This woman's work is one of my favorite blogs. Dawn and her husband adopted their daughter as an infant here in the US, so their situation is quite different from ours, but at the same time, because all of our kids were adopted, there are many similarities. I always find her posts about adoption get me thinking in new and more useful ways.
She is a writer, professionally and bloggingly, and she brainstorms on her blog, which I think is great. It's fun to watch someone's mind at work. Today she wrote about the first chapter of something she's writing, I believe it's a memoir of her experience with her daughter's adoption -- making sure to stress that she is a spectator. She is not as IN it as her daughter and her daughter's first mother are.
This resonated with me because I tend to be pretty self-involved. Navel-gazing, how am I feeling today about being a mother?, blah, blah, blah. When my hamster-wheel mind starts spinning, it's dizzying.
Ironically, I realize that in order to be less selfish and more present to those I love, I need to begin with the self-absorption and work from there -- figure out how and why I tick. Like a time bomb with a hair-trigger, I might add. Part of my work these days is to look at my reaction to a situation, and then question it until I stop asking questions and have an answer, or plan of action. Or no plan.
"Erin, why are you pretending not to hear your son?"
"Uh, what son?"
"The one behind the storm door making fish faces on it with his mouth. Oh, and he's scraping his nails against the screen, too. it's starting to buckle."
"Oh, yes that son. Well, I'm afraid I'll yell at him. I'm afraid I'll suddenly pull the door open so he'll come stumbling into the hallway and land on his face like Chevy Chase. As satisfying as that seems at the moment, I assume it'll cause more problems in the long run. I'm way too tired for a long run."
"So you're afraid of your own reactions, not of his, really?"
"Yep. Being out of control is pretty scary."
"He's out of control right now, I bet it's scary for him, too."
"Yep, you're right."
And then I proceed in some fashion. Personal psychotherapy. In this latest drama I gently opened the door and asked him if he was afraid of being alone during rest time. You see, he was fighting against the time of the day we all spend quietly at our own thing. When he does it, he has a great afternoon without any meltdowns, is more even-keeled, generally happier. He has acknowledged this, and always enjoys the activities I prepare for him, and often sleeps during a portion of it. But every once in a while he resists it, and partakes of his stalking hobby. His younger brother sleeps during this time, and sometimes Alex and I do, too. Or we work quietly at something. It's down-time for us adults, too.
There's no one for him to interact with, and I think it might scare him a bit. Or make him feel lonely. I'm not sure if I'm putting ideas into his head. I'm just guessing here, and it'll take a while before we can easily communicate these types of things to one another. But maybe it'll help give him the vocabulary he needs to be able to let me know what's going on in the future.
No miracles happened, no giant steps for parental-kind. But looking at myself got me to look away from myself, which is SUCH a relief. And eventually he did go into his resting room, worked on his sticker book and came out in better spirits. Which was also a relief.
As the weather here has fluctuated wildly, so have the temperments of the people living in this house. I have difficulty blogging when things are hairy. Mostly because I'm depressed and/or feel like a failure in this trememdous undertaking. I'd like to write more often, and have promised myself I'll try, but whether it will happen is another thing.
As Alex reminds me, things ARE better than they were 5 or so months ago. H's screaming happens rarely, but when it does, WOW. His English is better, thus his communication is better, thus we can talk about his behavior and feelings more easily. This doesn't mean the behaviors in question have stopped. I guess that would mean heaven around here, and that's not going to happen anytime soon. He looks at me and allows me to comfort him, even spontaneously hugging me and telling me how happy he is. Which is toe-tinglingly wonderful. But then minutes later, there will be the glaring silence, the stuffing of inappropriate things into the mouth (don't ask about OX, our sad little Ugly doll... Ewwww!), the "stalking." It's not true stalking, of course, but when he follows me silently around the house instead of playing, or having rest time, or eating, I feel like I'm being stalked by a really incompetent stalker. I mean, "hello, I can see you!"
I've been reading this, recommended by mimiboo (whose blog I recommend, btw), and I think it might help us. She's described it well over at her blog, so take a look. I'm not going to review it, but I will tell you that it posits that Fear and Love are the two most basic emotions, from which all other emotions and behaviors are born. Your child may behave angrily, but at the base of the anger is fear and stress. A stressed-out child isn't able to make appropriate choices, so when one feels a victim, that one's child is "pushing your buttons," he/she isn't really that calculated. Even when it feels like it! (see stalker description above). Essentially, the child is out of control, and his/her behavior is exacerbating the fear and stress. In addition, when we the parents react with the usual parental threats, consequences, etc., we are reacting out of fear, also, rather than love.
The therapists who wrote the book recommend that the parent try to reflect first, rather than react. Which can be VERY, VERY difficult. But it's not unlike the Buddhist practice of mindfulness, which recommends breathing before reacting. So I'm familiar with the practice, even if not talented at it.
I've tried implementing it this week, and even if it's not helping H., it's helping me tremendously, which I hope will benefit him, ultimately. I found the chapter on eye contact really helpful, as this is one of H's biggest challenges. When he is feeling upset, he will pointedly turn his head, even his whole body, away from us. It's true that in all the attachment books they talk about how important eye contact is, and during holding time they recommend you hold on until you achieve it. Which for us almost never happens, btw.
The relief for me in this chapter is that they say -- forget the eye contact! It would be nice, yes, but it shouldn't be forced, and it doesn't mean your child will always be reactively unattached and turn into a serial killer. Instinctively I've felt annoying trying to force eye contact with H. I know how he feels. When I'm upset, I don't like looking at the person with whom I'm upset, either.
I'll describe my first experiment with this point. Yesterday at breakfast, H. was counting his stars from the day before (we have a simple behavior chart going for both boys). He didn't have enough stars to earn a sticker for that day. He wanted to talk about it with me, so we talked about his behavior the day before, which was mostly unacceptable. It included putting all of the toys in the yard, his jacket, the bicycles and other sundry things into the hedges, so they would be unreachable for little L. and a pain to retrieve for us. This was just one thing in a day of parentally exhausting choices on his part.
As we reminisced about this glorious Sunday, H. started to get quiet, then stony-faced, then completed his typical head turn (which Alex likes to call his "Ethiopian head-fake"). He stopped looking at me. So I stopped talking. The book describes this behavior as a sign that the child is stressed by the situation, and cannot handle the stimulation of looking into the parent's eyes any longer. I also knew that any more talking on my part would over-stimulate him too much, and I probably sounded like the teacher from Peanuts. So I finished eating, left the table and started to do the dishes.
H. walked into the kitchen with his eyes screwed shut, handing the dish and spoon to Alex, who was perplexed. I laughed, because he REALLY didn't want to look at me, which caused H. to smile, still with eyes closed. He then went into the living room to play, singing to himself, obviously ok. We drove to school without any incident. No screaming, no putting objects into mouth, no banging of loud objects.
Of course, later in the day he refused to enter the car because L. had entered the car on "HIS" (?) side, causing me to become angry, fume and give him the silent treatment, among other angry (frightened) parental behaviors. I didn't want all of you to think I was such a clever and wonderful parent, because I'm certainly not. I tend to react more than reflect -- for now. I just wanted to share something I found that helped, which I will continue to utilize and hopefully I'll have more moments as a parent like the eye-contact one, and fewer like the one in the car.
One moment at a time, eh?
I've been having a hard time writing these days -- I get into periodic funks, and if I allow myself to blog, only self-pitying sludge comes out. And so I take breaks. The private journal is a better place for such wallowing, especially since my wallowing isn't especially entertaining.
What I did want to write about, as soon as I read it was light-skinned-ed girl, by Heidi W. Durrow. I let a bit more time go by than I wanted before I posted about it, but I've got two little excuses sleeping downstairs as I type.
Heidi's got a blog by the same name, which I've got linked on my sidebar under Listen. I've always enjoyed reading her blog and discovered that the title was also a novel. Excerpts have been printed as a mini-novel -- she wants, of course, to get the whole thing published, and I desperately hope she does, too.
I'm not going to give too much away, because I hope you'll buy it, like I did, to help her on her way to getting it published. But I will tell you that it's based on a newspaper article she read years ago about the awful suicide/murder of an entire family, with one survivor -- the light-skinned-ed girl of the title. Durrow took the news story and fleshed it into an incredible tale of not only being the sole survivor of the tragedy, but also of being biracial. The heroine feels pulled in two different directions -- between her mother's white, Danish roots and her father's African-American family -- but doesn't feel as if she belongs with either one.
One part especially stuck with me. It was when Rachel (lsg), goes to live with her paternal grandmother and aunt, and feels she cannot use the Danish words she did with her mother and brother: "I feel my middle fill up with sounds that no one else understands. Then they reach my throat... What if these sounds get stuck in me? What if I am filled with sounds that will never get used up?..."
I read it early on this spring, right when our boys came to live with us. It made me think of how H. might feel, with his Kembategna words coursing through his head, getting caught up in his throat as he tried to communicate with us in English. All those sounds which are slowly drifting off into his subconscious, I imagine. Or getting stuck, as Rachel describes.
I recommend going over to Heidi's blog and giving it a look-see, then checking out light-skinned-ed girl, the mini-book. You can find it when you visit Heidi's author site. It left me wanting more, and I so hope she's able to get it published.
I also hope my mini-review does her writing, and Heidi, justice.
I am doing memes the same way I've been eating cookies these days -- probably a bit too much. I found this meme at rock to wind a string around. It tickled my high school funny bone, so I had to do it.
1. YOUR ROCK STAR NAME: (first pet & current car),
Lassie Camry (Last time I heard this one, it was your porn star name and the last name was any street you lived on. In which case I would be Lassie Winterberry, which I have always thought was a good Bond girl name, too)
2.YOUR GANGSTA NAME: (fave ice cream flavor, favorite cookie),
Cherry Garcia Chocolate Chip (not so sure this one works ... Unless it's a gangsta on Nickelodeon)
3. YOUR “FLY Guy/Girl” NAME: (first initial of first name, first three letters of your last name),
E- OCO (again, not sure this flies)
4. YOUR DETECTIVE NAME: (favorite color, favorite animal),
Purple Podengo (yeah, baby!)
5. YOUR SOAP OPERA NAME: (middle name, city where you were born),
Frances New Haven (Put the stress on the "New")
6. YOUR STAR WARS NAME: (the first 3 letters of your last name, first 2 letters of your first),
7. SUPERHERO NAME: (”The” + 2nd favorite color, favorite drink),
The Green Tea (Heh. Faster than a Speeding Latte, More antioxidants than a cup of coffee ... )
8. NASCAR NAME: (the first names of your grandfathers),
Timothy Giuseppi or Giuseppi Timothy, which do you prefer?
9. STRIPPER NAME: ( the name of your favorite perfume/cologne/scent, favorite candy),
Lavender Mounds (heh, heh)
10.WITNESS PROTECTION NAME: (mother’s & father’s middle names ),
11. TV WEATHER ANCHOR NAME: (Your 5th grade teacher’s last name, a major city that starts with the same letter),
12. SPY NAME: (your favorite season/holiday, flower).
13. CARTOON NAME: (favorite fruit, article of clothing you’re wearing right now + “ie” or “y”)
Peaches Skirty (I like Peaches McSkirty, myself)
14. HIPPY NAME: (What you ate for breakfast, your favorite tree),
Teff Willow (I think I met her once back in Berkeley...)
15. YOUR ROCKSTAR TOUR NAME: (”The” + Your fave hobby/craft, fave weather element + “Tour”),
The Quilted Breeze Tour
Kinda fun, gives one more time to come up with a meatier post -- have a gas!
H. has been doing great in school, though it definitely tells on him as the day wears on. He has been melting a bit earlier and more often, lots of teary whining when he feels tired and spent. I've been using holding time now and again, which has helped our relationship a lot, I think. It's definitely NOT something I look forward to doing, nor do I do it as much as recommended in the book. I have to have the energy for it, he being so strong and able to cry for such long stretches.
What I've noticed is that H. is MUCH more physically affectionate towards me than before, and more apt to come to me for comfort when he's tired or upset. Our connection has improved quite a bit, and for that I am grateful. Also, MY attitude towards him has changed and improved. I find I am much more patient with him than before, and am able to feel true compassion for him. This may sound harsh, but sometimes when he was in one of his more defiant moods, I had a hard time finding any compassion inside me. Having been consistently rejected by him since the beginning obviously affected my ability to WANT to be closer to him.
The whole process is very interesting -- it allows me to look at my own feelings about being his mother more clearly -- While I am holding him so tightly, and as he is rejecting me (physically and emotionally -- this is an important part of holding time, for those of you unfamiliar), our physical closeness allows me to really see this vulnerable, sad and confused little boy. I knew this intellectually -- I knew he was a little boy who had lost so much, was acting out because of his past trauma. But I couldn't feel it.
I take yoga, and most of the instructors are Anusara yogis. They constantly tell us "open your heart." I'm always pushing and pulling my shoulders, arching my upper back, tucking my tailbone, wondering if I'm getting any closer to "opening my heart." My husband and I would joke about it -- "Alex, for the love of God, open your heart!" They are talking about a physical as well as an emotional opening, I realize. But I think I might be closer to getting it. When I'm holding Habtam so tightly, heart to heart like that, my heart is pried open. Sometimes I don't say anything, sometimes I talk about an issue that may have preceded the holding -- teasing Lire, not listening to Mom and Dad. Sometimes I cry a little bit. I'm scared often when I'm in the middle of it.
At the end of holding, H. doesn't want me to let go. If I let go too early, thinking we are done, he will sob until I hold him again, though at this point it's a gentle, regular embrace, because he's no longer fighting. Sometimes I have to carry him for a while like a baby (not easy, this guy weighs 44 pounds). Sometimes Lire comes and hugs and kisses us both.
It's a weird thing for which I am grateful, yet don't relish. It's hard for me, and for H. He's started asking me to do it, and recommending it for Lire, too. I guess we have to expose the wounds inside of us to the fresh air now and again, and that's what holding time feels like for me. Not unlike when I began my recuperation 5 or so years ago. Painful and slow, but a tiny bit of daring to hope for sunnier days.
Mrs. Figby just tagged me for a meme, or actually, two.
First, The Middle Name Meme:
Rules: You must list one fact that is somehow relevant to your life for each letter of your middle name. If you don’t have a middle name, use the middle name you would have liked to have. When you are tagged, you need to write your own blog post containing your own middle name game facts. At the end of your blog post, you need to choose one person for each letter of your middle name to tag. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged and to read your blog.
F: Freight Train: The mode of travel my now-husband and I chose after college on a cross-country trip. We started in Montana and traveled west to Bend, Oregon. Incredible trip, great scenery, and I was too young and stupid to be scared by the toothless hobo and his 13 year old sidekick (ack!) who offered to let us share their boxcar. Fortunately, I had judgement and we politely declined and stuck to our grain hopper.
R: Rahs. The embarrassing name given to those, like me, who were cheerleaders in our tiny highschool. Sometimes it was repeated, and we were "rah-rahs." (Hey, we were cool! We wore purple leg warmers!)
A: The letter of the first name of some of the most important and beloved people in my life.
N: New Haven. My birthplace and residence until the age of 6. A city I will always champion, even though when I attended college there I was afraid to walk around alone at night, Alex's house was robbed 12 times, and another boyfriend befriended a homeless person who ended up propositioning me one afternoon. It was the 80's, crack epidemic, anyone?
C: Complementary medicine and chronic illness. We call it alternative medicine in this part of the world, but at least in England, it's complementary. I prefer this term, because I don't think an alternative to traditional western medicine has to work alone -- you can use them simultaneously, which I do. I don't think I'd be as strong as I am now without my own experiences with homeopathy, reiki, acupuncture, to name a few. After my own bouts with chronic illness, I will always recommend having an open mind about it.
E: Ethiopia!!!! The birthplace of my wonderful boys. The site of an experience that now seems like it TOTALLY happened to someone else. Except that now we have two other small people in the house.
S: Satanist. I met one in New Haven (and I champion this place why?). He was the president of the New Haven chapter. I learned this while reading the local free paper, because he was meeting with the leader of the National chapter, in New Haven. And I had only a month or so before run into him on the street in front of my college while trying to decide what to do with the bat I had found in my bathroom that afternoon. The bat was in a cardboard box amongst the bushes around the building and the pitch of its cry was so high, passers-by could hear it over the traffic. The Satanist (mind you, I didn't know he was one, yet), offered to take it to one of the professors of the university who famously specialized in bats, among other things. He did. Running into the Satanist again, a few weeks later (I still didn't know he was a follower of Lucifer), I discovered that the professor pronounced the bat very sick, but not rabid, and the Satanist was bummed and brought it home to die. He buried it. He said he was disappointed that there wouldn't be a newspaper article entitled "New Haven Satanist Saves Bat." Really, he said that. I didn't believe he was a Satanist until I read said newspaper. Whew. That was a long letter "S." "S" is also for "Sorry." For going on. So long.
Meme #2. This meme consists of ten questions to be answered.
1. If you could have super powers what would they be and what would you do with them? (Please feel free to be selfish, you do not have to save the world!)
Definitely to go back in time. I wouldn't be able to change history, I could only spectate, but boy would that be interesting! I could go anywhere, anytime, and come back at will. I would be able to understand the language spoken in whatever country I landed in. Is this geeky?
2. Were you to find your self stranded on an island with a CD player…it could happen…what would your top 10 blogger island discs be?
Cat Stevens "Footsteps in the Dark," Ella Fitzgerald sings Cole Porter, Lucinda Williams "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road," A Billy Holiday compilation, Flaming Lips "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots," Gigi/Abyssina Infinite "Zion Roots," The Waterboys "Fisherman's Blues," Beatles Compilation of some sort, B-52's mix my sister made me, World Mix Alex made me.
3. If you were a smell what would it be?
4. What bird would you most like to be?
Chickadee -- small and strong, sings a lot, tolerates all weather, stands up to the jays.
5. If you were a bird who’s head would you poo on?
Mrs. Figby already pooped on Dick Cheney's head, so maybe I'd poop on George's head. I might have to stand in line.
6. Are there any foods that your body craves?
Chocolate chip cookies and apples.
7. What’s your favorite time of year?
Summer. I love sand, ocean, and salt air at a dry (hate humidity) 80 degrees.
8. What’s your favorite time of day?
After the kids are in bed, I've done my ablutions and am reading in bed with Alex. Also have grown to love the time when I put Lire down for a midday nap. It's peaceful, and he's so sweet to watch sleep.
9. If a rest is as good as a change which would you choose?
Well, I love change to shake things up, but I've had A LOT of that lately, so I'm opting for rest these days. I love to sit and stare out the window.
10. If you could have a dinner party and invite any 5 people from the past or present who would they be? (Living or deceased.)
This is like the 10 cd's question. Ok. My deceased Italian grandmother, Nana, who would cook a killer dinner and would LOVE to do it. Plus she'd be so happy to see me, which would feel GREAT. Next, for some reason, Chris Rock comes to mind. He's funny, but because my grandmother would be there, he'd tow the line with the f-word a bit. She would think he was hilarious, though "so bad!" Third guest would be Thich Nhat Han, the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist. He would love Nana, too, and I think I need some of his flower lecturing. Ellen Degeneres -- I don't know how you all feel, but she I think she's great. And funny. And then maybe Nina Simone could play piano and sing after we all dined together.
Now to tag. Seven letters in my middle name, seven bloggers to inflict. How about: New Flower; Fully Operational Battle Station; Babyssinia; Magic and Mayhem; PCOS Baby; Jesus was not a Republican; and An Aussieopian Family?