special needs adoption

Spanking in Public & How to Parent Like a Total Boss

I'm pretty sure my kids' principal saw me spank my husband in the school parking lot. I know what you're thinking...
"nbd, we've all been there." Right? That IS what you were thinking wasn't it?

No? Just us with the spanking?

Alright, well... if you'd had our morning you, too, would have some celebratory victory-swatting going on in public. Because this particular spank was about 3 years in the making. 

It all started when our son (now 9 years old) was in first grade. He needed some extra support because we were seeing signs of Reactive Attachment Disorder, yet were not aware of what he was actually struggling with. Without a diagnosis, there is very little support, so we ended up pulling Harper out of school half way through first grade. We had a tutor come to our home for an hour a day just so he wouldn't fall behind, but academics were the least of our worries. We spent that time home doing a lot of - what we lovingly refer to as - baby-ducking. Baby-ducking is a part of the therapeutic approach we were taking, and it's a really fun little descriptor that essentially means that your child is following you around 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, ya know, like a baby duck. I know it doesn't sound bad, but I assure you that it's pretty exhausting and much less adorable when baby duck (thinks he) hates your guts. 

By the time we enrolled him back in school for second grade we were working closely with an excellent therapist who specializes in disordered and insecure attachment. We had comprehensive testing done to ensure that Harper not only had a diagnosis, but all the tests and evaluations required to meet New York State's criteria to receive special education services. But here's the thing... we thought that was all we needed. We thought, "we don't have to be "those parents" who go in and demand all kinds of services, because our kid has a legit thing." And this "thing" is no longer an illusive, mysterious set of symptoms that make me look crazy. Finally, we had a well-documented, official DSM certified Severe Emotional Disturbance!! (You know you're in a rough patch when that last sentence is the good news.) Still, we thought we had everything we would need.

We were wrong.

Apparently, we needed to get to a point where I ALSO had a severe emotional disturbance.

Check, annnnnd check. (See post about the time I went B-A-N-A-N-A-S here.)

After the bananas, we knew that we had gotten to the point where we were willing to be "those parents" and we then requested another CSE meeting. So, on Thursday my husband, Tom, and I went in. He was a total boss. To be fair, he was the kind of boss who is so steady and relaxed, you wonder if he might be stoned... but he was a boss nonetheless. (*He was also not stoned, mom, so settle down.) He's just really calm and so nice by nature that he can't even be a boss in an unpleasant way. He (waaaaaay over-)prepared information from some intimidating group called something like The Justice League of Super Hero Lawyers for Moms About to Lose their Ever Lovin' Minds. And before the meeting, he even sent a semi-scary email, in which, he took a firm and serious tone.

It was pretty hot.

Riding Tom's over-prepared coattails, I closed in with an impassioned speech about why Harper truly does need to have an aide assigned to him - at least during unstructured times, like recess, lunch, etc. I didn't cry or start spontaneously swearing, which is how I usually imagine myself unraveling in these high-stress scenarios because I have been teetering precariously at the edge of insanity all school year. 

So here we are, at the end of third grade, and WE HAVE ARDENTLY AND SUCCESSFULLY ATTAINED AN IEP!!

Not only did we get that Individualized Education Plan in place, but we have secured a 1-to-1 aide for our guy during all unstructured times - which is when a child like ours really needs the extra support. I had been told repeatedly that getting an aide for him would be an impossibility. I mean, MULTIPLE times, I was told "It's never going to happen." 

So, forgive me if I walked out of that building with so much relief and empowerment that I spanked my husband while aggressively sports-yelling at the side of his face "We did it son!"

How was I to know that the school psychologist and principal would be right behind us? After our performance, one could only have assumed that all other meeting participants would still be in the conference room, doing slo-mo replays of our boss-like successes in parental advocacy. How was I to know that they would just leave the meeting after it was done? When such dope parenting had just taken place before their very impressed eyes, how could I conceive that they would have the wherewithal to move on to the parking lot?

Ah well, at least they didn't see all the chest-bumping and athletic growling that I forced Tom to participate in when we got home.

Actual photograph of us on Thursday morning...

And all Thursday night...

And well into Friday...

Wave after wave of glorious relief on Saturday...

Then Easter Sunday we took a break from all the fanfare, to celebrate a much greater victory... Jesus overcoming death and evil.

But this morning, I'm not gonna lie. The sense of triumph came back full force. 

Next year, this child of ours will go on to a bigger school, with more transitions, more kids, more freedom, less structure. This is good for a lot of kids, most kids in fact. For my child, however, this transition was like a train heading straight for us. We kept seeing it approach, the speed never changing and all we can do as parents is anticipate the damage that will be done on impact. So, we prayed and prayed and prayed. And Tom prepared and prepared and prepared. And I went just a titch ballistic. And we became "those parents" because the alternative was simply too dangerous for our kid. 

So... spanks all around. Because I know that this taste of relief is temporary. This rare and glorious optimism that maybe next year will be a little better and little easier than the last, is fleeting. We needed that victory spank. We needed a triumph. Because even though we really do believe in a God whose only son was sent to earth to triumph, once and for all, over death and evil... we know that life on this side of heaven, is still wrought with train after train, pain after pain. And though we have fought long and hard for our bizarre little children to feel a little safer, a little better, on the tracks... life always has another train ready to barrel over us. It sounds a little doomsday, I know, but pain and suffering are just a reality in the life of a human and I accept that a new obstacle, a new train, will be set in our son's path. But, we've worked really hard to learn our stuff, to drop the right names, to know his rights, so until we stare down that next train... we get to bask in the sweet relief of a temporary win on earth, and an eternal win beyond these earthly tracks.

And when you are in that place - a place of hope and favor and full, unrestrained joy... a place of amazement at God's faithfulness in this victory and the victory on the cross - you really must spank someone in the parking lot. Because these moments are all we have to sustain and energize us as we over-prepare for the next fight, like a total and complete boss. 

 

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. 

IMG_6665.JPG

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

The Time I Went B-A-N-A-N-A-S

Yesterday was a bad day. A really, really bad day. I basically failed at life yesterday.

My sister-in-law, Carlie, recently sent me a song that has become my anthem. I have this song on repeat for much of the day, and I'm telling you that if you watch this video, and watch it all the way to the end, you're gonna straight up pray that sinner's prayer. Okay, maybe you won't, but that is the impact that Miss Tasha Cobbs has on me when she's singing this song. This song, it is my anthem.

Plus, my voice sounds a lot like hers.

I can not overstate how this has become my battle cry. "I am empty before you, fill me up God." 

I don't know how it is possible to feel so empty, and also so full of my own self. I am empty, and yet, I am stuffed. I am stuffed with selfishness, with fear, with stress, with rage, with pride, with self-loathing, with a desire for control, and more than anything else, I am stuffed with a desire for relief. I am stuffed sick of my self, and at the very same time I feel completely empty. So, I listen to this song on repeat and I let Ol' Tasha usher Jesus into my empty places, and I let him sweetly pour me out, all of that junk that is in me, I beg him to let it spill out so that He alone can fill me up. 

I know that this sounds ridiculous if you have never encountered Jesus as a living leader and active forgiver. But, for me... this song is like being in a spiritual spin class. Where the instructor is leading me into an excercise that I lack the motivation and discipline and know-how to do on my own. Listening to this song has been a spiritual excercise, and the incredible voice on that woman is walking me through the process of opening up inside, and letting a holy fire burn out whatever is left in me, so that I can be an empty vessel that God, in his mercy, can fill to overflowing.

Yesterday was a bad day. Yesterday, I was empty. And I am realizing now that "empty" just means that I am actually full - of all the wrong things. So, yesterday I was stuffed. And I lost it. I absolutely lost my mind. I have a new respect for the phrase " go bananas" because I truly and completely went bananas. Ironically, about 14 bananas were actually involved in this particular incident. I won't go into the whole mess of the thing, but let's just say that lives were saved by the fact that bananas are a soft fruit. If we were talking pineapples, I'd be in jail right now.

It wasn't pretty y'all. My entire dining room was a battle scene, the evidence of our struggle was everywhere. The floor, the table, most of the chairs, the walls, all of it, was caked with smashed banana, and my heart was caked with shame. And while I was on my knees, face down, sobbing in the literal and figurative mess of my life, I heard Tasha Cobbs still playing on my phone. It was at 3:56 into the video and in the song she is begging God to fill her up. 

Fill me up, God

Fill me up, God

Fill me up, God

Thirty times in that section of the song, the phrase, my anthem, is repeated.  

"Somebody ask him," she sings, "I need a fresh annointing... Somebody ask him, fill me again. I need more of you. I've been running on empty. I need you to fill me again. We cry out for more. More of your spirit is what we need. More of your annointing, more of your glory, fill me up. That's what I really want, that's what I really need. I'm so tired of me, I need more of you. I gotta have more of you. "

A couple weeks ago, I was the key-note speaker for a weekend retreat. Next week I go to Michigan for two speaking events, and when I get back home, I have even more events lined up, or maybe not after I publish this post. Either way, I am not selling out arenas or anything, none of these events are necessaily huge or impressive. But, I stand before people and I tell them about my life, I tell them about the wisdom in the Bible, the truths of scripture, but ultimately... I only ever say one thing, that Jesus is the bringer of hope and redemption. That is my only message.

Sure, I write and speak about my life. I talk about parenting a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder. I talk about being a multi-racial, adoptive family. I talk about racism. I talk about the violent end to my brother's life, and my response to his death (#AdamsActs) with you all. I share my family's personal experiences - my daughter's current health struggles, my mistakes and my struggles, about throwing down with bananas, cross-country road trips, general shenanigans, and all the in-between stuff. But, all of that sharing is just a pouring out. It's just an attempt to overflow what God is doing, has ALWAYS done, in my life.

I have nothing to say, I have nothing to write, that isn't about redemption.

People often tell me that I should write a book. There are even times where it feels like it could actually be a dream realized. But the question remains - what would my book be about? 

The answer is redemption. The answer can only ever be redemption.

Because I am empty, and yet I am stuffed. And I am the worst. And I lost my head and I went crazy and I let myself lose sight of who God made me to be. And so much banana was involved. And still, somehow, God still lets me speak to rooms full of people. God still lets me tell you my story. He lets me tell you his story.

Please don't tell me how amazing I am in response to this. Please. If there is ANY good thing in me, anything at all that is inspiring, or encouraging, or worthy of admiring in me then you must know, that is not me at all. I am on the floor covered in fruit. I am dry, and empty, and still sickly full of my self, my shame and my sin. But, still, he uses me. I am not amazing, I am broken and he redeems me for his purpose. And that is the miraculous power of the living God that I serve and rely on. Because if, even for a second, I take my eyes and my hope off of Him... I instantly become part of the broken mess. 

And every time I go to write, or speak to other people there is nothing I am more aware of than my own lack. My shortcomings, my limitations, my total and complete depravity are never far from my mind. The day I lose the awareness of my own need for redemption is the day I have no business writing or speaking to anyone again.

Yesterday was a bad day. A really, really bad day. All of us can relate to that. Anyone parenting a difficult child, or does life with somone who has mental health issues, may be able to relate to some degree. Those of you parenting a child with disordered attachment... you have a banana battle story of your own, I'm certain. And as I kneeled down, filthy and sobbing and ashamed, I begged God - out loud and in front of my empty, hurting child - to fill me up.

"Fill me up God, Fill me up God, Fill me up God"

I do not deserve to write or speak to so many people. I am not worthy to speak a single word about a Bible that I can so easily disregard in a moment of anger or exhaustion or emptiness. But,

That. Is. Redemption.

That in the unlikliest places, that at the unlikliest times, in the unlikliest people, God chooses to fill, to forgive, to heal and to sort it out for good. And as long as he continues to redeem me and fill me and give me another go, I will simply never shut up about it.

 

 

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. 

Hearing

Today we had Jaylen's ABR test (audio brainstem response) which is a natural sleep test that took about 3 hours to complete. We were not surprised to discover that Jaylen is, in fact, hearing impaired. The bottom line is that Jaylen has mild/moderate hearing loss in both ears and will be fitted for his first pair of hearing aids in June.

We were very surprised to learn that his hearing loss was not considered more profound, since he rarely (if ever) responds to any sound, even very loud noises close to his ears. What is difficult about this is that he SHOULD technically be able to hear conversational speech, but is not responding to it. At this point, this means that the concern is less about his ears now and more about the brain. Basically hearing aids should make the full spectrum of sound available to him, but that won't necessarily mean he can process/receive sound properly. The audiologist confirmed that the hearing loss was likely caused by gentamicin poisoning (toxic levels of the antibiotics he was given at birth.)

We are still processing this new information since, as I already said, we can clap or shout right next to Jaylen's ears, and he usually won't even blink. We are also trying to wrap our minds around what it means to receive sound, but not be able to respond to it. This new discovery puts significantly more stock into the brain MRI. We were originally undecided about whether or not we were going to do pursue that test,the but after today, I would have them to the MRI tomorrow if they would let us.

Without a good look at his brain, there is no way of knowing what is causing the disconnect between receiving some sound and his ability to startle when appropriate, or turn toward a loud sound or voice.

I am exhausted and confused. I had prepared myself for the "worst case scenario" and was feeling excited about
moving forward with some answers and a plan, no matter what the diagnosis was. I felt confident that we would be able to work with any challenges that we faced, and that there were going to be awesome and exciting things that we wouldn't get to experience with a hearing child. I felt prepared to tackle the challenges and move in a clear direction. The only thing I was really unwilling to tolerate was more unknowns... Surprise! We know less now than when we started. Well, it feels that way at least.

The good news is that none of this surprises the One who created Jaylen. Each of Jay's days has been written out since the beginning of time, so I am praising the Lord that He is neither shocked by this (nor as irritated) as I am. For anyone willing to fall on your faces in prayer, we would ask that you pray specifically for quick answers. I don't think there is anything wrong with asking God to do a miracle... I'll take one for sure! More than anything though, I am asking God for provision no matter what his health situation is. I don't ever want anyone to think that God failed if He doesn't choose to make Jaylen hear or process sound the way you and I do. Perhaps the true miracle would be loving him just the way he is and enjoying all that he will teach us through the way HE hears and processes.

That being said, I am praying for sheer speed in receiving answers. I can take whatever they tell us. God will provide all the Jaylen (and we) need. I can let God stretch me, and I can trust that He loves Jay even more than we do. But Mama needs some fast answers, because I can do a lot of things, but waitin' ain't one.