The Boundaries Paradox
March 23, 2010

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

A Mother’s Enduring Touch
February 17, 2010

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

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

    To Live Gratitude is to Touch Heaven (Gaertner)
    October 30, 2009

    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

    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

    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

    Looking on the Bright Side of Life
    September 11, 2009

    I know you aren’t supposed to count you chickens before they hatch – but I can’t help but feel good about how the kids are doing.

    Kenneth has completed the first phase of the Transitions program he is enrolled in; life skills, financial literacy and drug awareness.  Within the next week or so he will take the TABE – which is sort of a pre-test for the GED.  It will help him and the staff know where to focus his  studying in preparation for the GED.  His caseworker says that Kenneth appears to be smart enough to pass the test by the end of the year.  That means he could be enrolled in Rankin Tech or ITT Technical Institute by the spring – working on a certification in computer programming and software design!  He is also going to be getting job readiness training and assistance to find a part-time job.

    Kenneth has gotten himself to the public bus every morning, attended every session, and comes home happy and talking about what he learned that day.  The staff told me this week that he is very engaged, participates in class projects and discussions and has a lot of good thoughts to contribute to the group.  He is the youngest person in the class and the older kids have taken him under their wings.  He gets along well with them and actually joins the group during breaks to take walks or go buy a soda.

    At home, he has been doing his chores without having to be reminded, is pleasant and cooperative with making dinner 3 nights and week and nearly every day has helped me with cleaning the kitchen, folding and puting away laundry, or straightening up the living room before we go upstairs for the night.  He greets me when I get home from work and asks how my day was and makes a point to come say goodnight to Tom and I.  He seems comfortable in his own skin and talks about how excited he is for his future!

    Patsy, too, is making astounding progress.  She may still get upset and initially resist a request or get frustrated with a challenging task, but she is able to cam herself down, and not let these little incidences send her into a tail spin that lasts all day.  She has been getting up in a cheerful mood, getting ready for school on time – including making her bed, cleaning up after her self when she eats, and remembering to brush her teeth!  She comes home and gets to work pretty quickly on her homework and does her chores cooperatively.  She has even been getting ready for bed on time, often without having to be told to!  I think we both look forward to snuggle time just before she goes to bed!

    Megan has become a fun, happy, silly teenager!  She is really enjoying school and talks a lot about how what she is learning is going to help her get into a good high school and go on to college.  She thinks she might want to be a veterinarian and there is a Magnet school nearby with a pre-vet program.  It is a pretty competitive application process and she is starting to think about what kinds of experiences will help her get in.  Our new canine family member has designated Megan as her personal companion and Megan has enthusiastically accepted the role.  Megan makes sure Gracie Mae gets at least 2 walks a day, keeps her food and water bowls full and is a training expert!  It is so funny – if Gracie doesn’t understand what Megan wants, Megan gets down on all 4s and shows her.  Gracie watches and does exactly what Megan just did!  We spend more time laughing watching the two of them!

    On top of all of this good news, Cristi has been spending time with us and it has been thoroughly enjoyable!  We have made plans that she and her boyfriend, Henry will come over to visit and for dinner every other Sunday.  This week she requested Tom’s Totally Awesome French Toast – we are all looking forward to that!

    I imagine my new commitment to taking care of myself is contributing to this newfound peace and quite in our household.  I make sure that I get to the gym for 30 minutes or more 3 times a week and every other Saturday I get 4 or more hours for me.  I have been making plans to meet friends for breakfast or lunch, do an extra long workout, and get my nails done.  I don’t know how to begin to describe how much this has improved my mental health and general outlook!

    I am not completely naive, I know there will still be ups and downs.  It is just nice to be experiencing more frequent and longer lasting “ups”.

    Copyrighted 9/11/09

    9.9.9
    September 9, 2009

    I love dates that are number patterns – like today – 09/09/09, or in July – 7/8/9.  I don’t really know why.  It seems in general we are drawn to patterns and that we give great significance to certain numbers and patterns.  Deeming some lucky and some evil.  Like 6-6-6.  Was June 6, 2006 an evil day?  Is it bad luck if your lunch bill is $6.66?  Is 9-9-9 the opposite of evil, or evil to the 3rd power?

    What if there is no evil?

    It is interesting to me that people often react with more fear at that thought, than the thought that true evil exits.  I find that mind boggling.

    I grew up Catholic – and it seems the religion I was taught was more about the struggle between good and evil than it was about the message that God is the all loving creator of all life.  There were many more hours spent teaching me about evil and punishment than ever dedicated to love and forgiveness.

    I can remember as as small child being very confused by the two versions of God that were preached.  God is all loving, all forgiving, the father of all creation who granted us free will and who is omnipotent – and – God is vengeful, God punishes sin, God judges, and God only accepts into his heavenly kingdom those who obey his laws. 

    First of all, if God is all powerful, how could there be a fallen angel or a devil at war with him?  Especially if he is also vengeful?  He would blast that evil soul out of existence.  If he created something, he can certainly uncreate it if he doesn’t like it.  A being is either all powerful or not all powerful.  I can’t imagine an all powerful being tolerating a demon running around harrassing his beloved creations.  It just doesn’t make sense to me.

    And…if God granted us free will, why would he judge and punish us for using it??  That would be like me telling my kids “Sure, you can eat all the ice cream you want!”, then grounding them for life for doing so.  Again, I cannot find the logic in that.

    I know lots of people will say that the bible tells us that God judges and punishes and has set out the rules for what is right and what is wrong.  It seems to me that since the bible was written by human beings it is likely that their own interpretations, life experiences, culture, and belief systems are intertwined with the enlightenment with which they were graced.  It is still man’s take on God’s word.

    So, what if evil does not exist?  What if this war between good and evil is really our human experience of balancing our holy selves with our human selves; our spirit with our ego?  Every act I can think of that I have heard people define as evil seems to me to be directly connected to ego-centricity or even ego-mania.  Ego is of the physical world – it is concerned with self and self importance.  Spirit is of the metaphysical world and is concerned with the the whole of life experience.  When ego is in the power seat, it can drive one to act in ways that can be described as greedy, envious, prideful, and lustful.  When one is in touch with their spirit, they are more likely to act in ways defined as charitable, patient, kind, and full of humility.

    Having my kids has driven this home for me more than any other experience I have encountered in my life.  I have come to understand that these kids live in mortal fear of being abandoned, abused and neglected.  They did not have the capacity to trust that anyone would be there to take care of them, keep them safe, and love them.  This excessive fear has caused them to act out in ways that on the surface look to be greedy, gluttonous, vengeful, and ungrateful.

    They are not evil children, they are frightened children.  Fear is the fuel of Ego – the more fear, the greater the control ego has in ones life.

    Initially I reacted to my kids the way I had learned to as a “good Catholic”.  Judge the behavior and punish it.  Meet fear with power.  Assert my ego over theirs.

    But, when I let go of my fears of not being loved and appreciated, I understood.  I began to meet their fear with emapthy.  To soothe their fears, not face them down.  To bathe them in kindness, regardless of how they treated me.  To be vulnerable and let them see my vulnerability.  Yes, I still expect them to do what I ask, to follow the rules, to be responsible.  And I request it instead of demanding it.  I use humor, compassion and gentle words.

    I am not perfect.  I still let my ego-driven pride interfere sometimes.  I still lose my temper on ocassion.  Not as often though.  And we all laugh more.  And hug more.  And our home is calmer and more peaceful.

    And I wonder…wouldn’t an all loving, all powerful all forgiving God be more like what I am trying to be?  Wouldn’t it make sense that he is all Spirit and no ego?? 

    I am pretty sure that he is at least as proud of us, his creations, for who we are as I am of my kids.

    And if I’m wrong….

    I think he will forgive me ^~^

    copyrighted 9/9/09

    Attachment Disorder: A Primer
    August 23, 2009

    I have mentioned in previous posts that I am raising my late sister’s children.  I have written primarily about Kenneth and Patsy – they happen to offer the greatest learning opportunities for me at this point.  I will write more about Megan and Cristi as well in the future.  When they all came to live with me 6 years ago Cristi was 13, Kenneth 9, Megan 7 and Patsy 4.  I was very aware of the grief they were experiencing in the loss of their mother.  I also knew they had all been abused in multiple ways over many years by their mother’s husband (the step-father of Cristi and Kenneth and biological father of Megan and Patsy).  I was incredibly naive about the depths of impacts suffered by these children and what it would take to help them heal.

    It took me 4 years to fully understand the implications of the trauma all 4 of the kids experienced in their early years  and beyond.  Unfortunately too late to be able to help Cristi find peace and stability while I still had the opportunity to influence her life.  She has opted to continue her preferred coping strategy – which is avoidance.  I remain fully prepared and committed to help her proactively take c0ntrol and responsibility for her decisions and life at any point that she decides to do so.

    What I learned is that when young children experience extreme and/or extended stress, their brains are constantly flooded with adrenalin.   This overdose of adrenalin impairs the brain’s ability to function, grow and develop.  It primarily impacts the areas of the brain that control mood, emotions and the fight, flight, or freeze response.  In a nutshell, at the earliest sign of stress -their brain moves immediately into reacting as if their very life is in danger.  Their brains have not developed the capacity to rationally intrepet the threat, analyze the options and determine a logical response.  In addition to this physiological impairment – they also have faulty assumptions about the intent, motivation, reliability, and trustworthiness of the adults and authority figures in their lives.  It was imprinted so early in their experience that no-one will consistently meet their needs, soothe their anxiety, relieve their pain and discomfort or unconditionally love them – that they simply cannot perceive it could be different now.  

    Everything I had been doing in the first 4 years to help the kids manage their behavior ended up being contraindicated, in some cases even making things worse!  Traditional therapy and behavior management only reinforce their world view that they are not instrinsically loveable, valueable, or deserving of good things.  Not to mention that these interventions actually increase their anxiety and stress – sending them into emotional crisis mode even more frequently.

    Ouch – that was a blow to my Ego’s pride in my Master’s in Behavior Disorders!

    What’s more – everything that will help these kids requires me to act against the most sacred of our family rules – Respect your elders.  The most challenging part, however, is that it is absolutely necessary to completely remove Ego from Parenting.  This is no small task.

    The good news is that when I am successful – it really does make a difference.

    This morning Megan and Patsy were downstairs playing “chest” as Patsy told me.  According to Patsy, she got mad during the game, so then Megan got mad and wouldn’t play anymore.  Patsy said “Megan just needs to understand that I get upset easily when I am playing games”.  I asked, well, since you are the one that got mad about the game, do you think maybe if you apologized to your sister she would be willing to finish playing?  All that succeeded in doing was to turn up the drama dial.  Patsy informed me (in her loudest, highest pitched voice) that I always took Megan’s side and I don’t care about her, I never listen to her and that she HATES me!

    I was smart enough to shut up at that point and just leave her be.  She went into her bedroom, which is just next to mine and proceeded to throw every toy in her room at the wall we share.  She included several fists bangs for good measure along the way.  I finished doing what I was doing and went downstairs.  A few minutes later she brought me a note and stomped off to take a shower.  Her note basically reiterated her earlier verbal rampage.  When she finished with her shower she stomped up to me and demanded to know if I had read her note.  I answered that I had and that it must be awfully sad if that is what she believes.  No wonder she is so upset.

    She stood there a minute, then walked over to the sofa, sat down and started brushing her hair.  I turned to her and asked her if she wanted to join us on a picnic and taking Gracie Mae to the dog park.  She said “sure”, hopped up from the sofa and began doing her chores.

    And all I had to do was to remember lesson #1 taught to me by our attachment therapist, Shirley – give empathy for the feeling without reinforcing the behavior.  Brilliant strategy that is simple in concept and takes a great deal of self-awareness to execute. 

    One thing that really does help that is a traditional technique – take a deep breath and count to 10.

    copyrighted 8/23/09

    Calgon Take Me Away
    August 19, 2009

    Writing this blog has been therapeutic for me – helping me to gain some perspective, focus on the positive, and keep my ego in check.   I hope you are finding my posts to be entertaining, interesting and helpful. 

    I have shared a few of the lessons I’ve learned and some of the stories of when I have done things right.  Last night, tho, it all went out the window.

    The evening started off well enough – Kenneth started the casserole with little resistance, even remembering to remove the plastic wrap.  Everyone had their chores finished when I got home from work and the girls and I played around and were giving each other “fish kisses” – our cheeks sucked in and lips puckered up like a fish – kissing each other on the nose, chin, forehead.  It was very sweet and fun.  I was feeling particularly tired and was glad to be just chilling out on the sofa.  At bedtime, Patsy went willingly to brush her teeth and kissed everyone goodnight.

    About fifteen minutes later she came downstairs, still in her school uniform.  Before I could ask her what was wrong, she started whining and wimpering, saying she was scared.  I asked her what she was scared of and she said she didn’t know.  I told her to try turning on her radio, sitting up in bed and reading.  She ran up the stairs wailing that no-one cares about her and she hates all of us.

    Whoa!  Where the hell did that come from?? I am tired, and REALLY tired of her drama and all of the “fire-drills”.

    So, I ignore her.

    Which is certainly better than my first inclination which was to go into a tirade and tell her that she is acting like a spoiled brat and that if I didn’t care about her why did I give up my life as I knew it to take care of her and her siblings.  I could have gone on to describe how much better her life is now – she actually has a bedroom, a bed, nice clothes, regular meals, etc., etc., etc.  At least I didn’t do that.

    And of course, she came back down the stairs a few minutes later with her drama dial turned up even more. My response was to tell her that she could turn on all of the lights, listen to some music and read a book to get her mind off whatever is scaring her. She yelled that no-one ever listens to her and there is no way she is going to bed and no-one could make her.  I placed my head in my hands and groaned.  I intentionally waited about 10 minutes, then announced I was going upstairs.  I wasn’t going to “let her win”, but knew if someone was upstairs she would probably chill out.

    Just as I was straightening up the livingroom for the evening before I went up, Tom decided to take the laundry up.  Once he started up the front stairs, Patsy scurried up the back way.  That aggrevated me even more – and I’m still not even sure why.  When I got upstairs, Patsy came into mine and Tom’s room to take her meds.  Tom started talking to her about what was wrong.  I was too fed up to stay there and listen, so went to brush my teeth.  As I was finishing up, Patsy came in to apologize and say goodnight.  I said that I forgave her, even though I hadn’t yet.  I did recognize that I was over tired and in a nasty mood, so I decided to just go to bed.

    Today I was reflecting back on the events of the previous evening.  Initially I was beating myself up for screwing up and not using the strategies and interventions I know that I “should”.  Then I started berating myself for letting Ego take hold of my inner conversation.  So, instead of staying mired in the past, I wondered what it would be like if I was as kind and gentle to myself as I am with the kids.  I took a few deep breaths and asked myself what was wrong and what I needed.

    Here is what I learned:
    1)  I’m tired
    2) Getting back into the school-year schedule is a hard transition for me – I am WAY NOT a morning person
    3) I have been doing a lot to focus on the kids’ needs – school enrollment, school shopping, counseling appointments, Dr. appointments… – and haven’t really done much for myself
    4) I want to feel appreciated

    What I decided I need is a day to relax and rejuvenate.

    On Saturday I am going to do just that. I am going to get my nails done, have a hair appointment, and am thinking about taking myself on a shopping spree as well.  Just the thought of giving myself a day to take care of myself has made me feel less stressed and more calm.

    I also had an interesting idea about how to feel more appreciated. First I decided that there is nothing wrong with wanting to feel appreciated.  What is wrong is when you don’t feel appreciated, you don’t say anything, and then get resentful.  So, I decided that I am going to talk to the kids about how I am feeling and ask for what I want.  I am going to ask the kids to choose from one of the following ideas:

    1) Write a letter to me describing how I have touched your life
    2) Write a poem to me, expressing how you feel
    3) Give me a foot massage
    4) Create a large, beautiful bouquet for me with flowers from our garden
    5) Make a collage of all the ways I make a difference in your life using printer paper so I can frame it
    6) Some activity or memento of your own creation and imagination that expresses how you feel

    These are all things that will stay with me for a long time that will help me always remember why I made this choice.  And why it is so important for me to persistently insist that these kids deserve love, safety and happiness and know that someday they will believe it.

    copyrighted 8/19/09