Music Hath Charms…

“There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.” ― Albert Schweitzer

It’s possible that this quote jumped out at me because I got two new kittens over the weekend but it was true for me before! And it also struck me because I am always fascinated by the bond between music and mental health and science. For example:

“If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.” ― Albert Einstein

The ability of music to affect our bodies, our mind, our moods is well-documented. This article lists 10 ways, some of which were surprising to me. There is even a whole bunch of conspiracy theorists who discuss the way in which music was written to brainwash people back in the early part of the 20th century based on harmonic frequency. I’m not going there…

But I did want to talk about how much music can help with mindfulness and calm for both you, your child and your relationship. From my own experience. 

When we knew we were going to adopt August, before we went to Russia, I enlisted the help of my friend Susan to make a mix tape. Yes I’m that old and yes it was that long ago. There were plenty of lullaby CDs out at that time but I didn’t want sappy baby songs or traditional lullabies. For one, he was already three. And for another, I was going to have to be able to endure them as well! So I collected beautiful music from my favorite artists. You’d be amazed at how many contemporary artists have written lullabies! She got to work putting together a full cassette of all my choices which was ready when we got home. I thought for sure it would send him drifting into La-la-land by song two. 

You know what kids with RAD and ADHD don’t do? That’s right. Sleep. They don’t sleep. That cassette would play one side, then the other, then the first side again and he’d still be awake. I’d have fallen asleep and woken up one or two times lying next to him. But at least I liked the music! 

We did bond over the songs though. He loved the tape and we sang the songs and others every night and he would pick ones that he liked for me to sing. Before he got more English proficient, the singing was a nice bridge between Russian and English. As he got older, we’d talk about music and his tastes and mine diverged greatly. But I tried to keep an interest and let him tell me about the artists he liked because it was a connection we could maintain because I loved  music too, even if it wasn’t the same style. Music is music, even if the style is different.

I use music now in lots of ways, as probably many of you do:

  • Stress relief
  • Background noise when cooking or cleaning
  • Ambiance for entertaining
  • Motivation for yard work or working out
  • Keep me alert while driving

And each of these occasions requires a different kind of music sometimes. For me actually not completely. My go-to music since I was six years old has been Simon & Garfunkel. My parents had the “Bridge Over Troubled Water” album and one of those stereos that looked like a piece of furniture and I played it constantly till I had it memorized. They have been my favorite every since and actually work for me in all those categories. But I will switch it up on occasion. 

I have friends who love heavy metal. I am not a fan but that’s their jam for working out or house cleaning but I can’t get around it. They love it and I suppose it would keep me awake while driving! 

But here’s the thing, the science behind this says that it doesn’t have to be Barry Manilow to be calming. Check out this article to see how music can be beneficial no matter what kind it is! 

I will be posting some of my favorite music videos (expect it to weigh heavily on the Simon & Garfunkel) in the Resources section. Please share some of your stories of how music has worked for you personally or in your relationship with your RAD kiddo. 

Until next time,

Shannon

Sending Your Child with RAD to Summer Camp

About a month into summer break, most parents can’t wait for those two blessed words…Summer Camp.  The knowledge that you are sending your child to summer camp which means a week of peace and quiet for you with no responsibilities is like winning the parenting lottery. But for parents of kiddos with RAD, that may not always be a possibility. Let’s discuss some of the precautions to take and some of the possible pitfalls. I’ll start with a story about August and camp.

August went away to camp for a week when he was in middle school. At that point he was on three different medications which he took both at night and in the morning. I remember standing in line to drop off the medications and thinking if he gets half these pills in him it will be a miracle. I also remember thinking that when I was growing up, I don’t remember knowing any kids who took medication. This line was huge! And it didn’t even include the kids who were just dropping off inhalers. The child in front of us was dropping off Tums. I remember thinking, “What could be so anxiety-producing in your short life that you need a regular diet of Tums?” Now I didn’t know the whole story of this child but it just seemed odd. But I digress.

After we got him into his cabin and he found his bunk and we got him unpacked he was ready for us to leave. One of the few advantages of RAD; there is no homesickness or tearful good-byes. We couldn’t leave fast enough in his opinion. The next part became how much to tell his counselor. Enough to warn him so he’s not caught off guard but might make him not like August from the beginning? Or not enough so August gets off on the right foot but this young man isn’t prepared for what August can dish out?

Decision made to err on the positive, hugs and waves good-bye and prayers for no phone calls during the week. Pick up the next week didn’t seem to include any weird looks or need to pull us aside. The strangest part was August coming home with some other kid’s underwear…

So there’s the one big “pro” why camp is a good idea: a nice break for you, your child and their siblings. Here are some very real “cons” to consider:

  • Medication delivery
  • Camp staff ability to handle RAD behaviors
  • Schedule/routine disruption
  • RAD wanting same kind of entertaining/attention upon return home
  • Similar triangulation found with teachers or other professionals

If you decide that an overnight camp may not be right for your child at this time, a day camp might be a good alternative. Most cities have a variety of day camp options including general YMCA-type day camps as well as specialized camps dedicated to particular sports or interests.

There are also therapeutic camps designed specifically for RAD kiddos. For example, Nancy Thomas who is considered an expert in the field of Reactive Attachment Disorder runs a series of them over the summer. You can find that list here. I have no experience with them but if you do, please share in the comments It would greatly help other families. I would recommend looking at camps that are specific to RAD. They’re out there. Camps that cater to autism or general mental health issues or children with “behavior issues” are fine but as we all know, RAD is a whole different animal. Quite frequently even trained staff won’t have heard of it. 

I have added a resource page to the site where I will be adding lists of books, camps, treatment centers and other helpful tools as I come across them. If you have any to share, please send them my way. They are by no means endorsements but just a one-stop easy access place to see what’s out there. To head over there and see what’s there now (which isn’t much, don’t get all excited!), click here.

What it boils down to is you know your kiddo and your level of sanity. Would you rather stick it out another week with them at home or send them off to camp and spend the week on pins and needles hoping you don’t get that phone call? August did summer camp away three times I think and I never got the call. Doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have; just means I didn’t. 

Until next time,

Shannon

 

Reactive Attachment Disorder In The News

I am using the third Wednesday of every month to talk about how Reactive Attachment Disorder is showing up in the news. Fortunately or unfortunately, it doesn’t all that often. I say that because when it does, the news is never good. There’s no stories about breakthroughs in treatment or NIH grants or doctors who are dedicating their life’s work to the disorder. The stories are about children who, through no fault of their own, have done something that seems monstrous. This requires the family to do something which in turn makes them seem even more monstrous. And the misunderstanding of RAD continues.

This story from Texas from this past April was short and sweet but I’m sure the parents seem both wonderful and horrible for their actions. Watch the coverage for yourself here. You’ll notice there’s a link at the bottom which will take you to more information about the facility where their daughter is currently living.  

In the past, I have seen some other news stories about children with RAD which have made my heart break and my skin crawl. The mother in Tennessee who put her child alone on a plane back to Russia because she couldn’t control him anymore. That story you can read here. And it’s got a different name but it’s not just an American issue. Read the story of a UK family here

I could fill this post with links to articles. The point of this post is that the news about Reactive Attachment Disorder is never good. Maybe that shouldn’t be surprising given how little effort is being made to understanding and treating the disorder. I wasn’t surprised to read that the family in Texas said the doctors they went to hadn’t heard of RAD, It was August’s fourth therapist that diagnosed him with RAD. This is plus two primary care physicians who’d seen him over the years. Also school counselors and other specialists. Nothing in what we were given or told by the adoption agency prepared us for what we experienced as he got older.

Getting onto the front page with positive stories about children with RAD will probably always be a struggle. I know a man who lives nearby and also writes a blog about his early traumatized adopted children. He has a son who is doing tremendous work overcoming his challenges through running. He’s getting terrific press for his accomplishments. We need more of those. Please check out his blog here.

August made the news when he got arrested. I heard from a lot of friends who recognized him from his mug shot. It wouldn’t have explained away what he did, but I would have loved the chance to talk to the press about his history. What he’d been through. Not to gain sympathy but just to inform. My bigger goal beyond this blog is to work with law enforcement to help them understand RAD. Particularly in the juvenile system so they can see these children in the proper light. Some day.

Climbing down off my soap box now. My request to you is when you see children in the news that have done horrible things look at anything written about their family history. Children aren’t born wanting to hate and do bad things. They just aren’t. 

Until next time,

Shannon

 

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Summer “School”? – Let’s Do Math!

I love math. But I continually find I am in the minority. When I was working in advertising I remember a young Account Coordinator crying in my office saying, “I got into advertising because I thought there’d be no math!” And believe me, advertising was nothing but math. And  you might be getting the same from your children during the school year! So how do you get them interested in math over the summer when it’s already been a battle? Of course, you have to make it fun!

Since August is adopted, I can brag about him without sounding egotistical. He’s insanely good at math. He can do calculations in his head freakishly fast. The biggest problem he had in school was having to show his work. He could always get the right answer in his head; he just didn’t know how he got it and he couldn’t show you how. His fascination with money was the root of this math wizardry I think, so it’s not that he came by it with good intentions but hey, however it worked, right? 

The great part about math is that it is everywhere and there are opportunities to work on math and be very sneaky about it! Depending on the age of the child you can find ways to build math knowledge and they may never even know they were learning. For some great ideas, check out this article from Great Schools. Things like cooking, estimating how many beans are in a package of jelly beans, adding up prices in the grocery store and more all engage children and allow for great connections and conversation around the topic of math.

But for the child who just can’t get away from the screen…maybe on the long car trip or in the doctor’s waiting room, there’s an app for that. Some children just do better on their own and that’s OK. Common Sense media has this list of the best math apps to help boost math skills over the summer. Sometimes we all need the quiet that some screen time gives. If it includes some learning, all the better!

Money Bags Game

Last week we talked about what to do on a rainy day. It could be educational! There are a lot of board games that use money not to mention having to count how many spaces to move your little guy around. Depending on the age, try Monopoly, Life, Pay Day, The Allowance Game and Money Bags. All involve a variety of math skills and allow for the whole family to connect and play!

The biggest part of helping with math skills over the summer is getting out of your own way with disliking math. If you don’t like it, they won’t either. So work it out for yourself, play a game, and “add” math to your fun-filled summer!

Until next time,

Shannon

Getting Outside and Your Mental Health

When I was little I was a  nerd. A book worm. I played piano and I loved puzzles. I wasn’t what you would have called an “outdoor-sy” type kid. But I had this spot in a weird tree-bush in my back yard that I loved to climb up and sit. I could nestle there and read or sing or dream or spy on the cute boy next door. And there I found comfort and peace. 

I also loved to go camping which we did fairly regularly. Food tasted better cooked outside for some reason. I loved fishing and I loved ice skating on outdoor ponds while my dad went ice fishing. Maybe I was more of an outdoor type than I thought!

August at a state park near our house whacking at things with sticks!

August is a HUGE outdoor kid. He loves being outside and it immediately calms him. I remember once the psychiatrist asking what his favorite thing to do was and his father replying, “Go outside and whack at things with sticks.” And that was pretty true. He’d stay outside for hours even by himself and never seem bored.

When he was having a hard time he’d say, “Mom I need to go run around the house.” And he would literally run around the outside of the house. And when he came in he would be a different kiddo. Calm, collected, ready to listen. It was like the outside exorcised whatever demons had hold of him. Nothing outside ever scared him. Except snakes. That child is deathly afraid of snakes!

A picture I took of a hummingbird at one of my feeders.

What is it about being outdoors that has the power to ease our minds and quiet our hearts? There are sounds and smells and sights outside that have a mesmerizing effect.

I have four hummingbird feeders next to my backdoor. I live in what used to be my grandparent’s house and my grandmother put them there so I have continued to keep them there and filled because hummingbirds return to the same locations year after year. Every year I fill them in late April and wait. And I am overjoyed when I see them arrive usually in early to mid-May. They are so tiny and so fragile and to watch them furiously flap their wings and hover over the feeders to eat is amazing. Hummingbirds also fight for position and will swoop down at each other and perch on my clothesline and wait their turn. I can feel myself get calmer and more centered in the few minutes I stop to watch them. They have no idea how much they help me.

You don’t have to believe my anecdotes to know the value of the outdoors to your mental health. This article discusses several ways that being outside can be good for reducing stress levels, boosting mood, helping with anxiety and more. And MentalFloss, one of my personal favorites for information, lists not only mental but also physical benefits (more than just exercise) of getting outside. Read about those here.

Sunset one night in my backyard.

The days are getting longer. Depending on where you are reading this, summer starts in just a few days. Take every chance you can, with or without kids, to get outside and enjoy the free therapy of the outdoors. Work as a family in the yard planting flowers, take the dog for a walk, take yourself for a walk, just sit in a chair at sunset and listen to the night wake up. You will be amazed at the results.

Until next time,

Shannon

Rainy Day Crafts for Bored Kids

Look like your kiddos?

If you’re like me, the worst sound in the world is when you wake up on a summer morning and hear rain. The plan was to go to the pool all day, or the park or some other outdoor activity that would run the kids ragged. Now, about 30 seconds after their eyes open you’re going to hear the two most hated sentences, “We’re bored,” and, “Can we play video games?” And for kiddos with RAD, this unscheduled time can be so hard.

Breathe. You’ve got this. While structure and routine is important for children with RAD, a little rerouting of the day is not a recipe for disaster. You just need to have something to do that will feed their needs for action and tactile play. So today, I am giving you…instant puffy paint.

Of course this isn’t the only choice, you can google hundreds of rainy day craft ideas but when I saw this, it looked like something I might do by myself it looked so fun. And the other thing I liked is that it required things that you most likely already had at home. There’s nothing like deciding to do something crafty only to find that it needs some ingredient or item that no one keeps around the house. So by the time you head to the store you might as well just go to a movie and skip the hassle.

Clabber Girl is made right here in Terre Haute where I live!

But you’re the super-parent and this is going to be fun! I promise. Here’s the recipe:

  • All Purpose Flour
  • Dash of Salt (around a teaspoon)
  • Water
  • Baking Powder
  • Liquid watercolors or Food Coloring

The amount of flour and water depends on the number of children. I read many recipes and most say a cup of each per child. If you use all-purpose or self-rising flower that already contains baking powder you may be able to skip it if you don’t have it, though some say it makes the paint puffier. However, just a tablespoon is enough. You want to whisk it thoroughly to get all the lumps out and the consistency is of pancake batter. Thinner is fine, it just won’t be as puffy.

Put the colored mixes in ziploc bags and seal and let the children help with the mixing. Make sure those bags are zipped! If it were August, I would add duct tape. These also become your painting bags (think icing a cake). Snip off the small tip of one corner and let the painting begin! You can use regular paper, recycled cardboard, just nothing metallic, of course, as whatever you paint on will be going in the microwave.

Image courtesy of happinessishomemade.net (I’m not that creative!)

The finished creations should be microwaved for 30-45 seconds, depending on how much paint they contain. Watch closely because depending on what the paint is on it could start to burn. The paint will be extremely hot when it is finished so a grown up will have to take it out and it will need to cool.

Now this may not fill up an entire rainy day. You may still need that movie or those video games, but its a good way to connect the family and share some laughs. It practices fine motor skills which RAD kiddos many times have issues with. And it creates some good memories which come in handy when maybe things aren’t so good.

Have a great weekend! Until next time,

Shannon

Top 10 Ways To Help Family Understand RAD

One of the most frustrating parts of having a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder is the feeling of living in a vacuum. Having to parent differently from other parents is one part; having children who don’t socialize appropriately often keeps them cut off from social groups. But it also means that even the closest family members are often distant because they can’t understand the child or how you have to or have chosen to parent them. 

How do you help your family understand RAD and what is necessary for your child to be safe and heal? Following is a list of ways to talk to your family which may help bridge the confusion and bring some new understanding.

  • Many family members believe that traditional parenting will work with children with RAD. They do not understand that your child may not be able to partake in activities that other children can. They need highly structured environments with firm limits. Rewards and behavior modification don’t work. It usually means that family believes that parents are either too hard or too lenient.
  • RAD children are control freaks. Their belief is that they must control their environment is key to their survival. Part of this may include triangulating with parents and grandparents to get what they believe they need or are entitled to. Extended family members need to be educated to what this is and how to recognize it in order to avoid getting trapped and affecting relationships.
  • Many family members believe that love cures all. The early trauma and abuse your child suffered physically altered their brain making the ability to give and receive affection almost impossible. Your family needs to understand this in order to know that this isn’t a quick “fix”. Love is unfortunately not enough.
  • As much as parents know, you still don’t know everything. You may have read everything you can get your hands on but each child is different. Your child is continuing through therapy and medication to change and grow and your family needs to understand there will be good and bad days. And you won’t be able to control that.
  • Your child will seem very “charming” and “delightful” out in public or with your family. That will seem very confusing with stories you may have told them. What they need to know is in these situations they are “shopping” for new parents or other adults they can manipulate. It’s very shallow and all for control and manipulation.
  • If we seem hypervigilant it’s not an overreaction. We have experienced things at home we haven’t told you and we don’t want those things to happen at your house or in public. For example, August stole a variety of things from his grandparents and ran up hundreds of dollars on their cell phone. They need to know how to be just as aware.
  • We won’t tell you everything that’s happening. We don’t want you to know how bad it is. We want you to believe that your grandchild or nephew is smart and funny and charming. We would rather you think that our child is wonderful and I am a monster.
  • Please don’t give us advice. Words like “Have you tried…” or “They’ll grow out of it.” or “Let me tell you what works” don’t help. We are working with psychiatrists and doctors and reading everything. We are doing all we can. We are as informed as we can get. And it’s not for lack of trying.
  • Sometimes the best our extended family can do is be there for us as the exhausted, overwhelmed parents. It may not be able to be babysitting. But maybe it can be bringing over food, mowing the lawn, taking the other children for a day (or a weekend!)
  • Our child is the love of our life. We are going to fight for them to be safe and healed no matter what it takes. We need you to understand that even if it means we make some unusual choices for their treatment. We need you to know that we only have the best of intentions but we need your support no matter what. Please continue to love us and support our family as we work to make our family whole.

Explaining August’s Reactive Attachment Disorder and his behaviors to our family has been one of the hardest parts of what I have been through. Why we chose residential treatment. Why he was stealing, getting arrested, behaving the way he was in front of them; in radically different ways to all the other children in our family. Trying to explain why he did what he did never seemed to quite get through. Certainly doesn’t where he is now.

Obviously family is hard under the best of circumstances. They will try. They might fail. You might too. That’s what being a family is all about.

Summer “School”? Part Two: Reading Fun for Everyone!

When August was little he would rather pull out his own teeth than read. He loved being read to but ask him to read and the nightmare would begin. Some of it wasn’t his fault. First, English isn’t his first language though he was age appropriate for English within a year of coming home. And between the RAD and the ADHD you could tell him how to read a word at the top of the page and he won’t remember it by the bottom. His short-term memory was non-existent. I’m sure it was frustrating. In elementary school there was a reading program where you could read a book then answer questions about it online in the library. August would carry around the biggest, thickest hardback book he could find and take a test on it, not having read a word, because he wanted to appear smart and well-read. He would always finish his tests first because he thought if he couldn’t get the right answers at least he’d have that honor.

It’s not uncommon for children with RAD to have learning issues. Usually RAD comes with bonus disorders like ADD, ADHD, ODD, FAS or any one of a multitude of other acronyms which make learning more challenging, particularly reading. So how do we keep reading interesting and how do we keep it going through the summer when there are so many other distractions that seem way more fun? Here are some tips that will help with reading but also with the all important task of connecting with your child:

  • Set a good example when it comes to reading by being a reading role model. We talked about this last Wednesday with our Summer reading list but reading isn’t just about books. Surround yourself with reading materials: newspapers, magazines and books should always be readily available, not just stuck away on dusty bookshelves.
  • Provide a reference book to the things you talk about. DON’T GOOGLE IT. When you talk about presidents or a science fact, hit the library and find the book that has the answers. There are books for every age level on almost every topic. If you can’t find it ask; a child who watches you follow a librarian through a library will start to see that person as a superhero!
  • Make a bookstore or library trip an event. Lunch and the library as a regular summer outing. When the boys were little there was a great drugstore with a soda fountain down the street from the library. We’d go there either before or after the library. The boys could get hot dogs or PB&J and chips and often the wonderful man behind the counter would give them free ice cream. They’d spend an hour in the library finding the books they wanted because we made it an outing not just an errand.
  • If you are reading and you find something you think might interest your child, share it. If you know they love weather (August was fascinated by it in first grade) and the characters in your book are going through a tornado, read that passage. You can edit out any inappropriate language on the fly but your child will be thrilled at hearing something they are interested in and from a “grown-up” book. And you are connecting with them in a whole new way.
  • Have a family read for leisure time. Show that reading isn’t a chore. Maybe it’s a half-hour after dinner. Dishes can wait. Cuddle up with a book on the couch all lined up together. Let your child pick anything they want, even if it’s the insert packaging to a video game just as long as they are reading and sitting beside you. My mom used to let me stay up an extra half-hour if I would read. It was a bribe but I bought it. It made me a reader and I am forever indebted to her for that.
  • ALWAYS have something to read-for you and your child. I know the smartphone is the go-to babysitter for long lines or traffic these days but how about a book or magazine? Again, modeling good behavior isn’t that difficult. Pulling out a book (even that joke book we talked about yesterday!) shows that reading matters and no time is wasted when it’s spent reading. Get the big bag lady purse and be prepared!
  • Talk about their need for reading in the future. What do they want to be when they grow up? Will they need to be a good reader? Almost every profession-doctors, lawyers, mechanics, teachers, firefighters, baseball players, rock stars-all need to be able to read well. Understanding that level of importance may help them learn to take on the challenge for themselves.

If you aren’t a reader, this is the time to become one. You may not be aware of it, but even if you don’t feel the connection with your RAD child, they are watching. Everything you do and say is being recorded, positive and negative. And you might even find that what you didn’t enjoy in your youth, you find a new love for when you can share it with your children. Grab a summer read, cuddle up with your children and dive in!

Until next time,

Shannon

What is Self-care?

My house is falling apart. I don’t mean figuratively. My house is literally falling apart. It started last month with the water heater. Annoying but a typical home repair issue. But it took a month to get it fixed. The day it got done…and I mean THE DAY…one of my garage door openers stopped working. It’s still broken. Since then, the water pressure in my kitchen sink has slowed to a crawl.  There’s a leak in the drain of the upstairs bathroom sink AND that faucet sprays water everywhere. The A/C condensate pump is making a loud noise (just got that replaced last year). And there’s a broken window on the back porch.

Oh and did I tell you I have 15 or so relatives coming for the July 4th weekend?

Now I didn’t explain this looking for a pity party…though if you’re hosting I like Merlots and dark chocolate! But in the world of parenting a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder, we’d call this Tuesday. It’s Spring Break right now so maybe there might be the idea that things are calmer but the morning may have started with the raging because you picked blue socks for them to wear instead of yellow. Or the plan for the day is a trip to the zoo instead of the pool. Or that camp they were begging all year to go to they now refuse to attend. Or it’s yet another battle over taking medication. It could be something very minor to you but it has become a catastrophe to them.

If you manage to handle that crisis, your day has just gotten started. Maybe you have a 9-5 job to get to. Already stressed and frazzled, you have to pretend to waltz in like you got a full night’s sleep, woke to birds singing and a calm quiet cup of coffee while you leisurely read the morning paper before you got ready and came on into work, ready to hit the ground running. 

Maybe you are at home with your littles (which we all know does NOT mean you don’t work!) and you’re trying to do some housework while they play outside until you hear the screaming. Which is about five minutes in. You rush outside, mediate whatever issue has arisen and go back to your chores. Lather, rinse repeat. Every five minutes for an hour until you realize this is accomplishing nothing and you surrender and get ready to head to the zoo.

Now an outing with a RAD kiddo can be like trying to nail jello to a tree. Their impulsive nature and fearlessness will always lead them to wander off or try things that scare you. It’s hard to remember in those moments that it’s not them really; it’s how RAD has them wired. You run after them and shout cautionary demands all day until you can’t put together a coherent sentence. 

Back home, you may or may not attempt a family dinner after this kind of a day. Bless your heart if you do. Because you still have bedtime to get through. and RAD kiddos are not sleepers. If you get them down without a double digit number of attempts, take the win. 

So with a day like this, where yesterday looked pretty much the same and tomorrow is likely to be a repeat, what can you possibly do for self-care? How can you keep your head above water, your sanity intact, your willingness to get up tomorrow and do it all over again preserved, when every day is chaos and stress?

Well, in my case, I painted. Not pictures, I’m about as creative as a rock. But I have wanted to finish painting my stairs and upstairs hallway and landing which I started two years ago and yesterday I got on it. I don’t know how to fix an A/C unit or a garage door or a leaky sink. And I don’t have the money to do all of it at once anyway. But I had the paint and the time so I painted. And the satisfaction of seeing some progress on that project that I’d put off for so long felt so good. Seeing that one spot of my house looking complete and pretty helped me feel calm and relaxed for just a little while.

So here are my tips for self-care, not big grandiose ideas like massages and manicures (though definitely do those things every chance you get) but little ideas for self-preservation:

  • Do a thing, anything. Wash a dish; even one. Put away one piece of clean clothing.
  • Do another thing, anything. Wash a second dish. Hang up a jacket. Fold a towel.
  • Breathe. Inhale for four counts. Exhale for four counts. Do it as many times as you can until the screaming starts again.
  • If your children are old enough, go in your room and lock the door. Lie down on your bed. Laugh. Cry. Scream into a pillow. But have some kind of large loud emotional response to your day for two minutes.
  • Keep a joke book in your purse. Bad jokes. When things with the kids are getting tense pull it out and read some. People cannot be angry with each other when they are laughing together. DO NOT use your phone for this purpose.
  • At the end of the day, write down (or if you’re not a journaling-type), think about 3-5 things you are grateful for.

We deserve combat pay. I firmly believe that. We have the invisible-and some visible-scars to prove it. But we persevere because of our intense love of these also deeply scarred sweet children of ours. We cannot protect them without protecting ourselves.

Until next time,

Shannon

Vacations with RAD Kiddos

So you have a sweet, adorable boy of let’s say, six. And while he’s charming and fun and hilarious and lovable in so many ways, he’s also prone to impulsive actions. Like he’ll push any button that he sees. And he grabs at things. And he can’t figure out “inside voice”. He doesn’t like transitions, so making him pack up or stop a movie or move is an ordeal. In addition, he’s got a quick temper which doesn’t mean he just gets angry. He rages. Red-faced, screaming, hitting, cursing, throwing things fits if things don’t happen like he wants. And you can’t calm him down because he won’t let you. He blames you for not giving him what he wants and doesn’t trust you. Let’s get in an economy middle seat with 200 other passengers for a four-hour plane ride.

Maybe you decide to drive instead.

Now this same child is also fearless. Since he doesn’t trust you, he also doesn’t feel like he needs you. Except for money which he wants all the time for everything because he does feel that his love can be bought. Which is the source of constant conflict even with an 8-year-old. Because he’s super smart and manipulative and sometimes if his love is for sale, you’re buying if it’s the only way it can happen because you’re so desperate for it. Then you try and be the good parent and instill some values and say “no” so the conflicting signals aren’t helpful and you’re back at square one. But the fearless, control-freak child isn’t phased and he’s just as strong-willed as ever and could carry on whether you’re there or not. Except for the money. Let’s take this child to Disney World.

Maybe we’ll just go to the pool.

Yes, of course what I have just described was my own story. And the trips didn’t go quite as horribly as I described but they had their moments. The plane trip was heading home from visiting back East when we lived in Oregon. We flew out of Indianapolis and it involved a short hop to Chicago then a long flight to Portland. We got stuck on the tarmac in Indy for over an hour on a small-ish commuter plane. My younger son was not quite two so we were waiting as long as possible to pay for a seat for him but he was a big boy and a walker. We weren’t all seated together so he wanted to walk back to his Dad and August and while doing so fell and busted open his lip. Blood dripping down his sweatshirt. When we finally got to Chicago, we’d missed our connection and had to wait for the next flight which we weren’t sure we could get on. We were wait-listed. So we had two small children, one with blood on his shirt. August, because he didn’t like transitions, peed in his pants twice. And because I’m the ever-hopeful mother, all his meds were carefully stored in our checked luggage. We even tried to go get them from the baggage guys. He was the one guy who assured us we’d get home that night.

Disney was after we’d moved back East. We were smart enough to drive! We went to the park every day plus the other parks. We blew it out! And everyone got tired, and cranky. And then it started. The boys fought. Their dad got mad at the fighting. I got mad at that. August has an endless amount of energy and when we all ran out of steam he was so mad that we couldn’t keep up. His brother didn’t like the big rides and August got mad that those weren’t the only ones we rode. It was all about him. And then trying to keep up with him. He didn’t understand how scary it was there. His fearlessness was terrifying because he didn’t need us around (except for the aforementioned money). He did want company on the big rides which was nice but honestly he would have be OK either way.

The points of these stories is that vacations with RAD kiddos can be rough. So you need to consider what they are capable of and more importantly what you are capable of. Here are the best tips I can share:

  • Be Realistic: You know what you can manage. And you know what they can manage. And they may be seeing all their friends going off to Disney but if that’s not going to create a good memory for your family, don’t set yourself up for failure.
  • Keep It Simple: Even if you do go to Disney, you can do it in a way that minimizes the stimulus and chaos. You don’t have to do all the parks. You don’t have to go every day. You don’t have to go all day every day. Make sure you are taking your child’s issues into account when you are planning your vacations so that things like transitions, medication times, schedules stay as close to normal as possible. This makes for the best possible outcome.
  • Invite Extended Family: Ok, for some of you I might have said the thing that would make your vacation horrific! But, there is also the “many hands make light work” philosophy. Especially if you have other children. Asking grandma to come along so that she can take the other children to the zoo one day while you take the RAD kiddo to the pool can help everyone have a good time.
  • Take Care of Yourself: Make sure you are keeping yourself healthy. Mentally, physically, spiritually. Remember you are taking yourself out of your comfortable space as well when you go on vacation. Take some quiet time to read or meditate, bring essential oils or candles, whatever will keep you calm and centered during this hectic time.

I’d love to hear your ideas for how to handle successful vacations with your RAD kiddos or your funny travel tales!

Until next time,

Shannon