<![CDATA[Saturday I had my first in-person visit with August at his new location. Because the building where I enter and where we visit is in the same location, I am spared the double pat down I described the first blog about visiting my son in prison. But I will give you a few details.
First, if you have to go to the bathroom, the stall door closes, but the door to the bathroom itself stays open and it's about 10 feet from the lobby. There's not much mystery about your being in there and what's going on. And there's still that very intimate pat down to make sure you're not wearing the underwire bra (in case some of you missed it from the previous post (you should go back and check that one out).
After that, you go through two very solid doors which open one at a time like cages at the zoo to let you into the back area where your ID is checked. After that you walk back down a hall where you open and honest-to-goodness barred door. Just like in the movies. If there was anything that sanitized the experience prior to that like the pretty murals on the walls and the lack of jail bars, this wipes that all away.
Further down the hall is the visitation room. In the previous place I could bring money and August would snack while we chatted. Here, I have to buy all the food prior to his arrival and it's sent back to him after. Which means I have to know what he wants. Well, that's not really possible with this kid. I made some educated guesses, many of which turned out to be wrong and we discussed his putting in an order for next time.
But then he came in. There's no words I can use to explain the feeling of getting my arms around him and giving him a kiss after not being able to for over six months. With all the crap he puts me through, when he's standing in front of me, he's still my little boy. How does that happen? Man, mom hormones or magic or mojo or whatever it is freaky strong.
He immediately started showing me all his new tattoos. That was pretty much the whole reason he wanted me to come. And the food. Super-fast reality check. I remember when he was four and we had to have him tested to see what vaccinations he'd had because there were no records from Russia he was so terrified of needles to the point it took four adults to hold him down. We eventually had to sedate him for blood draws. And now he's getting his whole body stuck with needles on a regular basis. Jeez.
The time flew by. We talked about my farm and his plans for when he gets out. He still has fantastical ideas of when that will be and blames everyone else but himself for why he's been in so long. Now he's talking about going to college and getting a master's degree. I would love that but I've never seen that in the cards for him. He also talks about underwater welding. He loved welding for the brief time he was in high school here and was very good at it. I think that would be an excellent career for him. It's so hard to think about the future with him. I want to be optimistic but facts don't support it. And then I feel guilty for not being optimistic.
Being there I was struck by all the other families. Many other mothers, wives, children. I wonder when they come to visit do they think like I do, "This is the last place I ever thought I'd be on a Saturday morning." I talked with the guard because I was the last one to leave and she told me how so many of them come, some from hours away, every two weeks. Their devotion to their children and spouses, no matter what they've done, is unbreakable.
I know we parents of RAD kiddos want to be like that. We want to be devoted and do anything and everything to heal our children. But at what cost? I see posts from parents who are suffering from PTSD, dealing with financial ruin from therapy costs that insurance won't cover. They get accused of abuse by their children and have to deal with CPS claims or worse police investigations. They have marriages ruined by the stress of having a special needs child.
How do we balance protecting a child we love beyond words with keeping our own sanity and being a healthy parent to other children, a good spouse, an effective producer at work or whatever other roles we need to fulfill? This is one of my goals with this blog to help answer some of these questions. I'd love to hear your thoughts on what you do to maintain that balance. I have included a little helper here to maybe be a boost just for today:
Next time you find yourself feeling annoyed by a noisy environment-voices, phones, traffic, lawn mowers-try this one-minute exercise to shift your experience. The idea is to tune in to sounds around you rather than attempting to shut them out. Sit up tall, close your eyes, and let your face relax. (You might feel a connection between your jaw releasing and your ears softening.) Breathe naturally and think of yourself as a sort of receiver, taking in all the sounds around you. Try not to favor one kind of sound over another. Whether it’s chatter or clanging or honking, just hear it. Is it possible to experience this “noise” the same way you might experience the sound of a river flowing? Can you relax and accept what’s around you without wishing it were different? See how you feel after just one minute of sitting with this quality of openness.
It’s a new month. Spring is trying it’s hardest to get here permanently. Always a time for hope and new beginnings.
Till next time,
<![CDATA[Today I’m thinking about fairness. For a variety of reasons.
I’m leaving with my younger son in a couple weeks to do the first of what is looking like many trips to look at colleges. Now he’s a smart, talented kid who’s been involved in a lot of activities and has pretty good ACT and SAT scores so I think he’s got a pretty good chance of getting into one of the schools he wants. But a couple of weeks ago, like many of you, I was caught up in the news about the vast cheating scandal that had been going on for years at many of the country’s top colleges and universities where affluent parents were paying enormous sums to get their kids into schools they would never have gotten into otherwise. Essentially take a spot of a deserving child who had worked and dreamed their entire life of playing soccer for USC or studying at Yale.
For our kids with RAD, fairness is a tough concept. They have been so deprived for so long and live in a space where their own survival is dependent on their being constantly vigilant about what they can get. I was recently talking with a friend about how to divide a cookie we were going to share and I said when my boys were little, the way I did it was one would cut but the other got to choose which half first. Man, they were out there with a slide rule and protractor and ruler and calculator trying to figure out how to make those pieces the closest to equal they could! Many thanks to their father’s mother for that trick!
But explaining to a child with RAD, or any child, the idea of fairness is not easy. It’s where community sports invented the “participation trophy”. An idea I loathe to this day. We don’t have to pretend that our children can’t grasp the idea but we do have to remember how they think and make sure we have the words to explain the differences. It is part of their growth and development to understand that not everything will be the way they want or what they see as “fair”.
To help with explain this idea of “fair”, here are some tips to explain to children:
Kids think fair means equal. Back to my point about the cookie. And you probably know some adults that think this as well. You’ve been in a kindergarten class where every child has to have a green crayon of the same length. No one can have more potato chips than anyone else. We do that with our children from a very early age and they learn the idea that fair means equal. We train them to expect that. We then work for the rest of our lives to undo what we’ve done because it’s hard (and annoying) to see a child unhappy.
What it should mean is “just”. Being “just” means considering all variables, people, and sides of an issue. Sometimes it’s a practicality issue-your younger child needs new shoes because he grew a half-size in six months but your older child hasn’t. Sometimes it’s emotional-your teenager had a rough day and you offer to take them out to dinner for some one-on-one time. If your pre-teen then screams that they want to go out to dinner to and you cave and agree to take them out tomorrow night, then all is lost. It’s the participation trophy. It undermines the consideration of the feelings of the teenager and it fails to teach the younger child that what doesn’t seem fair (in their eyes) is still right and just. Because attention is solving a necessary problem and healing a hurt.
Don’t say, “Life isn’t fair.” I’m sure I’m not the only RAD parent (or parent period) who’s said or been tempted to say it hundreds of times! One kid counts the number of pieces of popcorn they have and you go through the roof! Well don’t be surprised to learn that this phrase means nothing to a child. It is OK to acknowledge the feeling: “I think what you’re really saying is you’re unhappy and you don’t like it.”. And you can explain what happened, “Yep, I’m not going to scoop ice cream the exact same way every time.” But don’t overexplain. But don’t draw attention to the child and their fit by making the “fairness fight” a big deal. You can talk through when a child does recognize a truly unjust situation, like when your child comes home upset because a child acted out and the teacher punished the whole class. That’s an opportunity to discuss that maybe you wouldn’t have handled it that way but you can try to see why the teacher handled it like that.
Good News! You’re building resilience. In addition to developing empathy, children are learning to tolerate disappointment. We rob them of the ability to learn resilience when we make everything equal and fine (thing again of the loathsome participation trophy). Your younger child is mad because they got one present when their older sibling got three? Explain how three smaller gifts add up to one big bike. If your child thinks they got a raw deal, sympathize then move on. Be genuine and maybe share your own disappointment, something you wanted and didn’t get and thought was unfair. Always be a model for those concepts we want our children to learn.
It’s always hard to see our children disappointed. We want them to have everything. We want them always smiling and laughing. But we do them a disservice if we don’t help them learn the skills that will make them able to handle the realities of life. Because while we can’t say it…Life isn’t fair!
Till next time,
<![CDATA[I'm writing today about being angry. Why? Well, because I am. If you’re the parent of a kiddo with RAD it might feel like this is your “normal”. And I’m sorry for that because it sucks. But I understand.
You’re angry at your child. A lot. You’re angry at your partner. Oops. You’re angry at all the systems and services that don’t work for your child. You’re angry at the grown-ups that were supposed to protect your child and didn’t and caused the trauma that resulted in the RAD that you are now paying for. You’re angry at the “perfect” friends and families you see on Facebook or at the store or at school who have the lives you are being denied. And if by some chance one type of angry subsides, there’s always two or three or TEN kinds of angry to take its place.
Angry takes a lot of energy. I remember seeing one of those annoying posters or memes once that said it takes more facial muscles to frown than to smile so you should smile because it’s easier. Yes that may be true but it would also take a lot more energy to find anything to smile about!What I’m angry about the most today is that right now THE WORLD SEEMS SO ANGRY. I’ve been guilty of adding to it too. And it’s exhausting. Yesterday I posted a picture of a kitten sucking its thumb-seriously-watch it here–just to have something happy to see for myself.
I read this article about the two Parkland students who have committed suicide in the last week. I cried. And I got angry. The shooting in New Zealand. The floods in the Midwest (more Midwest than me) and the horrible disaster in Mozambique. And I got angry. And then there’s politics. Which seems to have made most of us angry for two years no matter what side of the aisle you sit on.
Spring and summer need to hurry up and get here so I can escape to my garden for even a few minutes/hours each day. Plants don’t get angry. I don’t think. Though mine probably get a little irked because I’m not the best at watering and weeding all the time. I get lazy. But they seem to produce and love me still.
I wish brains worked like that. We could throw all this mess at them and they could filter it and produce and love anyway. Our RAD kids would be so much better off. But brains work more like a compost bin. Everything that’s old and decaying goes in and stays. Our brains keep everything, packing it down into the smallest, deepest nooks and crannies. And it will stay there and just start to smell unless we turn it and let in the air and the sunlight so it can become something good and beneficial to our world.
My challenge to myself and to you today is try and be a plant, not a compost bin. Let your brain soak in the sunlight (hopefully there is some in your part of the world) and breathe in the air and churn up the angry thoughts and burn them out of your beautiful mind. Only through constant focus on what is good and healthy can we all make our world less angry. I truly believe we are at a turning point where we can “Be the Change You Wish to See in the World.” Ghandi didn’t seem angry very often.
Till next time,
<![CDATA[[caption id="attachment_43" align="alignleft" width="355"] He looked scared from an early age. But August seems happy to have a baby brother![/caption]
As you read this I am driving down to North Carolina to see August’s brother this weekend in his Spring musical. For those who don’t know, he lives there with his dad while I’m living on my little farm in Indiana. Living away from him is one of the hardest things for me but there were a series of events that necessitated it which would require several blog posts to explain. When I moved five years ago, August stayed down there as well but that didn’t last long and he ended up in Indiana with me within six months (future blog post material…).
But this trip got me thinking about the effects of RAD on our non-RAD kiddos. The groups that belong to and have over the years have been chock full of stories of the side effects of having to dedicate so much time to our RAD children that the rest of the family suffers.
One of my earliest memories was the story of a woman in Oklahoma who had finally gotten her child into a psychiatric placement but her insurance had run out and she was now faced with the following dilemma: if she went and picked up the child and brought it home she would be arrested for child endangerment because she had other children at home and the RAD child had tried to poison them by putting tile grout cleaner in their shampoo bottles. If she didn’t go get the child she’d be arrested for child abandonment. Truly a no-win situation.
My youngest son was not expected. Without getting too personal, near as I can tell, we accepted the referral to become August’s parents on a Wednesday and our son was conceived that following weekend. So much was going on during the time between getting the referral and preparing for going to Russia it didn’t even cross my mind that I could be pregnant. So, yet again, the two children’s fates collided when we got our court date on Friday May 1st and found out on Sunday May 3rd that a second child was on the way.
My younger son witnessed a lot of things no small child should ever see. I remember one day when I was holding August during one of his rages. This meant him seated in front of me on the floor with my legs wrapped around his legs. One of my arms around both of his and the other harm holding his head so he couldn’t head-butt me. Usually I could get the door closed so my youngest didn’t have to see this but this one happened quickly. He walked by-he was maybe 5 at the time-and I remember saying in my calmest voice, “Everything’s OK”. He very quickly replied, “It doesn’t look OK.” Out of the mouths of babes. He heard all the screaming and saw all the destruction of the house. August was abusive to him both emotionally and mentally. He spent so much time alone while his father and I had to focus on his brother.
I have spoken a lot about August’a resilience. He survived the first three years in Russia first being abused and neglected by his birth family then in an orphanage. But now that my younger son is a junior in high school and I’m starting to see the man he is becoming, I am in awe of his resilience as well. Realizing what he has survived from living in a household with a child with RAD, I know he has equal survival skills.
I have been guilty (as I’m sure we all have) by going down the rabbit hole with our RAD kiddos and getting too caught up in their drama and mayhem. I’ve taken for granted that my non-RAD son is good because he always has been. And I’ve dealt with the guilt of knowing that I’ve done that. I remember once my younger son realized that August got his birthday and “Gotcha Day” because he was adopted and that I got my birthday and Mother’s Day and his dad got his birthday and Father’s Day and was upset because he only got one day (I told you he was bright). That’s just the tip of the iceberg of all the ways he’s been short-changed in growing up with a RAD sibling.
I must admit he and August have had some really nice conversations since August has been in prison. August has said he’d like to make amends for what he knows was horrible treatment of him when he was little. I would love to think they can repair the relationship as they become adults. They won’t have me to kick around down the road!Please feel free to share your stories of dealing with your RAD and non-RAD children. The successes and the dramas!
Till next time,
<![CDATA[I had been researching for something maybe more helpful to write about...then August called. I wrote a little while ago that he'd been moved to a new facility. It's about 90 minutes from me instead of the convenient 30 minutes of the previous location. I've been there to visit but right now I can only visit through a glass window while talking on a phone (think every jail scene in any movie you've seen). So I won't go back until the end of March when hopefully he's stayed out of trouble and I can actually sit with him in person.
So August calls with two pieces of information. The first is he's gotten the name of his girlfriend tattooed down the side of his torso. And she got his name on hers. The second is he sent a letter to the prison chaplain that he wants to get married.
Yep. Let that one sink in.
Now I am not referring to his girlfriend as "her" to protect her identity. I honestly don't know her name. August hasn't said her name on the phone or in any emails because he met her WHEN SHE WORKED AT THE PRISON. That's the only time he's ever laid eyes on her. And she quit so they could "be together". And he got transferred to the farther facility so she could go visit him because she couldn't come back to the prison she used to work at. But he hasn't seen her since.
And...my head is ready to explode.
I have heard so many of these stories in groups of parents with children with RAD. Their lack of impulse control means they'll make decisions which give them immediate gratification without thinking about long-term consequences. And no matter how many rational explanations I give why this is a horrible idea, he thinks marrying a girl he's never spent any time with while he still has close to a year maybe up to five in prison is a great idea.
He'll be 21 in a little over three weeks. No one would fault me for throwing up my hands and saying, "Have a nice life." I've done my parenting. I've done 12 people's parenting. I'm trying to be a resource to other families going through what I have but I don't feel like I've made any imprint in this child's life sometimes. But I don't want other children to hurt like August has and I don't want other parents to live with the frustration and lack of knowledge and anger that I have felt.
But today I am in the, "Those who can't, teach," space. Definitely.
So lessons to impart? I'll be sending August a very long email tomorrow when I calm down. I'll keep trying to convince him to change his mind. I've got his girlfriend's phone number. Maybe I'll work on her even though he will be extremely mad at me. But that won't be new. I can't care how he feels about me if it saves his life. Parenting 101. Class dismissed.
Till next time,
<![CDATA[When I started this blog last year, I thought the tongue-in-cheek title worked well because for many families having a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder every month feels the same. It feels like nothing changes. Nothing gets better. Your child's behaviors stay at the heightened painful or even dangerous level they have been for a long time. You are stressed out. Your relationships with your other children and your spouse suffer.
And then there's life. Without having a child with RAD life can be messy. For example, just today, I woke up to a dog that had thrown up. And while I went to get paper towels to clean that up, another dog peed in it. Such is life. Top that with a child who may be throwing a full-blown RAD rage and it's enough to send anyone over the edge.
“If your heart is broken, make art with the broken pieces”
So what do we do? Where do we get our fuel to continue day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year? It takes resolve and training to be resilient to the blows that just keep coming and find some way to see hope and something positive in the midst of all that seems to wear us down. Here are a couple of tricks doctors say will help:
Let yourself feel sad: I know, right? So here’s the deal. It’s OK to feel sorry for yourself. When something awful happens, cry, scream, eat a pint of ice cream, binge watch Netflix. Feel hopeless. Because if you don’t feel hopeless, how can you know what hopeful feels like? You don’t have to be stone-faced and strong all the time. But watch that it doesn’t last too long because that can be a sign of depression.
Control what you can: If you’ve read about having a child with RAD this may sound like a page right out their playbook! But it’s true. If you do just one thing you can to affect your situation, you will be amazed at what it can do for your mood. If your child is destroying his or her room, clean your room and put a lock on the door. Just one little thing, however small, will make a huge difference.
But be flexible: There will be times when there is nothing going right. You know it. We’ve all been there. At those times, you can’t expect to be able to do what you had planned, go where you want, wear what you want, maybe even more dire consequences. But the key is to be able to find a way to make choices that are the best in a bad situation. Don’t be afraid to take that sharp left or right turn.
Find resilient role models: We have all been through tough times. Maybe you know someone who has been through health problems and survived and thrived. Someone who had financial struggles and started a business and got on their feet. Use these individuals as motivation that you, too, can survive your trials.
Be a role model: We are all as parents working so hard to provide the best, safest, most loving homes for our children. They are hurt and we didn’t hurt them. I am so angry that my son is paying for what was done to him that he couldn’t control. But now I want to pay it forward and help others with what I’ve learned and what will hopefully help other children. You can do that too. Wouldn’t it be great if all RAD children could learn from our knowledge and care?
Talk it Out: Having a support system when parenting a child with RAD is so valuable. And it doesn’t have to be other RAD parents, though I found that helpful. There are groups on social media, adoption groups if your child is adopted. Maybe it’s just a close friend if you’re not very outgoing. Me, I’ll talk to anybody! But sometimes when it doesn’t feel good in your heart, hearing it out loud can help!
Know that You’re Already Doing It: Did your child wake up this morning? Did you feed them? Will they wake up tomorrow? Are you reading this? Then you are doing the work to help your child and be the best parent of a RAD child you can be. You are getting it done. Pat yourself on the back and cut yourself some slack.
That last bullet is the most valuable. You are already doing it! I would love to hear your stories of resilience. Please feel free to share as you feel comfortable.
Till next time,