Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Importance of Being Earnest

I am keenly aware that like most bloggers, I post mainly bright news, the happy stories. If you know me "in person," you'll know that's pretty true to me; I tend to lean optimistic. My motto growing up came from a Sunday School song: "Brighten the corner where you are."

That said, it's important to also be frank. I know our family is not the only one struggling but families tend to keep these struggles private. That sinister voice whispers, "It's all your fault; you're a terrible parent" and when we listen to that inner lie, then human nature is to hide it, to cover it up, and try to look good.  No one is helped by this.

Thus, here I am with a true story of three adorable children and how hard life  sometimes is with them. I am hoping that my talking about it might help other families who are struggling. 

Our "Littles" came with baggage: hundreds of toys, plenty of clothes and many books . . . as well as,  tox screens, prematurity, neonatal drug exposure, past head injuries, PTSD, learning challenges, and more. Their paperwork is literally over a foot high. I am the constant recipient of parenting advice. I have read more books and articles on parenting in the last 5 years than most people read in a lifetime. We talk about parenting every day. We try it all. It all helps a little . . . and nothing "works."

Foster kids are different. People cannot understand it because it's not a world most have lived in and it's not talked about. They have baggage. And lugging all that baggage around as a very young child changes them. It doesn't just change their attitudes, it changes their wiring. Thinking can be changed, hearts can be moved, but beliefs -- especially the ones formed when one is pre-verbal -- are very hard to change. Their little hearts have been broken in ways we cannot -- and do not want to -- know.

So they do what they do.

Tink acts inappropriately a lot of the time; she laughs too loud, talks too loud, acts suggestively, breaks things, drops things, runs into things, and generally seeks attention almost constantly. Her teacher kept complaining about her behavior but would not try the interventions we recommended. Finally, I spelled it out. "This child is not like other kids. She never gets enough love and attention. She didn't walk until she was 18 months old because she survived life in foster care by eating. She was huge. She was in foster care because when she was 8 months old, her mother's paramour threw her across a room and into a wall. She had brain damage that healed but her heart is broken in a way we can't begin to understand. She will do anything to make you love her. Please try to love her."  The letter helped. Things got better. She's the "easy" one.

The Blitz, generally a loving and happy boy, wants to have friends, but doesn't really know how to. He's smart as a whip but motor skills are such a challenge. He has tantrums the likes of which I've never seen. They are doozies. They may last 5 minutes, but 30 minutes to an hour is more common. A century ago, someone seeing a fit like his would call an exorcist.  It's terrifying; he looks (and acts) likes he possessed. His common refrain is, "No one loves me; no one cares about me." And it's devastating; it breaks your heart. There is nothing we can do to stop or shorten it. So far he has not done this at school but it is  only a matter of time. Their frequency and intensity is increasing. He has a 90% happy, wonderful life, but the 10% is very, very dark and terrible.

The Captain has serious learning challenges and he is in a tough position; he knows he's not like other kids. He's an amazing athlete and very good at making friends. Yet, he knows he can't do what his peers can do. His PTSD flares up when least expected. The oddest things set him off and he can be very scary.  He has a very fierce and hot temper. He tries hard to control himself, but he just is not able to. He is a brooder and will stomp and slam for an hour after the most minor correction. He has learned skills to help him cope but anyone who has lost control can tell you, it is a very tough thing "in the moment" to force yourself to call upon those skills.

Our house is a mess. They are chewers: they chew their clothes, books, bed sheets, fingernails, toenails, anything that doesn't bite back. They'd probably chew on the dogs if they dogs would let them. They're "pickers" too and bits of wallpaper are missing all over the house. They've flooded their toilet a dozen times. Their carpets are destroyed. Their toys are in pieces; we could have named them all "Bam-Bam." We teach, we correct, we re-teach. They are slowly improving. This destruction is somehow in them and hard to root out. Personally, I think it is a form of self-destruction.

Yes, of course we are doing things to help them. All we do is talk about how to help them. Our pediatrician is trying to help us find a new therapist; none of the dozen I've contacted will call me back. Medicaid therapists who treat children are few and far between and most have a waiting list.  Both the boys see the developmental pediatrician but we can't miss an appointment; the waiting list is a year long. The Blitz may be on the Autism Spectrum; that would explain his tantrums but not do much to impact them; stay tuned on that one. The Captain has just finished a long and intense series of tests to narrow down his learning disability and in January, he will finally begin receiving more and  -- more appropriate --educational interventions. Tinker is finally in a good place, behaviorally at school; we have to stay on top of it. Academically, she rocks.

Do not misunderstand: I love these three with a ferocity I'd have not believed possible. I will move heaven and earth for them and I would not trade them for the world. They are my training ground.

Nonetheless, life has irrevocably changed.When the school calls, I pray that it's a fever or a field trip form not returned. I never thought I would be "that mother" dreading calls from the school, but I admit that I am now that person.  The big, happy family I'd dreamed of looks a lot different than I thought it would. Almost no one asks us over; we're  too big a challenge. We don't have much company here either; life is too volatile and unpredictable. I thank God every day for big sisters and grandparents who love you no matter what. [Add to that cousins, Aunts, Uncles and shoe-string relations; our families have been AMAZING.]

Speaking of sisters, life is hard for the older girls. I try not to raise my voice but do, at least once, every day. Daddy, more often. The Littles can be naughty. Sunshine's friends are very understanding but you really never know what is going to happen. Both the Bigs have sacrificed a lot for the Littles. One person told me I'd ruined the older girls' lives. I disagree. It has changed their lives, certainly and in ways I never could have predicted. The calm, sweet life they had as little children is not the life these kids have and it's not the life they have anymore, either. It's raucous, it's crazy, it's loud and it's chaotic.. It's what it is. It has been hard for them but I have faith that it has also been instructive for them in ways books can never teach. They are self-sacrificing. They have a sense of family and responsibility that I never could have taught them. They know what it means to love. It comes from having to work at loving another person. When you fight for that love, it never leaves you.

There is a lot I don't do any more. I don't live in a clean house or even a tidy one. I don't put up Christmas lights. I don't write a lot of cards. I don't scrapbook. I don't even try to talk on the phone during "awake" hours We don't -- or rarely do -- go to restaurants. I don't go to the gym; I exercise at home. I don't stay up late; I go to bed early and get up at the crack of dawn because I don't have much left at the end of the day. We don't go to church every week and the kids don't go to Sunday School because last year was basically a disaster. I don't take them anywhere for play dates; I have only very rarely dared to leave them in that way. And, I don't give up; I can't.

I do get tons of advice, all of it honestly well-meaning, I do keep trying different things. I do keep hoping and praying, reading and making calls. I do advocate for them and their special needs and I am well known at their school. I do keep trying to clean and organize and one day, we'll get there. I do play with them and correct them and tell them every day that I am very glad they're mine.

Perhaps more relevant, I do thank God every day for these three beautiful souls. I thank Him that I am able to see that beauty in them and that, in fact, I love them more every day. I thank God that they love me too and can see beyond my impatience and -- at times -- my hopelessness. I do surrender; I finally get that I am not in control and I am not in charge. I can't change them, but I can love them and love does change people, in Love's own time.

I have said all this because you probably know a family like ours. Their kids came from Russia or Louisiana or the next county. They are adopted kids or they came the "usual way." They are "That Family." They make a ruckus at church. Their kids misbehave in school. Their house is a mess. The parents look stressed and you whisper to your kids, "Don't play with them. They're naughty."

That is the family you need to reach out to. Meet them in a park. Take Mom a cup of coffee.  Pray for them. Kiss your own kids and thank God that they have had YOU all their lives. You are the best gift you can ever give them.

God bless them; God bless you.

PS -- Please check out this link offered by my friend Sue Sneed:  http://supportforspecialneeds.com/2015/11/18/daily-dose-13/