Making Time, Making up "Therapy" Games

I vowed recently to give my littlest, Brady, more one on one time.  Two things have helped his devil possession challenging behavior this week. I cannot believe I forgot the first rule of parenting, at least the kind of parenting to which I subscribe: When baby cries (even an almost three "baby"), pick him up.

Isn't that ridiculous? That I haven't been living my Baby Wearing Truth? If one is trying to get something done like cook, or teach life cycles of frogs and a small person is wiping tears and snot onto one's leg and screaming so loudly no good thing can happen, one should be smarter than I, go get the Ergo carrier out of the car, and make the madness stop. Sadly, both of the tiny boys have wanted to be held, and they fight over  Ergo time now as well. I literally cannot win them all. They are driving me bonkers. And I mean that in a I-look-like-I've-been-hit-by-a-truck-tired way.

But besides being more deliberate about holding time and hugging, I have been trying to remember to bestow a few minutes of alone time for teaching and playing.  Recently Brady saw the big kids playing a feisty game of UNO and was bummed he couldn't keep up, so I decided to train him for future endeavors.

He obviously was rocking this, so like his awesome Early Intervention therapists suggest: I took it up a notch. Made the game harder. I thought since the two babies are so flipping emotional lately, we'd work on social skills and turn taking. I called in Tsega who had been having a hard time but pulled it together for a few minutes of bliss. Brag alert: they are adorable. And for those of you with toddlers at home, I am sure you will tense up as I do while watching, at all of the moments that could have turned them into puddles of rage, but didn't.

There. Patting myself on the back. Because even though I shouldn't have to force myself and remember to get down on the floor and play with the babies, it's hard. And a little time and a little giggling goes a long way with them, sweet little monsters.

Is it Friday yet? No?


What the Receptionist Said (And What I Need to do About it)

A few weeks ago I hauled all six kids to a doctor's appointment for Fikir, my seven-year-old. She had a skin issue commonly seen in kids who have spent time in institutional settings with lots of germs and close quarters. It was out of control, getting worse even though she's been here in the US six months, and the doc, who I adore, squeezed me in for the last appointment of the day. I left five of them in the well-stocked waiting room and took her in. We were the only ones left in the office so I didn't worry too much.

I really have loved this new pediatrician who is supportive of our family, he is knowledgeable about other countries, understands kids who've spent time in orphanages, sleep issues, breathing issues, emotional issues, is open and non-judgmental about alternate vaccine schedules, doesn't get on my back about things but jumps to chime in when I need him: my kind of doctor.

We wrapped up the appointment and the receptionist, who is extremely kind and did not get in my face about choosing to leave my kids in the waiting room while going in an exam room -blessherheart- chatted with me and handed out stickers to the kiddos.  Another nurse or physicians assistant materialized to head out to the car as well as office lights shut off.

-Looks like my kids are having so much fun, they might want to spend the night here!

She laughed and responded while I put Fikir's coat on

-Another mom was here earlier who was about ready to give her kids up for adoption they were being so bad

I felt like I'd been punched in the face. She looked stunned herself. I had the wind knocked out of me and couldn't speak. I waited for her to apologize since it was obvious she knew she'd said something in the Not Okay Realm.

And then she didn't. She didn't take her words back. And that other lady was standing there and my kid, who I wasn't sure heard or understood was there. And I, the passionate crazy lady, didn't say a freaking word.


I didn't want to make a scene. I didn't want to embarrass myself or anyone else. I needed time to process. So I ushered the kids out and they followed behind me and I drove away, my jaw hanging open. Feeling paralyzed.

It's now been three weeks and I still have not had the guts to follow through on my resolve to address this moment with the receptionist. I am not sure what my problem has been aside from going out of town, because resolve I do have.  Here is why: Early in my freshman year of college, I sat at a table in the cafeteria eating with some friends. I said something terrible.  I casually remarked that something was "so gay." Lots of kids in my high school said it and it clearly meant in this context "so lame," "so stupid," "so ridiculous." I had never thought about it as anything but a phrase. My dear friend Lex told me immediately that what I had just said was hurtful and not nice.

I don't know how I responded in that moment, but I remember realizing that what he was saying was true. I felt badly, as I should have. I will always be grateful for his willingness to not patronize me, to stand up and let me know how he felt when he heard my words. I am humbled and grateful for my moment of shame followed by years of increased sensitivity about gay and other marginalized people. But I am sad to say, I also needed this same speech from my friend Michelle about the R word. Retarded. It is unfathomable to the person I am today that ten or twelve years ago I needed to be told by someone who loved me that THAT WORD was hurtful.  I needed someone kind, in both these instances, to tell me what my gut should have already known: it was not OK to speak like that, even if it was just a "joke." These people changed me for the better.

All of us are learning in life. We are all in different places. I know this woman at the doctor's meant no harm. Heck, she'd spent forty five minutes being supportive and sweet to my family which is not any easy thing to do, we are a lot to take in. But what she said was ugly. She said in front of a vulnerable, traumatized, obviously recently adopted child that mothers give their children up for adoption when they cross a threshold of acceptable behavior. In her joke, she essentially said that when kids are bad, their moms give them away to be adopted.

It is the untruth that children (and adults) who are adopted often believe about themselves and it is filled with shame and fear and sadness and loss. That they were bad. Unloved. Unworthy. And she made a joke about it. Tears come to my eyes when I think about it, because I am positive that she has no idea what she said and what it meant. So often, our brains are not connecting to our words, and if they were, we wouldn't say what we say.

I am writing about this here, because I need to call her. Or visit again. I want to tell her how much I appreciate her and this medical practice. How it has changed my life for the good to find a doctor I trust. I want her to know I don't have bad feelings about her. But I also need to tell her, just like Lex and Michelle needed to tell me, that what she said is hurtful and never OK. I need to tell her that never again should she ever suggest, in my earshot or to anyone ever, even in a joke, that an adopted child was separated from her family because she was bad. She needs to know that all adoption is founded on the most painful and terrible of all losses and that making light of it is hurtful. That her little joke stigmatizes adoptees and birth parents in a negative and false way.

I am mad at myself that I didn't say anything right then. I am mad I missed a moment. But I am vowing here, in this space, that I will not let it lie. I owe it to my kids and myself to end stupid comments that don't mean any harm but do, in fact, hurt. I was changed by people who bothered to speak up. Maybe if I speak with compassion and kindness, I can change her, too.

*PS. My friend Lex is not gay. But he was hurt on behalf of gay people he knew. If you are not an adoptive family but hear a comment like the one I heard, families like mine will appreciate you standing up and saying something. We need more of you in our corner. It may seem small, or nitpicky, but it means a lot. Thanks.

*PPS. Because I wasn't sure what Fikir heard or if she understood the English, I did talk to the kids the kids in the car on the way home about it. I will save that part of the story for my follow up post: What I actually decided to do about this.


Habesha Hair and Attachment

Tonight at a party Fikir randomly found me among throngs of strangers, threw her arms around my waist and said

Mom, I love you.

It was the First Time. She's written notes, maybe even responded a mumbled "love you" with other children saying it in response to my declaration. But this was the first time she said it by herself, without prompting from anyone. She was feeling insecure at the party and doing what most kids do: acting goofy and clingy in a way that is borderline cute and borderline not-cute-cause-it's-too-much. Her saying I love you maybe was part of that insecurity and trying to figure out what to do when there are so many eyes on her, but even amid my unflinching over analysis, I realize there are SO many other things a kid could do when feeling insecure.

Being goofy and displaying affection, even if it is for a show for an adoring audience, well, it's kinda normal. I will take it. I will run with it. I will hug back and say I love you right back. And let it be positive. (Do you hear me inner attachment-challenged voice that doesn't shut up?)

And speaking of Fikir, we are in a good place with hair. She loves having it done (really, loves when it's done, just not the entire process.) She told me today

Mom, I cry sometimes, but I look so good. Chigger yelem.  (No problem.) I like you do so good job, Mom.


I make sure she gets a treat during it and keep it simple and give her breaks when necessary. This number took about thirty minutes and she was a happy little camper. No, the parts are not straight. It's tough because she has a lot of scarring on her head and working around those spots with less hair make it tricky. It is what it is and she doesn't seem to mind.


As far as braiding goes, I like that it's not especially comfortable for her but something she wants to participate in; because of that, it gives me ample opportunity to praise her for doing such a good job and telling her how proud I am, and how awesome she is doing, and just really laying it on thick. She needs to hear those things, and I need to say those things. We have so hard moments every week, sometimes every day, but I am so glad that  hair time has become bonding time indeed. We need it.

This kid is a warrior. Period. Don't look now, but I think I might be falling in love.


Filling my cup

It's not fair. What I am about to show you isn't fair and I know it. But I am gonna justify it by saying, yes, goodness and sunshine have been poured down on me in the last two weeks, but getting away by myself without Hubs or Children hasn't happened since before he and I got married. Ten years ago. So, even though I am very grateful, I gotta say, I think I earned it.

What exactly did I earn? I attended an lovely retreat in Florida with 120 mothers parenting kids from hard backgrounds. Comprised mostly of adoptive and/or foster mothers, it was refreshing and eye opening to be among such a diverse and yet eerily similar group. Every person there had a child or multiple children with trauma in their pasts, and many mamas there had children with more letters (diagnoses) after their name than the therapists who were trying to help the children. Many of the mothers there are in therapy themselves from secondary trauma from parenting children with trauma. It was a strong group of warrior women. It was humbling to be immersed in all the sharing. Some of us contribute writing and if you are a Mama with children experiencing significant attachment or trauma related issues, you might find comfort and support here: BeTA (Beyond Trauma and Attachment).

During the four days on this retreat I slept. I read three books, I sat in a hot tub and laughed. I attended a group on Trauma Release Exercises, on unschooling, I ran  walked/jogged a 5K
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I led daily yoga practice

I met some amazing women.



It was just what my internal soul doctor ordered. My depleted emotional resources were restored. I experienced the perfect cocktail of quiet me-time with zero people screaming at me, and meeting new people and being heard and understood by complete strangers. I was actually lucky enough to know a few ladies in real life before I went. This friend, J, above with me: we have known each other for more than three years, and we had never been in a room alone without our children yammering/yelling at us. We'd never had a girl conversation, uninterrupted. Going together to this retreat was a dream come true.

So, then, after I had a few days of stillness and empowerment, Hubs decided to piggy back on my sudden desperation willingness to get out of dodge and semi-surprised me with a second weekend away. We went to Puerto Rico, and we had just as much fun as we did on our honeymoon ten years ago.


That's right, we celebrated our tenth anniversary a few weeks early and went away together for the first time since having kiddos. (Not including going to Ethiopia because those trips involved adding three children to our family and as such do not count as "get-aways.")

The hotels were wonderful. Hubs travels a lot and so we have hotel points (a tough work schedule has this outstanding side bonus), and one night we stayed at place that was so over the top they assign you a butler when you arrive and want to feed you from a spoon lest you weary your wrist eating.  We were worried they might actually want to diaper us and change us so we would not have to go through the tiresome commitment of normal people of getting up from a lounge chair to pee.


You could tell we were not fitting in by our awkward gawking and every three seconds leaning over to whisper to each other  Ohmygosh can you believe this, this is SO messed up that is how good it is! 

We also outed ourselves as borderline trespassers by bringing in our own chips and salsa from the grocery store to the pool and we thought the wait staff that regularly visits people lounging to bring them all manner of $30 chips and salsa was going to have a fit.


We swam and body surfed on a private beach near Rio Grande. I am a huge sissy about cold water, and I gotta say, though not as clear and aqua as other Caribbean locations we've visited, Puerto Rico really delivered up some amazing seas with a No Shiver Factor.

We hiked waterfalls in a rain forest.


We ate one of the most exquisite meals of our life in Old San Juan at Marmalade. (The Banana Butterscotch Bread Pudding is pictured here out of every part of the meal that I photographed because it was perhaps the best dessert I've ever eaten. I know it might sound silly, but this thing was to-die-for.)


All in, I feel like the luckiest girl in the world. I am grateful for Hubs, who planned the entire vacation and I showed up with a swim suit and a few books. For my mom and mother-in-law, who held down the fort while I was off  galavanting. (FYI, galavanting is not recognized by spell check.) For the little people in my life, though some of them are exacting payment for my absence in the form of clingy screaming behavior this week. It's okay, because I had sunshine. I can handle the storm.

I came home to this unsinkable crew, Mimi, Fikir, Tsega, Cookie, Brady, Samantha, Mama B and Baby H.

I was proud of myself for facing serious fears and leaving. I was proud of myself for taking some time to make sure I could be a sane, effective, fun mother. I am proud I set an example to all the girls that it's okay to be a person, a wife, a friend, in addition to being a mother. My cup runneth over. And maybe, in a year or three, when it is getting dry, I will be brave enough to go again.



Coming back

I went to a Mama Retreat. It was awesome. I hope to write about it sometime.
I didn't die on the plane. Or get in a car crash. I spoke with the children every day. The three who have a hard time unleashed on me -as expected- when I returned home.

But now, three days later, as planned, Hubs and I are taking 52 hours to go on an even smaller vacation to celebrate our tenth anniversary. My Saint, I mean, my mother is here continuing support and care for the kids, who adore her. She raised six kids and is the only human capable of holding down the fort while we are gone. I get my crazy, my drive and my energy from her and she still has it. I am so lucky to have her willing to help in times like these. Between Mama B, who is still here with Baby H (who is doing great after surgery, more on that later, too), and Mimi, my 12-year-old-who-is-the-best-helper-in-the-world, I know they will be alright.

But this time, knowing Mom and Dad were going away there was fresh fear in a few faces.

I know lots of parents go away. I know it's good to do self-care stuff. I know marriages need to come first or families fall apart. I know Hubs and I need this. I knowI knowI know all the gunk people say when choosing how to handle this kind of thing.

But how do you look a child who has been left by her parents square in the face, with unblinking firmness and say Do not worry, I am coming back. I promise.

Pardon me, but it is possible she has heard that BS before, more than once. And it wasn't true, more than once.

How do you look a baby with furrowed brows and tears coming, a baby who is almost not a baby anymore but still feels the fear and helplessness of his crappy baby-hood take over his brain in moments of stress, how do you look at him who was left and no one came back, and say I am coming back, I promise.

My kids know that that is just something people say.

Please God, don't turn me into a liar. I need to be back here in exactly sixty-three hours (travel time included) hugging my children, keeping a promise that a few of them don't believe.

     Tsega smooching Baby H, with big bandage in recovery from neuro surgery. 


Stepping up to Trauma

Tsega's new therapist is like a heaven-sent angel. It's not even fair. Every human should get to spend time in her office. She is one of those people who when she starts talking you want to curl up on her lap and have her pet you and tell you It's all gonna be OK. Her voice is like a mild dose of oxytocin. And Tsega knows it. He is calm and comfortable in her presence, he likes being there. It's kinda amazing to see. I always wonder what path a person has traversed who dedicates her life to healing others. I am convinced she has had to walk her own refiner's fire. Empathy and compassion are not created in a vacuum.  I am grateful we've found her.

Today while we conferenced about the plan for my baby boy's continued work, my role in it and a few other things I wanted her to know about our family, his past, etc, she shed some light on me. All of a sudden, we weren't talk about my kid. We were talking about a few things that happened to me that still cause me pain. (Sidenote: As it turns out, I have a bit o' PTSD around my pregnancies and hospitalizations and the traumatic pre-term birth/aftermath of my youngest). As she spoke the words aloud and repeated back to me what I was saying so I could hear myself, it was like a revelation. She was right. I am so dedicated to helping my child heal, I haven't paid much attention to my own wounds. Sure, they are bandaged up really well, I am not dysfunctional by any means. But they are still there, and sometimes, when I need to be able to focus on my child or children, I am in overdrive because I have activated my own junk and piled it on top of the junk going on with my kid.

It is so obvious but crystallized for me today with her help: To be a better parent for a child who has trauma, I cannot lump my crap, my fears with his. He has enough to deal with, he doesn't need mine, thankyouverymuch. 

Before I knew it, in the middle of a session about my son, with his therapist, I was writing down names of other EMDR therapists she wanted me to call to do what she called "short term" work to help reduce my anxiety related to my past.

So what is EMDR therapy? It has been described really well in other places, like here for example. In technical jargon: Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a comprehensive therapeutic approach that helps patients release disturbing thoughts and emotions that originate in traumatic experiences. In my own words, this isn't your average lying-on-a-couch-crush-on-your-parent Freudian stuff. It isn't even play therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy. It is very specific to trauma and PTSD.

This is taking a traumatic memory and processing it while physical stimulation occurs. This stimulation is not sporadic, it is very purposeful: it works between the left and right brain. Your eyes follow lights, and sometimes, especially for children  both hands hold little buzzers that pulse in sync with the lights, and even tones in ears, are all synced up bouncing from left to right.  While processing, talking through the traumatic memory, this left to right movement of the eyes help take away the triggering effect the memory has on the body.

The goal is to be able to remember the traumatic thing, but it's power on your brain to make you freak out with anxiety is lessened.  One goal of this therapy is to reduce the impact of triggers and help a person stay more regulated.So, while no one promises magic, the results can be magical for some people.

Tsega's therapist has had success doing this kind of therapy with little ones who still don't have great verbal skills AND she's had success with this therapy for folks who do not remember their trauma (both of which were important for us). Her experience and philosophy is: actually, we humans who experience terrifying, painful, hard things when we are infants and small children, do remember. The body remembers what there are no words or images to tell. The fear is there, present in the brain,sometimes mucking stuff up.

I am so excited to work with her, to have her in my son's life. I am grateful for her being mindful of me, and even chiming in on some of the other kiddos as well. I want encourage those of you out there seeking answers, healing, and professional help for your children or maybe even yourself: A good friend of mine once told me that when it comes to therapy, you gotta kiss a lot of frogs. Finding the right fit, and -Please God- someone who accepts your insurance is like finding needle in a haystack. Not every therapist is good. And not every good therapist has a decent, easily, searchable website. I searched for eight months and was considering flying out of state and paying out of pocket just to get Tsega with a pediatric EMDR therapist because I couldn't find one near me.

I found this therapist because a blog friend, who I've never met, was doing EMDR therapy with her child across the country, and asked her therapist if she knew anyone in my area. Like magic, after months of failed searches and dead ends, I had a name. And even then it took a few weeks to get the correct number to find her. When we finally spoke I told her it felt like tracking a rainbow unicorn.

If a therapist doesn't get your kid, and doesn't speak the lingo of understanding how trauma, adoption, attachment, and even sensory integration issues all work together to disrupt children and that all of those things can and possibly should be addressed for maximum healing for a child, if someone tells you what your kid is experiencing is "normal" or that your deeply distressed child is "energetic and spunky" and if those words go solidly against your gut, keep looking. I found my unicorn. Don't give up on yours.

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(You're welcome, by the way, for the gratuitous eighteen-months-old picture of my two little partners in crime. For the record, Brady still likes to be squished and Tsega still likes to squish. I miss those days, when they were slower and easier to catch...)

PS. If you haven't joined the Scooping it Up FB page, come join the party. Sneak peeks on posts, important discussions about who is the most attractive man on Grey's Anatomy  ethics in adoption, etc. I love learning from you and "meeting" you.

Thank you always for reading.