multitudes on mondays

Monday, January 31, 2011

I have to be honest. I really did not expect this spiritual discipline to begin to change me so quickly or so profoundly. I think I thought that I was plenty thankful already. I have never had a lot of trouble being thankful for the big gifts in my life. The everyday things are the more difficult. That's been my challenge this week. I think that I've been looking for the uber-spiritual in my life instead of the everyday. This past week, I attempted to concentrate on the everyday things. I did not do as well as I would have hoped. This is a discipline still developing in my life, like every other spiritual discipline, frankly.

This week, I persevere, counting every gift, any gift, each day, every day as a gift given from the One who is the Giver of every good and perfect gift. 

36. an eldest child who is in many ways more like Jesus than I'll ever be
37. full tanks of gas
38. handmade pottery mug filled with steaming fair trade coffee
39. comfortable canvas shoes
40. affectionate baby head butts
41. God's peace through song
42. my Moleskine notebooks
43. a daughter's bravery
44. elementary best friends
45. impending storms
46. beautiful fabrics, lush and colorful
47. kind and gentle words, combatting harshness
48. prayers for healing
49. the faith of a maturing brother, even if I still see him at 10 years old
50. apples, colorful and fragrant, piled in a wooden bowl

there's a mouse in our house

Friday, January 28, 2011

We have a mouse problem. We have a mice problem, to be more exact.  We've caught three in the past two months, and I know there are more because I can hear them scurrying around in my walls. I hate mice. More than anything.  OK, not more than anything, but more than a lot of things. More accurately, I hate alive mice. If we kill a mouse in a regular trap, I think it's gross, but I don't have trouble scooping it up with a long handled shovel and putting it in the trash can.

We've put out regular mouse traps. We've tried two fancy kinds of mousetraps, 'guaranteed to kill'. Snort. Yeah right. The mice are eating the bait off the traps without actually triggering the traps. Tiny, tiny mice. In desperation, we've put out d-con. Not my favorite thing because then I don't know where the mice are going to die, but we're desperate. Finally, after a couple of recommendations, we bought the glue traps. I'm definitely not a fan of these since I figured that the mouse would still be alive when we found them. But once again...desperation. We stick one in the kitchen. WAY back under a shelf in the corner. It was literally difficult for us to get it so far back in.

This morning, I hear screaming from Baby R from the kitchen. Now, she's a shrieker, much to my dismay, so this is itself wasn't unusual. This instance, though, had this note of terror to it that was not typical for her. So I went racing in there to find her with the glue trap on her hand. There's also a Lego stuck to the glue trap, so I'm chuckling to myself. Silly baby, got that Lego stuck to the glue trap and now can't get her hand off. So I go down to remove the trap from her hand, and THERE IS A MOUSE ON IT!!!  

Now, not only Baby R is screaming, but also her mama. The other two are racing in, and I'm shrieking, and they're about to cry because they've never heard noises like that come from me before. Baby R is still screaming and sobbing, and I pull the trap off and fling it on the floor where the mouse is struggling to get free. I wipe off her hands, inspect carefully for bite marks or broken skin of any kind, and then call the husband. Because that's what strong, feminist-minded, capable women do when there is a live mouse stuck to their baby's hand. They call their husbands. Whatever.

I feel incapable of managing any part of my life right now, so W asks to talk to Maggie. Who is perfectly willing to remove any kind of pest, be it bug or mouse, from our home. She gets her gloves on to pick up the trap and take it out to the dumpster. This proves difficult since winter gloves are hard to maneuver.  So she just does it with her bare hands. My daughter is more of a woman than I.  I'm not ashamed. Just grateful she was here to do the job. Otherwise, I probably would've just shut the kitchen door and we would have spent the next two days crouched in terror in the living room.

I have so many unanswered questions. Did Baby R touch the mouse? Did she get bit by the mouse? How on earth did she get the trap? When I found her, she was in the middle of the kitchen. Not even close to where the trap was located. Did the mouse scoot the trap out from underneath the shelf? Why? Why? Why?

Baby R is still shaken. She is crying and screaming for no good reason. She seems a little frightened to enter the kitchen. Mr. B is shaken. He'll probably have nightmares tonight as he has been scared of mice for quite awhile now. Plus, the shrieks of your normally fairly composed Mama has to be a little terrifying. I am still shaken. My tummy feels a little strange. My hands a little quivery. I need a nap. Or maybe a stiff drink, but I don't think day-drinking will prove to be the answer to my neuroses, and I'm not sure straight cranberry juice qualifies anyway.

You know who's fine though? My Maggie. She's still talking about how the mouse was moving when she threw it in the trash can. She actually patted me on the arm when she was through. Good thing I have her. Someday I hope to be as strong a woman as my daughter.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Today, a day tough to swallow - both for my own failings as well as the inconveniences and trauma of the day. So do I complain? I can lament the brokenness that has brought our family to this place. I am struck by how often I cross the line from lament to complaint. What right do I have to complain?  
Lament is a cry of belief in a good God, a God who has His ear to our hearts, a God who transfigures the ugly into beauty. Complaint is the bitter howl of unbelief in any benevolent God in this moment, a distrust in the love-beat of the Father's heart...the more I learn eucharisteo, the more I learn His love, the less likely I am to Israelite complain and the more I genuinely lament, complaint that trust His heart.                                                                                 (Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts)
Do I trust His heart? 

one thousand gifts

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ever read a book that just wrecked you? Today, I finished One Thousand Gifts. Too quickly and not soon enough. I couldn't get enough of it, and I never wanted it to end. I thought I was prepared because I read Ann Voskamp's blog every day, but nothing could have prepared me for the words, the beautiful grace-filled words in this book. Page after page, I found myself catching my breath, welling with tears, lifting in praise.  Saying, "Yes. Yes and Amen."

I want to live like this. I want to live fully, exactly where I am. In the midst of pain, in the moments where I feel like I can't breathe, in the moments where I feel my heart will break, in the moments where I feel my heart will burst...that's where I want to live fully. In the everyday.

I want to give thanks for everything, for anything, for the mundane and the miraculous. I want to live my life full of grace and thanks because that's what draws us into true communion with Christ. I want to lament, but not complain. I want to be emptied so I can be filled. I want to be filled so I can be emptied again. I want to see God.

I started my gratitude list on Christmas Day, but I did not fully understand it until today. As I finished this book, I was struggling to be grace to my children in a crazy afternoon of harsh words, angry hands, and outright disobedience. So I started counting the gifts:
33. pudgy baby arms, clapping hands together in joy
34. brown eyes peeking from underneath a ball cap that must be worn
35. a glimpse of my child's broken, hurting heart

And I started to live.

wounded children, healing homes, part 2

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

We spent quite a bit of time talking about what life is like with a traumatized child. I feel like this is just one of those things that you get if you've been there, and if you haven't, then there's no amount of explaining in the world that can really make you understand. At least that's what I feel I was like before entering this world. The caregiver's response is the key to parenting traumatized children. According to Jayne, there are 3 main elements:

  • Believing and validating their child's experiences (A child must be believed. Must have their experiences affirmed within the safe context of family.)
  • Tolerating the child's affect (We are currently living with a myriad of behaviors that we never imagined ourselves tolerating as parents.)
  • Managing their own emotional reactions (This is the kicker.)
The emotional reaction thing is key for us right now. Not only is it difficult to manage our reactions, sometimes it's impossible. We know that the more out of control Mr. B is, the more regulated we need to be. But living through the pain with him is trying at best. That brings me to one of the most important parts of this book and information: vicarious trauma.

Vicarious trauma is the cumulative impact of a child's trauma, stories, behaviors, and reenactments on the foster/adoptive parents. Vicarious traumatization is a transformation of a parent's inner self resulting from an empathic, compassionate connection to a child who has experienced trauma. (The Traumatized Child) This is really where I feel like we're living right now. Our entire family is in this really traumatic time in our lives because of how Mr. B and Baby R have impacted our home. I feel like Wendell and I have to enter into Mr. B's pain, which we are doing, no doubt, but we also have to be strong enough to stand back up and lead him out of it.

Can I believe and validate my child's pain?
Can I tolerate the affect that that pain brings into his life and behavior?
Can I manage my emotional reactions?

These are really questions that I have to answer every single day. Every single moment of the day. Especially during this extremely difficult and volatile time when I'm learning more about my child's pain every day, and when his affect is changing day to day. Many times I fail. More often I succeed. Only through God's grace are we going to make it through this. Only through God's grace will my children heal fully.

Wounded Children, Healing Homes

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Today we had the pleasure and privilege of attending a foster parent training of actual value. Our track record with foster parent training has not been all that stellar. I always feel like we've lost eight hours of our lives. Today, however, Jayne Schooler was our trainer. She has just published a book called Wounded Children, Healing Homes based on this particular training which she's been doing around the country for a few years already.

If anyone had told me what this experience would really be like, I probably wouldn't have believed them. If I did believe them, I probably wouldn't have continued on this path. More than likely, though, I would've assumed that they were exaggerating, that we were different, that we were better equipped, and that we were 'called' which would somehow make us exempt from the pressures of those who weren't doing this for any particular 'holy' reason.

Actually, all of those things are true:
We are different than most of the other foster parents we've met.
We are better equipped in a whole bunch of ways.
We are called.

It's still the hardest thing we've ever done. It's come pretty close to breaking us.  It might yet.

The very first exercise we did in the training was to think about our family before we started this journey. What we were like, what our expectations were, how would we describe ourselves. Then we thought about the children we were caring for - what they've been through and what their behaviors were. Finally, we were to write down what our family was like now.

So our charts (I've compiled Wendell's and mine here) looked something like this:
  • Before:  excited, purposeful, naive, unaware, managed, functioned in average ways, very involved in outside activities, idealistic, trusted the system
  • The behaviors we've now added to our home with this placement:  rages, aggression, food sneaking, hunger strikes, depression, anxiety, nightmares, non-compliance, extreme mood swings, terrors, controlling behaviors, obsessive-compulsive type behaviors
  • Types of abuse, neglect, trauma our children have experienced (I'm going to be as specific as I can while respecting privacy):  physical abuse, extreme neglect including not being fed, changed, or held, being left alone with no adult presence at all, multiple placements, and in our view, a re-traumatization by the exposure to visitation instigated by Children's Services.
  • Now, how would we describe our family:  tired, cynical regarding the system, more emotionally volatile, withdrawn from many activities, isolated.  We feel traumatized ourselves.  Conversely, we are also better.  More compassionate, able to see love in the midst of trauma, more willing to advocate and fight for what's right, better able to see the value of and respect our relationships.  We have a stronger marriage, more compassionate children, and we have all become better people.  These positive things are virtually impossible to feel right now, but they are things that I know in my heart and that I'm holding on to.  One day we're going to be on the other side of this, and these things will be the things that we hang on to more than the bad.

This little exercise set the stage for the rest of the training. We talked about the power of unmet expectations, what life is really like with a traumatized child, the trauma that occurs within the family that takes in a traumatized child, and what the caregiver's response should be. This is long already, so I'll try to deal with those things in a later post.

I really think this book and this training should be required for all foster parents. I think it should be required for all adoptive parents, as well. I think foster parents, while dealing with a lot of ongoing uncertainty and emotional stuff, actually have some advantages. We're required to receive a ton of pre-service training (more than the average domestic or overseas adoption from my understanding) and a ton of ongoing training (for us, it's 20 hours a year). We have other adults regularly checking in on us and observing how the kids are doing. With adoptive-only parenting, while many of the same issues will still be there, there may be no one who knows. There is no one requiring you to seek out further training. A lot of adoptive parents are completely on their own. That's a tough place to be. As hard as fostering is, I'm glad that there are resources to help us like this training workshop.

Rockin Mama Challenge

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Lisa, over at A Bushel and a Peck, issued this challenge about a week ago or so.  

Many of us are mothering children who came to us with broken hearts; it stretches us and sometimes we doubt our ability to help them become whole.  In the nearly four years since our adopted children joined our family, we have sought many avenues of healing for them.  One of the simplest and most profound means of encouraging attachment we’ve found is rocking our children in our big “Ugly Chair.”
Let’s rock our children and give ourselves deeply to loving them and bringing  healing to their hearts.

The challenge is to rock our children for 15 minutes a day for 28 days. Alone. I can't pretend that this is as easy for me as I thought it would be. Mr. B's behavior is so repellent sometimes right now that I find it difficult to connect. Some days I have to force myself to connect. However, the few days that we have been doing this so far (this is our 4th time in 6 days) have been very fulfilling. Most of the rocking has been at bedtime, in the dark, with the CD of 'blessing' songs that I put together for him when he first moved in. The tenderness of this time together has been so therapeutic for both him and me.

I've been doing a daily liturgy, much like the Daily Office or Divine Hours, for the past month, and when possible, I include the children. Ben is really into it, Maggie could care less, but Mr. B actually has asked for me to 'read the prayers' a couple of times during our rocking sessions. I sense that he yearns for the spiritual fulfillment of prayer and the presence of the Spirit that we feel when we share in the common prayers of God's people. He doesn't understand it yet, but I know that speaking the Word over him is breaking down strongholds and building a spiritual foundation that his little soul has longed for.

We've been struggling with connection here. Mr. B is angry and anxious and confused, and his fear response is to disconnect. Even our therapy time has been a struggle every day.  He stopped asking for it for about a week. When I would initiate it, he would not make eye contact, refuse to participate, and I would really have to work to engage him. After we added the rocking routine, he started asking for 'special play time' again. I'm pushing, pushing, pushing, but ever so gently, for him to truly connect with me every day. Multiple times a day. He needs the connection. He needs to not disengage. I understand his fear.  I share his fear on a huge level. However, I believe God created His people for community, for connection, for intimacy. I believe God created Mr. B for all of those things in the context of our family. I have a holy calling to speak truth, love, courage, compassion, and strength into this child's life. Thanks, Lisa, for your challenge. It is making a difference in our lives.
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