Curious Life Lessons

This isn’t the subject I had planned to write on today. But a couple of things happened this past week and weekend that affected me so greatly that I found myself dwelling on how many curious life lessons we get when we aren’t paying attention. 

August has a gambling addition. He has some other potential addictions, but the the one he can feed at the moment is gambling. Because he looks for connections and control that he never got from his birth parents, gambling gives that. And he feels like he can control the outcomes. When he gets up, the high is incredible. When he starts to lose, he believes he can control winning it back. And of course, that doesn’t happen.

Now money can’t change hands while they play so that’s where it gets complicated. Because it then involves friends and family to pay off his debts. Charming and conniving from friends and begging from us to send money to the commissary accounts of those he lost to. His father and I won’t do that but his friends will. The begging always comes with life or death pleas that he’ll get beat up if this doesn’t happen immediately.

He will stop for a while…then it will start again. He knows it’s wrong, he knows he shouldn’t do it. But the addiction is fed by the Reactive Attachment Disorder which is very common. You can read more about that here. It’s sad to hear him call and talk about this with such sadness in his voice. He feels so helpless and so ashamed. He should suffer the natural consequences…the life lesson…of his actions. It’s a hard thing for a mother to think about what that might be, you know?

The other life less learned this weekend was mine. As long as I can remember, my grandparents have had my family over to their house on Independence Day weekend for a family reunion. At its height there were 45+ people at the house, sleeping throughout the small 3-bedroom 1.5-story house on floors inside or porches, and outside in tents and RVs.

We ate so well, cooking on one of the three stoves, with food from one of the three fridges or three freezers and eating on long re-purposed school lunch tables and patio tables in the garage and driveway. Everything just happened when I was little. Including the miraculous reappearance of 40+ homeade lemonade icees made every night and amazing homemade sourdough pancake mix every morning. 

So this home is my home now and I have tried my best to keep that tradition alive. Busier lives have meant that fewer family can come but we were still a great bunch of 17 this weekend. Going into the weekend, I worked as hard as possible to get the house and land ready but got increasingly frustrated with how run-down the house has gotten and how much work I hadn’t gotten done.

The house was built in 1932 and is showing its age. It sits on 6.5 acres and the grass grows fast! In my mind, the weeds were always pulled and the gutters cleaned and the house never needed painting when I came to visit. All of that needed doing when the family showed up! 

But once everyone got here, I kind of forgot about all that…

My sister finished mowing the yard which hadn’t gotten finished because of the rain even with my partner Billy mowing well past sundown Thursday night! My cousin Jennie’s husband Sean cleaned the gutters on the outbuilding and repaired the roof and he and my cousin Bryan stained the gazebo. Everyone pitched in on cooking and cleaning and we had homemade lemonade icees and homemade sourdough pancakes. Kids from the neighbor’s came over to play because we were the place to be!

On Sunday as people were getting ready to leave, Bryan’s daughter who is only two was so sad. She did not want to go. She clung to me and hugged me for what seemed like forever. Rachel had brought her partner Jake’s teenage son and he’d put up a good front but had said on Saturday that he wanted to come back. And Blake, a boy from a few houses down who was up from Florida visiting his great-grandpa came over to say good-bye when they were leaving. He ran over to where I was on the porch and gave me the biggest hug with tears in his eyes. 

When my grandparents first moved to that house in 1969 they started measuring us grandkids out on the porch wall. You can see some of the faint lines with our names and the date of the measurement. I’m not even on there anymore because the pencil lines have long since disappeared. Yesterday we measured my cousin Bryan’s daughter, and Jake’s son and Blake after he got done hugging me. Two of them aren’t even related to me but they are all a part of why I bought that house and why I keep this Independence Day weekend tradition.

Those moments were my life lesson. It wasn’t about the perfectly fixed house or the mowed lawn or the weeded sidewalk. It was about making those kids feel special that weekend and the names and dates on that wall.

I wish someone had put August’s name on a wall. 


Holidays with RAD Children

Tomorrow is Independence Day or Fourth of July. I was chastised not to call it that by a friend who reminded me that it’s also the Fourth of July in France and Italy and Nigeria tomorrow but not a holiday. We don’t call Christmas December 25th; why do we call Independence Day by the date and not the name? I have pondered this and he’s right. Now I’m trying to get better. But I digress. But it is a big day for getting together with extended family and friends. This for many of us RAD parents is sure to send our blood pressure into the stratosphere like a bottle rocket. So, how to handle the over-stimulated, over-sugared, over-peopled family get-together?

Since no two RAD kiddos are alike, there’s no cut and dry answer. Every child has a different trigger. The key is managing expectations and making sure you are as much as possible not creating a situation destined for failure. There may be some things that are just not in your control. But there is a lot that is. Here are some tips and tricks that I have found useful in the past to keep my sanity and help keep the peace. Also some other ideas I found helpful in my research.

  • Pay attention to the food going in your child. My grandmother had chocolate EVERYWHERE. All at the height of your average 5-year-old. Her theory was if you don’t say no, then it isn’t a forbidden thing and children won’t be begging for it all the time. Yeah, that doesn’t work with a RAD kiddo. August can eat his body weight in candy without getting sick but it sure would wind him up. Which for an already hyperactive kid seems impossible but isn’t. It may be tough to socialize but it’s definitely worth it to keep a close eye on the sugar and caffeine intake.
  • Make sure you know if there are will be any triggers in attendance. August’s grandfather collected state coins. And had several small pocket knives. Their house was like walking into a diamond mine. His impulse control (what little there was) went out the window at their house. His grandparents had a house full of antiques and collectibles and it was hard to know where everything was stashed. In the chaos of a large group of people it was easy for August to slip away and go snooping. We missed it early on but once we knew his affection for shiny things we made sure he was searched before we left.
  • Have an exit strategy. “Expect the best, prepare for the worst”. Heard that before? When August was very little, transitions were the worst. He’d get caught up in playing with friends or playing a game and when it was time to go, all hell broke loose. He would launch into a tantrum of epic proportions. The wailing and screaming and kicking were something to see. All the 10 minute, 5 minute, 2 minute warnings did nothing to stop the exact moment of terror that occurred at that time of departure. We enacted what we referred to as “scoop and run”. This meant making sure everything else was in the car, all the good-byes had been said and nothing else needed to be done before we literally scooped him up and ran for the car. Faint cries could be heard in the distance as we drove away. Make sure you know how your child deals with transitions and plan accordingly. 
  • As awful as it sounds…host the event at your house. It might seem like I’m suggesting the worst possible pain for you but truly it might be the easiest situation for your child. Keeping them in their comfortable space with their things where there is no transition time to deal with and you have better control over food. It may be best. While it seems like more work on the front end to have all the people in your house, set strong time boundaries, hire a caterer or make sure people help with food. This may create the best day for your child and ultimately you.

The big thing to remember is your RAD kiddo is wounded and some of what they are reacting to at the holidays is coming from a hurt place deep, deep inside. This article is a great explanation of how all that connects and manifests during the holidays and may help us keep a grip when we might want to explode! 

Since I just saw August last week I won’t be able to go see him tomorrow. I will be consoling my dog who is deathly afraid of loud noises. And I have 15 family members coming for the weekend. August will call and get to talk to them and we will miss him terribly. Hopefully we will have him with us for Independence Day next year.

Until Next time,