Happy Birthday?

7980174887_4663610d4d_z.jpg

Birthdays are supposed to be celebrations.  For children, they often signify growing up to be the little person that they hope to be.  For others, they are an excuse to have a party.  For some, they are another reminder of how far we have to go.  

We celebrated Charlie’s birthday all weekend and I am pooped. He gets very anxious around his birthday and around Christmas.  Many people would say that he is thinking of his birth family or bad memories surrounding these holidays, but at the surface it seems that he is so obsessed with getting new things that his excitement morphs into anxiety because his brain has such a hard time processing emotions.  He has been with us for over 3 years and still has a very hard time articulating his feelings and emotions.  

Also, the anticipation of getting presents (especially ones that are hidden somewhere in his house) is almost more than he can bear.  He can’t even sleep.  He tells me that he would feel better if they weren’t even in the house so that he can relax.  He says he doesn’t trust himself to not find them and open them.

He even has a hard time acting grateful once he gets the gifts. He is excited when he opens them up and then an hour or so later, asks when he can look on Amazon to see what he can ask for for Christmas.  Is he a spoiled brat?  Are we ruining him?  Or is he depressed and looking for happiness in toys and then panics when it’s not found?

I have been told that kids with ADHD get a dopamine fix with new things and so they always want/crave new stuff.  This is a decent explanation, but it doesn’t make it less annoying.

For a kid that doesn’t act anywhere close to his chronological age, when someone asks how old he is turning, every birthday I find that I am reluctant to say.  Today, I ate lunch with his 3rd Grade Class at school and the cafeteria worker told Charlie “Happy Birthday” and asked how old he is turning.  When he said, “Eleven,” several of his classmates gasped: “ELEVEN?!  I’m only Eight!”  (He is the size of an 7 or 8 year old and acts like a 5 or 6 year old.)  

I am exhausted from all of the  anxiety leading up to his birthday, but we did have fun at his parties this weekend.  It was really fun to see his sweet friends from school and how much they love him despite his weirdness and quirks.  

All of this to say, I am very glad that he was born and very glad that he is mine, but I am kinda glad this birthday is almost over.  I share all of these personal thoughts so that someone else who might be feeling the same way won’t feel so alone, or guilty about it.  Charlie is a blessing, but he can be exhausting.  I can love him and have no regrets about adopting him, and still find him hard to live with.  Adoptive and/or Special Needs parents, you are not alone if you feel the same.  And hopefully one day, birthdays will feel more like celebrations.

Public Service Announcement

8881312229_16ffc6098f_z.jpg

For well-intentioned people who want to heal my son.

The other day at Costco, my daughter and I went into the restroom and left my son to wait for us at the door.  He is an adorable 10 year old, he is Chinese, and he is blind.  He waited patiently for us, we came out, and as we were headed on our way to shop, a young woman approached us and introduced herself.  She asked our names and asked if my son was adopted. 

I am always happy to talk to people about how adoption has blessed our lives, but that is not what she wanted to talk about.  

After telling me what an ‘incredible person’ I am for adopting a blind child, she asked if she could pray for him “real quick.” (If you think someone is a saint for adopting, please don’t say so in front of the child-- it really makes them question their worth.)  I said that our son is a blessing to us, but thank you.  She said, “I’m just going to pray that Jesus would heal him from his blindness. Right now.” 

I said, “God actually made him, loves him and we love him and want him exactly the way he is.”  She said, “Oh, sure, but I’d just like to pray for him.” My son said, “Can she, Mom?” Fine. Then she prayed and prayed and kept saying, “Right now, Lord. Heal him right here and now.”

Finally, I said, “Yeah, we gotta go.”

This was awkward. I believe Jesus can heal people but I don’t see Charlie’s vision as something that needs to be healed. His heart, yes. His brain, perhaps. But this encounter got him confused, and me irritated.  Here's why.

We (his parents) and all of his blind mentors, do not see a need for him to be healed from his blindness.  It is one of his gifts.  He has vision for things that we do not.  He connects with people and animals in a way that we cannot.  We don't want him to wish that he could see with his eyes.

The second reason is that his eyes are completely malformed.  They never developed properly when he was in utero.  Nothing in them is as it should be.  And honestly, I don't think that was a mistake.  I believe it was God's plan for him.  I do not pity him because of his blindness. 

For her to pray—without knowing anything about him or us, other than he was blind— that God would heal him 'right then and there' made me feel like I was in a magic show that was bound to fail.  It felt very awkward, and embarrassing.   

Thirdly, we were approached in a way that felt invasive and self promoting, not glorifying to God.

If she had said, "I see you have an adopted son.  What a beautiful family you have!  Can I pray for you?  Is there anything specific that you need prayer for?"  If she had done that, I would have thanked her. 

"YES!  You can pray for his fear.  You can pray for his anxiety.  You can pray that he would eat.  That his nightmares would go away.  You can pray that our family would have patience with him when he acts like a 5 year old.  You can pray that this school year would be better than the last.  You can pray that people would be more accepting of him and not only see his blindness.  YES!  Thank you so much for asking!"  

And at that point, I'm sure I'd be hugging her and crying because of her generous thought and simple act.

However, that is not what she said.  My daughter and I felt very uncomfortable because we felt like she was stalking us and looking for something she could "do" to tell others about.  She was waiting for us as soon as we came out of the bathroom. 

Later, I asked my daughter what she thought about it and she said it made her feel really weird.  And she said that she felt bad for her brother because it made him feel like something (else) is wrong with him.  And then she said, "What if we weren't Christians?  That whole situation would have been even worse."  And much more insulting.

This girl was young (mid-twenties), and I probably should have taken more time to explain all of this to her,  I was just a bit shaken and unprepared.  But since then, I've realized I have a lot to say, and I need to say it!

We have many friends with physical disabilities and/or children with disabilities.  Most of them want to be seen and accepted the way they are, even more than they want to be fixed or healed.  When someone approaches them with the intent to change them, it is a reminder that that is what they see when they look at them-- either what they are missing or what they think they need. 

If a person was born without an arm, would you approach them and pray that the arm would grow out of their shoulder?  I doubt it.

The blind community is very misunderstood.  People with vision feel like blind people are missing out, and they pity them.  But most blind adults that I know would not want their vision restored.  They are content and happy with themselves and they "see" the world in a different way than we do.  Sometimes better.

Here is a wonderful message by a friend of ours:  Greg's Sermon on Blindness.  Greg was my daughter’s Braille teacher.  He is a wonderful human who happens to be blind.  He knows that his blindness is used by God every day and he is thankful for it.  If not for him and his influence on our lives, I don't know that we would have been open to adopting a blind child!

As parents, we pray that God would be glorified in our son’s life because of his blindness.  He will reach people that we won't.  He inspires people everyday.  God is using him daily in spite of his blindness, and we are thankful for that.  That is why it is was so surprising and jarring when a complete stranger wanted to pray that away.

We all have heart issues.  We all have ugly sin inside, but people can't see that.  However, when physical deformities or flaws are seen in people, someone often wants to offer to pray that they would be corrected.  I think that is very risky and often insulting.   Let's be more concerned with people's hearts than their bodies.

My advice to you, if you feel led to pray for a stranger in public, is to approach them with humility.   Let them know you would like to pray for them, and ask if there something they need prayer for.  If this young woman had done that, I assure you the last thing on my list would've been my son's blindness.

Secret Sauce

6766772637_cb225d92f3_z.jpg

As adoptive parents know, most of their children carry their shame around like a ball and chain.  Thoughts of insecurity follow them everywhere— they’re bad, unloved, unwanted.  These thoughts shape many of their relationships, especially those where they worry the person will leave if they’re disappointed in them.

Because of this fear, their brains are wired for self-protection.  If they think they’re in trouble, their brain either panics or shuts down.  For my son, it goes wild.  He jumps on that crazy train and wreaks all kinds of havoc.  It used to take hours to get him off of it.

We learned long ago to remain calm when he is in this state.  Do not threaten punishment or yell, as that will only heighten his fear and increase his behavior.  We have tried humor, bribery, distraction and/or just giving him time.  All of these have worked at one point or another, but none of them work every time. 

Two weeks ago, we attended The Empowered to Connect Conference, and I had a new revelation.  When his brain is in panic mode, what he needs more than anything is to know that I think he is a good kid.  Even when he is acting like an animal, a toddler, a lunatic, I need to acknowledge to myself that this is not the real boy: it is the self-protective way that he is coping with his fear.

For the past two weeks, every time his lid is flipped (which has been about once a day on average) I have said, “HEY!  You are a GOOD kid.  I like you.  I am glad you’re mine.  You are a good boy.”  I kid you not, it has worked every.single.time.  Within 2-3 minutes, he is talking like a normal person again.

We all want to know that we are liked, loved, good and kind.  But a kid with shame and self-doubt needs to know it all of the time.  

It is not the natural response, so it does not come easily.  Usually I am feeling very frustrated internally while saying these words out loud.  I have even told my other children, "Just pretend like you're an actor in a movie.  'Read the script' with conviction, and you will believe what you are saying once he has gotten back to himself."

Many people may see his behavior and “good kid” is likely not the first thing that comes to mind.  Isn't it sad that the "trouble-makers" can seem unlikable and the cycle continues?

But if we make the effort to look underneath, to see beneath the hyper, nervous (sometimes obnoxious) kid… more often than not, there is a real sweetie under there.

Often, when my son will tell me about an adult at school that he likes, he’ll say, “She thinks I’m a good kid,”  because that is the most important thing in the world to him.  Those adults that he feels "like" him, he likes back.  Which means that he will more often cooperate with them because he can relax and be himself.

If finding the good in your child feels too hard for you, just watch them while they sleep.  Every child on the planet is precious when they're sleeping!  Pray over them and ask God to soften your heart toward your hurting child.

He put you in this role to help them heal.  Convince them that you like them and they will want to please you.  Connection and acceptance is the desire of every heart, especially the broken ones.

 

Sensory Needs

7943587896_9f5fa2cee2_z.jpg

In Third Grade at my kids’ school, they host a Wax Museum.  The students pick a famous person that they’re fond of and learn all about them, then dress up like them to teach everyone else about this amazing person.  My son Charlie is Chinese and blind, so at dinner we were all trying to think of a famous Chinese person he could be, or a blind person… but he didn’t like any of our suggestions. 

Then the next day in the car he said, “I decided I’m going to be Abraham Lincoln.”  I said, “Oh, that will be cute!  He was a great person.  We can get you a tall hat and a beard!”  He was quiet for a few minutes and then asked, “Are there any famous people that didn’t wear clothes?  Or hats, or beards?”

Funny?  Yes.  But also a little sad.  Charlie has sensory issues: if it was up to him he would be in his underwear with a blanket wrapped around him 24/7.

A few years ago I learned for the first time that kids with difficult beginnings have brains with neurotransmitters that aren’t connected like those in a typical brain.  Because of this, they very often have sensory issues.  When I did a little research I was led to believe that kids with Sensory Processing Disorder were either Sensory Seekers or Sensory Avoiders, but I have since learned from lots of personal experience, that you can definitely be both.

When Charlie feels safe, there are loud and chaotic environments that he doesn’t mind-- arcades, school cafeteria-- but when he is feeling nervous, they will send him over the edge.  He will either shut down or become extremely obnoxious.  He is already an anxious boy and my job is to help him feel safe no matter what, so I have to be in tune to his mood as well as the environment.  I need to be aware if he is a little off, and figure out what may have set him off.

He also has ADHD and requires a ton of sensory input to help his brain focus and calm down.  If he starts chewing on his shirt, I know he needs gum.  When he starts to spin, I offer him the Bilibo.  If he is rocking, I ask if he’d like to swing (we have a swing in our kitchen doorway).  If he is driving everyone crazy, I tell him to go jump on the trampoline for ten minutes and set a timer.

Also, with his limited vision, his other senses are heightened; so he is hyper-aware of smells, sounds, temperature, etc.  It can seem like he is super sensitive and/or difficult with his requests and complaints, but once he is regulated and his sensory needs are balanced and met, he is (usually) calm and cooperative.

Sometimes if he gets home from school out of sorts, I have him search for pennies in a bin of rice.  At dinner, he can choose to sit on a wiggle seat or put a five pound bag of beans in his lap.  Often when given choices, he knows what he needs.  At bedtime, he loves a super hot bath and a hot water bottle to snuggle up with.  We wrap it in a blanket and call it his “hot water baby.”

Are we weird?  Absolutely!  But with these tools, we look a whole lot less weird and feel a whole lot more safe and regulated.  Figure out what your kiddo needs, and you do you!

A Dark Night

5352401654_41400a4ba8_z.jpg

A few years ago, I heard a mom at an adoption conference share her story about when her son had to be admitted for residential treatment and I remember thinking, “Thank God that will never happen to me.”  I mean how does it get that bad?  He must have tried to kill them or something.

Then a month ago I thought, “I could totally see us needing residential treatment for Charlie.” Life was completely out of control.  He needed help that we couldn’t give him, and we so desperately needed a break.

I used to have a bumper sticker on my car that said, “Got Love? Adopt!”  It makes it sound so simple.  I took it off.  It takes a lot more than love.  And as cute as the bumper sticker was, it was kind of dumb.  Adoption is in no way simple, or easy.

Sometimes meds work, sometimes a specific kind of parenting works, sometimes counseling or prayer works.  But sometimes they don’t, and that can leave you feeling very lonely and desperate.

When everything that you know and have learned doesn’t work, when the meds you’ve tried don’t work, when you are out of steam, out of patience, and even tapping out on your compassion, you need more than love.  

It had gotten to the point that we were all pretty miserable, but nobody more so than Charlie. One of the hardest things about where we were was watching this joyful child suffer internally. We all suffered externally in many ways, but when he would say, “Mom, would you pray with me that I’ll do good today?  I want to be good, and I already prayed, but would you pray too?” and then two hours later I'd get a call from the school, and we knew our prayers didn’t work.  It was heart breaking.

Charlie has had an amazing team around him all year.  His teachers are wonderful, he has sweet friends, the school counselor is on his team and advocating for him daily, we see a counselor weekly; it just wasn’t enough. Between his anxiety, his fear, and his past, he really had zero coping skills.  His MO was to shut down, lie, fight, or make threats.

His biggest threat at school lately has been to swallow things (*awesome*).  Batteries, thumb tacks, magnets, these are all things that the school takes very seriously.  I knew that he was lying 90% of the time, but telling people that he wanted to die when things got just a little hard, was kind of a big deal.  Even when he was at school, I was stressed out all day and getting LOTS of phone calls.

Last Monday I got the ultimate phone call that every parent of a traumatized child fears: “I think it’s time to consider the psychiatric hospital.”  I had been tired and frustrated for a long time, but basically pretty strong and put together.  But with those words came the water works.  Tears poured from my eyes: part sadness, part relief.  

I called my husband, went to the school to get Charlie, and we met at the hospital.  Charlie was in the back of the trunk with all of the groceries that I had been in the middle of unloading when I got the call.  He had refused to get in his seat and then when we got there he refused to get out.  I was weirdly calm (thank you Holy Spirit) and went in to check him in.

When my husband went to get him out, Charlie completely flipped out and was screaming, biting, scratching, etc and we had to get two orderlies to come and help us bring him in.  They put me in a wheelchair and I restrained him in my lap.  We were wheeled into an intake area where he pretty quickly calmed down.

The intake process was pretty awful and we were in the same gross room for almost six hours, but Charlie’s counselor was texting us and reassuring us that this was where he needed to be and he would be well taken care of.  She told us to ask for a specific doctor that has lots of experience with similar kids, and when we did we found out that was already whose case he was on.

We were not there long when we knew he would be admitted and worried immediately how he would handle that news, but when we told him he would have his own room and a buddy and a playroom he said, “Kind of like camp?”  He has always been jealous that his brother and sister have sleepovers and get to go to overnight camp, etc. so I said, “Maybe a little?”

It worked.  He happily went with the nurse when it was time for us to leave.  It was incredibly scary to us to leave him there, but apparently it wasn’t scary to him.  (Thank you Holy Spirit.)

We talked to him every night and saw him once at Family Visitation.  He was always happy when he talked to us.  He missed us and wanted to come home but said he was “working on his goals and learning coping skills.”  

He was there for five days.  Even after discharge we really don’t have that much info about what actually went on.  We know that they changed one of his medications, that he talked with his psychiatrist every day and spent lots of time in group sessions.  He says that he had fun and slept good.  He loved the food and got to drink soda at lunch and dinner!

Yesterday when we picked him up he was so happy and boasting about how he is all done lying and swallowing things.  He said, “I’m not going to break things anymore either.  I will only fix things that are already broken.”

I asked him if he worried we wouldn’t come back and he said just once, on Monday.  "I cried, but only on Monday."

He said, “I learned a lot and got better, but I don’t want to go back there, okay?”

We are only one day on the other side, but so far I have zero regrets about the decision.  His skin is dry and has a rash from the harsh detergent, but physically he is fine.  Mentally he is much better and emotionally he is great.  

He is so happy to be home and finally seems to be owning his past and determined to handle frustration and difficulties with the tools that he has.  His toolbox was almost empty and all he knew was to shut down and want to disappear (which is why he said he wanted to die).   

We are adding tools all the time.  His box is not full yet, but being aware of his triggers and teaching him to find the appropriate tool at the appropriate time is a great place to start.

Since last Monday I have gotten private phone calls from people who were treated at the same hospital.  They just wanted to let me know and give me reassurance that everything would be alright.  I have also had people tell me not to tell anyone about this because you know how people judge.

I am sure that people will also judge me for putting this out there for everyone to see.  Mental health issues are private and hard, but when no one talks about it, you can feel so alone going through it.

What will Charlie feel like as an adult knowing that I told people about this?  I can’t know for sure, but at 10 he says he is okay with it.  He wants to hang the art he made there on our refrigerator “to remember Peachford” and all he learned while he was there.  He also put pictures of the therapy dogs he met on our prayer board because “they help kids when they’re sad and they need prayer too.”

So many people love Charlie and want to know how to support and pray for him.  Many others can relate to us as the parents and have (or will) wrestle through a tough decision like this for their hurting child.  And a few will judge: us and/or him, but I believe the former outweighs the latter.  Sharing this puts us in a vulnerable place, but we believe it is worth it.

If you ask him where he was last week he’ll say, “I was at Peachford.  I was sad and mad but I’m getting better.”  His sister wrote him a letter while he was there that said, “We are so proud of you for getting the help you need.  You are as brave as a knight.”  I certainly agree with that.