Development Assessment

Development Assessment

Reflection – Friday evening.  I’m sitting here with a Smirnoff’s Ice – Raspberry and listening to Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy.  I recount the day’s events, as well as the dreaded child development assessment. 

I had one of those days today when I wake up and get the three kids out the door to their three different schools.  Then I get to have my time.  My time to fall apart.  It’s ok to cry.  And it happens.  A day when everything yucky comes to the surface.  Like the children’s book by Judith Viorst.  I had a crappy, weepy, awful day.  Could anything go well to lift my spirits?  My week started with a few appointments Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday afternoons for my daughter.  The child with special needs.

I endured a three hour interview on Monday at a children’s hospital’s development and rehabilitation unit.  My daughter got to draw, eat a snack, and answer a few questions, like:  Who lives in your household? Do you have friends?  I got asked all the other questions filling up the remainder of the three hour time. Questions like:  Could you talk more about that? Could you describe situations?  Could you talk more about that so I can visualize how that looks?  This was precisely the reason why I had dreaded this appointment, I was wiped out that evening. 

I will receive a detailed report in a few weeks.  But at the end of this interview, the psychologist offered a brief assessment:  Most likely, my kid was deprived her first year in life and also in her foster home of three years.  She didn’t get her emotional needs met.  There was likely a food scarcity in BOTH homes.  I interrupted to point out that several of the people in the foster home were morbidly obese…

The clinician reported that food scarcity is common with obesity — the unstructured meal times, the ups and downs of food amounts.  She went on to tell me that my child received little to no structure and stimulation in the foster home which would explain the simplistic play behaviors, the lack of coping skills and the obsession with food and tv.

I thought to myself while she talked: I know, I have heard this, why were we on a six month waitlist to be seen here?

The psychologist said to lower my hopes and expectations as she won’t be changing anytime soon. “You basically need to lay down a different foundation, as you slowly remove the old one.”  Really? I said, somewhat sarcastically.   She continued, “Yes, expecting her to change quickly would be like letting your original foundation just crumble and fall apart without any support in place.”

Somewhere I hear my sister and brother-in-law laughing.

She said my kid CAN change over time, a long time, if the parents and every teacher is consistent each and every time with the same rules and repeated direction of adaptive coping skills.  Wow, I thought. Long time. Each and every time. Every single adult at home and school. Yeah! No problem.

Perhaps my depression is now better understood. Tuesday I informed my child’s therapist after another play therapy sand table session what was discussed at the children’s hospital.  She had more to say on this matter.

Friday rolls around and I couldn’t stop crying.  Every time I thought I had gained composure, I looked at myself in the mirror to get cleaned up. And every time, I saw my puffy eyes and eyelashes coated in Kleenex dust.  And every time, I whimpered: is she ever going to change?!  

I picked up my child at dismissal time at her school.  She tossed her name badge to her teacher when she saw me.  I waited for her teacher to make eye contact with me and to call out my child’s name.  Then my kid turned to face her teacher and pestered:  Did I have a good day? Did I? Did I? Did I have a good day? Did I?  Her teacher continued to dismiss the other twenty first graders, but stopped.  “Well, let’s talk to your mom about what happened.”

As I hustled closer so that Ms. T could tell me how my child stole a dinner roll from someone, I bumped into another mom’s arm.  I looked back and apologized.  The woman was wincing and rubbing her right shoulder.  Yup.  That was the finishing touch to my sh*tty day.

ADHD Medication

Waiting for the Effects of ADHD Medication

Week 4

We did not go away for Spring Break. Get the tissues out, boo-hoo. This happens for us with my husband’s career. I’ve been really supportive to his work and demanding hours. I get it. It’s just that sometimes seeing everyone around us pack up their cars, hearing everyone’s plans for the week off, and feeling the need for something different to our routine, I feel sorry for myself when we stay home during any of the school year breaks. This year I changed that.

My solution has been to rent a cabin for a few days about an hour away. We take the dog, we bring food for all the meals, and for two nights he is able to put work on hold. The boys take a respite from their electronic devices. They flip a coin over who will sit next to the pooch; the loser sits near her. My husband attempts to delegate duties of packing the car. This never goes well. He does most of it, huffing and muttering up and down the driveway. I opt to stay inside programming the auto-feeder for the cats. Every time we go on this kind of trip, we manage to leave an hour later than planned, our bodies are crammed into the vehicle, trash bags for suitcases stuffed in every space and my hubby annoyed that his guitar never fits. The excitement increases over car ride games. I pop in an old Pearl Jam cd. We’re off!

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Stealing Food

My Young Child is Stealing Food

Week 2

young child is stealing food

How about stealing time to play!

Stealing food from children. Really? That is how Mrs. M wrote it in her message. We are starting week two of medication or in other words, it is day eight. I know in my heart that I am uncomfortable with my child needing medication. But as I put it to her brothers, it’s like needing glasses. All that squinting, missing homework assignments written on the whiteboard, not seeing the lacrosse ball– my kid needed corrective lenses for better focus. Did this completely change his life? Yes and no.  The non-stimulant ADHD medication will hopefully change her life and ours for the better. After I had returned to our therapist for a consultation, after having a medication evaluation and after a few days of starting the medication, I got a long email from her kindergarten teacher. As soon as I opened it, I braced myself. Four paragraphs. What now?  Well, turns out that for the past 6 or so weeks food has gone missing from her students’ lunch boxes. And surprisingly while we were on a family trip for three days, nothing happened. Yet when we returned, the missing of items resumed. Mystery solved? Yes. Problem corrected? No.

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Resentment and Negativity

Resentment and Negativity 

Our First Year of Adoption – Final Part

“Resentment is poison.” I’ve heard that saying and I repeated it daily to myself for over a year. Whenever I thought about the foster home and where she lived for over three years, I felt bitter, angry, acerbic feelings towards them. We adopted a kid that had experienced trauma; we also got a kid with so many bad habits that needed to be reshaped or eliminated. I felt overwhelmed by how much we could address in therapy and at home. After months of living with her, I felt genuine concern over how much we were offsetting the balance of the household.

post adoption resentment and negativity

Spring – a time for renewal

The summer she moved in with us started out with a bang. She literally moved into our home the weekend after school let out. Everyone was happy and eager to go to the pool and to sleep in and to play outside. The boys loved going to a field two blocks from our home — they were in and out of the house all day long. They returned for bathroom breaks, water bottle refills, and food. They got tan, they always looked sweaty, they had fun. Even before she moved in with us, I had romanticized the idea of joining them with our third child. Next to the field is a playground. Every day I took her. And every day after walking past our house, she burst into tears and cried out that she was too tired to walk there. The same when returning to the house. The child who had been a couch potato in her foster home had very little energy living with us. Once we got to the playground she did manage to climb the play structure and slide down a few times. She seemed to love doing chalk drawings on the blacktop. She eagerly approached strangers – young and old – to engage in conversation.

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Open Adoption – Biological Parents

Open Adoption – Biological Parents

Our First Year of Adoption – Part 6

The truth is, I really did not want an open adoption. Initially, I was eager to explore international adoption.  I think part of that fantasy was whisking away a child from tragic conditions and letting her start a new life with us in the U.S.  I imagined meeting with the staff of an orphanage and receiving her case file. I would have information on her biological parents. Later we would decide if we wanted contact and how to go about doing so.open adoption - biological parents

In reality, we adopted a child from the state foster care system.  While she lived in a foster home, she had sporadic visits with her biological parents — who were no longer a couple. Over time, they were deemed no longer fit and the judge changed her plan to adoption. Over time their interest in keeping contact diminished.  Both failed to keep their appointments with the court mandated mediator. Months after she moved in with us, we were told there was not a mutual agreement in place; we would not be able to maintain contact with the biological parents. Sorry. Actually “wooo-hoooo!” was my response. Yes!

Who knows what things may be like when she is an adolescent; when she re-examines her values, ponders her life’s path and questions her identity. She may want to re-establish contact. We don’t know what forms of social media will be in fashion and what efforts are needed to find her biological relatives.

For that first year, I wondered about them. Not in a strange, inappropriate way. More along the lines of wondering about the grocery store clerk who helps you each week. Or the custodian at school who makes eye contact and gives a little nod in passing. Or the owner of the black lab that you see often on walks– she comes from the opposite direction, is bundled up with a scarf and walks briskly. I just wonder about people sometimes.  Maybe I did think about her birth parents more deeply. Did they agonize over the responsibilities of child caring? Were they relieved, maybe a little, when the judge changed the plan to adoption. Did they berate themselves? I wondered if they made efforts to change their ways and turn their lives around.

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Developmental Delays

How Old are You?! (Trying to Understand Developmental Delays)

Our First Year of Adoption – Part 5

“I’m freakin’ out!” was something I heard too much. I asked her: what does that mean? She shrugged. I said: say words that you know. What are you trying to say? She whispered: I don’t know. My youngster pointed to her upper chest and asked me the name of the body part.  I answered, “That is your chest.” No! she shrieked and she pointed with both fingers. I replied, “Oh, those circles are called your nipples. Every kid has them. “ No, no! she yelled back. She then snapped at me that those are called her boobies. We picked up my son at his friend’s house. She yelled out the window, “Say goodbye butt. Bye butt! B-utt, b-utt!” My son was horrified. She was not even four at the time when these situations occurred. She had been with us a month.  

Our therapist noted that I would benefit from some additional support. Maybe a group for foster and adoptive parents. Maybe blogs? Maybe my own therapy. I kind of wondered where I could find others who would understand my state of mind. I was baffled over the stuff my four year old was doing. Was she a tyke or a teen?

We were told our child was probably raised by the four teenagers in the foster home. Our therapist noted based on her behaviors, she most likely received a lot of verbal attention and was given food to soothe her distress. Our job was to nurture in an emotional way, paving the way for attachment and adaptive functioning. Our job was to help her be a little kid.

Over several months, I enrolled her in ballet, then swim lessons, next tumbling, and climbing. During class, she often stood there watching and barely moving. There was a marked stubbornness to physical activity when we were at home. We would all try to engage her in games of jumping around, kicking a ball, raking leaves. The four of us just wanted to have fun with her. I said, “Try to move around a little, could you try?” She answered, “I will! Just sign me up for another class.”

The first two years in our home, I taught her how to play with toys. Every day, a few times per day, I sat on the floor with her watching and played out games. I acted out dramatic scenarios and funny sequences with playhouse dolls, horses, and Fisher Price little people. I dressed dolls and cooked them meals, using the play kitchen stuff. I took the dolls to the “doctor’s office” and used the medical kit items to give them exams. I gathered sticks, rocks and leaves from our backyard to make mud stews and fairy houses. She watched every move, with huge wide eyes.  I then moved onto reaching out to her, encouraging her to play and join in. Often I was met with resistance– no, she wanted to only watch. Or a shrug to indicate that she was clueless. Sometimes her tears let me know she felt on the spot.  After a year of doing this daily, I burned out.

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Explaining Adoption to a Young Child

Explaining Adoption – Her Adoption Story

Our First Year of Adoption – Part 4

I received advice on explaining adoption and telling our child her adoption story. One suggestion was to let her tell her story when she is older and ready. Another was to say to others, “It’s personal.”  Another was to provide just simple facts when asked what happened to her… ? Does she have attachment issues?  What about her real parents, what happened? All of the professionals involved in the foster care to adoption program stressed the need to accept the past rather than deny it. I wonder how to preserve the past and protect her from damaging details. Whether she was planned or unplanned, her birth parents messed up repeatedly and she suffered.

It’s such a different inquiry from any line of questioning I had related to my biological kids. With them, I voluntarily commented on my labor experience or a teething issue in a moms playgroup. Others would contribute a personal anecdote. We’d laugh or gasp in response. Whereas, with any curiosity related to my adopted daughter, the questions are:  “Did you meet the birth mom? Do you still have contact with her? Was there abuse?” It’s so different.

I have struggled with the concept of her story. It is entirely up to me to inform her on her past. It is up to me to go over the events and turn them into memories. Do I want her to know what happened to her when she was a baby? What about the foster family and their child caring practices? How about the first three years she has been in our care. Do I recount the turmoil and exhaustion we have experienced? The weekly sessions in therapy?

One counselor we worked with kept reviewing all the parental figures. Mommy number one grew you in her tummy. Mommy number two was your foster mommy.  And now you are with your forever mommy, Mommy number three. Seriously? In my view, it goes more like this. First lady went through a pregnancy and delivery. She made a number of poor decisions which got the State involved; she neglected her baby. The second caregiver chose to foster only and to pass on adoption. She let her teenagers help out often with childcare. So what numbers are the teens? Mommies three, four, five and six?

I feel like my role as forever mommy trumps the others. I am the Mother of moms. I deserve more credit than they do for what I am doing here. I have worked really hard to parent her. I’m not denying their roles in her life, I needed the others to get my child adopted. I just don’t understand the necessity to call them mommies. They were people in her life. The counselor working with her to prepare for adoption called the birth mother “sick”. Another concept that is troubling to me.

explaining adoption to young child

A mother bear wishes for a cub, who loves hearing his adoption story.

I have told my daughter that her first mommy had a lot of problems. The caseworker took her away from her first mommy and daddy because they did not know how to take care of a baby. The foster family took care of her while the judge made a decision– it was a very important decision. The judge took a very long time. The foster mother and the foster family gave her a place to live, food to eat, and a bed. They hoped that the judge would make a good plan for her. The judge decided that S should be with us because we know how to take care of children. We do not have any problems and we will be able to take care of her forever. The judge knew that we wished for a little girl and we wanted a third child.

That is a brief version of the story I tell her whenever she asks, which is often. I feel her need to hear that she was wished for.  I feel the yearning for being wanted. I just don’t know how to reconcile her early beginning from my tale.

Part 5 – How Old are You?!

Adoption Expectations

Adoption Expectations – Wishing for a Young Child

Our First Year of Adoption – Part 1

I wanted to relive the preschool years. I had no desire to have another biological child– to go through a pregnancy, delivery, and a hormonal roller coaster. Did that, did that twice. I did not miss the sleep deprivation, the teething, diaper changes and all those day to day moments of the first two years of life. I wanted to adopt a young child. I wanted a girl. I wanted to skip over the three years and get right into imaginary play, conversations, storytimes at the library, questions while we went on neighborhood walks, ballet lessons at the community center, frequent changes in clothing after jumping in puddles and making mudpies, a partner while I ran errands, a helper when baking.

We adopted our daughter when she was three years eight months. She was verbal, she was toilet trained, she slept through the night. She did not know how to play with toys, she could not tap into her imagination, she could not follow simple directions. She threw tantrums when denied anything, her requests relentless.

Wishes, desires, anticipated life situations. Be prepared to be flexible and give it all up. That should have been the inspiration for me to hang on the wall. Not the painted wooden ones with messages of “Hope” and “Dream.”

She refused to play with toys. She fell when running a short distance. She burst into tears when told to drink water. She screamed at me while I was driving: turn here! go faster! don’t just stop, keep going! She climbed onto the counter to reach a knife, waved it at me saying, “Here you go.”  She stuffed pieces of paper into her nightlight. She squeezed toothpaste all over her bedroom rug. She took her clothes and tied them into knots.  She chewed teeth marks into the edge of the dining room table. She constantly interrupted family members during dinner time. She ripped pages out of books. My daughter demonstrated inappropriate behaviors the week she moved into our home. I know we didn’t teach her those things. She was raised by other people, who used practices very different from my own.  She endured experiences that are almost inconceivable to me as a parent, yet for her, real. Will her early years forever impact on and haunt her?

*

I am still mourning the wishes I had. My daughter is now six and in grade school.  We did not become regulars at story time. We do not bake together. I’ve readjusted my hopes for her, and for us. I hope that in time, she will realize we have given her a better life. I hope in time she will develop strong passions and friendships. I hope in time I will experience her strengths more often. I hope in time we will have fun, shared activities. I hope in time I will enjoy her company.

Part 2 – Off to Therapy We Go!

 

Forming Attachment

Forming an Attachment is Hard with Adopted Children

As a foster and/or adoptive parent, you will use this word endlessly. Attachment. I remember in college viewing black and white videos on Margaret Mahler. She was a psychiatrist who originated the two year process of separation-individuation between mothers and babies. This is significant to forming one’s sense of identity. There are two things that have stuck in my memory. One is that when you heard her voice in the voice over, in her East European accent, she repeatedly made a little whistle sound. I remember thinking that’s an unusual speech impediment. The other key recollection is how young the subjects were in this classic study. Babies.

“The attachment needs to come first and be strongly established,” our therapist Beth informed us. Until then, there is anxiety around the following:  will I be accepted, will I be loved always? will this last? is there a trust? She told us that working on the problematic behaviors now is ok, but most changes will occur once the attachment is strong.

forming attachment is difficult

attachment

Our adopted daughter is tight with my husband. I see the beginning of an attachment to him. I hear it in her requests to have him make her lunch, to take her to school, and in her sobbing when she watches out the window as he backs out of the driveway to run an errand.  I know it’s hard on him that she is this way, it’s actually not as gratifying as it should be. He feels badly and a little guilty that I don’t have IT yet. Our therapist explained it is more complicated with me, the female parent, the primary caregiver. Our daughter has formed relationships with not one, not two, but now a third mother figure in her short lifetime. She knows that I am the keeper of the household. Beth tells us that more is at stake in investing feelings with me. I’m a strong person. I’ve worked in mental health. On a logical level, I get it. But it does hurt. And sometimes I let out a sarcastic remark: You really want to wait for Daddy to get home to make your lunch…? Ok! Whatever!

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Traumatized Young Child- What does that look like?

Traumatized Young Child

I embraced my new position of soon-to-be adoptive parent. I was educated on her early trauma by professional mental health workers.  My kid was removed from her biological parents as an infant. She was placed with a few different relatives, all of whom could not be long-term resources. She was transferred early on in her first year of life to a foster home, where she lived for over three years. We welcomed her into our home when she was 3 years 8 months. I anticipated several months of adjusting to our home. Three years later the storm has still not calmed down. 

traumatized young child

Peeling off the layers

Understandably, she has emotional issues because of being removed from her biological parents.  She may not remember her first year and what that entailed. But I am sure that somewhere in her psyche is this primitive response to not getting her meals on time and not being soothed when in distress. She is still aching for that satisfaction. She is like a bottomless well with us. It does not matter if we just spent two hours interacting — playing, cuddling, singing, reading, eating– she will turn to me and ask frantically what are we going to do now? and often with tears, she will ask: will you play with me now?  While leaving the children’s museum, she whined when are we going to the zoo? we haven’t gone! I let her pick out a decoration for an upcoming holiday, her response was why can’t I have three? The give me, give me, gimme syndrome. If you ask her thirty minutes after a huge feast if she is hungry, she will nod emphatically and say yes. It is never enough, she does not feel satisfaction or a state of content.  Continue reading