The Boundaries Paradox

March 23, 2010 - Leave a Response

I don’t know about you, but as a parent I frequently struggle with determining boundaries.  How far is too far, how tight is too tight?  I want my kids to have a sense of control in their own lives, to safely learn how to make good decisions, and to be empowered in having an impact on what is happening in their lives.

At the same time, I don’t want my kids running the family, becoming overwhelmed with the responsibilities of the many, varied decisions that are involved in family life, or having a sense that they have to be in control because no-one else is.

Particularly when you have kids with attachment disorder.  Control is a double-edged sword for them.  They feel compelled to be in control because they have no ability to trust the adults in their life to provide for their safety and basic needs – yet they are terrified of having to be in control.  They fight to get control, then are overwhelmed and resentful when they are in control.

I can’t profess to have figured any of this out yet.  And I have learned a few things that seem to work well and others that definitely don’t work.

One thing that does work is to be clear, concrete and unfailingly consistent in your expectations of what the kids’ responsibilities are, what behavior is expected, and how they can communicate when they are unhappy, dissatisfied or upset.  Being clear that everyone has chores to do is fully in the parent’s realm to mandate.  Depending on the age and abilities of the children in question, providing opportunities to decide which chores they will do may be totally appropriate.  Having tight boundaries on the expectation (everyone contributes to the family by doing chores) while loosening the parameters around the specifics (here is a list, choose 3 you will be responsible for) can allow room for choice. 

Another thing that works well is having clear and absolute boundaries around fulfilling expectations.  What doesn’t work is using traditional rewards and consequences when expectations are not fulfilled.  If the same infraction results in the same consequence, the child simply learns to bargain each day – deciding if it is worth getting up on time to have computer time.  By always changing up what the consequences are, the child learns that there is a price to pay, and that price can sometimes be high.  Not getting up on time, in my house can result in losing computer time for the day, losing all electronics for the day, having to do an extra chore, losing phone privilages, having to perform at least one kind deed for all other family members, or whatever else might pop into my creative little head that day. 

In my previous entry, I shared a letter I wrote and gave to my 16 year old.  At the time, I honestly was not convinced that he would choose to continue to live with our family.  I took him out to lunch so we could read and discuss it together.  We went after the lunch rush, and got a nice tall booth in the corner.  He had tears in his eyes after he read it.  Initially, he withdrew.  He would not give me eye contact and literally sank into his body.  I reiterated that everything I do and every decision I make for him and his sisters is based in my deep, unconditional love for them.  He told me that he did know that.  I told him that he can tell me that he thinks my rules stink and that he doesn’t like them.  He must tell me in ways that are respectful and loving.  So, he told me my rules stink, he doesn’t like them and there is nowhere else he would rather be than with us.

The weeks since our talk have been good.  Not perfect.  Not entirely easy.  And very good.  Of course Kenneth had to test the boundaries.  He found that they were firm and that there were no cracks in the foundation – my husband and I were in alignment and could not be divided and conquered.  He decided one day that he would prefer to live on the streets than do what was expected of him.  For 3 hours.  He walked to my office and apologized.  He helped come up with ideas for how he was going to meet the expectations that were lined out.  And he was informed that if he ever again chooses to leave rather than fulfill his expectations, it will be a final decision.

Since then, Kenneth has been happier and more energetic than I have seen him in a very long time.  He spends more time with the family, laughs more often, and is helpful and kind.  He is volunteering at a meals program for the homeless and attending a class on digital storytelling.  Tomorrow he will begin helping out at a day care center for high-risk children.  He seems to really enjoy helping other people.   We had a family day last week – a picnic lunch and a 2.25 mile hike up and back down a very tall ridge.  It was such fun and Kenneth had us all cracking up all day. 

My fear that tightening the boundaries for Kenneth would push him away have not only been unfounded, but proven to be totally false.  And herein lies the paradox – Kenneth seems to actually be growing more rapidly and in a stronger, more positive way within these tighter boundaries than he was without them.  Who would have known?!

copyrighted March 23, 2010

An Open Letter to My 16-year-old Son

March 3, 2010 - 8 Responses

Dear Kenneth,

You have experienced more loss, pain, abandonment, and rejection in your short life than many will experience in a lifetime.  These circumstances and events have left your heart bruised, your sense of worth scarred, and your ability to discern real risks from percieved threats severly impaired.  I have wanted nothing more than to be able to erase all of these memories from your mind.  To free you from the fears that haunt you and create a place where you are safe.

Yet, I now realize, that do to so is to also rob you of the opportunities these experiences have presented.  These events have served you in many wonderful ways.  You have an absolutely golden, shining heart.  Your compassion and joy with young children may well be a gift that was wrapped in the package of your own lonely childhood.  Your voracious reading, a tool used to escape your sadness, has fueled your brilliant intellect and creative thinking.

My attempts to protect you from your past, and the world from your anger and fear does not serve you.  What I lulled myself into believing to be helpful to you, really only served my needs to be needed, to be right, and to prove that I was tough enough to handle anything.  The truth is we can both only reach our most inspired goals by being vulernable, brave enough to not always be right, and to meet our needs in direct, open and honest ways.

When I try to protect you from yourself, and the world from your lashing out in pain, I am dishonoring both of us.  I am acting from a place of fear.  Fear that I am not enough.  Fear that I will lose you.  Fear that I will fail.  I am teaching you to be afraid of your own emotions and the world.  That is not how I want to serve you.

From today forward, I commit to serve you in love – honestly and with courage. 

From your perspective, it may not look like that.  When I hold you to expectations of talking to me and others with respect, of contributing to the family and the household, of contributing to the community and others who are less fortunate, when I expect you to excel in your efforts and to live for more than just the immediate pleasure at hand – you will not necessarily see the gifts that these expectations are.  You will likely perceive them to be burdens and limitations.

Thus, I want to tell you why this paradox must be.

Together, we have chosen for you to leave high school and get your GED, with the intent of then enrolling in a technical school.  You will be taking yoru GED test within the next few weeks.  When you enroll in school, you will be out in the adult world.  The passes I have given you are not recognized tender in that world.  Your childhood and past experiences will not be considerations.  Your intellect, behavior, efforts and initiative will be what counts.

If your instructors tell you that food and drinks are not allowed in the computer lab, they will not care that you disagree and that authoritative directives remind you of Ron.  They will expect you to follow the rules.  If you don’t, you will not be allowed to stay in the program.  If you do not complete the program, you will not get the job you dream of having.  Your choice is to decide you would rather not eat/drink in the lab or not get the job you dream of having.  No discussion.  No exceptions.  Yet, I have allowed you to break the rule of eating in the TV/computer room again and again.  I have taught you that you can do what you want because I would rather not take the chance of you calling me a bitch, throwing or knocking stuff over, stomping up the stairs and creating havoc in the house.  I have allowed you to believe that your behavior is an effective option for dealing with the things you do not like.

That ends today.

Your choice is to live in my home, with all of my rules or choose to live elsewhere.

I insist on this because I love you so immensely.  I love you so much that I am willing to risk losing you, letting other people think I have failed, and admit that I have been wrong.  I love you so much that I will no longer teach you to behave in ways that will not serve you.  I love you so much that I will only accept the greatest you have to offer – and nothing less.  If you decide this is not what you want – I still love you with all that I have.

Here is what I will accept as the greatest you have to offer:

  • You are up and out of bed by 9:00 am every weekday
  • You walk the dog once a day
  • You are engaged in some productive, helpful activity at least 4 hours every day – outside of the house, and/or helping out around the house
  • You keep your room clean
  • You do your chores everyday
  • You make dinner 3 days a week
  • You exercise at least 30 minutes, 3 times a week
  • You respect all house rules
  • You use only respectful language, even when you are mad
  • You treat household property with respect, especially when you are mad
  • You spend at least 4 hours, once a week engaged in an activity with the family

I believe that to ask any less of you is to set you up to struggle throughout your adult life.  I want to afford you every possible opportunity to be happy, healthy and successful in life. 

So this is my gift to you.  I hope you see the value in it and someday even treasure it.  For now, I trust myself enough to know it and to fulfill on this promise to you.

Regardless of your choice, I love you with all that I am and I always will,

Aunt-Mom

copyrighted 3-4-10

A Mother’s Enduring Touch

February 17, 2010 - Leave a Response

Growing up I always said I was never going to have kids.  I didn’t really play with babydolls and stollers.  I don’t even think I ever had a babydoll.  Maybe because there were always real babies around our house, I didn’t need a doll and I didn’t need to play pretend.  As the oldest girl in a family of 7 children, I did countless diaper changes and bottle feedings, it wasn’t that much fun in my opinion.  I can remember I was completely enamored with and much more interested in the lives of Mary Tyler Moore, Miss Alice Johnson on Room 222, and Ann Marie, That Girl.  My mom’s feelings would get hurt when I would proclaim that I was going to be an independent career woman.  She felt this was a judgement against her chosen and beloved vocation.  I had a sense as a child that she was particularly good at being a mom.  I now know that she was beyond exceptional.

I got married when I was in my mid 30’s and we agreed that we weren’t really interested in having children.  I channeled my nuturing instincts into gardening, my many neices and nephews and my pets.  I was happy and fulfilled.  I had a job that required extensive travel and I didn’t have to feel guilty about being away.  I loved working with so many different people in so many different areas of the country.  I enjoyed being able to just kick back when I was home – spending weekends hanging out with friends and enjoying family get-togethers.  It wasn’t until five years into the marriage, when my mom died, that I struggled to find purpose and meaning in my life.  My therapist first brought up that many people cope with the loss of their parents through the parenting of their own children.  I wasn’t sure what to do with that – I certainly didn’t want grieving over my mom to be a reason to bring a child into the world.

Eleven months after my mom died, my sister was in a fatal car accident.  If you have read any of my previous blog posts, you will know that this is how I came to take on the role of being a mom.  That was nearly seven years ago.  There have been so many changes in my life that came about as a result of this decision.  The one that may be the greatest blessing is remembering the mother that my mom was, and being inspired by her courage, depth of love, natural playfulness, and her undying, persistent optimism.

Mom made everything playful and a game.  I can honestly say that some of the most fun we had were doing things like painting the house, washing the walls, doing our weekly chores, cooking and baking.  We would have music playing, and be dancing and singing throughout the tasks at hand.  We would joke and play and laugh.  We painted each other, doused each other in water, chased each other around the house and generally had fun together.  As long as we all worked together to clean up the messes we made, mom not only didn’t mind, but often was right in the middle of it all.  I have to say, that I do remember a time our family friends were over when our parents weren’t home.  Don’t ask how, but we all got into a “fairy dust” fight.  If it was white and powdery, it was fairy dust.  We had baby powder, flour, baking soda, powdered suger and heaven knows what else all over each other and the entire house.  Mom and dad walked into the middle of this little game.  She was not amused.  It took us the entire day to clean up the mess we made.  I am sure, that out of our sight, she must have had a good chuckle, though.

Everything I have learned from her has helped me in my efforts to raise my kids and to help them work through their emotional pain.  She showed me how to be firm and funny at the same time.  She was exceptionally talented at tough love.  She had high expectations and never made me feel like a failure.  She worked hard, played hard and loved unconditionally.  She did not back down from difficult decisions and would fight to the death for the good of her children.  At times, she so identified with her role as a mother that she struggled with letting go and creating opportunities for independence.  I learned from that as well. 

The one thing she taught me that has most helped me to parent my kids, is that there are no bad kids.  There are behaviors that may be unacceptable, but the behavior does not make the kid.  And there is nothing that cannot be made better with love and laughter.  When I remember this, and stay committed to love above anger and fear, I am at total peace, regardless of how chaotic and disregulated the kids are.  This is also when I feel my mom with me, celebrating the joy of parenting.

copyrighted 2/18/10 – Happy Birthday, Mom ❤

This is your Brain on Stress-Overload: the impacts of early trauma on brain development

January 25, 2010 - One Response

I have mentioned in some of my previous posts that Attachment Disorder is at its root a physiological condition that has emotional, behavioral and cognitive manifestations.  It is very easy to overlook the root of the disorder, especially if you are not a direct witness to the trauma that created the dysfunction in the early years of the child’s development.  It is also easy to dismiss if one does not begin with the assumption that there are no bad children – only children that have had harrowing experiences. 

What research is only recently proving, is that not only do these traumatic experiences deny the child the opportunities to learn (social, emotional and cognitive skills), the child actually incurs damage to the brain, which further impairs their ability to learn the necessary skills, even when they have been removed from the source of the trauma.

According to Bruce Perry, PhD, the effects of a child’s environment, positive or negative, interact with all of the processes of neurodevelopment.  The fundamental aspects of neurodevelopment occur in the first 3 years of life, over 8 specific processes.  Any experience that adversely affects any of these processes, alters the ability of the brain to carry out the process, thereby impairing the functional capacity of the brain.  Disruption of the pattern, timing or intensity of any of the cues required to complete the process can lead to abnormal neurodevelopment and profound dysfunction.    In short, when the child has chronic adverse experiences – loss, threat, neglect, injury, abuse – there will be disruptions of neurodevelopment that will result in compromised functioning.  The areas most often affected include fine and large motor skills, impulsivity, emotional attachment, depression, anxiety, panic disorder, PTSD, stress, memory, attention and hyper-activity.

One of the things I have learned with my kids is that the brain can repair itself.  And that it takes more than just establishing a safe, loving, stable family experience that they can trust ~ which is a feat in and of itself ~ to help them overcome the impacts of the trauma they experienced.

Children with attachment disorder (and their brains) need help to reduce the negative patterned responses that were created during the mal-development of their neuroprocesses.  They also need opportunities to stimulate their brains to create new, positive patterns of response.  I have found two techniques that have benefitted my kids; nutritional supplements and Brain Gym.  I will describe the nutritional supplements we have used successfully and how they have helped, as well as introduce the concept and some examples of Brain Gym.

First, let me say that on principle, I do not endorse medicating children and in fact had horrendous experiences with Kenneth being severely over-medicated when he came to live with me.  He was on medications for depression, compliance, attention and hyperactivity – that actually exacerbated his anger and aggression.  I was very resistant to even using natural nutritional supplements.  However, after reading and researching the root cause of the kids’ emotional and behavioral difficulties and learning about brain development, I came to the conclusion that it was not only a good idea, but imperative.  If I wanted to help the kids manage their emotional responses, part of that was to give their brains what they needed to reroute and redevelop.  I did some additional research into what supplements were most likely to provide the nutrients, chemicals and processes their brains needed and chose the following regimen for my 10-year-old:

GABA – GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is an amino acid that works as an inhibitory neurotransmitter.  It balances the brain by inhibiting over-excitation.  clinical studies had identified benefits to memory, cognitive functions, nervousness, anxiety, emotional stress and sleep difficulty.

I believe it works so well in kids with Attachment Disorder because it inhibits their overly developed stress and anxiety neuroresponses.  It slows down and reduces the “traffic” firing in their “Danger Will Robinson” synapses – allowing them to create new synaptic connections with the neurons associated with rational decision-making 

Patsy takes the dosage recommended by the manufacturer.

5-HTP – 5-HTP (5-hydroxyl-L-tryptophan) is the substance the brain uses to make serotonin – a neurotransmitter that regulates emotions, sleep-awake cycles, appetite, and general feelings of well-being.  Clinical studies and a large number of anecdotal reports indicate that 5-HTP is an effective antidepressant in some people.  Research further attests that 5-HTP leads to fewer side effect than pharmaceutical antidepressants.

I believe it is helpful for kids with AD because the increased serotonin counteracts the high levels of cortisol that is present in the brains of children who have experienced chronic, prolonged stress.  Cortisol is a corticosteroid hormone produced by  the adrenal gland. It is usually referred to as the “stress hormone” as it is involved in response to stress and anxiety. It increases blood pressure and blood sugar, and reduces immune responses.  In normal release, cortisol has widespread actions which help restore homeostasis after stress.  Severe trauma or chronic stress events can elevate cortisol levels in the blood for prolonged periods and are the basis for the physiological consequences of chronic stress. 

Patsy takes the dosage recommended by the manufacturer.

SAMe – SAMe is essential for the manufacture of brain neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine, and serotonin.  Dopamine has many functions in the brain, including important roles in behavior and cognition, voluntary movement, motivation and reward, sleep, mood, attention, and learning.  The noradrenergic neurons (norepinephrine, epinephrine) in the brain form a neurotransmitter system, that, when activated, exerts effects on large areas of the brain. The effects are alertness and arousal, and influences on the reward system.    SAMe facilitates the binding of the neurotransmitters to their receptor sites, enhancing their activity.  SAMe also enhances membrane fluidity and improves cellular communication between neurons.  Numerous studies have shown SAMe to be equal or superior to antidepressants – with more rapid onset, and no side effects.

I believe it helps kids with AD because it facilitates the development of  the neurodevelopment processes that are broken down when the young child is experiencing chronic and/or severe trauma – specifically the development of neurotransmitters and the enhanced communications between neurons – in the areas of the brain that produce chemicals (dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine, and serotonin)  which support positive emotional and social responses. 

Patsy takes the dosage recommended by the manufacturer.

B-100 Multivitamin – Vitamin B-100 is a supplement that provides an entire day’s supply of all essential vitamins in the B family.  B vitamins enhance nervous system function.  The American Medical Association concurs with the majority of medical professionals worldwide in considering the B family of vitamins “stress vitamins.” These vitamins are not able to be stored by the body, so a new supply is needed daily.

I believe B vitamins are helpful for kids experiencing Attachment Disorder because they enhance the nervous system – a strategy that further assists kids to create positive coping mechanisms for managing stress.

Patsy takes the dosage recommended by the manufacturer: 1 B-100 vitamin daily.

Prior to Patsy beginning her nutritional supplement regimen, she was unable to complete homework without at least 2 or 3 meltdowns (crying, throwing things, screaming, saying she wanted to die, saying she hated everyone, screaming that no-one loves her or cares about her, running around the house, stomping up the stairs, punching walls, kicking things…).  She would get frustrated by everyday tasks and was threatening to run away from home (which she actually did once).  She would have similar problems at school.  She would also do what we call “fire drills”, claiming to be unable to perform simple tasks like choose a shirt, tie her shoes, make her bed, and then have huge temper tantrums that no-one would help her.  She was mad almost all of the time.

Since starting to take the supplements, she is doing her homework with minimal assistance, enjoys her assigned reading time, and has been on honor roll all year.  She does her chores and often offers to help me with cooking or folding clothes.  She gets along better with her brother and sister, is openly affectionate and laughs regularly.  She is sleeping through the night and waking up rested and in happy spirits.
 
They have made a HUGE difference for her.  On weekends, if she forgets to take them, I can see a change in her behavior and moods within hours.  I then remind her to take them and within an hour she is calm and back to her happy self.
In addition to using the nutritional supplements to help her brain redevelop, we also have Patsy perform various types of Brain Gym (These simple exercises are based on the copyrighted work of Paul E. Dennison, Ph.D., and Gail E. Dennison. Brain Gym is a registered trademark of Brain Gym® International).  Several of the Brain Gym exercises are intended to help with coordinating right and left brain communication, concentration, and achieving calm.  There are 26 exercises included in the Brain Gym model, though I will only describe a few that specifically address the areas most beneficial to kids with Attachment Disorder.
  • “Cross Crawl”
    This exercise helps coordinate right and left brain by exercising the information flow between the two hemispheres.
  • Stand or sit. Put the right hand across the body to the left knee as you raise it, and then do the same thing for the left hand on the right knee just as if you were marching.  This can be performed using one hand at a time or with both hands.  The key is to achieve “cross mid-line” in which the arms cross over the vertical center of the body. 
  • Just do this either sitting or standing for about 2 minutes.
    • “Hook Ups”
      This works well for nerves before a test or special event such as making a speech. Any situation which will cause nervousness calls for a few “hook ups” to calm the mind and improve concentration.
    • Stand or sit. Cross the right leg over the left at the ankles.
    • Take your right wrist and cross it over the left wrist and link up the fingers so that the right wrist is on top.
    • Bend the elbows out and gently turn the fingers in towards the body until they rest on the sternum (breast bone) in the center of the chest. Stay in this position.
    • Keep the ankles crossed and the wrists crossed and then breathe evenly in this position for a few minutes. You will be noticeably calmer after that time.

    • Lazy eight’s
      The activity consists in drawing horizontal eight’s in the air with one hand at a time. It activates brain and improves connection between hemispheres.

    • The elephant
      The activity consists in drawing horizontal eight’s in the air with both hands at the same time. It activates the inner ear for improved balance and so integrates the brain for listening with both ears. It improves listening comprehension and attention, short- and long-term memory, and thinking ability.

    We have found it particularly helpful to do these exercises with Patsy to help her transition back home at the end of a school day.  It is a fun and funny activity to do before she sits down to do her homework. 

    DISCLAIMER: I am not a physician or medical professional.  I cannot, and would not, prescribe any type of medication, nutritional supplement, or therapy for anyone.  The information provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, and based on my experiences with my children.

    Copyrighted 1/25/10

    Some Other Beginning’s End…

    December 31, 2009 - 2 Responses

    This is something I started writing 10 years ago.  I have added to it over the years and decided to publish it here on my blog today in honor of my dad.  Thirteen years ago today, he transitioned from our physical world to awaken to the reality of eternal love.  His humor, brilliance, love of learning, struggles with fear and anger and unvoiced, though undeniable love have impacted my life and helped to make me the person I am today.  Thank-you, Papasan for all your gifts – I love you.

    It’s Not Just Semantics

    One Father’s Day, as I was going through boxes with my Great Aunt, I found a notebook – one page filled with writing.  The rest of the pages in the book were empty.  It was in the middle of a spiral bound pad, but open to this page.  I did not recognize the handwriting immediately, but after reading a sentence, I knew my father was the author.  He was expressing his notion of semantics: “General Semantics is not concerned with words, but with what people do with words and with what those words do to people.”  As the paragraph goes on, he reflects on the inadequacies of semantics.  The words cannot accurately reflect our multiple and confused emotions and perceptions.  He does not hold language fully responsible, however, noting that our perceptions are only one facet of a multi-arrayed reality.  What caused him to write this, I can’t say for sure, for it wasn’t dated.  I expect it was written some time after he was diagnosed with cancer.

    How typical of my father.  He could not find the words to express himself, so he expressed his thoughts about the inadequacies of words.  I cannot recall a time in which dad ever said “I feel…” Oh, he could articulate his thoughts, and he had thoughts on everything: politics, his employers, his children, his siblings, the economy, education, television shows, what he read.  He was a truly analytical thinker and, I believe, one of his greatest joys was sharing ideas and debating points. Until, however, the cancer metastasized to his brain.  For about 6 months, he could not write and had great difficulty finding the word he wanted to say.  Suddenly he was left with nothing but his emotions. 

    My dad cried when my brother Jim died.  It was the only time I had ever seen him cry, until the tumors on his brain stole his language.  He cried almost every time I saw him while he was receiving radiation to his head.  He never shared the reason or impetus for his tears.  I am not sure he even knew.  The amazing thing is, his impending death was only one of the things with which he was trying to cope.  He was facing his own feelings about his mortality, and he was also dealing with the guilt of adding to the families’, and in particular my mother’s, grief.  It had only been 5 years since Jim died, and dad was diagnosed while Jeff was in the hospital.  For a year, dad and Jeff were both critically ill.  It would turn out that dad would out live Jeff by 3 ½ years; some say out of pure determination.

    No one even knew enough about AIDS in 1982 to be cruel yet, but all three of my brothers who were born with a bleeding disorder were already diagnosed as being HIV positive early that year.  Given the prejudice and ignorance my brothers encountered through out their lives, we knew to keep this information to ourselves.  We did not realize how deadly this ignorance and fear was until Jim was hospitalized for a spot of pneumonia on his lower left lobe in 1987.  It was 40 days after he was diagnosed with “Full Blown AIDS”, and 3 months after he was married.  In the hospital, he was placed on a quarantined floor, for people with AIDS.  The doctors and nurses wore gloves, masks and aprons any time they were in his room.  The nurses refused to clean him when he vomited.  My sisters-in-law and I were the only ones who bathed him.  My brothers had been in a hospital more times in their lives than most people had been to the movie theater.  They had always received high quality care, by doctors and nurses who kept mom and dad informed about what was going on, and were always treated with dignity.  This was our first experience with an adult hospital, and with a staff paralyzed by fear.  As we sat, in our ignorance and faith in the medical profession, Jim died.  We begged for help when he was struggling to breathe and after he used sign language to communicate “help me fight” – no-one informed us the doctor placed a no-code in his file.  One doctor was reported to say that it was for the best that AIDS patients go quickly, as it was such a heinous disease.

    Dad expressed for years afterward, what he should have done to that doctor.  He had always demanded the treatment he expected when Jim was young; he should have done it then as well and not trusted the doctors.  I imagine his guilt and regret stewed in him, but it was only expressed by a passionate cynicism and active disrespect for all in the medical profession.  What a conundrum.  He hated and distrusted all doctors,and now depended on one to keep him alive.  And he couldn’t die.  He would do anything to avoid adding to mom’s pain and loss.

    Just as dad was recovering from 11 months of chemotherapy and radiation, as his stamina and skills were returning, he buried his youngest son.  Jeff was the last of 7 children, born twelve years to the day of the birth of the first.  Phil was really quite disappointed by this birthday gift, as he already had 3 brothers, and really wanted a new bike.  Having so many children in such a short time frame, not to mention in such close quarters – we lived in a 2-bedroom bungalow – can create a bond.  Add to that the life and death incidences regularly experienced by three of the siblings, and the fear and ignorance demonstrated by those who do not understand the nuances of hemophilia, and you have the perfect recipe for a close family.  We stood by one another, and would literally go to the mat, any time someone threatened one of the clan.  Jeff was probably the primary beneficiary, having 6 older siblings to watch out for him.  He was also a very cute little boy and easy to spoil.

    He learned from our constant care and attention to merely expect it.  He was not a spoiled brat, he was very generous and typically reciprocated kindness done unto him.  He just simply couldn’t imagine that anyone would be anything but kind and attentive to him.  He was very polite in his requests and extremely gracious in his expressions of gratitude.  But he still drove the nurses crazy!  He once actually asked them to peel the grapes for him, because the skins irritated his digestive system (due to a very nasty and potentially fatal infestation of parasites).  They, of course, were appalled at the request – he simply got his feelings hurt by their indignant response.  When I think of the pain and excruciating treatments he endured without complaint or self-pity, I considered it a small favor to ask.  I frequently wonder how it was for them – dad and Jeff.  To each be so ill…to be watching each other die.  I think Jeff always believed he would die first.  He never really spoke about his feelings about dad’s cancer, though he discussed his feelings about his own death frequently.  At first he spoke of his fear, his regret at not finding a love to share his life, not being able to be a father who played with and openly adored his children.  He never implied a sense of the unfairness of it all, just the sadness about some of the things he would miss experiencing.  This all changed after he experienced heart failure and was resuscitated.  He remembered that during the time the doctors and nurses were working furiously to revive him, he had a vision of Jim in a lovely garden.  He recalled an intense experience of no pain and a longing for Jim.  He said the colors were more vivid and beautiful than he had ever seen – that there were no words to describe them (That old problem with semantics, again.).  He related to me that he was no longer afraid, or even sad.  He was in fact, grateful – he now had something to look forward to.  He remarked that he had not felt that sense of eagerness, nearly excitement, for years.  He noted that he was also lucky, because he had a wonderful gift, to be able to say goodbye to everyone, to share those words we so often hold back.  Jeff died 2 weeks later, after having shared all of the thoughts and feelings he felt important, with those he loved and respected. 

     This second loss was so different than when Jim died.  We were able to say “goodbye” and to take care of any unfinished business.  I was so relieved that Jeff was no longer in pain.  I was comforted by his vision of Jim and the knowledge that he was ready to go and was no longer fearful or sad.  Yet, I didn’t feel any better.  I was once again lost in a sea of grief.  If I was struggling with this loss, what was it like for dad?

     I really can’t imagine – to know you are dying and to bury your offspring, only 5 months into his 21st year.  Dad never expressed his feelings – regarding the loss of his sons – or any other that I can ever remember.  Dad never told us he loved us.  Even the night he died.  I sat next to his bed.  He was drifting in and out.  He was in excruciating pain.  He could not stand up to relieve himself and mom was not strong enough to support him on her own.  I know he was so ashamed to be unable to meet even his most basic need.  I am not sure if it was that shame and embarrassment, or if it was his deeply buried fear of vulnerability that came between us, preventing me from holding his hand, even as I watched his labored breathing.  At his request, he was given an increased dose of painkiller.  We were certain that it would be his last night – the pain killers cause depressed respiratory capacity.  His tumors were slowly suffocating him; the side effect of the drugs would likely push him to the edge.  He had already signed an order requesting no “heroic measures” and no form of resuscitation.  After receiving his dose of medication, he gently thanked me with his eyes.  As his breathing became deeper, with longer intervals between each breath, I sat on my hands and deliberately chose not to wake my mother until I knew he was nearly gone.  It was the longest half-hour of my life.  My most lonely and tortured minutes, and the most intimate connection I ever had with my dad.  As I sat there, I grieved not only my loss, but for the three words he had still never said to me… “I love you.”

    Dad always said that if love was unconditional, it was of little value.  Only those things that are rarely given, and especially those things that are earned, have value.  Sitting there, counting the seconds between each breath he took, it felt like a cop-out to me.  All these years later, as I write this, I see some wisdom to his perspective.  While that which is given freely and unconditionally is not utterly worthless, it is the depth of one’s values and the trueness of one’s character that sets people apart.  Actively making the choice – deciding if and when to acknowledge the value of these attributes – is a much greater and deeper personal commitment.

    Though I personally choose to nurture and express my emotions fully and unconditionally when they touch the deepest part of my spirit, I agree with dad that it is important to analyze my thoughts and make conscious decisions about the characteristics embodied by, and the ideas expressed by others – to choose to acknowledge and respect those I value.  I have learned that it is possible to love someone and not have a deep respect for the choices they make, their lifestyle or their values.  It is interesting because in my experience, the love is not any less valid or true or genuine in these cases.  However, when there is a strong sense of respect associated with the loved one – there is something different.  It feels more spiritually intimate somehow – and maybe safer, less vulnerable.  As I continue to experience the joys and pain of life I have both a better understanding of dad’s perspective and a greater sense of sadness that he was not able to open himself up as much to love as to respect.  I know, in no uncertain terms, that dad loved me wholeheartedly.  I still have a sense of loss for never having heard him say it.  I have yet to determine if that is my Achilles’ heel…or his.

    It has been 22 years since I last saw Jim’s infectious smile, 16 since I touched Jeff’s beautiful face, and 13 since I said farewell to my dad.  Yet, I still feel the impacts they had on my life and I continue to learn from them.  It may seem like semantics, but even though they have left, they are not gone.

    Copyrighted 12/31/09

    A Lesson in Gratitude

    December 4, 2009 - One Response

    The past few months I have been working to live in gratitude for all that life brings me – there are times I am quite successful in this endeavor and other times, not so much.  It may be because of this effort that I have been thinking a lot about my youngest brother Jeff lately.

    Jeff was born just before I turned 1o – and on my oldest brother’s 12th birthday.  When Mom called Phil to tell him Happy Birthday and that he had a new little brother, he responded “Yeah, well what I really wanted was a bike”.  I guess Phil figured the 3 brothers and 2 sisters he already had were plenty.  Mom had a very difficult delivery and nearly didn’t survive it.  When she came home with the baby she was required to be on bedrest.  My grandma came over to help out during the day, and I did all of the evening and night time feedings and care.  Needless to say, he and I formed an especially strong bond.  

    Like 2 of my other brothers, Jeff was born with Hemophilia – a genetic disorder that inhibits the blood’s ability to form clots.  Without treatment, an injury that would result in a simple bruise for most people could cause a hemophiliac to bleed to death.  When Jeff was still a toddler, a new treatment became available.  Rather than infusing with whole blood that may or may not have an adequate amount of the necessary clotting factor, technology advanced to a degree that allowed blood to be broken down into various components.  For the first time, a doctor could prescribe a specific dosage of the required factor.   My brothers could receive their treatment at home as soon as they needed it, reducing hospital visits as well as longevity and severity of bleeds.  This wonderful advance in medicine was a life-saver…until it unintentionally became the vehicle which caused the deaths of over 90% of the individuals who received the treatment.  Each vial that contained a dosage of the clotting factor was made up of blood contributions from up to 2,000 donors – significantly increasing the risk that any recipient became exposed to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.  By the time they were first tested in 1982, all 3 of my brothers were HIV positive.

    Jim was the first to experience full-blown AIDS, in 1987.  He didn’t really even get a fighting chance.  He died 5 days from receiving the AIDS diagnosis, 1 week after his 24th birthday, and on his 3-month wedding anniversary.

    Jeff was 16 when he moved from HIV positive status to having AIDS.  By the time he was 19, he was spending most of his time in the hospital.  He volunteered as a test subject for every new medication and treatment that was available.  He felt that Jim did not have the opportunity to fight, and since he had these options, he was determined to take every advantage possible.  When Jeff turned 21 on November 16, 1992, he had spent apporoximately 18 of the previous 20 months in a hospital.  I spent time with him everyday, usually staying with him until he could fall asleep.  Which often times meant I was there until 2 or 3 in the morning and sometimes all night.  What I found the most remarkable about the time I spent with Jeff, was his capacity to fully live life, regardless of where he was and what was happening to his physical body.

    I remember those times as some of the happiest, funniest, sweetest, most emotionally connected times in my life.  We played cards and board games, watched movies, talked about our hopes, dreams, fears, and regrets.  We w0rked on various art projects and Christmas gifts together.  And we laughed and laughed and laughed.  Once, when he was having a massive attack of cabin fever, I kidnapped him and took him for a ride around town.  It was cloudy, grey and chilly and all he kept saying was what a beautiful day it was – and he was right. 

    For the last 2 years of his life, his body was not able to tolerate food because of a parasite living in his digestive tract.  He was fed directly into his blood stream with high protein liquid.  That did not detract from his love of food.  He would often have certain cravings and ask me get that for lunch or dinner for myself and eat it in his room so he could smell it.  Sometime he would even eat a bit – and not make a single complaint when he would later be sick for hours.  He was grateful to have experienced the taste and feel of food.  Of all of the days and months he spent in the hospital, for all of the uncomfortable and painful treatments he endured, I never heard him complain.  He was cheerful, loving, and grateful in every way.  He was a particularly handsome kid and was a shameless flirt with the nurses.  And he was such a charmer, he didn’t flirt only with the young, cute nurses – he mercilessly teased and turned his charisma on for all of them.

    In what turned out to be his last Christmas here with us, he and I worked diligently to make presents for the rest of the family.  We had so much fun designing and creating the projects together.  Sometimes he didn’t have the energy to sit up and do the tasks, but would always offer me his critique and make suggestions.  I have such happy memories of those times we shared.  And I have come to realize that Jeff was such an amazing example of living in gratitude.  He never denied that he was experiencing a terminal illness.  He never asked “why me” or begged to be spared the experience.  He also never stopped being positive about life.  He had hopes and dreams for his future and NEVER expressed that he felt he was owed that future.  Should he live to see it – he would be grateful.  Should he end his experience in this physical world sooner – he was grateful for being here at all.  This is such an incredible mindset and even more so, considering his age.  I see now how capable he was at allowing his spirit to take the lead in his life – leaving his ego to just come along and enjoy the ride.  I am now more than twice the age he was then and I am only just beginning to wrap my head around how to do this.

    So, Merry Christmas, Jeff.  Thank-you for being such an astounding teacher and for touching my life so deeply in the short time you were here.  I have been so blessed and am eternally grateful for having had you in my life.  I make this commitment to you:  I will use the example you have set to guide me in my effort to live in complete gratitude and will share your lessons with others who can also benefit from knowing your beautiful story.

    Copyrighted 12/4/09

    Visions of Sugar Plums Dance in My Head…

    November 11, 2009 - One Response

    This is my bedtime meditation:

    Patsy is a smart, confident, free-spirited little girl.  She is happy, calm and at peace.  She knows with absolute certainty that she is loved and cherished.  Patsy is fully aware of her skills, talents and gifts and she is eager to use them to create the life of her dreams.

    Megan is a bright, confident, joyful young woman.  She is calm and at peace.  She knows with absolute certaintly that she is loved and cherished.  Megan is fully aware of her skills, talents and gifts and she is eager to use them to create the life of her dreams.

    Kenneth is a motivated, self-assured, determined young man.  He is happy, calm and at peace.  He knows with absolute certainty that he is loved and cherished.  Kenneth is fully aware of his skills, talents and gifts and he is eager to use them to create the life of his dreams.

    I focus on each word as I state it to myself and picture each of the kids – how they look and what they are doing – seeing this as their reality.  I then fall asleep happy and peaceful, with absolute certainty that I am loved and cherished.

    I am thinking I will create a poster or a plaque for each of them to hang in the bedrooms so that this is the last thought they have each night and the first each morning.

    copyrighted 11/11/09

    To Live Gratitude is to Touch Heaven (Gaertner)

    October 30, 2009 - 3 Responses

    It has been a long and strange week.  An odd assortment of happenings and circumstances have occurred and my emotions are all mixed up and jumbled.  Kenneth had a bleed this week – always sparking worry for me.  Not because of the medical issue – I have dealt with hemophilia and hemorrhages all my life.  I just never know how Kenneth is going to do with it.  He hates needles and doctors and doesn’t handle pain very well at all.  He actually cooperated quite well with keeping ice and an ace-wrap on it Monday night.  He was still sleeping when I left for work on Tuesday and I was a little stressed because I had a mandatory meeting in the middle of the day.  Of course, he calls me just as the meeting starts.  I texted and learned that his knee was worse and was going to need an infusion.  If you are not familiar with hemophilia, or what an infusion is – a quick overview.  His blood is missing a factor that causes it to clot when there has been trauma to the body.  So, where most of us might bump into something and maybe have a red mark or scrape, Kenneth will have a massive bruise.  The more serious the trauma to soft tissue or organs, the more significant the “bleed”.  A minor bleed can be treated with cold and compression.  Moderate to severe hemorrhages require Kenneth to have concentrated Factor IX infused intraveneously – usually once or twice a day for 1 – 4 days.  So, the kid is already in pain, then has to be jabbed, not just into his arm or soft tissue, but directly into his vein.  He happens to have the misfortune to have small, mobile veins.  So, if the nurse is not exceptionally skilled, he is hard to “hit”.  I once watched as a veteran nurse stick him 6 times and still was never able to succeed.

    So, one can’t really blame him for doing everything in his power to avoid an infusion.  Luckily, over the last year he has matured, learned to trust the nurses at clinic, and been more responsible about managing his disorder.  So, even though I had to take off work and bring him to clinic, he was not only cooperative, but told me he drank 4 glasss of orange juice to help hydrate himself and make his veins an easier target.  It was a bit nerve wracking balancing work and clinic, preparing the concentrate, getting Kenneth in and out of the house on crutches in the rain.  Not the worse case scenario, and I was still very tired at the end of the day.

    That evening, I received a phone call from my ex.  He wanted to let me know that the mother of a friend of ours had passed away.  I know, it seems a rather benign situation – yet it put me into a bit of an emotional tail-spin.  Having experienced the deaths of 3 siblings and both parents – I am highly empathetic to others’ losses.  It can also bring a lot of my own grief to the surface.  The thing that caught me off guard though, was a wave – no more of a surge – of emotions  surrounding the loss of friends that occurred after the divorce.  This friend in particular, and his wife, were people I would spend time with nearly every weekend and sometimes during the week.  We would gather for baseball games, Mizzou basketball games, political debates.  We had dinner and went to parties and movies together regularly.  They were with me during the illnesses and deaths of most of my family members.  My dad passed away on New Years Eve and this friend joined my family that night as we pulled together and toasted the passing of a complex man and a difficult year.  I believed I was as close to this person as friends could be.  Yes, I met him through my ex – and they had been friends for a long time before I met them.  I thought, though, that we had a friendship that extended beyond the confined of mine and my exes relationship.  Don’t get me wrong, this is not the only friendship and relationship I have lost in the chaos of divorce, death and raising 4 traumatized children.  It’s just this was probably the closest and the event of his mom passing away brought all of this crashing in on me.  I was overwhelmed by sadness for his loss, missing this friendship more than I had realized I did, and a high level of awareness of the many others that have disappeared from my life.  It is hard to say if these relationships have dissapated because of choosing which of us to stay with in the aftermath of the divorce, or because of the drastic change in lifestyle I under went when the kids came into my life.

    This is by no means meant to place blame.  It just is.  And it happened to hit hard this week how much I miss some of these friends.

    Wednesday was parent-teacher conferences with Megan’s teachers.  School is always a hot-button for all of my kids.  I have described in earlier posts how Kenneth has struggled with the authoritarian environment common to all schools.  The girls, also having Attachment Disorder, have issues as well.  They manifest a bit differently, but the end result is the same – unhappy kids, unhappy teachers, unhappy mom.  If Megan likes a teacher, or if there are minimal requirements (art, music) – she is typically a star performer.  Subjects that require her to put forth effort, do homework and pay attention – not so much.  She starts high school next year, and in order for her to get into one that is safe and will provide her with what she needs to go to college, she needs to really kick into gear.  So, I was absolutely dismayed to see that she had C’s and a D in most of her core subjects.  The good new is, so was she.  She actually teared up – where in the past she would just brush it off and make a joke about it.  She sat with me and participated in discussions with the teachers about what she can do to bring her grades up.  The teachers were great – reinforcing the difference they see in the effort she is puting forth and encouraging her that if she follows through with their suggestions she will easily be an A-B student.  So, another night of emotional ups and downs.  In the end, I felt good ab0ut the conferences and Megan’s performance.  And, I was exhausted when I got home.

    Then, yesterday, after work, I brought my 18 year old cat to the vet to be put to sleep.  I have had her for 17 years – she was given to me by my ex when we first started dating.  I named her Shadow – as in Me and My Shadow – she used to follow me everywhere.  We had to put our dog down just a couple of months ago and every death dredges up the kids’ fears and unresolved issues.  Patsy, who has been on rocky emotional terrain already took it especially hard.  She wanted to be with Shadow when the procedure was administered.  Once Shad went to sleep, Pasty began howling and bawling.  Now mind you, she had not interacted with this cat for weeks, maybe months – and she was often mean to her.  I found myself feeling so angry and resentful toward Patsy that I could hardly bear it.

    This morning I was so tired and emotionally drained that I considered taking the day off of work – but since the kids were off school I realized it would actually be less stressful to go to the office.  Luckily I had no meetings and it was a quiet day.  After work I finally made it to the gym – the first time all week.  Thankfully that did wonders for my state of mind – along with the fact that it is finally Friday and I now have the weekend to recuperate. 

    I have been working to be aware of all of life as a gift and to live in gratitude.  It is an interesting exercise to open up to sadness, resentment, aggrevation and emotional fatigue AND do so in gratitude.  It feels counter-intuitive and contradictory.  I am sure it will feel more natural as I do it more often.  Even now, though, it is a much less desparaging experience than to lamblast myself with guilt, shame, and self reproach.

    It is a new and wonderful experience to treat myself with the same compassion, patience and gentleness as I do with the kids.  I highly recommend everyone give it a try.

    copyrighted 10/30/09

    The Chaos Factor

    October 26, 2009 - 2 Responses

    One of the difficulties in raising kids with Attachment Disorder is that they crave chaos and instability.  It sounds bizarre and is irrational, but there is a certain logic to this drive.  When these children are very young they experience high levels of stress, frustration, and fear.  This causes their brain to be flooded with adrenalin.  They come to percieve this state as normal and safe.  It allows them to remain on “high alert” – ready for fight, flight, or freeze – as soon as their world becomes stressful and frightening – which they have come to believe always will, and likely sooner rather than later.

    When there is more than one child in the family with AD, it creates an interesting group dynamic.  It may seem like one child in particular has more acting out behaviors and does the most to create chaos in the environment.  The other children likely have certain triggers, but have behaviors that tend to be expressed with less frequency and intensity.  That is, until the most disregulated child becomes calmer and more stable.  Then, the kids that you thought were pretty stable start melting down and you wonder what the heck happened!

    In our family, Kenneth has been the kid that most actively communicated his fears and anger – not verbally or rationally, but through uncooperative, rude, aggressive, and sometimes bizarre behaviors.  When he was on a major tirade the girls would have a domino effect and the entire house would be in an uproar.  I hadn’t really noticed it until lately, but when he was engaging in his more typical, consistent, and persistent acts of attempting to be the one in control, the girls would actually be more mellow and want my attention and affection.  I at first interpreted this to mean that they were unsettled by his behavior and were looking for reassureance from me.  Apparently, not so much.  They were actually in their “comfort zone”.  They had their adrenalin rush and recognized the familiar levels of tension.  All was as it should be.

    Because Kenneth was seemingly struggling more with his demons, the lion’s share of the work we were doing with the attachment therapist was directed toward him.  The girls were included, and had interventions as well, but not as intensely.  Over the past 2 years, a combination of maturity, attachment therapy, a more condusive learning environment, and my stubborn determination to love him has garnered pretty amazing results.  We have not had a physical altercation or aggressive verbal outburst for nearly 4 months.  Kenneth not only cooperates with doing his chores, he frequently offers help and engages in random acts of kindness.  He certainly is not a perfect kid and there are still some episodes of stomping up stairs,talking back under his breath and not following all of the rules.  And that is completely normal.

    Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to sit back and appreciate this metamorphasis – because Patsy has deemed herself as Kenneth’s proxy.

    I have had a much more difficult time dealing with Patsy in this role.  I’m still not entirely sure why – except maybe because I am resentful that we were so close to achieving a peaceful, stable household.  And maybe because she was typically a sweet, funny, affectionate little girl with a wise and knowing soul.  Of course she had her moments and could put Kenneth to shame when she was in full melt-down.  But it happened less frequently and she emerged from these tirades as a sad, scared, little girl. 

    Now, however, she is nearly always in some kind of a funk or another.  She rarely smiles, constantly questions me and argues, and seems to intentionally target me and push my buttons – then screams at me for hating her.  It is as if she slaps me in the face, then blames me for being such a rotten mom, forcing her to punish me.  It is about the most difficult thing I have ever done, to not take this personally. 

    In fact, as I write this, I can see that she is mirroring onto me what she feels about herself.  She may well be mad at me for Kenneth being so much calmer now.  She has to act out to keep her comfort zone in place.  She is compelled to keep the tension present and at a high level.  And she desperately wants Kenneth to take his role back, so she doesn’t have to be the one to keep the chaos going.  That is why she also targets him and pushes his buttons every chance she gets.

    So, we are stepping up our focus on Patsy, while being sure to help keep Kenneth focused and on track and making sure Megan doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.  Patsy is seeing 2 therapists and we try to make sure she has at least one session a week.  Tom and I take turns doing “snuggle time” with her every night before she goes to bed.  We are intent on hugging all of them all throughout the day.  I also try to make sure I spend time laughing with each of them every day. 

    I have been told VERY often in my life that I am stubborn, headstrong, obstinate and willful.  Many people in my life (especially work supvervisors!) have seen this as a terrible fault and a negative trait.  I see it as my saving grace – and possibly the best gift I can give my kids.  I refuse to ever give up on them and I will persist until they are all confident, happy, healthy individuals who know just how valuable and loved they are.

    Copyrighted 10/26/09

    A Heroes Journey

    October 21, 2009 - 2 Responses

    September 28, 1993 – He enters this world with a loud cry.  He had been in a warm, dark, safe place and suddenly, after being pushed and squished he was in a very cold, VERY bright, and terribly loud place.  His little chin quivered between his cries of protest.  Soon, though, he was warm and felt cozy.  He could hear a soft voice cooing to him.  Kenny eventually calmed down and nestled into the soft, yet firm place in the crook of his mother’s arm.

    After that first strange and frightening day, things got much better for Kenny.  When he made his hungry sounds, mom or dad would feed him – rocking him gently.  When he made his uncomfortable cry they would change him and coo to him.  When he made his lonely whimper they would play and laugh with him.  He felt loved and safe. 

    One day,though, without warning and while he was still a tiny baby, everything got strange and scary again.  There was a bigger house with more people.  Daddy wasn’t there anymore.  And now, when he made his hungry sounds, or uncomfortable cry, or lonely whimper, he never knew who would take care of him.  The man and woman, called Gramma and Grumpa, didn’t seem to understand him, rarely getting what he needs without him having to tell them over and over.  They were kind and loving, but it was very stressful and frustrating.

    Before long, Kenny was beginning to crawl, talk and walk.  One day, as he was trying to walk, Kenny fell down.   Gramma Pat put really cold and tight things on him where it hurt – it didn’t feel good and he wanted to take them off.  Mom and Gramma told him he had a “bleed” and they needed to take him to the doctor to make his “owie” better.   Only when they got to the hospital, people stuck needles into him and pushed things through tubes into his arms.  Mom and Gramma Pat lied to him.  These doctors DID NOT make him feel better, they HURT him even worse!  Kenny decided he would never let them take him to the doctor again!  From then on, whenever he had to go to the doctor, he fought, cried and screamed.  He would get yelled at, punished and spanked.  He could never understand why… didn’t they get it – that he did not want to be hurt with the needles and all the tubes and hospital machines scared him.

    Fortunately, Kenny did not get hurt bad enough to need shots very often – maybe 2 or 3 times a year.  So, for a few years things were pretty good.  Kenny liked helping Gramma Pat fold clothes, and taking bubble baths in her big bathtub.  His very, very favorite thing was sitting on Grumpa’s lap in his big reclining chair reading or watching TV.  Grumpa liked to act like he was a grouchy old man, but he loved to play with, cuddle and tickle Kenny.  Grumpa let Kenny ride on the tractor, took him to the hardware store, and let him sit on his lap in the morning and read the comics to him.  Even though he was only 3 years old, Kenny knew that he and Grumpa had a special love and that made him feel like a special little boy.

    Then everything changed.  Mom decided to move in with her boyfriend.   While they were dating he seemed nice enough, but Kenny really didn’t want to leave Gramma and Grumpa’s house.  Once they moved into his house, Kenny’s nightmare really started.  Whenever Mom wasn’t in the room, her boyfriend would do really mean thing to him.  He would trip Kenny when he walked by and then yell at him for running in the house.  Sometimes, when Mom was in the next room, he would hit Kenny so hard he would knock him out of the chair, then yell at him and accuse him of mistreating the furniture.  Mom would come in the room and yell at him too, and send him to his room.  Kenny tried to explain what happened, then he would get punished for telling lies.  Since Mom’s boyfriend was as sneaky as he was mean, no adult ever saw what he was doing.  Soon, Kenny was so mad and so sad that he never smiled or laughed anymore.  He was always afraid of getting hurt by Mom’s boyfriend and getting in trouble for things he didn’t do.  On top of that, he still hated getting shots and was always fighting, kicking and screaming when he would get a bleed and need treatment.

    Not long after they moved in, Mom had a baby and married her boyfriend.  Kenny became even more despondent – as this cruel monster was now his stepfather and the dad of his new little sister, Megan.  With the new baby’s arrival, Kenny’s step dad seemed to become even more harsh and abusive.  Just a few months after Megan joined the family, Kenny’s beloved Grumpa died.  The only person that Kenny believed truly knew what a sweet, happy, smart, loving little boy he was – was gone.  Kenny felt all alone in the world.

    As Megan got older, she saw what her dad would do to Kenny.  She was told that Kenny was bad and he deserved it.  Megan believed her dad and soon she too was blaming Kenny for things he didn’t do.  Before long he had a well-known reputation as a bad kid, a liar, a mean bully and a generally rotten brat.  Kenny decided it was easier to act like the mean kid everyone believed him to be.  If he got close to anyone they would just leave or die anyway.  Besides, no-one believed him and he couldn’t trust them.

    Kenny spent a miserable six years in this situation.  He had no friends his own age, no adults he could trust – no real happiness.  He was most content when reading stories about mythical heroes or playing video games.  He could be in control and the good guy usually won.  Kenny spent as much time as possible in these pursuits in order to escape the reality he despised.

    When Kenny was 9, his life went from terrible to tragic.  Just after Christmas, Kenny’s older sister finally broke down and told Mom about the bad things their step dad had been doing to her.  Mom brought Kenny and his three sisters to a safe house.  Even though he was relieved to finally be away from his step dad, Kenny was furious.  He had been telling Mom how bad this man was for years – Cristi tells just once and Mom immediately believes her.  Kenny was filled with a boiling, raging anger!  He hated and mistrusted everyone more now than ever.

    The people at the safe place wanted him to talk about the bad things his step dad did to him, but Kenny didn’t see the point.  He wasn’t going to be around anymore and no-one believed him before, so why waste his time with them now.  He just wanted to read his books and play video games.  He was nearly obsessed with video games – he could be in total control, he had all the power, and he could be the winner.  Kenny learned early on that he needed to be in control because he couldn’t trust anyone else to take care of him or keep him safe.  When he wasn’t in control, that is when terrible things happened.  He came to the conclusion that he was not worthy of love.  He was caught in a vortex of self loathing while still feeling compelled to survive.  The easiest way to get by was to just check out of his life and spend as much time as possible in the safe world of fantasy.

    By summer break, Kenny, Mom and his sisters had left the safe place and moved into a house.  Kenny now decided he did not want that name any more – and insisted he be called Kenneth.  He also really  just wanted to be left alone and to play his video games.  It was just too scary and overwhelming to have to think about the past.  He didn’t trust anyone.  He had come to believe all of the bad things people had said about him – he was just a worthless, rotten kid that no-one wanted, so he didn’t want to be around any of them anyway.

    One hot, sunny afternoon in July Kenneth was playing his video games while his sisters played with the kids across the street.  Mom had gone to her counseling appointment.  Kenneth didn’t say goodbye before she left because he was busy trying to beat a level in his game.  A few hours after Mom left, her friend came over and said they all had to go to her house because Mom had a car accident.  The lady said everything would be ok, but it would be a while before Mom could get home.  Kenneth didn’t think too much of it, packing his games up to bring over to her house.  He didn’t start to worry until it was after midnight and his aunt and uncles showed up at the lady’s house.  They had come to tell him and his sisters that their Mom was dead.

    The next few days and weeks were a blur.  Aunt Meg brought him and his sisters to her house.  Kenneth remembers being at the funeral home, but mostly stayed in a back room watching videos with his cousins.  When he did think about what happened he was really mad.  He was too mad to even cry.  How could Mom have done this to him?  Another person who just lied and left him.  He felt like his anger was 10 times bigger than he was.  Even if he wanted to wrangle with it – it was far to overwhelming.  It felt like it had swallowed him up.  He wanted to hurt everyone around him and he swore he would NEVER trust anyone again.  He was the only person who could take care of him, and he wasn’t about to let anyone else even try.

    Kenneth has now been with Aunt Meg for over 6 years – longer even than he had lived with his cruel step dad.  He learned a couple of years ago that he has an Attachment Disorder.  He understands better now why he has such over powering feelings and why he was always on high alert, on the verge of crisis, ready for fight or flight.  He and Aunt Meg have figured out some ways to help him repair some of the damage that happened to the part of his brain that affects his emotions, how to calm down when he is upset, and how to start trusting people again.  Kenneth has learned a lot since then –  He is bigger than any of his fears or anger.  His Mom loved him immensely, even though she made mistakes that lead to him being hurt.  He can be mad at her for that and still love her and forgive her.  He has learned he is actually pretty smart and there are a lot of ways to learn and grow.  He is starting to remember that he is a good person who is fun, silly, lovable and valuable.  He has talents and gifts and it feels good to use them.  He is also learning how rewarding it is to do nice things for the people he cares about and how good it feels to be recognized and appreciated.  One of his greatest learnings is that there is suffering in this world – and it happens to everyone.  It is not a punishment, it is just a part of life.  And that sharing those experiences with others who are kind and loving make them bearable and create the opportunity to learn and grow.  Kenneth is learning and growing everyday.  He sees that his past cannot hurt him.   There will certainly be challenging times ahead, and he is ready to meet them head-on. 

    Kenneth is realizing that he doesn’t have to play a character in a video game to be the hero.

    copyrighted 10/21/09