Archive for the ‘parenting and remaining sane’ Category

I Don’t Think Alligators Kiss

Yesterday my husband, in a good mood, came into the kitchen, swooped me backwards, and gave me a passionate kiss.  When we had finished, I noticed my 13 year old adopted daughter standing there, mouth gaping open, eyes wide, with a shocked look on her face.  “What was THAT????’ she asked (in American Sign Language.)  “A kiss,” I told her. “No, no”, she signed, “a kiss is a little peck on the lips” she said as she came over and demonstrated one on the dog.  “That is the way you kiss when you really love someone, your husband” I said.  “WOW!  How did you LEARN that?  Can you show ME!?!?!” she signed.   “You don’t learn it, you just feel it.  It is natural when you love someone,” I explained to her.  “I’m going to wait until I’m 17 to do that,” she signed back, and I said a silent prayer to myself that I should be so lucky for her to wait that long!  I laughed inwardly at her innocence, this worldly child who knew the mechanics of sex more than anyone her age should have to know,  (the reason of which is a discussion better delegated to a more serious blog entry.)  But I doubt she ever saw anyone in love before, and she definitely had never seen anyone kiss passionately, which really surprised me.  The more I thought about it, though, I realized she hadn’t been exposed to it in her young life and the only other way she might know would be from watching television.  Because of her deafness,  she has a low reading level and is not able to understand the captioning enough to get interested in a romantic story or one of the more mature television shows which are all over the television today.  Her favorite tv station is the Animal Planet where great stories are told and no captioning is needed. She knows all about the life cycles of animals, insects and reptiles, including their different mating rituals, but, as preparation for real life, I’m sure she never saw alligators kiss like that!

A Miracle that Saved My Life (which you’d only understand if you had a teenage daughter.)

In her senior year in high school, Dinora was scheduled to go on a trip to Greece with her class.  When I wrote to the Department of Health to get a copy of her (adoption) birth certificate for her passport, we were mortified to learn that the birth date on the birth certificate and the birth date on the other legal documents were was different!  Thinking it was a simple mistake at the Department of Vital Statistics, I called.  “No,” they indicated, “That was the date that the court gave us at the time of the adoption.  The only way to change it was to go back to court.”  I was horrified and sick to my stomach. Visions of deportation bounced in my head.  Dinora, of course, was furious at me.  Taking a chance, I sent in the Passport photos, a copy of the adoption certificate, (which had no birth date on it, only the adoption date.) and a copy of Dinora’s Guatemalan birth certificate in Spanish under her birth name.  I prayed that although it was unconventional, it would be enough evidence for a passport.  Dinora was scheduled to leave for Greece on June 5.  By May 28 the passport had still not arrived.  Dinora was confident it would come, as she is confident everything comes to her.  I was not confident at all, and dreaded the day I’d have to face Dinora’s wrath because she couldn’t go to Greece.

Around this same time was Dinora’s senior prom.  She had chosen a dress several weeks prior, and I repeatedly asked her to try it on so it could be hemmed. Dinora, who was only 4 foot 11 inches, repeatedly said it would be “fine” because she was going to wear “heals”. She  was a busy high schooler and didn’t have the time to try it on. On the morning of the prom, Dinora tried it on before school and came crying to me that the dress was way too long.  It was a beautiful, silky cream color, and I am not at all domestic, so I didn’t have a clue what to do to hem it.  I ran to the sewing store and bought hemming tape.  “I can TAPE it up!”  I thought excitedly. It made perfect sense!  Nice and easy!  I got out the iron and began to iron on the tape.  The problem was twofold…the dress had a flare bottom and the hemming came out lumpy and crooked, and also the heat from the iron was melting the silk in the dress!  It looked ruined and AWFUL!!!  I promptly put the dress down, ran into the bathroom, and threw up.  Several times.  “Please, God,” I prayed, “I’ve never asked you for anything.”  I threw up again “Please, please, please  I am on my knees here, please help me out here.  I am over my head with this problem.”  I knew if ever I needed a miracle, this was it!  Still shaking, I got an idea. I ran to the phone book and looked up tailors.  There was one about a mile away, so I gathered the dress up and rushed to the tailor.  “I need you to fix this!” I almost screamed as I burst into the store.  The tailor took one look at it and said “But this dress is ruined.  See, here, where you’ve scorched the fabric?”     “PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE help me!” I begged through tears.  He said he would try but could promise nothing.  He could have it ready by the following Friday.  “NO!” I screamed like a wild woman, “I need it by 4:00 pm this afternoon!”  The man was shocked.  “I’ll pay any amount of money” I continued to beg.  Reluctantly, the gentleman agreed and I burst into more tears of hopeful relief.  I drove home to wait until 4:00, and when I got home and opened the mailbox, there was Dinora’s passport for her trip to Greece!  I went back to get the dress just in the nick of time for Dinora to get dressed for the prom. It was a miracle, (and for only a charge of $5!) The dress was hemmed and in perfect condition!  It was GORGEOUS!  He pointed out a few minor spots in the back of the dress where the material was scorched, but he said most of the bad spots he was able to hide under the hem.  This was a TRUE miracle which I would appreciate forever.  Of course Dinora did not have a clue what I went through for both her passport and her prom dress.  She was appreciative, of course, as was I!!!

The Ups and Downs of Multiple Personality Disorder

Angel developed dissociative identity disorder during his early childhood.  The abuse he endured was so horrific that when he was being abused, a separate personality was born so that he would not have to feel the abuse.  Some are good, some are bad.  Some are female (?), some are male.  Some have aged with him, and at least 2 are still babies.  This is not something I could invent.  I am not making a big deal out of it.  “It” just is a fact of every day life that we try to live with!

Today, Angel was at a friend’s party.  He has one personality that is friendly, game show host upbeat, polite, thoughtful of others and the type of person who others adore.  Andy indicated he used this personality every time he went to a new foster home in the hope that that family would not reject him.  Unfortunately, this personality cannot maintain him for long periods of time, as other, more dangerous, personalities invarianly emerged.  None of the foster families could handle this “quirk”, this change from, dare I even say it, Angel to Devil.  Of course, it had not been diagnosed until he was in 3rd grade, so none of the families could have know what really caused his “severe mood swings”.

His “game show host personality” (as he calls it) was at the party today.  He lasted 6 hours before he called me to pick him up.  While I was at the party picking him up, 5 different people came over to me to tell me what a joy he is!  That he is the best kid around!  That he is so polite and helpful!  And I thought to myself, “If they only knew…”

Once in the car, Angel’s smile vanished and a look of sheer anger appeared.  He held his head an announced that his “parts” (which is what he calls “them”) were fighting.  He cannot let one part out for so long without the rest fighting, he had explained a few years ago.  It was excruciating for him to be so nice all day, he said.  I knew the anger he displayed could be dangerous, and I encouraged him to come home and take a nap, which he did.  He crawls into a fetal position and falls asleep.  In the middle of the night, the “part” that is so emotionally needy will wake up and scour the kitchen for food.  He will engulf anything edible, trying to feed his heart.  Sometimes when he falls back asleep with his stomach full, he will fall asleep and his infant self will come out.  Sometimes this self is so young that it does not yet know how to use the toilet, or it gags on regular cereal. (As an infant, it can only eat oatmeal.)

Angel knows about 10 of his parts.  He knows there are several “mad” ones that he does not know.  These are the  parts that were abused, and if they become known to Angel, then the memories of the abuse would come flooding back.  So they remain hidden as Angel could not psychologically survive the memories at this age.  Slowly they have become known to him, and some of the angry parts have joined the rest of the parts he knows.  Through them, he remembers foster mothers who left him lying on his back, crying for hours.  (In reality, when he came to live with us at the age of 3 he had a flat back of his head from lying so long.)  He remembers them coming in and yelling at him to shut up and not helping him.  He had 4 foster moms reject him, and it physically damaged his young brain.  The angry parts he does not know do bad things to him.  They resent the fact that he is living a nice life and they had to endure the abuse.  They have done things like destroy his homework, steal his cell phone, laptop computer, Ipod and other precious items.  (We’ve never found these items, and once he is conscious that they are gone, the trash has been taken away, so we had nothing to search.) Once, after his second computer  disappeared, I thought I had outsmarted the angry ones.  I locked his computer on a cord to his bedstand.  “There!” I thought.  Let’s see THAT disappear!”  It stayed fine for a week or two.  Then, one morning I woke up to Angel screaming.  “Someone” had stomped on his computer, breaking the keyboard and snapping the screen off.

Angel has been in therapy since the 4th grade, and he has made considerable progress.  Previously, he would study for a test in school and I’d test him on the way to school and he would know the material 100%.  A half hour later he would take the test and in handwriting of a 1st grader, he would flunk it wrong answers.  Through therapy, his parts have learned to cooperate.  Now only the “smart ones” go to school.

Angle has been to Baltimore and counseled by the leading expert in Dissociative Identity Disorder, Dr. Joy Silberg.  He knows the goal of his therapy is integration of all of his parts.  He has indicated he does not want that, that he would be lonely without them to keep him company.  It looks, however, that it will be a long time before he is completely familiar with those angry parts.  They are still protecting him because they are holding the memories of his abuse!

Random Thoughts on Life with Children with Disabilities

Thoughts Regarding Life with Several Children with Disabilities

  • When you have several people in your family, (ours has 6 at home,) put names on toothbrushes.  They are only available in so many colors…
  • Taking multiple pills is easier if they are placed in a little plastic cup.  Using a hand is not always the safest way to guarantee they will all get into the mouth. (Before I discovered this, I was finding pills here, there and everywhere, especially between the couch cushions.)
  • Keep extra pills and a bottle of water in your car in case you are delayed and a child would miss a dose.
  • Even though it might be easier, do not schedule doctor’s appointments at the same time for more than one child.  I have learned that there is a direct correlation between the difficulties to be discussed about one child with the doctor and the misbehavior of the other child.  I also usually take the child with the appointment out to eat afterwards for some “quality time”.  This seems to encourage good behavior at the doctor’s.
  • Don’t stress out over things that are unimportant in the scheme of things.  I try to clean house, but rarely have time to do a great job.  I don’t care.  I try to have a nice, family meal every night, but only succeed three or four nights a week.  I don’t care.  I try to dress my children nicely for the holidays, but they invariably pull the new clothes off to wear more comfortable ones.  I don’t care.  The house is not filthy and neither are the kids, and the kids are not starving or overweight.  My expectations are low so I am always pleased to meet them.  If I am able to exceed my expectations, I am thrilled beyond belief.
  • Find time for yourself and your significant other (if you have one.)  This relationship must be nurtured if he/she is expected to nurture the children.  Stressed out parents affect patience levels.  My children have always had a bedtime of 9:00 pm regardless of age.  They can watch tv, talk on their cell phones, read or do schoolwork, but quiet time in our house is observed at 9:00 pm.  This guarantees quiet time for the parents.
  • Take a few days off without the children.  Again, the parental relationship needs to be primary.  The statistics of divorce among families with children with disabilities is staggering.  I work hard at not being that statistic.  Going away without the children takes a great deal of planning, but the reward is a stress free weekend.  With my family, this is also costly because I need to arrange and pay for supervision for 3 separate children.  Again, it is less costly than divorce.
  • I make sure the children pick up the dog poop in the backyard BEFORE I rake the leaves.  (I didn’t do this once and boy was I sorry!!!)
  • I drive a mini-van with 4 bucket seats and a back bench seats.  This leaves 3 separate bucket seats so the children don’t have to sit directly next to each other and each one has a window seat. Rides have been quieter since I bought this car.
  • We try to live within our means financially.  No costly trips to restaurants.  No plays, concerts or other costly entertainment.  I buy clothes at 2nd hand stores and grocery store brand food. It is stressful enough worrying about the children without adding financial worry.
  • You cannot yell at a deaf child.  They will just shut their eyes and they cannot see you signing the angry words!

I find the humor and happiness in life:  watching my daughter  who is deaf in her dance class with a big grin on her face,  joking with my son who has dissociative identity disorder that he needs to check with “his people” before he makes a decision,  watching my 17 year old son with Aspergers when he is holding a wriggling snake and describing everything you’d ever want to know about it, and watching my husband cook supper with my daughter.  She used to be a very picky eater, but now she eats everything she helps cook.  Who knew?

The Joys of Parenting (?)

Parenthood can be a lot of work at times, especially with children with disabilities, but I always prefer to see the joyful side of parenthood for the following reasons:

  1. The sight of a sleeping child, no matter what age, melts my heart.  We always take pictures of our children sleeping on Christmas Eve, so I have a collection of how their sweet sleeping faces look as they age.  It never ceases to affect me and I smile at each and every one.
  2. When a child is in a school performance, from pre-school graduation, school plays, award ceremonies, right up to college graduation my pride soars.  Tears always come to my eyes as my well dressed for the occasion child “does his/her thing.”  Each child’s “thing” may be different…Steven, especially in the early years with his sensory integration deficit, would actually hide under the chair, (or the pew in church as was the case when he was supposed to make his first communion.)  Francis would walk slowly looking down due to his visual impairment, and he would be hesitant about who to go to until he got close enough to see them.  Dinora would “strut her stuff”, with us all excited at her accomplishment.  Angel would put on his best “game show host” face and wave to the audience as if the event was entire for him.  Marie would…well, I’ll save that for a later blog because that is a real interesting story!
  3. Each time a child learns a new skill, I am overcome with joy at their accomplishment.  Not just the learning to walk or talk part, but the entire route to independence they take.  My 2 oldest live on their own, have jobs and pay their own bills.  Just the fact that they can pay their own bills causes me to leap in the air with happiness.
  4. Sitting around the table eating dinner together usually, (depending on how the kids are getting along,) fills me with the peace.  I like sitting at the head of the table with my husband at the other end, and the kids in the middle.   Holidays and special occasions are always extra nice when all 5 children are there.
  5. I feel a happiness only a mother could feel every time a child presents me with a gift they have made for me. Steven made me a wonderful 2 foot tall vase shaped like and alligator, (his favorite animal.)  What mother wouldn’t be thrilled to receive an alligator vase?  The color even matches the colors in my kitchen!  Angel’s, who is 15 years old, has a child-like “part” that makes me jewelry.  He presents it to me with great flourish,  It is always gaudy and  made of huge plastic “crystal” beads.  When I wear it, I feel like I am wearing a chandelier, but I wear it with pride, (until I can get in my car alone and take it off on my drive to work.)
  6. Taking the children out for an activity like bowling, horseback riding, or go cart riding allows me to have an excuse and have fun like a kid myself.
  7. The times the children prepare breakfast for me is especially joyful, (even though the eggs are tough, the toast is burnt, and the tea has no sugar.  Plus, the kitchen is a huge mess!) I always look on the bright side, and even if my eggs aren’t sunny side up, I am sunny inside!
  8. The biggest joy I get out of parenthood is the fact that I do not have time to clean the house…taking care of all of the children’s special needs, all of the therapy, counseling, medical, extra-curricular activities does not leave me any time to clean!  We’ve long ago learned to settle for a “picked up house”, not a spotlessly clean house, (or even a “pretty clean” house.)  I feel no guilt at all.  I would much rather be spending time helping my children than washing the kitchen floor.  I will never lay  when I lay on my deathbed I wished I’d kept my house cleaner!  There are so many more important things to do with the kids, so, sorry, don’t expect my house to be real clean!  Ah, the joy of no housework!!!!

Parenting is a lot of fun and can be filled with joy.  I try to always focus on the positives and downplay the negatives.  It is the only way I remain sane!!!!

I Smell a Skunk

When Francis was three years old, his teacher in pre-school told the story about how her dog had been sprayed by a skunk and they had to give it a bath in tomato juice.  Francis thought this was the worst thing ever because he HATED tomato juice.

With both a severe vision impairment (legally blind) and obsessive compulsive disorder, Francis began to worry about getting sprayed by a skunk.  Obviously, taking a bath in tomato juice would be the most horrible thing ever.  He refused to go outside to play in our backyard because he was so afraid he would step on a skunk which he couldn’t see. We put up a chicken wire fence to keep the skunks out.  (Up until this point, we had never seen a skunk in our yard, but Francis was sure there was a skunk out there just waiting to rush up to him to spray him!)  He was still leery about going out and had a few more questions.

“What happens if the skunk jumps over the fence?” he asked, and we reassured him that skunks don’t jump that high.  (I don’t know if this is a fact, but it served the purpose of reassuring him a skunk would jump.)

“What happens if a skunk digs under the fence” he asked, and again we reassured him that skunks don’t dig under fences. (?)  It would have to be one motivated skunk to go through all of that work just to spray Francis!

His next question sealed his fate.  “What happens if the skunk sprays me THROUGH THE HOLES IN THE FENCE?”  I had no answer except to say that that was absurd, which would not do anything to allay his fears!  I gave up.  He didn’t go outside to play for the rest of the summer!

It Had to Come out Sooner or Later

     We knew our daughter, Marie, had been sexually abused, neglected and physically abused before she came to live with us.  She and her sister had been removed from the family due to reported sexual abuse.  Her sister disclosed details.  Marie insisted nothing happened.  Marie was returned to her mother with the admonition that the abuser leave the household.  Marie had always steadfastly defended her mother and insisted nothing happened.

     The effects of the abuse was clearly evident in Marie’s psychiatric diagnosis.  She had post traumatic stress, and would freak out at times and become like a wild animal.  She would spit, bite, swear and kick with a wild look in her eyes.  She was hospitalized several times for this, and taken to the emergency room countless times.  Each time she would have to be restrained by 5 or 6 people.  At the emergency room, she would be put in restraints.  One particular hospital put her in adult restraints, and she slipped her arms out and punched a doctor in the fact.  Then they put her in soft children’s restraints and she ate right through them.  It was heart breaking and scary to watch.  With psychiatric care and lots of medication, her outbursts have lessened. 

     Marie had promised her mother she would never let me love her and she would never disclose what went on in the family.  It took her three years with us before she would let me touch her, and she called me by my first name not “mom”. (She had promised her mother she wouldn’t.)  The only time we ever had any physical contact was when she would curl up in a ball in my lap in the rocking chair and I would rub her back. She loved this activity, and even though she is 13, we still do it every day.   About a year ago, through family counseling, Marie said that she loved me not her birth mother.  We explained it wasn’t an “all or nothing” thing…that she could miss and love her birth mother and love me also.  She seemed to be relieved that we weren’t asking her to “trash” her mom or not care for her.

      One day two weeks ago, Marie and I were sitting in the rocking chair watching tv.  I’d taken the day off work because it was the end of the summer and there was no one to watch her during the day.  We were “bonding”.  She turns to me and says (in American Sign Language because she is deaf,)  “I hate my birth mother.  I love you.”  I said my typical response.  “You don’t have to hate her, you can still love her and love me also.”  “No”, she signed, “I hate her.  She let her boyfriend have sex with me for money and she didn’t stop it.”  We talked about the details, which I will not disclose in this blog.  But she definitely had had sex at the age of 6.  She detailed her embarrassment, her shame, the pain and her anger.  She indicated she wanted the man to go to jail and her birth mom to go to jail because she let it happen.  She was adamant.  I was calm on the outside and mortified on the inside.  On one hand, to bring this up now might be more traumatizing, on the other hand, she’s been traumatized for so long that it might be a relief.  Then she said the one thing that convinced me it was right to report it, “I don’t want him to hurt other girls like he hurt me.” 

     Marie e-mailed her “old” worker from the Department of Children Youth and Families.  She was blunt.  It said “man had sex with me.  Mom knew.  Want man and mom in jail.”  We have never heard back from the worker.  

     I called the police station and reported to a police officer that we wanted to report sexual abuse, but we needed a sign language interpreter.  He told me to talk to his boss, and the call was transferred.  I talked to the desk sergeant, and he told me to call back on Monday and talk to the desk sergeant because he would know how to make arrangements for this.  I called back on Monday and told my story.  He indicated they would not provide an interpreter until I first filed a claim.  I said I couldn’t file the claim because I wouldn’t want it to look like I was putting words in her mouth.  I said they needed to get an interpreter.  He was adamant I file a report first.  I called the Commission on Deaf and Hard of Hearing and left a message. I did not hear back from them. I then e-mailed an interpreter we had used on several occasions, a wonderful woman who had spent much time interpreting for Marie when she was hospitalized.  She reported to me that I had to have an interpreter certified for legal matters, otherwise it could be contested in court.  There were 2 in our state and one was female.  I called the Commission on Deaf and Hard of Hearing again and left a more detailed message.  I have still not heard back from them and it has been almost 2 weeks!

     I made an appointment with my daughter’s primary care physician, a wonderful guy who worked in the community free clinic. (He had delivered Marie and had been her pediatrician before she came to live with us.  I took her back to him and was amazed at his compassion for others.)  I had arranged an interpreter through Marie’s medical insurance which has always been great about providing interpreters.  We explained to the doctor why we were there, and he delicately did an exam on Marie.  He told her she had not been permanently damaged and took blood and urine tests for STDs.  (Who would have thought??)  He said he would check on the legal ramifications of reporting something 7 years after the fact.  In Marie’s favor was the fact that the police knew who the gentleman was and he had been arrested and convicted in the abuse of her sister.

     A week later and still no word from anyone.  Every morning Marie would wake up and come and ask me “Is today the day we go to the police and the man is arrested?” and I had to keep telling her that I was “working on it”.  We went back to the doctor and he indicated all of her tests came back negative, (thank God!)  He asked me if I had made any progress on reporting it and I said no.  He had done research and gave me the name of a program that helps children who have been sexually abused.  They provide an advocate and a lawyer, and everything they do will stand up in court.  I called them on Thursday.  The woman who coordinates the program is on vacation so it will have to wait until another week or so.   I am very frustrated at the roadblocks and the wait, but we WILL persevere and report the abuse.  I will do everything I can to have the man who repeatedly raped my little girl go to jail.

     Marie has been strangely content with herself. I think she had held it in for all these years and it has been a big relief to get it out.  She does not seem traumatized.  She seems angry at her birth mom and her boyfriend.  She and I are in for a real adventure with the legal system, an adventure that I, as a parent, wish I never would have to take.  Six years old…can you believe it???  I know I am naïve, but it is amazing to me that there are people out there who could be so cruel to a sweet six year old girl!    

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