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

Re-re-tooling

So it’s a new month and that means a new blog design, right? Yep. I did it. If you haven’t heard from me in a while that must be why. Well, of course it is! Much more of course than that has happened over the last few weeks so sit back and as Ricky Ricardo would say, “I’ve got some ‘splaining to do!”

I started this blog as mostly a labor of love. A catharsis for my own heart and mind. It then evolved as I wanted it to become a place where parents and extended families of children with Reactive Attachment disorder could come for comfort and resources and connection. Most of the RAD sites I found had been live for a few years and then fizzled out. I imagined the parents stopped either because the children healed (hopefully!) or it got overwhelming or they just got older and the topic got harder to write about. But I couldn’t find anything newer than a couple years ago. But I am interacting with families going through this daily right now and children in the foster care system (one of the primary producers of children with RAD) aren’t going anywhere.

So I doubled down on my efforts to create this site, this space for those families. I started a course to learn how to blog successfully. I am creeping through it but I am learning how to write more effectively to my target audience, how to get found through the chaos of the great world wide blogosphere and much more. Not to say that I do not love the continued support of you all who have been with me since the early early days as I have built this chrysalis. But I am now ready to become a butterfly!

A couple of changes I am planning to make. First of these Monday posts will be changing from “All About Me” to “Mindfulness Monday”. This is for a few reasons. First, self-care doesn’t have to be just about yourself. It can be about helping others. It can be about learning how to communicate with your partner. It can be about finding ways to get motivated to get things done. It can be about caring for something you care about. Anything that brings you peace and calm is self-care. Also, I hope to invite some friends in to write more posts. Not because I don’t like to write or don’t have a lot to say. Anyone who’s met me knows that! But through my blogging course and other networking I have met some amazing folks with some amazing talents that you all just have to get to know!

So where has all this great new boldness come from? Well, the same person who wrote the blogging course, Ruth Soukup, just came out with a book called “Do It Scared”. And the message of the book is…well, the title. But the beginning of the book starts with an online analysis of what kind of fear predominantly drives you to avoid doing the big things in your life. Mine was procrastinator. Not the kind of procrastinator that puts off things till the last minute (though I certainly can fit that description too). But the everything has to be just right, research over output, needs to be perfect before it starts type of procrastination. Which explains why I’ve redone this blog so much. I just can’t get to where I think I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. But I’m jumping in anyway and I’m going to keep going regardless. I highly recommend the book. You can find it at bookstores, with your prime subscription or your Target addiction.

Keeping this in line with the theme of this blog, last Monday was “Gotcha Day”, the 18th anniversary of the day August’s adoption was legal. I remember it like it was yesterday. Standing in the courtroom in the run-down building in Monchegorsk while a lot of people talked very fast in Russian and then WHAM! I was a mom. Then two days later, a child I had spent all of fours hours with who didn’t speak the same language as me was placed in my arms to be my child forever. Talk about doing it scared.

This week I will go visit him. It will involve a pat down and metal detectors and walls with metal bars and locks and thick steel doors and guards with guns. I can give him one hug and kiss and I have to wait while he’s strip-searched before and after our visit. Talk about doing it scared.

But I did and will do both of these things for my son who is my forever child now and always.

Until next time,

Shannon

Mothers and Sons

When I was young there were no boys in the house, just me and my sister. So I became the boy. I could bait my own hook, played soccer, went out at night looking for night crawlers, went ice fishing. Neither my sister nor I were particularly girly (she was a swimmer), no matter how many matching dresses my grandma made. But when I grew up I just assumed I’d have girls because that’s what I knew. And when my friends started having children their first-born’s all made sense…of course! She’s a “boy-mommy”. I just KNEW I was going to be a “girl-mommy”. Now when you adopt, the surprise is gone and when you adopt from Russia there’s even less. We knew we’d be getting a boy. It flew in the face of everything I believed about my path to motherhood. But at that point my path to motherhood had taken every twist and turn it could so I was just along for the ride. But when I saw the video…that face…he was my son. As sure as I was giving birth to him. I was a “boy-mommy”. I’ve said this to friends before but I truly believe that August saved me and his brother. Getting pregnant with Spencer wasn’t planned and if I didn’t have August, I wouldn’t have been nearly as healthy during my pregnancy. Having August meant I stayed active, ate better and didn’t obsess about being pregnant which I’d tried for eight years to become. I am forever grateful to him for that. All along this journey he has fought me. We have fought over bedtime, food, school, medication, therapy, clothing, haircuts, computer time, TV time, video time, girls, curfew, drinking, drugs, and so much more. But mothers and sons. And this mother and THIS son. I know before it’s over this current conflict will have us arguing more I’m sure. And I’ll take it. And give it back. Because that’s what mothers do. And maybe I’m having to do it on a scale many of you won’t ever have to deal with and can’t possibly comprehend. I certainly hope so! That’s the point of this whole blog and my wish for you who are dealing with these precious damaged children. Till next time, Shannon  ]]>

Reactive Attachment Disorder Reference Guide

Books When Love Is Not Enough: A Guide to Parenting with RAD-Reactive Attachment Disorder Nancy Thomas This has long been considered the gold standard in RAD therapy but it is also somewhat controversial. Nancy Thomas was the first person to really write on the subject of RAD in depth. She also has a website and conferences. I did not choose to use her treatment with my son but if you read, you will find many families who swear by her treatment methods. Beyond Consequences, Logic and Control: A Love-Based Approach to Helping Attachment-Challenged Children With Severe Behaviors  Heather T. Forbes and B. Bryan Post This was the second book I read after Nancy Thomas. It’s approach is radically different to hers but has also been very popular. I hoped this method would work with my son but it wasn’t the method that worked for him. His issues were too severe and required more intensive therapy. Building the Bonds of Attachment: Awakening Love in Deeply Traumatized Children  Daniel Hughes This book was wonderfully helpful to me. I found its information very real and could understand the connections between an older child’s behavior and the early infant’s trauma. I read almost everything by Daniel Hughes after this book. Parenting Other People’s Children: Understanding and Repairing Reactive Attachment Disorder John L. Stoller This was another book I loved. It explained RAD very well and I think it would be a great book to give to family who may not understand what’s involved in parenting a child with RAD. While it’s not necessarily for a child to have been adopted to have RAD, that is primarily where the illness arises. The Jonathan Letters: One Family’s Use of Support as They Took in, and Fell in Love with, a Troubled Child Michael Trout and Lori Thomas This is a remarkable book. It is as it says a series of letters between a mother and a therapist about a sweet, 4-year-old boy the family chose to foster. It follows their journey of his first year with them and his RAD behaviors unfold in a most profound way. You hear her heartache and resolve to breakthrough and love him and how they work together to reach him in spite of his trauma. It was a great read for me. This is not even close to an exhaustive list. There are nine pages of books on Amazon! But these are ones that I have found helpful over the years I have been living and learning with RAD.  I will continue to develop these resources as I said, over time, and add websites and other tools which I hope will help you all deal with, and maybe avoid, some of what I experienced. Knowledge is power! Till next time! Shannon  

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The Future

“When the past no longer illuminates the future, the spirit walks in darkness.” -Alexis de Tocqueville

Parents of children with Reactive Attachment Disorder are no different. They have the same dreams for their children. Before they receive a diagnosis there’s no thought that the future might not include everything they are dreaming of. After the diagnosis, and as the reality sets in, the ideas of the future start to take on a very different view. What kind of therapy will my child need? Will my child be able to be in regular classrooms? Will my child be able to continue living at home? Will we have a relationship as our child becomes an adult? Will our child be able to heal? All of these questions and so many more have gone through my head over the years with August. Because of his violent and volatile behavior, I can add some even scarier thoughts. Is this the night the sheriff shows up to tell me he’s been killed? Will he get angry enough to physically harm me? Will I get angry enough to physically harm him? Will time in prison make a difference or make him a better criminal? I know as most parents do that at some point we have to let go and know that we have done all that we can do. What our children become is at some point out of our control. I have been watching on Facebook this week as many of my friends are moving their children to college for their freshman year. August would be a junior this year if things had gone as planned. I can’t even get him to complete his GED. He doesn’t see the point. I continue to ask and prod because that’s what parents do but I also know that it’s not my choice to make and if he doesn’t see the value nothing I say is going to matter. I have been thinking much about the future recently because I am considering the future of this blog. The last few months have been very cathartic. I started writing at a time that I needed to write for me. And if anyone found it helpful that was fine but it really didn’t matter. I needed to write. And it served its purpose. But over the years since August has been diagnosed I have had people tell me I should do this or that I should be a therapist for others who are dealing with similar situations. My experiences with law enforcement and the school system have shown much need for educating about children with RAD and I always imagined finding a way to work with these groups. So here’s the deal. Going forward I will still be telling my stories but I am going to fold this blog into a website designed for other families and anyone who is involved with a child with reactive attachment disorder. My vision is to create a community of resources for parents, teachers, law enforcement, extended families and others. There would be advice from professionals as well as hands-on tools that families can use. I have seen other blogs that are for home-schooled children or children with special needs that are mostly medical but I really want to focus on RAD because it is so very different from medical issues and from any other mental health issue and still so unknown. And that’s my plan for the future. If you’d like to be a part of it here’s how you can help. Please subscribe to my blog if you currently just read it off of Facebook or LinkedIn. I don’t want to bore you with the details but it helps. Please share it! You may not know anyone with a child with RAD but someone you may know might. If you are a praying type, always welcome. I hope you’ll stay tuned to see what my future holds as well as August’s.

Map out your future-but do it in pencil. The road ahead is as long as you make it. Make it worth the trip.

-Jon Bon Jovi

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Finally, A Visit!

“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.” –Nelson Mandela

There are many different combinations of people visiting. Some are obvious; boyfriends/husbands and girlfriends/wives, parents/sons, families and fathers. It is both heartwarming and heartbreaking to see children visiting their fathers here. They have pictures on the wall obviously drawn by children who have visited and there are murals painted all around to make the place seem less sad. Nothing about the faces or demeanors of the people seem hopeless or tragic. Everyone has on their, “Everything will be OK” looks. August finally walks in. He’s wearing a khaki jumpsuit. He’s always been skinny and other than a few more tattoos he looks basically the same. The hug feels great. We sit down and chat. It’s not really awkward because we talk all the time. But it’s slightly weird. We haven’t been in the same room in almost 1 1/2 years other than a courtroom. He’s recently gotten a tattoo on his neck-a cross in the middle with a devil on one side and an angel on the other. The angel is naked. I guess if your son is going to have an angel tattoo on his neck it’s good that she has a nice rack. I try to talk about important things. He tries to listen. I try to get him to think about his life. He tries to say the right answers. What he thinks I want to hear. We keep things civil. I hope that these visits will propel him to want to get out and do the things he needs to do to make that happen. He has come into the visit having to go to the bathroom so the visit gets cut short because as soon as he gets up the visit is over. We are together about an hour and a half and it is glorious. As horrible as so much of parenting him has been, I miss him every day. I miss seeing his face and his smile. I miss going to movies with him and when he liked to help me with things. They were such brief moments but they were glimpses of who he could be. I get to go every two weeks will be so helpful for me and I hope for him. Again, not a place I ever thought I’d be. Amazing the lives we find ourselves living.  ]]>