Another Christmas Apart

I went to see August on December 21st. The prison system allows for visits every two weeks. His brother was coming to visit on Sunday and I wanted to get to see him as close to Christmas as possible. His father and I had sent him some extra food and clothing items from the ordering system that we can order from back in the middle of November and they still had just arrived. He was excited to show me the new shoes we had gotten him. He said he wasn’t going to wear them until our visit. It was so cute.

I got there a little later than I planned because the traffic was really bad. Families traveling to visit for the holidays since school had just gotten out the day before. I imagined I was the only one on the way to the prison to visit my son. Since he’s been moved it’s over a 90-minute drive to get there. And remembering in the morning to take off all the jewelry I always wear, don’t put on the underwire bra, bring the $20 in quarters and the driver’s license–all the things that will be necessary to get admitted in–is a nerve-racking ordeal.

He was in a pretty good mood when we finally got in the room together. He’s been on a tattooing frenzy recently. Apparently there are some talented artists in there and August has bartered for quite a bit of work all over his body. He has asked for pictures to use as examples for additional work and our visits always include updates about the latest additions to the canvas that is him. I know it could always be worse but the idea of that sweet baby skin getting permanently covered with black ink drives me nuts.

There’s also always some arguing when we visit. His anger and frustration at his situation lives just below the surface. And his solution is far from rational. He wants revenge on anyone he thinks has wronged him and in a violent and impulsive way. He doesn’t care about consequences. And he thinks he could beat someone up and get away with it. His psychopathology lives that deep. He sees no value in not wasting that much energy on those negative feelings. Its the side of him that scares me.

Ending the visits are always sad. This one moreso because of the holidays. I knew I was going home and the next day his brother was coming and we’d have a happy Christmas together. And this past Saturday, my extended family gathered together in Cincinnati. August knew we were going to be together that day.

We talked to August on Christmas Day and he remarked that he was spending another Christmas in prison. It’s been so long since he was home for a Christmas I can’t remember when. The sadness in his voice was so hard to hear. I talked about how it was up to him to make sure it didn’t happen again. He knows. I just don’t know if he can do the work to make the changes he has to make. Reactive attachment disorder runs his brain. I always hate what it’s done to August’s life but this time of the year more than ever.

Maybe next year he’ll be home. Maybe next year I’ll wake up with both of my boys under my roof. I don’t know. Some of that is up to August. And some is up to the powers that be in the justice system of the State of Indiana. But we mark another holiday this way. And I am thankful he is safe and warm and not hungry. Happy New Year to all of you.

Until Next Time,

Shannon

The Family Christmas Letter

‘Tis the season, right? In comes the floods of cards and letters from your friends and families with their pictures and the letters. The family Christmas letter. In the last decade or two it has replaced the card. It’s now the way to sum up all that has happened during the previous year. Because just wishing you the best for the coming year wasn’t getting it done. And food and little league and school pictures on social media weren’t enough either. The family Christmas letter is that place that puts a neat red and green bow on the whole year.

But, oh, the pressure! One of my favorite sayings for RAD families is , “Don’t compare your real life to someone else’s highlight reel.” And never is that more true than receiving the family Christmas letter. Have you done it? You open it up and your heart sinks. Here’s how it goes:

Bob and Trish both had amazing years. Bob got a promotion (AGAIN!) And Trish was named volunteer of the year in the county school system. She chaired the Fall fest, the Spring fest, the prom, graduation, the boosters. And she raised the most money of any parent in all the fundraisers! Little Sophie is already on pointe in ballet at three years old. And Bobby Jr. is being scouted by the Cardinals from his all-star performance little league this year. He’s getting straight A’s in fifth grade and has made his commitment to Christ at Our Lade of Heavenly Perfection Church. We are so proud…

Whew!

Now of course this is a huge exaggeration but doesn’t it feel that way sometimes? Doesn’t it feel like everyone else is living a life that just sails along so smoothly with children that never have any troubles? The biggest thing to remember is that it’s really not happening that way. These families are not living these perfect lives all day, every day. And while you may want to run away and get adopted by them, the grass is not always greener on the other side.

If you were a fly on the wall in one of those “perfect” family homes, I am sure you would hear some disagreements. I’m sure you would hear the children get in trouble. And of course I am sure you would hear stress and anxiety in the voices of the parents. Because no parent can go through life without worrying. It comes with the job. Yes, a lot of it has to do with our children. But a lot of it also has to do with how we choose to respond to that stress and anxiety as well.

So what can we do? It’s December 13th and we may not have one decoration up or one gift bought. Maybe you haven’t sent any cards and the thought of doing a whole letter give you a headache. You know what? That’s OK. Keeping up with the Joneses isn’t your job. Having the perfect house with the perfect tree or perfect Menorah and table might make you feel a little better but it’s not the most important thing that’s necessary for your holiday.

Do you need to send a letter that ducks the reality of your RAD family life and paints a rosy picture of your lives? Of course not. Don’t send one at all if you don’t want to. I haven’t sent one in a while. Of course I have this blog so anyone who wants to know what’s going on can just peek in here! You don’t have to compete with anyone and you don’t owe the world some white-washed summary of your life. You are raising traumatized kiddos and fighting everyday for the healing of their little minds. That’s your successful year. Don’t worry about whether or not anyone else thinks it means you’re not doing anything. The people in your life who matter know. Your children.

Until next time,

Shannon

Talking to Family about Gifts

This holiday season it is impossible to get away from the barrage of ads and offers of everything that a child would ever want. And every TV, radio, newspaper, onscreen ad, store and mall is filled with ads and products designed to encourage buying. And lots of it. So how do you talk to your children about keeping the buying to a minimum? And even harder, how about talking to family about gifts?

When August came home and then Spencer was due right after Christmas, we were like a UPS depot at the house. Just about the time the presents stop coming from August’s arrival, then came Christmas. We were a name drawing family. But my grandmother thought that everyone should buy for August AND for Spencer who hadn’t even been born yet! I put the stop to that. I didn’t want to start the boys down the path of expecting a blow out Christmas every year. So, I explained that the boys would go into the name draw just like everyone else. August hadn’t even met most of his relatives yet. And I was going to be too pregnant to go back East for Christmas so it was going to still be a while before he did.

It helped a little bit. But then there was Spencer’s birth followed by Valentine’s Day and Easter and I swear it was Memorial Day before the boxes stopped coming. So early on it was hard talking to family about gifts.

So what do you do when your family needs to understand the unique situation with your RAD kiddo where gifts are concerned? As August got older, he’s figured out the connection between asking for gifts, getting gifts and emotions. And with manipulation being one of the RAD tools of the trade, it is very easy for them to use that expertise at the holiday season. The idea that love can be “bought” is very easy for them to grab onto.

Hopefully you’ve had some conversations with your family already about the different attributes of RAD so tailoring the conversation to the holidays shouldn’t be so complicated. Explaining that RAD behaviors don’t get suspended during the holidays shouldn’t be hard. In fact, it might be good to prepare your family that they might be heightened.

But back to presents. Talking to family about gifts will mean setting some ground rules about cost. And the type of gifts you want your RAD kiddos to receive. For example, we were concerned about August’s fascination with guns. So we asked that he get no video games with guns or toys that were guns. Sometimes that meant over-ruling his list! Of course we didn’t always let him know that. And his list was always huge so most of the time it was easy because there was no way he was going to get everything on it.

As he got older he started wanting money. We wanted to make sure it was for a specific purpose and that he was being practical. One year he wanted a Nintendo DS. My grandmother thought it would be cute to give him $50 but all in $1 bills and in multiple packages. The woman behind us at GameStop wasn’t nearly as pleased when he counted out all those ones to buy it!

The point is that there is definitely an opportunity with the holidays for the structure and rules you have put in place for your RAD kiddo to go off the rails. Well-meaning family need to know that it’s important to honor your wishes even in the season of over-indulgence. And if you get the, “But it’s just…” don’t back down. Make sure you explain plainly and clearly how much it can set back all the progress you have made.

So I tried to find some websites to help with ideas but really couldn’t find anything that made any sense for RAD kiddos. Which wasn’t at all surprising. We will be talking more about holiday traditions and how to navigate them in the weeks to come. So hang on and steel yourself for the season of peace and joy!

Until next time,

Shannon