respite

Life in the Tension

Sometimes I like to imagine what my kids will remember me teaching them throughout their childhood. What will stick? Will they remember all the "I love you's?" Will the "you're so brave's" and "tell me about your day's" be the words that become fastened to their memory? Or will something else overshadow the sweet and encouraging sentiments? One thing I frequently tell them that they find less favorable (but I am certain they will remember me saying) is "that is not a real problem." Let's run this down so we are all clear on what a real problem is in our house.

Scenario 1: You are four years old and you have no food to eat. At all. Ever.

Correct, that's a real problem. 

Scenario 2: You are four years old and you do not like "beet taste." 

Not even close to a real problem. (Also, beets are delicious.)  

Scenario 3: You must spend a half a day walking to a source of (questionably) drinkable water. 

Yes, this. This is a real problem. 

Scenario 4: Your food touches.  

No. Having your hot, nutritious food touch other bits of hot, nutritious food? That is - comically - not a real problem. 

You can see how they might remember me saying this. Because it is said frequently. And trust me, we are a big 'feelings' house. We talk about our feelings, we validate each others feelings, we use lots of expressive feeling words. There is no shutting down how they might feel about beets. This is a safe space to feel strong dislike for "beet taste." While I strive to always hear and even affirm their feelings, I don't pretend for a second that this is a real problem. 

I was discussing this with my friend Megan the other day. (Some of you might remember her from previous #AdamsActs posts about the heartbreaking loss of one of their sweet little twin girls, Zoey.) Megan and I were discussing our very low threshold for problems-that-aren't-really-problems. I think that low threshold is directly correlated with experiencing great and tragic loss. It changes you. It changes your perspective on what suffering is. It changes your capacity to tolerate complaints about that which is not a real problem. 

When facing challenges of various kinds, the leaders at our church will often use this phrase, "This is a tension to manage, not a problem to solve." Ugh... I love this, and oh how I wish that this concept would go ahead and just embed itself in my memory already! There are some challenges in my life that I have viewed as problems I desperately need to solve. Or avoid. Or feel sorry for myself about. These "problems" are not really problems to solve, they are simple tensions to manage. 

Instead of graciously managing the tensions, I have tried to control the tensions. I have tried solving the tensions. I have attempted to escape or avoid or blame the tensions. Shoot, I'd punch the tensions in the face if I could. Yet, nothing changes... the tension remains.

I recently shifted my definition of a problem to something more like this: a problem is only a problem if there is an actionable step one can take to work toward a solution. If no actionable step can be taken, there can be a lot of tension. That tension needs to be managed in a healthy way.

Parenting a child with a pretty severe behavioral disorder can feel a heck of a lot like a life-consuming problem. Except for one thing... there is no actionable step that I can possibly take to work toward a solution.

I must live in the tension. 

I can pray in the tension. I can cry in the tension. I can seek wise counsel in the tension. I can adjust my attitude about the tension. But I cannot solve it. I must accept it. 

The focus then is not on how to "solve" my son's disorder, but on how I can remain emotionally, physically and spiritually healthy enough to manage the tension that surfaces in light of my son's disorder.   

You may be wondering, "Who cares? What's the difference?" But the difference is everything. It's the difference between overwhelming shame that I cannot heal my child, and accepting him where he's at in his process. It's the difference between feeling exhausted and infuriated by the sheer volume of time spent supervising every little move, and recognizing our family's need for respite in order to prevent that fury and exhaustion. 

The difference is the understanding that I cannot play the Holy Spirit in my child's life. In the tension, I can only manage my own reactions, my own health, my relationships. But in the tension, I can know that I did not cause my child to have Reactive Attachment Disorder any more than I can cause my child's aversion to the glorious taste of a perfectly roasted sugarbeet. 

I did not cause either of these phenomena, and I cannot "cure" them either. I can only manage myself in the tension. 

It's hard to suffer well. And the greatest suffering occurs when there is no actionable step to take, because we cannot solve our way out of our pain. We cannot bring back the child that died. Or the parent who left. We cannot heal the primal wound that is left within the child who is separated from his first mother. 

We must simply learn to live, and accept, and love, in the tension.

So, when my five little ones are all grown and they reflect back upon their childhood, I hope that what they remember most is all the expressions of love, encouragement and adoration. Yet, I don't mind if they also remember me clarifying the difference between a real problem - real suffering - and something that is simply a tension to manage. Not only do I hope they remember hearing me speak these truths into their life, but I hope they remember me living, and loving, in the tensions... and teaching them to someday do the same. 

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Jay, age four, confronting his greatest fear, a beet.  

To All the Other Haggard Moms Parenting a RAD Child

There is nothing so painful as unrequited love. And there is no love as powerful as a parent's love for their child. So when you love your child and he does not, can not, love you back... it might be the most heartbreaking scenario of them all. 

At least that is how I am feeling now... that (apart from losing a child) there is no pain I can fathom like having a living child that you cannot reach. 

Unrequited attachment, unabsorbed love.

And the world takes the salt of misunderstanding and rubs it into the proverbial wound. All kids lie, they say. Or steal, or hurt others, or themselves.

All kids want control. All kids say hurtful things.

All kids... 

He is not all kids. He is my kid. And I know him best. I know what makes him sicker. I know that treating him like "all kids" is one of those things.

I am exhausted. I am fed up. I am done explaining to people that yes, a child can be traumatized inside a womb. Google it. I am tired of trying to convince people that an unborn baby who develops in a bath of cortisol (stress hormones) instead of bonding chemicals will not respond to life or love in the same way as a typically developed child. I am all done explaining how exposure to different substances may harm a child's ability to bond and connect. I will not keep explaining that my child is both brilliant and unable to choose wisely. I will not keep asking for support only to be questioned or accused or dismissed. I am done.

Except that I'm not. I'm never done. As much as I freakin want to be done... I am not even close.

We are on four different waiting lists for various supports and schools and services. We have four siblings who are confused and wounded and are trapped between knowing that they must forgive, and their natural instinct to protect themselves from a person that causes them pain. 

I cannot describe the sight of a small, furious, hurting sister shaking her fists with the totality of her exasperation. The helplessness in her eyes, matched by my own.

 And all I can say is "I know baby. Me too." 

I cannot take away my son's pain. I can not make him feel unabandoned. I am not enough to fill in neurological gaps or heal his amygdala. My love is not that big. My love is not enough. YOUR love is not enough... so don't try to be his friend, or tell me to love him where he is at. I do. It's all I have done. And it isn't working. And I will keep doing it because there is nothing else to be done. But, all I can do is still not enough. 

I read the Bible so I know that God IS enough. I know that. But, right now... it's looking a lot more like

God + an unreasonable amount of time + so much pain in the interim = enough

I know that I sound hopeless. I know that all this is raw and scattered and probably sounds dramatic. But of one thing I am sure, there is at least one set of eyes on the other side of this screen that are filled with dysfunctionally relieved tears. One set of eyes that are seeing their feelings put into words, maybe for the first time.

So, I am writing to her. To the isolated, discouraged, helpless mom who's love is unrequited:

Hey. What's up? Thanks for somehow finding my blog. (Probably at 3am.) What you are going through is really, really hard. For you, and even harder for your child. You probably chose adoption because you wanted to be the family that helps to complete a child and now you are realizing that - surprise! - your family is being torn apart instead. Listen. Here are some things I need to hear on a regular basis and sometimes I have to say them to myself. 

1- You are not alone. There are a crap ton of us out here going through this, but most of us are too ashamed of ourselves, or too protective of our kids, to talk about it. There are a lot of anonymous blogs, but be careful, people are angry and exhausted and they sometimes bash their children. That's not okay, and it's not helpful for you.

2- You didn't cause this. (Unless you are an abusive dirtbag and you did cause this.) You didn't cause this.

3- Nobody, literally nobody, will understand what you are going through unless they are also a parent of a RAD kid. Social workers, psychologists, attachment therapists, adoption specialists, respite providers, felllow adoptees, friends, family... they all have their place, and they may even be excellent and able to help. They will not understand. Unless they are raising a child with RAD, or have done so in the past, they simply won't get it. 

4- A lot of people won't believe you. They probably will eventually, but until then, there will be a lot of advice and suggestions and have you tried's. There will be a lot of judgement. There will be a lot of people who try to "rescue" your child by loving on him, because they can't understand that you have done that, and it wasn't enough.

5- Get a door alarm and a video monitor. You need sleep, and peace of mind, and you need both of these to have a snowball's chance at either of them.

6- It's okay to go away. You need respite. Your other children need respite. Your hurting child needs respite. You all need to breath, and it's really okay to make room for it. It's not just okay, it's necessary.

7- Find a Lexi. A Lexi is a faithful friend, a champion for your self-care, a devoted caregiver, and defender of the weak and a giver of good gifts... like breaks from your child and cups of hot coffee. She doesn't have to be named Lexi, but mine is, and I couldn't do this without her. 

8- He can't love you. It's not that he won't, it's that he can't. He might want to love you, or he might actually love you, in his way, but he can't show it. He can't stop protecting himself from your love. Your love is scary to him, but it's also all you've got. And when you run out, it's okay to fake it. 

9- This is probably going to be the hardest thing you will ever do, and the biggest fight you will ever fight. You will probably not see results for a really long time. You might not ever see results. You must keep going. You signed up for this, even if you didn't know it at the time, and it is your job to keep going. And it's going to break your heart over and over and over. 

10- I know baby, me too. 

Travel Dance Video: Bestiemoon Take Deux

So, I have sat down multiple times to write about our amazing trip to France. If you don't know what I am talking about, let me get you up to speed. My friend Melissa is a world traveler. She has friends and connections all over the place, enough airline points to make you hate her just a little, (except you can't because she's so stinkin' generous with them), and she doesn't take no for an answer. So, she essentially manhandles me into taking epic vacations with her. It's a terrible friendship and this whole post is basically a cry for help. 

Okay, for realsies... the trip was fabulous.  The only reason I haven't written about it yet is because Melissa and I are going to tell the story together on video because I promise it will be so much better that way. We were in Paris for a few days, then popped over to Finland for a few days, then back to Paris, then to Provence (where my world changed and I got in touch with my roots in a major way) then back to Paris for the last few days. I ate croissants to celebrate the life and memory of my beautiful friend Karolin who commanded me to go to Paris and have fun. So we had the most fun.

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And, we danced. 

We danced all over Europe. Usually at inappropriate times. We danced with new friends and perfect strangers and our French and Finnish hosts. 

And we made a video of it. Because I secretly want us to host our own travel show and making an absurd travel dance video seemed as good a means to that end as any.

What you are about to experience is a bit of an early Christmas gift. So, Merry Christmas to all and to all a You're Welcome.

Love, Tom, Melissa and Lara