Sunday, February 17, 2013

Quiet Boxes, Salad Kings, and Because It's Sunday

If I had a dime for every time someone told me that kids like routine...well, I'd at least have enough for a latte. We do find that the parts of our days that follow a predictable pattern tend to go well. Even the glitches get predictable, and so easily overcome.

We've been taking a free class for adoptive parents, taught by a therapist with 14 kids, most of whom are adopted. She talks a lot about how she raised the first seven, compared to the last seven, when they had actually figured out what they were doing. The class has given us several ideas about adding to our routine. With a three day weekend here, we pulled together a few elements and are trying it out. We got Linden to bed a half hour earlier than usual (our goal is a full hour), so something went right.

Step one is reinstating kitchen help. We'd had that going last fall, then Oak started wrestling 3 nights a week, I went back to work, and it started to feel like more trouble than it was worth. Tonight Oak helped with dinner, and Linden with dishes. They'll swap each night, with Fridays off. Helping with dinner means making salad, setting the table, and any other tasks designated by the cooking parent. They like the power of being the salad maker (Oak used minimal lettuce, unpeeled cucumbers, no bell pepper, and lots of tomatoes and pickles), and they like having the rest of the family thank them for dinner. Dishes are a harder sell, but once they get going, they like the water play aspects, and with both jobs, they are getting individual time with a parent, and the knowledge that they are contributing to the household.  Linden and I both like to sing, so that makes us great dishwashing partners. There are always exceptions, but it feels like often our cycle is "the kids are misbehaving, so I'm working hard and stressed out, so I want a break, so I'm going to let them watch DVDs/go over to their friend's/squabble for a few more minutes..." OR "We're actively engaged with the kids, so they are relaxed and happy, so we're enjoying being with them, so if they start to misbehave I can handle it approrpriately and get them back on track..." Working side by side with them definitely contributes to the happier cycle.

Step two is new. Working side by side is great, but only when they are working with you instead of competing for your attention. To make this possible, we put together "quiet boxes." In a plastic box, there are about five different small toys or simple projects. The kid who is NOT helping is to sit on their blankie and entertain themselves in the living room. The rules are basically that the person with the quiet box can't talk to the rest of us, and the person helping in the kitchen can't walk on the Quiet Blanket, or otherwise harrass their sibling. I think we've sold it well as a special treat. Quiet Box toys are not in general circulation, and the kids can only play with the QB at the designated time. The therapist said the kids need to learn how to do quiet, independent work--not relying on us to entertain them, not engaging in mindless squabbling with their siblings, and also not distracting their minds with physical activities. She also said we need to work it so this activity happens at the time most beneficial for us. So rather than having to have two kids underfoot, or have both parents equally busy around the dinner work, we hope this will be the way to occupy the "waiting" child.

Step three is setting a more formal schedule. We all know that after dinner, Mom helps Oak with homework, and Linden has to entertain herself or hang out with Papa. Somewhere in there we get dessert. They brush their teeth, I read some stories, and then we each get one kid to sleep. We've known for awhile that Linden probably needs to get to bed earlier, but we couldn't figure out on the fly how to make it happen. This weekend I finally sat down and worked out a timeline. First this, then that. What each kid's schedule needs to be, where each parent needs to be at each step to keep it all moving forward. I think it went pretty well tonight, given that we made it halfway to our goal of an hour earlier bedtime for Linden. Of course, I heard Oak's voice at 9:45, which is half an hour AFTER he should be asleep, and there were a few times when people thought they were in trouble for being off-schedule (possibly because my tone, posture, and even words were giving that impression), and I had to take a deep breath and say "This is our first time. We're testing it out and finding out what we need to adjust. You're doing fine."

There are more things we need to do, but we're hoping that a smooth evening routine and a longer night's sleep for the kindergartener will both be beneficial to all of us.  Neither the Winemaker nor I are natural schedule followers, but when I realized that my kids consider "Because it's Sunday" to be a completely acceptable answer to "Why do I have to clean my room?" I knew that setting schedules could help us with other issues as well. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Letter to my sisters

Yesterday, two of my sisters both sent me emails saying basically, "I love you, I miss you, I know you're super busy, are you okay?"  So I wrote them a long letter back.  One great thing about writing is I can do it when the kids are in bed.  Phone calls not so much, in part because bedtime happens kind of late around here.  Anyway, I'm plagiarizing myself here, because I did say a lot of what's been on my mind this week.
The Winemaker has launched himself into some sort of amazing dad zone lately. Getting kids vaccination appointments, finding us sitters so we can take this free adoptive parenting class on Wednesday nights, cutting down on the kids' screen time and taking them to parks after school, and guaranteeing that in a school full of Intel kids, our kids had the two most over-engineered entries in the egg drop contest Friday. (He was all annoyed because instead of being dropped off the school roof, as advertised, they were dropped from the top of a ladder. Ours TOTALLY could have survived being dropped off the roof.) The kids got their latest round of shots on Tuesday, and it was apparantly a complete nightmare (I was still at work). It took two hours to get them calmed down enough to get the shots. TWO HOURS.  The Winemaker said he had to corral them a few times to keep them from racing out the door, or from grabbing stuff in the office, but otherwise he tried to just calm them and be with them rather than coercing or physically forcing them to get the damn shots. I'm pretty sure I would have just offered to lay on top of the kids after about half an hour of this. According to Oak, the reason he finally let the shots happen was not because of the roller skating outing Papa offered, but because he doesn't want to get sick. So the Winemaker and the doctor must have done a good job explaining why they were trying to stick needles in him. Anyway, we've noticed since then that Oak, while still being Oak, has been mostly cheerful and easier than usual to redirect when he starts getting riled up. We think that something about the way the Winemaker supported him and stuck with him when he was completely falling apart made him feel safer.  The Winemaker didn't give in--that wouldn't be repsonsible, and Oak understands that.  WM didn't get mad and force him physically--which is probably what Oak expected. He managed to balance "Yes, the grown-ups are in charge and making decisions in your best interest" with "I am not going to scare you or overpower you." This let Oak really know he can trust his Papa as a parent. That's our theory anyway. We'll see how long the effects last.

I'm still working on not being the mean and scary one. It's amazing how hard that is for me. Maybe "amazing" isn't the right word. Horrifying? Apalling? Mortifying? But I am getting better, with my craziest shit happening less often and for shorter durations. The class we're taking is good, and one of the experts whose material we use also has a bunch of free videos online (yay for Karyn Purvis!), so the WM and I watch those for mid-week boosters. The class is run by a therapist who has fifteen kids. I don't know how many are adopted, but I'm guessing about 12 of them. She is mellow (and organized, but I guess you'd have to be!) and OUR therapist, who adores her, let us know that her oldest kids say that she too was crazy when they were young. The message being, it's hard, but you can learn how to do this better.

It's really weird for me when people at work say, "So, are the kids all settled in now? Everyone's adjusted?' I probably would have done the same before we adopted, so I can't really get snippy with people. But geez. As an adult, I chose to spend about five years in Latvia. I loved it. I got to set a lot of my own terms for how that time went. But there were times when I felt so lonely, or disconnected, or confused, and there were times when I missed my family so bad I just cried. Yet these little kids are supposed to be "adjusted" to a new country, new culture, new language, and new freakin' FAMILY in six months? Really? A lot of what we're learning in this class is about how the brain develops when a baby is well cared for, and how very differently it develops when a baby is not, and how to re-train the brain into new pathways. Which takes a long time. We are JUST BEGINNING to learn what WE need to do to help this happen. It's going to take a LONG TIME for it to happen.

In the meantime, we're trying to be more thoughtful about spending time together as a family, about spending individual time with each kid, and about giving ourselves breaks from the kids alone and together. We've done some social events lately, and we're noticing what does and doesn't work there. (They did much better when winemaking friends they've met several times came over than when some of our old friends they'd never met came over.) Next weekend we've been invited to a large party where kids are welcome, but I've already made it known that we are getting a sitter or I'm staying home, because I will not be able to relax if I'm monitoring how our kids are interacting with other kids, and nobody else will be able to relax if I don't do that. (Hey, anyone want to babysit next Saturday night?) When we do get sitters, we try to get two, because both kids are easier to handle individually, and we want to avoid "sitter fatigue." (AKA, No, I will not babysit your crazyass kids any more, so stop asking already.)  The Winemaker was excited about getting Oak into wrestling, because it's a really good physical outlet, but we've been missing practices more and more often as we realize how important having down time at home is. 
The one thing I don't feel good about is not seeing my dad, who is in a foster care home for the elderly. I think I should at least be calling him, but it is so hard to make a phone call until they are in bed, which is already past his bedtime. All the other things I've put on hold I'm okay with, but I know I have limited time with my dad, and I know my dad has limited sources of joy in his life, and I just feel crappy about not making more time for him. I also have some minor guilt about not doing more for my friend whose 2 year old has brain cancer, and my friend (who babyits for us! and stuffed our freezer with dinners all summer!) who is pregnant with her first child. But both of those families have other sources of support. My dad just has his four girls, and one lives elsewhere, and another has never made time in her life for our parents, so it's all falling on the shoulders of one of my sisters, which adds to my guilt.   

Two happy stories:

*Last Monday we skipped wrestling again, and I took Oak to read to a dog at the public library. He read the three books he'd brought, then pulled two more off the shelf. He's always reluctant to try new things, and while he loves being read to, hasn't shown any interest in reading himself, so it was AWESOME that it went so well. They dog lady even had this little camera and printer so he was able to come home with a photo of himself and the soft little doggie. Then the two of us went out for frozen yogurt. Great times.

*I've been singing lullabies to Linden recently. She really likes it, and asks for them. It just makes me happy. The other night we went out for dinner with a coupon, and she ate three dishes of mac and cheese, then ran out of steam halfway though her dessert. She put her head in my lap and asked me to sing "Hush Little Baby." I can't really explain, except that there are some joys of parenting you don't even know you're hoping for, and since it feels like what we're doing is even MORE complicated than most people's parenting, whenever one of those little parenting dreams comes true, it's doubly sweet. 
 I recently learned  the words for "To Make You Feel My Love" (by Bob Dylan, but I first heard Adele's version.)
I sang it to her tonight, and she arched up in bed and pulled me down against her.  When I finished singing it (from a somewhat squashed position), she said, "Mom?  You wanna know what I'm thinking?'  Of course I said yes, and she said "I don't want you to die." 
She seems to have three stages.  When she's pissed, it's "I wanna go back to the orphanage!"  When she's feeling conflicted, it's, "I miss my first mom."  When she's feeling love, it's "I'm afraid you're going to die."  It makes me enormously sad that that's how closely love is tied to loss in her mind.  I talked to her about how I  plan on living until she's as old as I am, to see her grow up and go out into the world, and to fill up her heart with love so that she feels safe in the world.  I told her that when the world was hard, she could always come back to us and get more love, and that we would give her so much love that even after we die, the love will last and last inside her.  She fell asleep while I was talking, which I hope means I quieted her fears.  At least for tonight. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Leila the Singing Panda

You know how when you ask someone how they've been, and they say, "Good, but super busy," you kind of want to roll your eyes?  It's just such a given, that they are busy, and we are busy, and every possible conjugation of "to be busy" is applicable, so why act like it's NEWS?

I mention this only because I was about to lead with "It's been a hell of a day," then I thought--yeah, and?  How does this make today different from, say, yesterday?  Or, most likely, tomorrow? 

One concrete difference: the kids needed shots.  The Winemaker took them, bless his peaked little head.  I don't know (or care much) what your stance on vaccinations is.  Around here the adults avoid the flu shot but the kids get their school shots.  My grandpa had polio; my mom's heart problems were caused by rheumatic fever; we believe in vaccinations.  However, as new parents, we don't have much of a clue about what they're supposed to get when.

I will spare you the comedy of errors of us trying to not get excluded from public school while not subjecting our kids to needless shots, but the long and the short of it is, they had 3:00 appointments for a D-Tap and Hep A.  We'd invited winemaking friends over for dinner at 5:00.  I got home at 4:55, and the driveway was empty.  I was confused--were we supposed to be at our friends' at 5:00 instead of the other way around?  I came inside, and the house smelled like carmelized onions.  Clearly, the Winemaker had started cooking.  I plugged in my dead phone, but there weren't any messages.  I tried calling, and a very harrassed sounding man answered. 

"We're in the middle of a shot crisis," he said.  "Can you call the guests and stall?"  Then he was gone.

Shot crisis?  Like, screaming and crying?  Like anyphylactic shock?  What would make two shots per kid take two whole hours?  And what the hell was I supposed to be making for dinner?

I called the guests, whom, having two small children, were running a half hour late anyway.  I stood in the kitchen and decided that two cans of beans and carmelized onions probably meant tortillas.  I even remembered that the guests are vegetarians.  I cleaned the crap off the dining room table. 

Around 5:30, the phone and doorbell rang in tandem.  As the guests came in, the Winemaker let me know they were done, and yes, "shot crisis" mean having to bribe/threaten/hold down screaming, crying children.  I assured him he'd be handed wine as he came in the door.  We wound up having a really lovely evening--probably a bit more fun than I should be having on a work night.  Their tiny kids are just right for our wild pair; they play sweetly with the toddler and coo at the baby.  Our friends are mellow and think our kids are awesome.  We drank a bunch of wine.  As I served up dinner, Oak said, "It's all grownup food," and I decided to let it go and made our kids peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  Linden changed into a skirt so she could show everyone the three bandaids on her leg. 

They stayed well into the bedtime hour.  Linden started to wimper about her sore leg, where she'd jerked it away mid-shot and wound up with a scratch across her thigh.  She asked me to have her newest stuffed animal, a panda we've named Leila, ask her "calm questions."  Leila asked her some questions about her shots, then offered to sing lullabies.  Linden agreed and requested some new songs.  (Luckily Leila had just yesterday printed off the lyrics to "To Make You Feel My Love" and practiced them in the car.)  Then Linden offered to sing "Hush Little Baby" to Leila while they cuddled.  When she finished, Leila thanked her for singing.

"It makes me feel better," Linden sleepily commented.  "My leg doesn't hurt now.  I like to cuddle with you too."  She wrapped herself around her stuffed panda and dropped off to sleep. 

And just when I think I couldn't ef it up any more if I tried, there's a moment like that, when I think I may be doing something right for my kids after all.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Navel Gazing

I would like to be writing more, but it's hard, for conflicting reasons.  First, my readership is scant (hello, you two!), so there's no extrinsic motivation to write.  Next, although I'm doing better, I still feel like I'm messing up more than I really want to share, and the messing up and trying to do better is exactly what I most need to process.  Then there is the shame of reading quality blogs that have a point to each post and/or are hilarious.  If I'm super focused, I can stay on topic, but I am still too deep in the middle of things to have a point, or to be funny.  So why blog at all?  The blank books I wrote in for decades would serve the purpose of processing and recording.  My handwriting, never good, has deteriorated to the point where I really should type even grocery lists, but there's no reason why I can't type a journal.  At this point, I think I am still hanging onto hope of connection.  If someone else can say "me too" or "try this" or even "I am listening"--it gives a taste of meaning.  So many of the fine posts I've read by other parents, adoptive or not, have lessened my aloneness.  If I share my story, too openly at times, and that resonates for someone else, then it's worth writing.