On a good day, parenting will test the integrity of your character. On a bad day, parenting will test your will to live. Parenting children with trauma histories will cause you to test the integrity of everything and everyone you thought you knew, for the rest of your life.
~J. Skrobisz

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Heat Seeking Missiles

It's not in the RAD books, it's not in the RAD therapy, it's not in ANY therapy, come to mention it, but it is something I've learned to seek out like a heat seeking missile. It's my "Jennie's personality in therapeutic parenting", the ME factor I'm striving for because no matter how many books I read, CDs I listen to or therapy sessions I attend, none of it teaches me how to be just me, the RAD mom. They only teach me how to be a RAD mom. And I can't stop being just me for trying but neither can I stop being a RAD mom. So I'm always on the prowl for just me, The RAD Mom Has Teachable Moments with Sissy

These would be the teachable moments with Sissy that get to her heart quickly, seering indelible truths on it in five minutes or less. Moments that may or may not include touch but always garner a positive emotional and cognitive moment.

I have some rules when I prowl for these moments.
1. Sissy has to be regulated
2. It has to be within 30 minutes of a challenging moment with Sissy that did NOT escalate out of control
3. Siblings have to be out of the way
4. Sissy has to be able to repeat what I'm teaching so that means my language has to be simple and succinct
5. The teachable moment can not last longer than five minutes. Three is best.
6. The teachable moment should not include touch until AFTERWARD and ONLY if I request it

In other words, Sissy can't seek out the affection, I have to offer it. Otherwise, the affection is inappropriate and completely destroys the value of the teachable moment especially if she interrupts the teachable moment seeking misguided physical affection. When she interrupts like that, i fold. The teachable moment is lost.

7. The teachable moment can't be contrived [1] and must be on our feet, making eye contact, speaking in low tones and being very close but not touching.

Typically I'm on one side of the kitchen counter and Sissy's on the other side while I'm dosing her evening medication or getting her a drink, snack or meeting some other banal need. The counter acts as a safety zone for her that prevents touch but I can lean in over the counter and get close to her, demanding her eyes. If we sit, Sissy's brain ends up in her butt and she can't concentrate on my words. Not sure how that brain power works but it's unequivocal. Sitting = dead brain. Standing = living brain.

8. I can not, any under circumstances, be emotionally charged. My responses to Sissy no matter what she says, can not betray any pain or anger. Period. And I have to really dial down the love too, so I don't scare her away or put her off.

OK, now that you know the rules, here's tonight's living example of Just me the RAD Mom Having a Teachable Moment with Sissy

Sissy was getting ready for her shower. Lots of grumbling, grunting, pouting, stomping, you know, typical RAD behavior. I reminded her, "Sissy, when you're in the shower, don't forget to wash your privates. Remember, you might be able to fake me out with the 5's [2], but it won't take me more than 3 days to guess your sneaky ways. Do you know how?"


"Come on Sissy, be honest. How will I know if you're not washing your privates?"

*mumbling while glaring at the floor* "I'll smell."

"Yep! You're right! Good for you!" I said with honest enthusiasm, like a coach rooting for his weakest player that has just accomplished something miraculous. "So what are you going to do about it tonight?" (throwing the problem's solution into her lap)

*more grumbling*

At this point The Dad chimed in, trying to make light of the situation by making it funny. Sissy was beginning to escalate and we were trying to escape that indeterminable loop. I can't remember exactly what he said but here's an example of something he might say when he's lovingly teasing, "Stinkopatamus, that's what the kids will say! You need to wash up to keep the stinky germs away!"

*more grumbling that was turning into growling and clenched teeth from Sissy* So I tried a different approach. "Sissy, when people love you, they like to joke. They're not being mean, they are trying to help you laugh instead of cry."

*she was crying by then and it was just barely going to screaming* "OK Sissy, instead of crying, try saying this when we try to make you laugh, 'MOM! I'm going to soap my bootie, geez!'" I said it with a goofy voice, using silly body language. She didn't parrot me right away but she was intrigued. I continued. "Or how about this? 'OK mom. Do you want to see my shiny Heine when I'm done?'" Still no response. "Come on Sissy, try it out. Say something back that's silly."

*more crying* "It'll help. It will make you feel good. Just try."

"But I don't know what to say!" she wailed.

Then The Dad chimed in, "Try this one, 'Hey mom, wanna see my bubbly butt?'"

She giggled. Aspie Boy, overhearing the fun jumped in, "Yeah, BUBBLE BUTT!"

"OK Sissy, you've got a couple of ideas. Ready to try one?"

More giggling but still with an edge of anger, "I'm gonna make a bubble butt!" and we laughed together and sent her on her way toward the bathroom, laughing instead of screaming, all of us singing "bubble butt!"

While in the shower, she called out her 5's, I asked her if her butt was bubbly, she laughed a little more, albeit tenuously, and we were through what could have become WWIII.

It was after the shower, while in the kitchen dosing her evening meds that I seized the opportunity to have a teachable moment, Just me style.

"Sissy, sometimes families tease one another with love. It's different than teasing from classmates that don't love you. When family teases you, it's to help you laugh instead of cry. Do you understand?"


"OK. How about this. Laughing helps your heart, your lungs and your brain."

"It does?"

"yep. Doctors have proven it. Laughing helps us be healthier and stronger."

"I didn't know."

"Did you know that crying doesn't help our bodies?"

"No. But when I cry it's because I'm sad or angry or afraid!"

"Yes, we cry when we're sad or when we're angry or afraid. But it doesn't make our organs healthier or stronger." Then I held my pointer finger and my thumb about an inch apart. "If crying is this big," I said, motioning toward the gap between my fingers, "then laughing is THIS big!" I made a huge, rapid gesticulation of my arms flying out as wide as they could go. Sissy's eyes got big.

"that's a lot."

"YES! Laughing is really, really good!"

"I didn't know."

"I know. That's why I'm telling you. That's why it's ok when family teases with love. Family helps you laugh instead of cry. Is remembering to wash your privates really something to cry about?"

"no. but I hate doing it!"

"I know you do. But you have to or you'll smell bad. I don't want you to smell bad, the kids at school will tease you in a BAD way."

"Oh. I didn't know." And she started to cry. I really wanted to hug her but I felt like I could push the teachable moment just a little bit further and hugging would have ended it.

"Sissy, do you know why it's hard for you to laugh?"


"Because I'm right, aren't I? It's hard for you to laugh, or to hug or to be tickled or to tease, isn't it?"

A little light went on behind her eyes and for the first time in our exchange, she looked me directly in the eyes. "Yes!" Then crying again. "I don't know why!"

"I know why. Would you like to know?" She shook her head yes but looked away. "Do you feel safe for me to tell you? Or will it hurt more to know?"

"I want to know."

"OK. It's hard for you to laugh and hug and be tickled and teased because your first mom didn't teach you how when you were a baby."

"She didn't?"

"Nope. It's sad. She didn't do it on purpose. She has special needs too. She didn't know how to teach you love, laughing, hugging and tickling."

"That is really sad!" And she started to cry again, real crying.

"Yes, it is really sad. When you became my daughter, you were a very sad, sad baby."

"I was?!"


"But babies are supposed to be happy!"

"I know. But you weren't. When I tried to love you or hug you or tickle you, you got angry and tried to hurt me. You did that because you were scared of love and hugging."

"I'm SORRY! I didn't know! I don't do it on purpose!"

I realized she was afraid I was angry with her for not knowing these essential life affirming tools. "Sissy. Look in my eyes. What are they telling you? Are they angry eyes?"

"no. they say love"

"That's right. I love you. It's not your fault you didn't learn. I'm not angry about it. I was worried for you. It made my heart hurt that you were such a sad baby. Look in my eyes. Say these words while you look at me, 'It's not my fault. I don't know how.'"

She struggled with it, but after prompting her and coaching her, she managed to say the words while looking at me. I made sure to give her a huge eye and facial response of love after she did it and she reciprocated the expression.

"It's called Reactive Attachment Disorder, it's one of the special needs you have. It's our job as your family to teach you love, hugs, tickling, laughing and teasing."

"I didn't know."

"That's why I'm telling you." I could see I was starting to lose her and I wanted to make sure she had the important points down. "Sissy, I want you to say these words too. I need your eyes again. 'It's not my first mom's fault either.'" This one was going to be hard and I knew it but I was going for broke.

She struggled and hedged and mumbled under her breath the phrase, while looking down. "Sissy, look at me." I waited until I had her eyes. "It's not your first mom's fault either. She didn't know either. She didn't hurt you on purpose. Can you say, 'It's not my first mom's fault?'" [3]

She did it that time and I could see her countenance change for the better. "Now, you get to learn how to laugh and hug and tickle and tease. Show me how big crying is." She showed me with her two fingers. "Now show me how big laughing is." Reluctantly, she opened her arms very wide like I had done. "Which one makes you healthy and strong?"


"GOOD! Now, can I give you a hug?" She nodded and walked around the counter to me.

"You're warm." She said as I embraced her.

"Yes, Sissy. Love is warm."

(and my heat seeking missiles are always ready to find it)

[1] it's hard to pull off the arbitrary, off-handed therapeutic moment so that Sissy perceives it as an "oh, by the way" kind of event. It requires that I play out various scenarios, phrases and therapeutic language in my head. The shower is a good venue for the internal dialogues and role playing I do. My objective is to be always ready at the helm. With RADishes, you just never, ever know when you're going to get a golden moment, or when it'll all go to hell in a hand basket in 5 seconds flat. With practice, the dialogues become easier and require less rehearsal.

[2]5's. While at RTC, Sissy learned proper hygiene by calling out "5's!". A female staffer would enter the shower room and Sissy would wave out from behind the curtain, two soapy arms, two soapy legs and a soapy head, 5 soapy body parts in all. But of course, her torso and genitals are not part of the 5's so she'd invariably omit those, in part because the sexual abuse makes touching her genitals an ENORMOUS issue for her (she once got a fungal rash on her backside from months of improper bathing - that was when I realized I had to supervise all of her hygiene)

[3] this could be dangerous language to use with your RADish so BE VERY CAREFUL! In our adoption story, I had a friendship with first mom. Well, as much of a friendship as she is capable of having. Her impairments make her equally challenging. Raising Sissy is like raising first mom, it's uncanny. So I can say "it's not first mom's fault" with certainty and conviction because I know what her needs are and I know she did not wittingly harm Sissy. Point of fact, in her own convoluted way, she LOVES Sissy. It was very hard for her to surrender her rights. But ultimately, and by the grace of God, she was able to recognize that she was unable to parent Sissy (or Aspie Boy or Wonder Girl) and she intentionally chose us to take on the responsibility in part because we had a positive relationship with her prior to her pregnancies


Jenn said...

Thank you for sharing that. What a powerful exchange!

Jennie said...

Jenn, I hope it helps! BTW, is the AWESOME Jennifer? lol

noniquilter said...

Oh Jen, I'm sooooooo sorry that Sissy has caused you all so much pain and heartache over the years and at the same time sooooooo greatful to you for loving her anyway and expending so much of yourself on her behalf. You are one AWESOME MOM in my book :) I have spent the last 10 hours reading all of your blogs here and laughing and crying over every entry. I wish that I could be that person to drop the ladder down into your hole and climb down and offer you everything that you need. Please tell me what I can do to help you to continue on this so very hard road that you are on. I know that having lived with birthmom gives me a window into your life but it doesn't come close to what you have lived thru for the past 9 years. Know that I love you and appreciate all that you do for Sissy, Aspie Boy and Wonder Girl (and she is a true wonder). What more can I do? I pray that you will know that God is always right there beside you never leaving nor forsaking you. What a wonderful teachable moment with Sissy you had this evening. How precious it was for you to let Sissy know that even her birthmom wasn't responsible. How gracious you are in all that you do. big hugs and kisses to all of you.



Jennie said...

I love you too Noni! :)

for all my readers, Noniquilter is Sissy, Aspie Boy and Wonder Girl's biological grandma. Welcome, Noni!!!!!

Ashley said...

Jennie, every tie I read your blog I'm in awe of you.

Thank you for sharing these moments with us, but especially for sharing them with Sissy

J. said...

sounds like a great moment. Our kids hav the same issues with teasing... it's like a a big attachment issues warning bell, any tease send them into flight or fight, to bad no one told us that to begin with

GB's Mom said...

You Rock! What an awesome job! Still praying (hard) for SSD. {{{Hugs}}}

Jeri said...

How wonderful to have Noni be a Team Jennie (and therefore,Team Sissy,Aspieboy and Wondergirl) member! I think it is especially good that you have the first hand knowledge and the willingness to share with Sissy that it was not her first mom's fault. I realize that for many neuro-typical adoptees, the shame/anger/guilt factor involving first families is powerful. Don't know if Sissy will truly be able to use the knowledge that there is no place to lay blame to promote her own healing but praying she can. Praying for all of you, including Noni as this has had to have been a heart wrenching path to travel for her too.

You are very, very wise and your children are so fortunate. take care, jeri

Mama Drama Times Two said...

What an amazing post. It is a challenege to be emotionally ready for those teaching moments when they arrive. Thanks for clarifying the Noni thing. Our adoption worker here in New England is named Noni and is a quilter. So when I saw a comment from "noniquilter", my heart jumped in my throat!!! I try to be soooo under the radar to those I know in real life....

marythemom said...

Thank you so much for sharing one of your teachable moments (heat seeking missiles). It helps so much to hear others use them so the words come to me when we're in the heat of the moment.

For teasing we actually had to come up with a hand gesture so Kitty would know we were joking. It really helps her although I need to work on being more consistent with her.

Mary in TX

Little Wonder said...

This is what's so flooring to me about our kids---we have to teach them to have fun, no one ever taught them that!

But these candid conversations are so important. We do this with B too as far as explaining what should be so natural. My husband is great with these teachable moments...sometimes I get too caught up in the emotions, but he always always puts us back on track! Ok, this is getting to be a book, lol, I remember once when B and I just had a day where we were at each other, both of us in tears and angry, Hubby came home from work, ran upstairs, put on his way too small baseball pants, his t-shirt that says "I have Gas" and pulled up his socks to his thighs. He came downstairs and we all just laughed. And he looks at us like, "WHAT!?!?" Somehow he always knows just what to do.