Therapy and Fighting

I hesitate on this post because it's a bit personal for me and children I love. It gets into a bit of nitty gritty about what the journey is for a parent fighting to keep a child healthy. It talks about specifics of care. And I do believe in protecting my child. Which is why I don't share details about life before our family. But I also  know how isolating it can be to be to be on a journey like mine, and maybe there are more out there like me, fighting similar fights. And the only way to not be alone on a trip is to pick up hitchhikers or join a caravan going to a similar place. So, if you will try not to judge me, please, hop in or follow along. We are all in this together if you want to be.

Are there benefits to having a traumatized young child in therapy with an experienced and compassionate trauma and attachment therapist? Yes. For sure. Two or three months in, is one of those benefits greater emotional regulation? No. Not yet. If anything, digging up big feelings from the past make the week in between therapy harder. My days are a mix of home school joy and responding to lightening storms. It is constant, relentless and Tsega's therapist and Brady's dedicated team of EI therapists are trying to trouble shoot ideas for daily helps for the toddlers so we have some semblance of functionality.

Lovely ideas thus far mostly for Tsega and some don't hurt for Brady, either,
1) more exercise, which is harder than it sounds for toddlers when it's cold outside still. I am considering trying Tsega on my treadmill today.
2) Vitamin C and GABA supplements to try to combat the raging cortisol. I had read recent studies linking Vitamin C in high doses with helping reduce cortisol, but I hadn't stuck with any resolve to try it. Well, I am back on the wagon and going to supplement this little guy 'til the cows come home.

Can you make out the bottom phrase? "...it has an inhibitory effect on the firing of neurons and supports a calm mood." I've read praiseof this supplement so it's a worth a shot.

3) Another idea, which sounds silly in its obviousness is to expect less (or zero?) cooperation during meal times and feed him high protein snacks constantly through the day, upon request. Hunger/food and meal times are massive anxiety triggers and Doc suggests being apart of the solution, not try to force things. Keep hunger away, and do not worry about Parenting Magazine coming to do a photo shoot during dinner.

4) Making his room more a of refuge, trying to find a safe way to give him a place to get reconnected to his body, perhaps a tent that is small, dark, comfortable where he can get away from the noise and social stuff in the house, or a lycra spacial body bag or hammock. 

6) Being outside a trigger for T, so before leaving the car, sitting with him and pointing out to to him where we are going, showing him safe spots, going over the plan for the next hour or so. Bringing a picnic blanket or small cushion that will be a "home base" so where ever we are he knows we can return to "home base" with one of his parents and not get lost, etc. Also when exiting the car to go be outside, starting out without fail to have him in the Ergo backpack carrier to let him observe his surroundings and get acclimated before putting him down on the ground. Wait until he asks to be put down.

These are all lovely ideas, and they feel like the right thing to do. Even in practice, so far, it is hard to notice if anything really helps.

Parent to therapist: It feels like every time my child cries, which is in response to just about everything, it is aa emergency. There is no little problem, it's all a huge catastrophe, it's life or death, even if it's an apple stem or that I reached the wrong book.

Therapist to parent: That is because when it was life or death, when he cried big cries, no one came. When he is scared or upset, it still feels like life or death, and he is still not sure, to this day, that someone is going to come and help those feelings go away. He needs you to come.  And he needs you to tell him when you do respond to another melt down that you are hearing him. Say,"Look! You cried and we heard you and knew you needed us so we came! We will always help you! When you cried you showed us you needed help. We can use our words too, you can tell us 'Mama, please come!" Validate him, keep talking.

Parent to therapist: I know. We try. But it's all day, and he's not the only kid.

Therapist to parent: I know. Do not give up, and know when you are doing your best.

So, we are in the trenches. It's humbling to think how much there is ahead of us a family to meet not only this child but every child's particular emotional, psychological, academic and who-knows-what-else needs. I waffle between feeling good that I am indeed doing my best and thinking Holy crap, are we going to survive this? Are any of them going to become criminals or addicts? This might be as easy as it ever gets...And those of you who are parenting children from hard places know I am not joking in my worry about the future. This truly may be as easy as it gets. Sometimes, it gets harder, not better.

Fun fact One: I was working on writing this post and it was frozen in the draft folder, as it wasn't going anywhere when I had a nasty conversation with insurance this week. They led me to believe they were covering therapy with this specialized doctor. Turns out, not really. I have to stop taking my kid to the one therapist out of dozens I called who said she thinks she can help him. That is, I have to stop taking him to see her until I get insurance to stop being a $%&#@ jerk. I have to fight them. I still haven't won the battle for OT, and now I am fighting for trauma therapy.

The funny-sad thing is, the process I need to go through to hopefully get insurance to cover this therapist? I did all the work. Months worth of calling therapists with specific questions to see if they would be appropriate for my kid and his symptoms. It was no after no until I found her. But I didn't write any of that down. I didn't document it.

Now, I have to start from scratch. I need to get a list of providers that are ("in network") which I have learned means "People willing to take a lower rate that insurance has negotiated to pay them." I need to call every single therapist in a twenty mile radius, and document that they cannot treat my son because of t,u,v, x,y, and or z, and then demonstrate to Insurance "Look, see? None of your people can do this. You need to cover this doctor." I did this exact thing several months ago, I just was stupid about it because I didn't keep the records of everyone I called, though I am sure not all of them were in-network either. To have a shot at getting the coverage we seek, after I give Insurance my list of their inappropriate or unavailable therapists, and they realize they should indeed cover the doctor we've been working with, then they will throw a fit because they want her to lower her rate and want to pay her less. And she will not negotiate her rate, and then they will say "OK, we will pay her rate, but only approve six or ten sessions at a time, and you have to reapply every six or ten weeks, and we, Insurance Overlords of Human Sorrow, will make your doctor's life a living hell. You have to allow us to scrutinize your care and records of treatment continually forever for this patient, and we look forward to trying to stop paying for her fee and hope she and you, the patient's family, tire of the paperwork we will require so that way we can put this all behind us."

This is the process ahead of me. I am daunted. I am feeling discouraged. But then I remember:

Fun fact Number Two: Don't the wizards geniuses over in Insurance Land realize that treating a child with severe PTSD early, we could stave off years of more expensive therapies, continual need for medications, medical interventions, residential psychiatric bills. ER visits?  Don't they realize I am trying to save them, us ALL grief? My kid needs help. It isn't going away. As he gets bigger, so will the demons. And then my son, and the penny-pincers in Insurance Land shall be up a creek with a very expensive paddle.

Now is the time. She is the therapist. I have to find a way to make it work. But next week I can't take my child to the doctor who has been able to  reach him. Next week, instead of going to his appointment with her, I will be finding a sitter so I can sit with a phone and a spreadsheet and a prayer that I can fight this stupid fight.

Here is something you can all ponder with me: Why must parents with children with different needs, be they mental, emotional, psychiatric, physical, developmental or combinations have to invent the wheel?  Every kid is different, even ones with the same diagnosis. And all of them are on different insurance plans, all have unique needs, so every single family who wants their children to get the maximum support and help they need must forge through the jungle with a butter knife, trying to clear a path.

Screw this butter knife, I just want to burn the trees to the ground. The more time I spend trying to reinvent the wheel for my child, the less time I am connecting with them and teaching them.

I don't want to be a fighter. I want to be a mother.

Yeah yeah, I know. But maybe that is just part of the job description. 


So It Begins

It's been a looong time since we really engaged in organized team sports. A certain almost-five-year old has insisted/begged for t-ball, and it was time. Cookie Monster was looking good out there today.





Mimi wanted to try out this new, American sport and was pretty rockin' herself on the sidelines.

This is how Tsega feels about t-ball. Though he claims when it warms up he may feel differently.

And while we are very proud of Cookie and excited to be sports parents again, the shock of the afternoon was the preemie. You know, the one with four to five Early Intervention appointments a week? For all manner of therapy? Well, this is how he feels about baseball, t-ball, and really, and kind of ball. People. He's two-and-a-half for crimeny'sakes. Get a load of this stance.

He can't speak yet, but if you don't throw him another pitch he will throw the biggest tantrum you've ever seen. Now go get the darn ball and throw it to him again. For the next three hours, thanks. 


Is There a Course for That?

Still emotionally dealing with the Boston Marathon, that our family attended. (We are all safe.)Will try to chime in my thoughts when I am feeling stable. Tonight, well, tonight was a sneak into the crib at 1am with my littlest baby to stroke his hair kind of night.

Lately I am doing some big soul searching. It is painful to sort through the mind, shake out some dust, check out what is going on in my mind and heart and I don't know if I like everything I am seeing under the hood, so to speak. I am digging back a little trying to understand where I am right now. I couldn't sleep, so I arose from my bed to tackle tomorrow's to do list. I am finding my college degree, not surprising, Psychology, is not helping me in my current career, which is at the moment defined by cleaning up goo I cannot identify, and signing my kids up for stuff online with forms called 'Infinitely Complicated Registration Wizards' etc.

And speaking of, my hard-earned, very expensive diploma does not help me with other advanced skills I have been steered by life into mastering. But I didn't know back then as a college freshman I should have taken these classes:

How to Find a Therapist 101-401
How to Ditch the Wrong Doctor After Two Visits
How to Deal with Medical Trauma in a Marriage 
How to Cook for 12+ people 101, 201
How to Decide what is Normal and what Warrants Professional Help?
How to keep a kid with Sensory Processing Issues Safe, or Avoiding CPS 101 and 201
Breastfeeding in Front of your Father-in-law: Journeys into Extended Family Relationships
Future Homeopathic Food Hippies: Your Friends may Consume Part of their Placentas but you Don't Have to 
White People: Why Some Insist Reverse Racism is Possible and you Want to Barf
Coping and Dealing: When One Finds Oneself a Somewhat Liberal Christian
Secondary Trauma: How Families Cope with PTSD resulting from Someone Else's PTSD
Home schooling: Wear Denim Jumpers or Don't, Either way, Don't be Afraid
Open Adoption: It's Best 97% of the Time
Ethics in International Adoption. (Well, looks like I wrote my own course in it)

Perhaps the best course I could have taken would have been titled something like, Your Undergraduate Experience: It Doesn't Get Easier Than This, Life is Going to Sock you in the Face so Enjoy This Now

In actuality, I loved college. And despite my degree not taking me to another more advanced degree or a career that I had all hand picked when I graduated, I need to remind myself what it did prepare me to accomplish in respect to my current circumstances.

See, I went to school full time as a Psych major at Brandeis University, then ranked in the top thirty universities in the country. I worked anywhere from two to four jobs each semester to afford my housing and the very small amount of food I bought as well as pay back student loans that were already sending bills.  I worked at the library, driving a campus van, at an events center, as a lifeguard, a babysitter and an Residential Adviser. I was a section leader in orchestra, took ballet classes, practiced karate, visited my friends aerobics classes, took voice and violin lessons, sang in small chamber choirs and recitals, participated in and eventually directed an a Capella group, and attended church each Sunday, all in addition to classes.
Me on the left, carefree and still blonde with my awesome college roommate at her rugby match. I had no idea what was in store.

I did NOT achieve a fabulous GPA the university level. We are talking a laughable GPA. I even missed a final once. I hung on by the seat of my pants. Sometimes I didn't pick up my phone because I was afraid someone was calling to say "You are late for work" or "You are supposed to be here at our study group!" I knew I was a bit out of my league. I had to get comfortable with discomfort, letting things go here and there, sometimes in entirety, my work and output being imperfect. Sometimes I couldn't do the things I loved, sometimes I kept doing the things I loved and the thing I had to do suffered.

The maelstrom of activity, the back-to-back-to-back schedule I kept up, with many sleepless nights, looking back looks awfully familiar. Back then I was passionate and energetic and determined and reckless and had to do my own thing come hell or high water, which both came in their turns.

That girl has morphed into someone who now must multitask like crazy, let things go, advocate for those I love like no one's business, be relentless, go on little sleep, sometimes ignore the phone, know when to hang on, when to let something slide and each day wake up to do it again. Now other lives hang in the balance. I am accountable to more than just myself. But I kinda smile when I think that time in college, where I took on a little more than I could handle, was practice for motherhood in a big way.

I weep sometimes when I think of how poorly I mess up every day. I am impatient in moments I know they need me to give them a pass. I am angry when I know they aren't trying to ruin things. I let other people, on the phone, in my life, tick me off and it gets taken out in a terse, raised voice to my little people. Sometimes, I am overwhelmed. Sometimes they aren't just being lazy and belligerent  and the shoes truly do not fit anymore. Sometimes, they aren't throwing a tantrum and the cries actually mean a leg is caught in the crib bars. It is so painful to be aware of my frailty and not know how these frailties may unintentionally weaken armor I am trying to build around my children.

I would  like to allow myself to be proud of myself for all that I do juggle, and be proud when it works and when there are smiles and love and giggles and connection and learning. Yet it pains me that someday they, the six little people, shall rightly sit around discussing the merits of how I took them on this journey. They will dissect with clarity and precision where I went wrong, my failings and faults. They will know, as I do, where I didn't quite give them what they really could have used.

I hate that I will fail them. I hope they can forgive me. I hope I can forgive myself. That would be a college course worth taking.

Big questions for a girl, (woman, though I don't always feel it) who still needs to figure out a poorly designed website and make sure her baby can play t-ball this spring. He's been asking for two years, he's finally old enough for the real thing, and I don't want to let him down. Surely, that $120,000 piece of paper hiding in a frame in the basement can help me navigate this essential item on my to-do list. Right?


Habesha Hair: Boy Version

Hubs decided to take the clippers again to Tsega. There were lots of little boys seen in the Ethiopian countryside with this traditional haircut, and our little man, I gotta say, completely rocks it.




Making it Right: Cooking Legit Ethiopian Ch'chebsa

Awhile back I wrote about how to make one of our favorite Ethiopian treats, ch'chebsa. A part of the post spoke to the power this amazing, addictive food has on my kids. They crave it, they love it, they feel very close to Ethiopia while it is being made, the smell, the process, the colossal amount of time it takes. All of that is still truer than ever. But, things have changed.

See, we've had the gift of having another Ethiopian living with us besides the three adopted children. Our friend, Mama B has been here since January and she has thankfully shown me the wild errors of how I used to make ch'chebsa and the new, correct version is slightly less time consuming (still a few hours start to finish when making it for a crowd, though with many hands it goes faster) and clearly tastes just right. 

Ch'chebsa is almost like eating tiny, spicy little donuts. It does not have much nutritional value. It is definitely a snack food or yummy appetizer and is impossible to stop eating. Please, if you want to make it, don't do it like the old post tells you. Do it this way. I hope the videos are helpful. Enjoy the noise and chaos in the background, this is what it sounds like when two of the children are napping.

Important to note:
1) we were making this for about fourteen people, so you do NOT need to make this much, unless you want leftovers. You can make a lot with some for leftovers, it is great for 48 hours kept sealed in a plastic container of some kind.

2) Don't measure. Just pour some flour in a bowl. Two-eight cups ish. It really depends on how much you want to make. It's the Ethiopian way, just feel it by hand. We used all-purpose flour, but you can make it with t'eff or a combo of t'eff and all purpose. If you try to use whole wheat, it will affect the taste and density of the kit'a (almost like a homemade pita bread that is used for the ch'chebsa) but if you're hard core you can try it. My kids might rise up in mutiny if I made it "healthily."

3) In the video, you hear Mimi say that the three ingredients you need for the kit'a dough are flour, water (wuha) and ch'ao, or salt. She gave brilliant advice: add salt to the water before you add it to the dough, so the salt is evenly distributed into the dough. As you can see us knead it into smooth round pizza-dough looking stuff, add water as necessary. It's all by feel.

Here is part way through kneading. A bit sticky but after working it, it started smoothing out.


Here is the dough, getting closer to being smooth enough to start working into disks. We kneaded a little more after this.

After all the kneading and it looks soft, tear off a piece to make a ball a little smaller than a tennis ball. I was  cooking the kit'a in a large 12 inch pan, if you have only a small pan, you will need to start with a smaller ball because you will be flattening the ball into very thin disks that need to fit in your pan.

Forming the dough ball

More process to form the disks for the kit'a

Once you have a large 10+ inch flat disk of dough, transfer it to a non-stick medium-high heated pan. If you want to use a little oil you can, my scan pan does not need any oil at all, so we didn't really use much. Avoiding burns as much as possible, the Ethiopian method is to continue using hands to rotate the dough and spread it out as much as possible.

Letting it get super crispy with nice brown/black sear marks. This next video shows a done disk.

This one was flipped a little too early by eager hands, we will flip it again to get it a little more crispy and the brown spots darker.

Once all the dough has been made into flat disks and cooked nicely, as many hands as possible need to break them into tiny miniscule pieces.

Fikir was really helpful and holy moly listen to how cute she is. Her voice is like a little squeaky mouse, I can't stand it she's so sweet. See the transfer of dough to pan in this next one.

Once it was all broken up, we decided we wanted these even crispier so we transferred back to a heated pan and dried them out a little more, about five minutes.


While it is toasting more, in a large mixing bowl you want to pour oil, for this much ch'chebsa we started with 3/4 cup and ended up adding a little more. Stir in 2 tbsp berbere, an Ethiopian red chili spice, and incorporate the berbere and the oil really well. Dump in the kit'a pieces and once again, mix by hand until all of them are red, oily and delicious. The best part is once it is served on someone's individual plate, drizzle some honey over it. This is when it really becomes truly food of the Gods because is spicy and sweet and you simply cannot walk away from it without taking handfuls.


Please, do me a tinish favor? Let me know if you try it, if it works, or if you have any questions. Enjoy and don't forget to share with friends.


Speaking of Home, Six Months In...

Maybe when we go to Ethiopia, can I stay one night with her? Sleep in my old house?

Maybe when we go to Ethiopia you can leave my hair free and watch her do my hair, to see how she does it.

Maybe we can bring her here, and she can sleep right by me. I know she would love this sleeping by me in this room.

Maybe we can buy her a washing machine. She not have a machine like us. She has big big bowl with water and soap and it is so hard washing clothes. Maybe we can bring her one on the airplane. She will be so happy.

When we go to Ethiopia, you will not know Amharic, and we will be the ones who know!

Maybe when we go to Ethiopia next year, we go to her house, stay a few days, she will cry.

I chime in, When we go and visit her, we will all be crying. Big big sad happy feelings. Yes, we will all be crying.


They are happy here. They love their new family. I mean, we have really lucked out with how well they have adjusted thus far and how much they have opened their heart to the love of second parents and the tight knit nature of the siblings situation. But it is hard. Every day. And my girls miss their mom and Ethiopia every.day.  We call her, we write her. We talk about Ethiopia every day. Amharic is spoken every day. Memories shared every day. And they are counting down until we can go back.

We are in the baby stages of planning the trip and making sure they know it. They need to go home. They need to visit again (and again.) Because this home, is their second one. We are not an American family. We are an Ethiopian American family, and I love that my little Habeshas do not let us forget it.


Winning Easter

I was starting to type out this big set up about how Easter has been rough for awhile. There was one year in there, maybe 2009 that was okay, but I don't remember it. So many Easters the shining highlights were me being sick, unable to join. Others recall children who are not stable or old enough to appreciate it, have fun, not freak out. 

Forget it. I am glad this Easter worked. Everyone was healthy, I made food I liked, there was very little screaming during church and really, it was an exceptionally lovely if exhausting day.

For posterity, though, I feel the need to list some key Easter Take Aways

1) Our family does so much better when we eliminate tchotchkes. That is totally how you spell it, FYI. Toys, bunny ears, eggs, anything colorful or plastic or out of the ordinary in any way causes wild raging inability to cope. (This is a medical term in this house you can call WRITC. WRITC also happens over balloons.) Not all the kids are volatile, but more than one are. Thus, we did not buy any chocolate or "peep" product. We didn't hide anything or give anything small or fight-over-able. My kids have never heard of it, but if they had asked about an Easter Bunny, we would have answered right away it does not exist and is made up completely. 

2) They were so happy and OK with how we celebrated Easter. They each received something new and pretty to wear to church and were happy to see the new clothes laid out next to their beds that morning. It was fun to surprise them. They had homemade pancake breakfast and we spent time on fun new hair styles, reading scriptures, watched some beautiful videos, looking at the resurrection garden we made. All was well.

3) That is, they were happy until they went to church and kids and teachers spent the whole time talking about their baskets and egg hunts and presents and CANDY!! 

4) Mimi and Fikir felt cheated. Like we didn't provide the kind of US holiday they heard other kids getting. They wanted to know why we couldn't be like everyone else.

5) I was mad about this. Why does everyone gotta make Easter another flipping Christmas? Why do kids come to church bragging about their loot? Most importantly, why didn't I anticipate this problem? Why do I feel guilty about it and irritated? There is no right or wrong; everyone else's "right" just makes our "right" hard to pull off...

6) I made them carrot cake and they forgave me, almost.

7) The next morning, a massive fight broke out. I mean, screaming, flailing out-of-control brawl over an Easter egg someone must have brought home from church from a well-meaning teacher. I looked at Mimi, and said Last night you asked why we can't do the egg hunt? I didn't even need to finish. She started laughing. All this tears and it just one egg. We have lots of eggs and candy, so bad! Clearly, she got it. I told her, maybe in a few years. We do lots of fun things, other people do this. It evens out. She felt a lot better to see that we aren't just mean, we are saving the Titanic from sinking when we decide to do "less" on holidays.

8) For years I've wanted to do a mini photoshoot of my kidlets on Easter all dolled up. Obviously, this has not come to fruition ever. Until this year. Somehow stars aligned for twelve minutes and I got what I wanted. (Though feel free to note, there is not a speck of green attempting to show its face yet in Boston...)









Singing a little post-holiday Handel's Hallelujah Chorus and feeling grateful for a good day. Would like three days of recovery from the "good day" but still, I love these goofy little stinkers.