff, but the fact that there might be some science behind this encourages me. I really want to find a way to deal with the negative stuff that keeps popping into my head and surely even I can find five minutes twice a day to be still.
We'll see!

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0 comment Tuesday, April 15, 2014 |
This week Daughter has decided not to eat or drink. Despite my best efforts to keep things calm and scheduled, it's still a stressful time of year and Daughter not eating or drinking is a way for her to feel more in control.
Both of the children keep complaining of feeling sick. They are fine whilst they are doing something they want to do, but the minute it comes to doing something they'd rather not (in Daughter's case, eat) then out come the tummyaches and the tears.
In a week that has seen me having to get other people to babysit whilst I do a couple of hours work in the morning, this has been somewhat annoying. I understand that me going to work, added to the time of year, has unsettled them, but I really don't think that being taken to McDonalds by the grandparents should be a cause for such upset. Not in a nine and ten year old.
That's the Bullshit was referred to in the previous post.
At the beginning of the week I kept feeling waves of anger at their controlling behaviour. I felt very keenly their need to protest that they couldn't do exactly what they wanted to do, when they wanted to do it, and to punish me for doing what I needed to. It didn't matter so much to them that they had a super week lined up, because getting control over me and my movements meant more.
Luckily for all of us I've been far too busy to vent any vexation and have managed, despite having much on my mind, to bring myself around to accept that this is how things will be this week. I am in control, no matter how much they protest. And if Daughter was physically ill, I wouldn't be angry at her lack of appetite. As it is, it's her precarious mental health that makes her feel compelled to starve herself, and that is just as deserving of my understanding.
When school starts again in January, both kids stress levels will come right down as an old and familiar routine comforts them. I no longer worry we've lost ground. This too will pass.

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0 comment |
Son was moody all Friday night and ended up screaming himself to sleep. In the morning he kept being moody and cheeky to his dad, and had one almighty tantrum, complete with slamming doors and screaming once again. He wasn't much better on Sunday.
His Dad had a word with him, what was the matter? Turns out he's fallen out with his best mate at school and there was some sort of physical altercation in the playground, hence his behaviour with us all weekend. Just goes to show, we can do everything right at home, but if something out of our control upsets him, we all get it in the neck from him anyway. We just can't seem to move him towards dealing with life's little problems in a more proportionate, age appropriate way.
Whatever happened between Son and his best mate was not the only issue in the playground last week. Daughter ran out of school before the bell had even ended its last ring on Thursday, wetting herself with excitement to tell me that Son had smacked her across the head at playtime. Between the two of them a story emerged that went something like this: A girl in Son's year approached Daughter to ask her to stop Son from hitting her, Daughter went over to him and he whacked her, whereupon Daughter told a Dinner Lady who made him apologise.
I am worried about Son's liking for whacking other kids in frustration at playtime. This is far from the first week this sort of stuff has happened. I have alerted the school to my worries, verbally and in writing, and today I phoned up again and gave the Learning Mentor chapter and verse about his latest behaviour.
My hope is that, as Son can behave himself in the classroom in front of a teacher, that if he knows teachers at school will get to learn about his bullying behaviour at home, then this gives him motivation to control himself. I would also really like for them to keep an eye on him at playtime, or even just keep him in, reinforcing the message that he cannot be left to hurt people.
We'll see. I still think it will take a major event before the school really take me seriously.

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0 comment Monday, April 14, 2014 |
I had this idea that if adopted children experienced therapeutic, attachment-focused parenting, in the context of a loving and stable home, from a Mother who was always present, then the children would flourish and begin to heal as time went by.
No matter how tough things were, I always had the luxury of thinking they will get better and would imagine using babysitters more, having the odd weekend away just me and the Husband, and a time when I could leave them unsupervised giving me more freedom. It won't always be as intense as this, I would comfort myself. Whilst my children will always have special needs, I could console myself that their needs would become less over time.
So, my thinking has been in need of a reboot. When Son first came to us we learned too slowly that he could barely cope with life. My ideas of fun, action packed weekends doing stuff with the kids had to be revised into plenty of downtime, plenty of rest, plenty of calming jigsaws and boring fucking board games. I wanted their lives to be full of Beavers and acting classes and parks and daytrips. But when it became clear that Son couldn't even cope with the pressure of having to brush his teeth at night, all that had to be revised.
I thought it would get better over time, that he'd settle and want to do more stuff. I thought this because that was what I wanted to happen and because that was what the professionals - who at the time knew my Son and Daughter better than I did - said would happen.
I realised too slowly that that wasn't happening. I see now that he blatantly wasn't coping with a life beyond jigsaws and boardgames at home. All his oppositional behaviour and his infuriating ingratitude was all pointing towards the fact that he couldn't cope with the life we were giving him, but I didn't get it. I even once threatened him with taking away all the treats in his life if he didn't stop being such a little shit (didn't quite put it like that to him, but that was the gist of it), so that he could learn to appreciate just what he had. Little did I realise then that in effect that was what he was asking me to do.
Son's life is once again just about calming little games at home. I have thrown away two plastic bags full of rubbish, containing all the broken crap he had destroyed and had cluttering up his room. I have taken the posters he hadn't yet destroyed down from his walls for safe keeping. I have moved all his books and some toys downstairs. The Memory Box, full of special things, which he threatened to destroy, has been taken away. I am restricting the TV and there is no wii or ds. I have built in times which he and his sister spend apart, sometimes with me or dad, sometimes alone. At weekends he is staying home, and either me or Husband will take Daughter out. I am not asking him to do homework. He can keep his Friday Sports club, but I will stop that if it appears that even with support he can't handle it. We are not inviting people over and we are not visiting others. I am not buying him the treats he used to get and reject. His life has stopped, for now.
For neuro-typical well-attached children, this would be cruel punishment. For my Son it appears a blessed relief. He is calmer.
I find myself grieving for the life I thought we were all going to have. I am depressed. This is not how it was supposed to be more than two years in. He's supposed to be doing Scouts by now, and learning to swim and karate, and we're supposed to be looking forward to do foreign holidays and camping and walks in the country. He can't even handle a trip to Tescos.
So, another great lesson on the adoption journey. Prepare to make your life boring forever for the sake of your children's mental health. They don't teach you that on the preparation course.

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0 comment Sunday, April 13, 2014 |
I've heard a lot about all of us having a 'default position' that we regress to when under stress. I've realised that I'm avoidant. I shut myself away in my room. I go for a long drive. I don't answer texts or phone calls. I'm horrible to people around me so that they leave me alone. I call it my 'flunk' and think of it as falling into a dark abyss That's difficult to get out of.
My kids have their default positions too, and they're pretty distressing to see. My daughter feels physical pain. Under stress she'll suddenly get hysterical about a hitherto unnoticed skin abrasion or make herself fall to the floor pretending she's tripped. My son gets angry. He throws things around and he screams and screams and screams.
Unfortunately, all three of us have hit our default positions this week. The kids are loving their Sports Club but it takes it out of them. It's stressful to keep up their 'coping' persona all day, and they are shattered by the time I pick them up at 4pm. I HATE pick up time. At least one of 'ems always ready to blow. This is how the week panned out:
Monday: Son was up in the middle of the night, probably because of his excitement at going to the Sports Club next day, so even without a day of running around, he was always going to be knackered. He started off by being rude to me at pick-up, escalated it to defiance after tea, and then upped it to hysterical screaming during shower and bedtime, including the line 'you're hurting me, you're hurting me' when I entered his room to say goodnight. That was nice.
Tuesday: Screaming when he realised he only had a normal amount of time on the wii, and had to go to bed at the usual time. The deal had been that if he could handle extra time on the wii and a later bedtime, then he could have it, but I didn't consider his behaviour yesterday to constitute 'handling it'. Told him that if he could hold it together at showers and bedtime, then he could have the extra time tomorrow, after which ensued a battle inside of him between good and evil. Oh my goodness how he so wanted to tantrum and scream but on the other hand how he so wanted extra wii time and a later bed. The good won. Just. With much chuntering and mutterings under breath.
Wednesday: Daughter came out from club obsessing about some crisps she'd been given (long story) and I do mean obsessing. When we got home I took the crisps off her and said that if she ever said the word 'crisps' again she'd never have another packet as long as she lived. To which she fell to the floor and began bashing her feet on the ground toddler tantrum style, screaming and crying that HER LEGS WERE ITCHING. She's nothing if not logical, my girl.
I verbalised two observations. The first was that she wasn't tantrumming because her legs were itching, she was tantrumming over the crisps. The second was that as son was not tantrumming today she obviously felt the need to fill the slot. Then she tantrummed about having pasta for tea. Then I lost it.
When the kids lose it, I keep calm for them and help them regulate again. When I lose it, no one does that for me. I have to find ways to get myself out of it. So I had a fag out of the window, took some Syndol for the pain caused by my brain which - for reasons unknown - seemed to be trying to jump out of my head, and slept for twelve hours.
Thursday: The morning was a smorgasbord of default stress positions. Daughter was crying about pains in her tummy, my son was being defiant over every routine matter, and I was a wall of hatred. It didn't make for a good day at home on my own after everyone had gone off to do their various things. But when I picked the kids up, something miraculous... we had all seemingly decided to call a truce and went out of our way to be nice to each other. A perfect evening.
Friday: Son very teary, dangerous close to tantrumming on the way home. I observed that this week was like a tantrum fest, and that daddy was the only one who hadn't had one. Suggested to son that as he'd had two days of tantrums this week, maybe he should let dad do the tantrumming tonight. A bit of humour worked. We made it through the evening OK.
So far this weekend we've had the usual attentions seeking, defiance, silliness, and tonight we had screaming again, but at least none of it came from me!
I was thinking that we don't just have one default position, we have two. One for when we're under stress and one for when we're not. I think maybe in their birth home my kids got plenty of practice at their stress default position. It is very easy for them to fall into their stress responses, because they used to be there all the time. But what is a struggle for them is to keep in their non-stress default position. They're not used to being happy, or enjoying themselves for long periods of time. It's probably a bit scary to be happy for too long. Hopefully That's something that will change in time. Like the rest of us, they'll always have a stress default, but I think it only fair they get the other default position too.

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0 comment Saturday, April 12, 2014 |
Reward systems do not work with children like mine. All the Star Charts and stuff, children like mine do not have the intrinsic wish to do well and so they don't work. Instead, my children instincts are to manipulate and sabotage. They don't think they can do well, maybe they don't think they deserve to do well, and so they set out to prove that. They also do not like any exertion of control over them, and will fight it, even if it means them missing out on stuff. Much better to thwart the adult than trust them.
However. Son's casual attitude towards the aggression he thrusts upon his family as and when he feels like it, is not something that can be left. He's not doing stuff in a complete rage anymore. He's making a choice. I don't mean to say that he's a horrible child, I just mean to say that he's decided to tackle life in a horrible way, and as he has said a few times... there's nothing I can do about it.
Well, that may be so. But I have to show him some authority, I have to provide some boundaries. Threats do not work. There is no punishment I can threaten him with that beats anything his birth parents did to him. He isn't scared of me and never will be. Not that threats and punishment are my style anyway. I have a kind nature and intend to use that as best I can.
And so, I have set up a 'system' of reward for every day when he doesn't Scream, Hurt Anyone, Back Chat or Break/Rip Anything. There are also rewards for expressing bad feeling's in a safe way, which are Use Your Words, Have A Strop, Take Time Out and Cry. The system allows him to win "smiley faces", which he can accumulate to get certain privileges. The idea is that he doesn't get punished for being horrible, but if he wants certain nice things in his life then he has to earn them through his behaviour, but also that he is allowed to express Bad Feelings in a safe way. No one around here wants kids who are expected to keep it all in.
Daughter has been included in this too, though she hardly needs it. She's doing fine.
The first week worked like a dream. It went pear-shaped at the end of week two, with Son acting like the list of things not to do was more of a target to achieve. Then week three started off badly because Daughter deliberately wound up Son so that he would lose his smiley face. I struck her off, so that she can't earn anything at all this week. Hopefully that will stop her doing that again.
I don't know how long it will last, or how many times the kids will try and sabotage it, but at the moment it's all we've got. I'm pretty sure that the wish to earn a smiley face because he really wants me to do something for him this weekend, was the thing that kept Son in check last night and stopped his awkwardness from turning into nastiness.
It's the only thing I've got for school pick-up today. Friday's are the day Son always really kicks-off and the only thing I've got to stop him is to remind him to earn his smiley face.
My hope is that if he can get into the habit of expressing his Bad Feelings in safe ways, and even practice being happy, then this will become his normal state, and the nasty stuff will eventually fall out of use.
You've got to try, haven't you?

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