Saturday, March 21, 2015

What My 18 Year Old Self Taught Me

My mom found and sent me my diary from 1991.  It begins like this,"Tomorrow is my last day of [high] school. Graduation is on Friday Yipee! I'm so phyched."

Is that not gold? I read the rest in one sitting because A) I have a child who is graduating from high school in 3 months and I could not help but compare the two of us as peers and B) I was hearing my own 18 year old voice tell me about what I was feeling, and thinking about.

It covers the one year of my life that I went from being a child at home to an "adult", struggling to be a better person, wanting to leave my past in the past, and meeting Kyle.  And, wow, did I ever love Jesus.  If I could go back and talk to me then I'd say, "Erika, don't be so hard on yourself. Change is a process and it takes time- longer than you want it to take."

Which is weird, because that's exactly what I'd tell myself now. 

Everyday I want to write a blog about all the little things a certain someone does that drive my absolutely nuts, but as soon as I sit down to do it I think, "What's the point. I'm being a broken record."  I've been asked three times this week if things have gotten better, if he has gotten better. Honestly, it doesn't feel like it.  

I feel like I have gotten better with the way I approach behavior and that defuses a lot of his anger. I feel like I have let go of expectations and have stopped calling things out.  I sing, "Let it go, let it go, be one with the wind and snow" (I know those aren't the right words, but they rhyme better :) all the time - a constant loop in my head. I say yes when I want to say no. I sit and listen to his rants about the unfairness of the world, his mean sister, the awful kids at school, his brothers who get everything they want, me not EVER buying him new cloths/shoes/toys/candy (all not true).  I listen and say, "I hear you, I can tell you're having a hard time, that sounds terrible..." while I'm thinking, "I need to make dinner, you're making this up, do you have to complain about everything?"

But, I've also seen fruit from my patience*.  Last week he told me some very detailed stories about his life before us.  He connected some dots that help me understand his fears, anxieties and grief.  With tears in my eyes, I thanked him for trusting me with his stories.  And what about his little sister? She too has been pushing and running. But she has also been clinging and wanting me.  She said, "I love you" to me.  That's new.

Change is a process. It takes time.

We started here

*the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not- What happened after Refresh.

Yesterday morning at the gym, as I was lifting 45lbs over my head over and over again, I couldn't help but compare myself to the other women my age who were lifting more.  Why is it that they can do this three and four days a week?  Why can they lift more then me without hurting their back?  Every time I go more often then my twice a week schedule, or lift heavier weight, my back goes out.

Then I remembered, "I'm doing God's work*."

Kyle and I went to the Refresh Conference last weekend.  We came away with gold.  It was an amazing thing to be in a room surrounded by 1000 other people who understand our struggles perfectly (watch this). Some shared their own stories of pain and triumph, others talked about practical ways to love, while others talked about brain development.  After the final speaker, we walked through "the prayer tunnel" (two rows of about 40 people praying and weeping for us as we walked between them).  Sounds weird, but I wish I could walk through one every morning on my way to the kitchen.

We eeked out every bit of "Refreshment" possible by staying at the Fairmont Hotel on Saturday night.  I'd never been there before (because we're not millionaires), but as soon as I walked in I felt like Annie going to Daddy Warbucks' house. Kyle and I remembered something really important that night while we walked around the city - we actually DO still like each other.

"I think I'm gonna like it here!!" I'm super classy laying on the stair.

For real...

I knew the kids would say, "You rode the wheel without us???" Yes. We did. And it was really fun.

Hey, check it out! We're smiling.
Royal and Ena were textbook wonderful for their babysitters.  Ena stayed with a friend who's daughters adore and spoil her whenever possible.  She had two and a half days of total girlie bliss.  My sister, and her kids four kids plus Sheree stayed at my house with the boys.  She swears the eleven of them had fun.
Just a few notes titled, Refresh Weekend Survival Guide, left for my sister.

Royal and Ena textbook "made us pay" for leaving them for the weekend.  They gave us the "opportunity" to use all that we'd just learned at the conference. Oy. "Screaming, crying, perfect storm..." In three days I've succeeded and failed many times.

And this happened...
If you were at Greenlake Park yesterday (like hundreds of others enjoying the sunshine), you would have seen a mom tell her daughter that it was time to go, "Get on your helmet".  The daughter would have said, "No I'm not ridding my bike" and run in the other direction.  You would have seen the mom standing and thinking to herself, "No way... I'm NOT running after her." The mom then took a step in the child's direction.  The daughter stuck out her tongue and kept running in a wide circle around the park.  Next, the mother casually walked in her direction again feeling the weight of 500 eyes watching to see what she would do next.  The girl waited for her mom to get about 15 feet away and took off again.  At this point the mom said, "Screw it," and sprinted to her daughter.  Once she reached her, she grabbed her arm and didn't let go.  "I need my bike!" the little girl demanded.  "I don't think so," said the mom.  They walked the one mile back to the car.  All the while the little girl tried punching her mother or throwing grass in her face.  Once back in the car the mother thought, "Well that was fun!"

I could end it there and leave you thinking she's an obnoxious kid who needs a mom with better parenting skills, but that's not the end of the story.  Her struggle with me continued for hours. She wanted to be with me, she didn't want to be with me. We ended up on the couch, me holding her there because she was getting destructive, and finally I said, "Ena, I love you and I won't let you go. I'm your mom. My job is to hold you and love you and comfort you." Then came the tears. She wept for 25 minutes.  She still pulled me in and pushed me away, but whatever, she heard my words.  I love her. My job is to hold her and comfort her.

I'm trying. Look how much fun we're having together. Lol.

*God's work is a bit different then man's work because it's physical, emotional, and spiritual- you know, in case you were wondering.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

We're not "bad" parents. They're not "bad" kids.

If you read an adoption book like the Connected Child or Toddler Adoption, you may end it thinking, "No thank you," to adoption. Or you may think, "That sounds awful, but I'm pretty sure the kids I adopt won't be like that." The scenarios sound so overdone. Until one day, the kid you adopted lives out an overdone scenario in your own home. Then you run around the house searching desperately for that stupid book.

My niece was born about two months ago. Ena got to meet her in the hospital when she was just minutes old.  It never occurred to me that this would change Ena's world the way it has.  It seems that seeing this baby in the hospital with her mom who'd just given birth to her was the moment it all clicked. "I am adopted."  She'd been told this - obviously, she's brown, we're beige, she's from Ethiopia, we're from America.  She's seen the pictures, heard the stories. But in that hospital two months ago, it all became real to her.

Since then, we see baby Magnolia and her Mommy almost weekly. Ena adores both of them. And, she hates me. I've become the enemy. The target of her grief. She starts out by smirking, not doing what she's been asked to do, telling me NO while looking me straight in the eyes.  Then her mood turns to anger. She lashes out at me and anyone near her. She says mean words, hits, kicks, punches.  Then I try to pull her in to hug and ask her what's going on and she crumbles into a weeping mess.  She does not want me to comfort her. She wants to run.  I read this story (or one very similar) in an adoption book. I didn't believe it. Now it's hard to believe this can be happening four years later.

I'm sharing this because it's hard, even for us who are raising these kids, have read all the books, and met with therapists, to understand the long term effects of childhood trauma. I see what people are thinking when my kids act out. We must be doing something wrong. We aren't firm enough, or maybe we're too firm, or maybe we're not consistent, or maybe we adopted lemons.  I know my children aren't acting this way because we're bad parents (we have four lovely well behaved boys to prove it.  And just to be clear, we have not been perfectly consistent with them, sometimes too hard and sometimes too soft, yet they're happy, secure, and thriving). They act this way because they've suffered.  They act this way because they don't know what else to do.

In comes Therapeutic Parenting (Christine Moers, Ross Greene). From day one I sensed that my method of parenting wasn't working with Royal and Ena, but I had no idea what else to do.  If, when Harrison was five, he would have walked up to me and said, "You're stupid. I hate you," and then kicked me in the leg, I would have first been shocked (this would have never happened), but then I would have looked him in the eye, said, "You may not speak to me like that or kick me. I'm going to switch you three times on the leg and then you will apologize."  Three spanks, a few tears, I'm sorry mommy, I love you and forgive you honey- the end.  I would have expected him never to do that again. It totally worked!

Therapeutic Parenting would handle it differently. After I'm called stupid and kicked I kneel down and say, "Wow, you're really upset about something. I'd be mad too if I had a mom that was stupid! But, even if you're mad, you may not kick me.  Can you tell me why you're upset with me?"
She may say yes and tell me, and that would be the end, or she may say, "No, I hate you!" and go on to have a melt down. Either way, I listen, validate her feelings, and try to come up with a solution that's good for both of us.

Is this exhausting? YES!! Because it goes against everything that comes naturally to me. But it takes the control aspect out of parenting, and for me that has been a HUGE stress in my life.  Trying to control Royal and Ena into good behavior is like trying to win a fight with an angry tiger.  I don't have to get them to "obey my every command" because parenting them isn't about obedience, it's about them learning to be loved and accepted no matter what.

I'm new at this. But I'm all in.
We have our "normal family" moments too.