A Short History of My Daughter’s Life as a Mother…


Both Mother and Daughter

My daughter is a born mother. I am (in my own opinion) decidedly not, despite my long desire to have children and be at home to raise them. I would argue that mothering is more science than nature in my case. But I have watched her in fascination for some time now, all the while struggling with the faint discomfort of someone raised by a 70’s era mother who, like most of her sisterhood, ran from the kitchen and child-rearing as a sole occupation. Our mothers sought to have a bigger life than the one that was offered to them and there has been a burden on us, their daughters, ever since – to expect the same.  Some wear it more lightly than others to be sure, but there can be a guilt at work for wanting to stay home. Perhaps it is connected to the lack of a paycheck associated with it, but being just a mother is only given lip-service as an occupation. And yet, here is this girl who is  two generations away from Gloria Steinem, obsessed with baking, asking for cross-stitch lessons and mothering her brothers and sister, and sometimes me, and I think, aren’t we supposed to be pushing her out of the kitchen?

She was born an adult, and at all of 11 years of age she acts with perfect comfort embracing the responsibilities of the business of our home. There have been moments where it has been hard to tell which one of us was leading in this mother-daughter dance we do. She has been my equal in certain subtle ways since she first weighed in at 3 tiny pounds of certainty, and her imitations of me, which have not always been flattering, began at a profoundly early age. The most curious part about it was how really clear it was that it wasn’t a recreation of me personally that drew her. It was the role of motherhood that she aspired to.

It didn’t start out this way. If you went by our earliest conversations about “How you get a baby” you would never have suspected that she would be who she is now. I can still recall the frantic, panicked conversation she had with her frantic, panicked mother who was trying to merge onto the Southern California freeway system (I am always trying to get on the freeway it seems) with no sleep and the equivalent of the new Starbuck’s Trenti in her system.

“I don’t want to have a baby!”

“Well, you don’t have to.”

“Well how do stop it from happening?!” she asks, starting to cry

“They have medicine you can take so you don’t have one.” I say, wondering why we were having this insane conversation anyway.

“Well, I want the medicine!”

OMG. “You don’t need it yet!  You don’t have to worry about this right now. Can we just let mommy get on the freeway and worry about this later for the love of all that’s holy?”

She was 5 at the time…

And yet, despite this, in her tiny heart resided the sensibilities of a born mother, which despite the aforementioned conversation were clearly evidenced by the arrival of her younger brother when she was 3 years old. She found him irresistible in every way, announcing to all and sundry, “This is MY baby” and showing him off.  She watched carefully the pattern of his care and at the slightest cry from him, little hands would appear out of nowhere and begin pulling at my clothes, undressing me as she announced, “he’s hungry.” And more amazing still to me was when I would lie down to nurse him, she would lie on the other side, putting him in the middle, and stretching her tiny arms as far as they would go, around us both, making herself part of the tableau.

I admit, I am sensitive to the idea that I am unfairly making her care for the children that I had or agreed to take on, but she really did sign onto this with me during one of our early conversations about whether or not we were the best place for her two young cousins. Could we give them what they needed if there were 6 kids? She asked what would happen to them if we didn’t do it and I told her about foster care. And she told me that it wasn’t happening. That no matter what I decided, she wasn’t going let that happen. She wasn’t being defiant, she was being who she was. She just knew the answer deep in her own heart and wasn’t afraid of stating it.

Also, the boys, when asked to meet the same mark, well, they are just ever so slightly more lame in some incomprehensible, DNA-related fashion.  I’m sorry guys (Mommy totally loves you), but they’re just different.  I can give you evidence of this genetic difference. When the triplets were born and we had absolute teams of people coming in to help care for them, not one of the men ever knew which one they were holding. They visually could not tell them apart. They were not identical. 3 different eggs. None of the women had this problem. I found that fascinating. Our brains are built differently, thank god, and I value them as well, but we’ve stopped pretending by now that the male and female brains are similarly structured, right?

So, through all this, my daughter has been the blessing I never knew I was going to get. She forgives me for all my many mistakes as a parent.  She has been my hero and my partner in holding our family together, and it must be said, she is amazing. I miss her terribly on the weekends (especially now that she has become my chief ally in the current war against the 2 year old). I didn’t expect it to happen this way, but my gratitude for who she is as a person knows no bounds. I could even begin to do this without her.

To say that I rest uneasy at times in our partnership wouldn’t be overstating it.  I am not looking to produce a resentful young adult who felt that I had kids and made her look after them, but so far, that doesn’t seem to be the case. I have held onto the words of a young cousin, the oldest of six herself, and her observation about the younger sister who just always seemed to know she wanted to be a mother. It reminded me that it was alright to have motherhood be one’s highest aspiration. After all, feminism was about being valued for our choices as woman equally, no matter where they took us, not just being free to choose from the “Man Menu”.  I wish for my daughter whatever she most wishes for herself. She is one of the best people I know.

 

 

 

 

 



National Margaritaville Day of Dicipline…


What do you write about when nothing seems to interest you? So just out of respect for the discipline (sounds like more fun than it is) of writing I’m putting up this post.

2 Days Ago…

I woke up at 5am after 3 hours sleep and my brain felt like it was crashing into my skull every time I turned my head from lack of sleep. Melancholy chased around the edges of the day all day, and I tried my best to ignore it. I wished I could ignore going back to Edelman’s Children’s Court once more. For those of you who didn’t know, Los Angeles county has it’s own special children’s court located in Monterey Park…and it’s packed. All the time. My daughter is part of an incredibly large population who requires the intervention of social services. She has had her own lawyer since she was 18 months old, and if she really understood what that meant she would be on the phone to him daily registering her displeasure with the condition of her life. “I don’t like this cereal. Get me my lawyer!”

I have been going to this building with some regularity for about three years now and it has always left me feeling like I’ve had a backstage pass to the Jerry Springer show. Again, the recurrent theme of my life: Irony. I have always been someone with an almost pathological need to avoid officers of the court and their kind. In my universe, being in court tends to mean I have screwed up somewhere (it might be noted that I view the Supreme Court very differently, but I don’t expect us to make any ground breaking points of law here. It’s all so soul-killingly mundane). But here I am, dancing through the court systems of two different counties. That definitely deserves a #FML, doesn’t it? All together now…

I try and remind myself that good things happen there as well. Families are made there through finalized adoptions. Children are saved, that sort of thing. But it’s hard, because I don’t want to be there at all. The whole process went better than I expected. In the end, my niece wanted reassurance that we would have a post-adoption contract in place and seemed willing to go forward if it was. So I will spend the next month getting educated about such an instrument and it’s scope and we will go into mediation to try and structure something that addresses both our needs before taking the final few steps. It seems I am destined for a complicated life, but who didn’t know that already, right?

Moments like yesterday still awaken the hope in me that my niece’s life will be salvaged. I desperately hope so, even while I realize that we are far from the time that I can be instrumental in such repairs. The work must hers, the journey back, hers alone. I wondered on the drive that morning whether or not I was doing what my brother would have wanted me to do. I think I am. I suspect he would have had much less patience with all this than I did. He was always quicker to action than I was. I can’t even begin to wonder what would have been different in his daughter’s life if he had lived. I’d like to think it would have been better…but it’s pure speculation. He had so many hurdles of his own, he just didn’t make it over the last one. I often wish he was here though.

My mother offered to go with me yesterday, which I was grateful for, but I said no. Their relationship is likely irretrievably broken and I felt it would only raise the stress of the whole affair for all involved. But pulling into that parking garage, what I really wanted was a guy. It’s funny how there are just moments in your life where you want a man by your side. Preferably a Navy Seal who can bring it with authority and presence. A decision-maker who has your back and exudes all that other Alpha Male goodness that makes a girl ovulate on the spot. Equally funny is how not real life that it. I never want to bring the children to that place and they end up staying home with the Golf Pro while I go and meet the demands of our family on my own. That’s just life and the real deal and all that stuff. Yes, sadly, these guys were all busy somewhere else…

Navy Seal Team

Who's Got Your Back?

So anyway, that wraps up another round of the Jerry Springer Show court and I get a reprieve until April, when we might see the whole business done and this chapter closed…so another one can open after that. I gave my niece a ride back to the sober living shelter where she is living, and then a stop at my mother’s nearby. But it wasn’t until I saw this view that the beginnings of peace stirred and the weight of the day started to lift …

Favorite Spot on the 405

Hello OC!

This is one of my favorite spots in the 405. It’s where Orange County begins and I breathe a little easier every time I see this spot on my way home. Past this point I begin to feel a little more at peace. But what really makes me breath deeply is this sight…

Closing in on Home

sigh.

This means I am close to home and the children, and that my heart can mend from the day. This sight means gratitude and safety. That day it also meant I got to celebrate National Margarita Day with one of these…

Salt, Rocks

Margaritaville

Goodbye day from Hell…



Where is My Inner Chinese Mother?


I am not Asian enough with my children. This is not a new feeling for me. I felt this way long before Amy Chua and the WSJ decided to run her article, the one with the regrettably inflammatory headline about “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” and just piss everybody off.  Nope, I felt not Asian enough long before that, but until I read her article I wasn’t really able to quantify why my parenting actions didn’t match up the standard of excellence that I thought I’d have.

When I embarked on my efforts to become with child, I completely expected that said child would be as carefully tended and enriched as any of the other children appeared to be around him. I would be paving the way, laying the genetic path for a new generation, who would go on to save the planet and reinvent world cuisine in a way that would make Ferran Adrià weep bitter tears.  Dreams of second language immersion classes, piano lessons, readings of poetry and the classics danced in my head. Then I had the actual kids.

There were piano lessons, which should have come with combat pay and they do indeed attend Japanese language school every Saturday morning but since those 3 and a half hours only the only exposure they get to the language I’ll be as shocked as anyone if they retain any of it (although I don’t necessarily believe their exposure to a second language is wasted and I absolutely haven’t given up on Spanish since we live in California).  We had Asian intentions, but they were married up to Western follow-through.

Like the rest of America, the WSJ excerpt from her book got the girlfriends and I talking. As a group, we tend to be less interested in fielding emotional responses than understanding what about the article produced the furor and what, if anything could be taken away from it all.  My girlfriends and I run the gamut of expectations and actual achievement among our children and we have a great acceptance of this. Parenting is about as personal an endeavor as there is, tailored so individually to suit each different family that right answers are very difficult to come by. Advice and collaboration trumps judgment in all ways when it comes to how we parent.

Our resident Chinese parenting expert, who just happens, conveniently, to be a Chinese parent herself and no slouch in the areas of high self-esteem, self-confidence and academic success, gave her opinion. “She’s a Chinese mother with no soul,” she explained amidst bringing up points about Confucianism and Legalist origins in Chinese parenting, issues of biracial identity and the different value system immigrant parents place on things

We have long noted that our Chinese friend comes to parenting her twin girls with very different expectations and attitudes than we do. This is the same girlfriend who once told me and another girlfriend to “channel our inner Chinese female”. We both shuffled uncomfortably, exchanged baffled glances and were forced to announce, “We don’t have one.”  And it was as true as can be. We don’t. But there are plenty of moments in parenting our kids that we both admit we wish we had one.

A very large part of the reason that I was interested and open to Ms. Chua’s very candid and intimate invitation into her home and parenting dynamics was that I has recently read Malcolm Gladwell’s wonderful book “Outliers: the Story of Success”.  One chapter in particular discussed Asians and math.  Along with discussing certain cultural advantages he felt were inherent in the language and number systems, he chiefly identified an attitude and ethic stemming from, of all things, the agricultural history of rice farming in Asian societies.

The understanding of success being equated to effort is very different in Chinese culture…“throughout history…the people who grow rice have always worker harder than almost any other kind of farmer.” Rice production is more intensive and grueling and requiring of skill than the history of Western farming and this cultural legacy has meaning.

Most of, if not all of my friends, approach things like talent at math or science to be innate in some way. It is still requiring of effort to be successful, but Gladwell argues we fundamentally believe that you’re either born good at something or not.  The Chinese believe that such success and achievement has everything to do with how much effort you are willing to put into mastering a subject in a way that we excuse ourselves from because we want to see skill to begin with before we deem the effort worthwhile.  This might be where the chief difference lies.

Gladwell argues with clarity that cultural legacies matter deeply and I think that in our need to apply the whitewash of equality as rapidly and as liberally as possible, we loose sight of this.  I’m not saying that it should be emulated. Ms. Chua is an extreme example, and she knows it. But I can see in myself that very Western belief that talent is a matter of birth and that perhaps if I were more ready to put in some of the kind of efforts at the kitchen table over homework achievement that she does that we would see better results.

I am sure that there are plenty of Chinese children for whom this style of parenting is less than efficient, and I’m still a fan of trying your best to parent to the temperament of the child, but why discount such an extreme and extremely candid view of this other culture of parenting? What I’m saying is that there was so much more to Amy Chua’s story of her family and it’s foolish to let the trumped up title claiming “superiority” get in the way of a really interesting and important cultural exchange.

In the meantime, I will take her honesty and extremity as fuel into the furnace of my own parenting, I will continue to question why I feel stressed about asking my children to do even the most basic chores, and I’ll stress about being able to give them more effort than I do while my father’s voice continues to ring in my head when I look at report cards that are less than straight A’s “Well, the world needs ditch diggers too.” I will worry, as I always have, that I am raising a house full of under-achieving little slack-asses, who will end up working for my Chinese girlfriends kids.

Perhaps that will be the new tagline for my blog from now on, “Raising Hopeless Slack-Asses Since 1999” Perhaps I will just think about challenging my ideas on what my children and I can achieve and try a little harder to do more.

More complete articles about Amy Chua’s book can be found at Slate here and PBS here and at Gawker here.

And a more measured rebuttal was rus in today’s WSJ



A Christmas Carol of My Very Own…


RbP - Ghosts of Christmas Past

I’m not sure I have something illustrative to say about the season this year, but I do hope to have produced something along those lines by the end of this post.  It was messy, like this post is going to be and I’ve been a bit stuck. But part of learning about the experience of this blog is that I’m going to have to post through these moments, when my thoughts are less than perfect and I can’t seem to get the salient points nailed down…Here’s my less than perfect post. It matches my less than perfect life ☺

The way the season went it turns out I didn’t have to read Dickens this year. I was visited by all the ghosts of Christmas anyway. So let’s hope that, like Scrooge, it will finally help put some things into perspective and release me to move forward.

CHRISTMAS PAST

This year was flavored with more memories of the past than usual, which didn’t thrill me. It felt entwined with spiritual reminders of my teenage Christmases, where I felt very much on the outside looking in, and as a result I just couldn’t seem to get into Christmas this time around. The financial terror at the beginning of the month seemed to just consume all my energy. Then having the older 3 kids gone for the week leading up to it was sort of the coup de grace. And as I drifted, without plan or energy, I was easy prey for a visit from the ghosts of the past, days where Christmas routinely felt like it belonged to everyone but me. For a very long while, light years from where I stand today, it was the loneliest time I ever knew. But for 11 years now, the warmth of all these little bodies and souls has driven those feelings far, far away for the most part. (do I really need to insert the kind of words of gratitude here that I feel? There aren’t enough.)

And so, it was no wonder that I felt removed from it all even while I tried to have Christmas for the little ones. I was only marginally successful I feel, but I don’t think they noticed it too much. Not enough anyway, that it can’t be recovered with a better effort next year.

With that as the goal, what’s the take away from all this? I’m still not living the life I envision for myself. Not really. I think the answer lies in what keeps me from completely inhabiting my own life? Who am I still trying to please and what choices and steps do I need to take so that by next year I am writing a post about how we found our own way through Christmas…and how much better it was.

CHRISTMAS PRESENT

Which brings us to…The ghost of Christmas Present. He came wearing a chauffeurs hat again, as this season found us once more driving the freeways of SoCal trying to make sure everyone was seen by everybody who needed to see them. 6 kids, 4 different houses, numerous relatives, 48 hours. Hard to believe the suicide rate jumps during the holidays, right? You know, if the parents and families of all my children decide to check in someday, I could find myself trying to negotiate 4 fathers, 2 mothers, and an absolutely endless number of other relatives. Hard to believe the suicide rate jumps during the holidays. Oh, wait…I mentioned that already.

I can see things could get even further out of hand and it is too much, for sure. But, to tell you the truth, I’m not really sure how I can possibly edit it. I wonder if the trick won’t be more about crafting the days leading up to the 24th so that we feel we have a greater ownership of our holidays. And then I wonder how many other people talk about having “ownership” of their holidays…is this common do you think?

We opened a “Box of Grandma” again this Christmas, and I found that with it, I opened a big box of resentment I didn’t realize I had been carrying around – ever since “The Phone Call”.   These boxes come at least twice a year and they are huge. I mean H-U-G-E.  As in, “How much guilt can you pack in a box?” and they come for one child. That sounds mean, I know, but so have all her phone calls to me – all 2 of them in the last year. It is certainly their prerogative to send their gifts to only one child, I see a lot of this and it is nails on a chalkboard to me. I admit that I bristle at any attempts to draw lines through my children, and although I will likely never be able to avoid the carving up of my family completely, don’t ever expect me to be ok with it. And so, by all means, you don’t have to concern yourself with my children, but if nothing else, she has a brother who is biologically hers . Not so much as a matchbox car for him. Wow. I mean, WoW. Oh, and also, if you could stop packing that stuff in those Styrofoam packing peanuts? Cause that shit gets all over my living room.

So never mind her brother, or that the other families who have been enmeshed in this through no fault of their own managed to include the other children, or that you are sending items to a child with hoarding instincts, resource hyper-vigilance and material goods issues, just keep serving your own feelings and making yourselves feel a bit better. I wish my guilt at the uncharitable feeling I have towards you could be bought off as easily…but hey, I haven’t tried yet, so perhaps they can! (kthxI’mdone – dusts hands)

But, to get away from all of that (and it’s best we try), this Christmas also brought an opportunity to give hope to someone else. The opportunity to tell the father of my youngest daughter that there is still every reason to believe that he can have a successful relationship with his daughter in the future, despite my move to adopt her. More will be revealed on that front in the future, I’m sure, but even if it never happens, I felt it was of great worth to be able to tell him that he could walk toward a future that would include her as long as it included healthy decisions. Santa likes it when you can reach out and give hope, so I’m trying to build on that moment in hopes that the “Box of Grandma” will get smaller, both physically and metaphorically.  And so, this brings us to…

CHRISTMAS FUTURE

Am I the only one who feels so out of control of their holiday season? Is that more the norm than the exception? I don’t know, but I don’t think I want to spend another holiday feeling like this. I keep coming back to the same word: SIMPLIFY. The fact that our finances dictated a leaner Christmas for us this year is something that I’m hoping to springboard off of in the future. I’ve long been feeling harassed by the uber-commercialism that has become Christmas, as have so many of our friends. I don’t feel that the kids are getting what I want for them out of the season and that we can do much better about discovering the true meaning of the Season.

1. SIMPLIFY

2. PLAN EARLIER

3. MAKE SURE TO PLAN ONE EVENT THAT’S JUST FOR ME AND THE KIDS

4. JUST SAY NO TO CRAZY

5. HAVE DIFFERENT EXPECTATIONS

So, come November 1st 2011, my job is to have a plan in place to make the holidays more organized, affordable and enjoyable…but mostly, to make it far more full of the kind of meaning I always wanted the kids to think about.

What do you think? If you have any ideas about things I’ve missed or that might help, throw them out there. I’d love to see them.

Cheers!



Après-ski or…Ménage à NO!


No More Family Vacations

Trip #3: Mammoth Lakes, Ca. 3 Adults, 3 Seven Year Olds, 1 Four Year Old, 1 Two Year Old

To get to Mammoth, we packed 8 people and their gear and supplies into a car designed, in theory, to hold 8 and their gear.  This is only a theory, I assure you. We left for our trip on Christmas night, right after opening gifts at the Golf Pro’s parents house.  It actually wasn’t that bad. They slept, we made a respectable distance and slept overnight before making the final leg.

I was more strung out than usual on this trip. We had recently come into the possession of my great-niece after she had been removed from her mother’s care due to drug and alcohol addiction issues. In reality, what we actually had come into possession of was a child who had deep emotional and behavioral issues due to Reactive Attachment Disorder, but at the time, we were about a year away from that diagnosis.  All we knew was that someone had lobbed a human grenade in our midst and chaos followed in it’s wake.

Also at play was the fact that the triplets’ father and I were entering into the early stages of a very different understanding of each other and how we were going to negotiate the future of shared custody. Time spent together was anything but comfortable…but again, didn’t I want my kids to have as whole and repaired a family as I could give them? Wouldn’t I go to the mat for that sense of security for them?

So  we made the trip and got settled into our cabin, and we waited for the good times to begin. And we waited. And actually, the first night was without incident. That is, if you count the 2 year old waking up 3 – 4 times and screaming absolute blue murder because the wiring in her head has shorted again as being without incident.  The next day saw ski rentals taken care of and snow gear purchased, the local market located.  I will remind you that all these tasks are being accomplished while herding 5 young children from place to place through the snow.

So, up to the ski run we took our crew and after dropping them off and setting a time to return for pick-up, the Golf Pro and I went over to the ski school. I had called when we arrived to ask about classes for kids with special needs and sensory issues.  Turns out they had a fabulous program for that.  Yay! The Kid was going to take a shot at skiing. We went over and signed the paperwork for the next day. This was going to work! At Last! I spent the rest of the day fighting for control of the wild horse that was my 2 year old, buying supplies and exploring the town.

That night, I lost a crown, fought through another scream-fest with my RAD kid and watched as the 4 year old projectile vomited in front of a horrified, yet oddly fascinated group of 7 – 12 year olds.  The curse had clearly not been broken. In fact, I think I may have tempted the gods with my burst of carefree optimism. We treated his fever through the night and did our mad dance with the 2 year old.

The next morning we located an emergency dentist, left the now sleeping 4 year old and 2 year old in the care of the triplets’ father and got my dental emergency taken care of by 9am. We went back in time to release the skiers and to find out that the cancellation policy for the ski school was 24 hours notice. We didn’t make it. They would have credited it to another lesson, but it was clear by now that this kids wasn’t recovering anytime before we left and using what energy he did recover on the slopes when we had a 6 hour drive at the end of our trip was going to be a bad idea. So the Golf Pro paid for the class and the 4 year old lay delirious on the couch.

What we learned from all this was that getting trapped in a small cabin with a child who has un-diagnosed RAD is a recipe for going postal.  Spending time with people you have nothing in common with eventually provides an intolerable amount of general discomfort for someone with my Spidey Senses and that if you put enough pressure on some mothers, they will accidentally teach their 4 year old to repeat the phrase, “Is this some kind of effing joke?”  Except they won’t say “effing”.

I got to go skiing with my kids on that trip for the first time. And despite the fact that I got lost on the other side of the mountain once, it was awesome-sauce.  I had an ipod, skills to match my kids and an entire Led Zeppelin playlist loaded up, starting with the Immigrants Song, a little nod to the skiing of my youth in Reno where one run had the name Immigrants Run. Turns out a couple of my kids are total dare-devils on skis and it was just the best. In fact, I shamelessly wrangled a second afternoon out of an unwilling Golf Pro. I just had to. When his turn came, it was miraculously timed with the leading edge of a white out storm and 30 mph wind gusts.  Sorry Golf Pro, but I admit, I’d do it again to be with my kids.

The return trip found me once again trapped by my shorter legs in the back seat with the kids, which by the second hour left me feeling like a badly abused lab rat.  It also included a 14 minute speed tour through the site of the Manzanar Japanese Internment camp. If my kids recall any of it, I’ll be shocked.

I did not go on the next trip. I’d had enough. In the face of being trapped again in a snowbound cabin with small, screaming, vomiting children I declared the shared parenting divide healed enough and left them to it. I hope they will forgive me for birthdays I’ve missed and memories I wish we shared. But in return, they get a higher degree of sanity and peace in their parent

The trips I have missed since that decision have included another jaunt to Mammoth. Reports came back from that trip of truth or dare sessions and guilty admissions of circle time where they improved each others vocabulary by sharing their lists of  swear words with one another and at least one of the boys jumped into an icy pool in response to a frontal challenge of his burgeoning manhood. Also missed was a trip to Utah that rendered their father almost horizontal for the majority of the trip with altitude sickness and left the kids burning up the phone lines to me so I could mediate their inadequate social skills and tell them that I wanted them to come home soon too. This year they are in Tahoe and I am getting regular phone reports, because my daughter is excellent and understands that I need them. The general outcome of the trip has yet to be reported.

I miss them so much every time…but then I remember all the past trips and I’m distracted by the nervous tic that’s just starting up around my left eye. Perhaps another year down the road,  I’ll allow my optimism to overcome me once more.



Failure to Dock With the Mothership…


RAD Mantra...

I think it is no secret that I have been stressed of late.  If we know each other on Facebook, then it is really no secret, since I made my Facebook timeline submit to forcible support the other day while I crawled through a series of pride-swallowing phone calls and other things that must be done when the safety-net suddenly gets cut out from underneath you. Sometimes, that’s the only way to keep your balance…by sharing and hoping someone out there will throw you a rope.  Someone did…and by making a series of positive statements I was able to affirm for myself that I was indeed making it across the rickety bridge.  There are a few more to be crossed, but I think I can lead the children through it, even though they don’t know they’re being led.  Leadership always involves more knowledge than you can share.

But, in the midst of it all, the thing I forgot to factor in was my 5 year old, my daughter, the one with Reactive Attachment Disorder. The one that cannot be parented in the normal way. Traumatized children cannot be parented in the same way as the ones without trauma. In fairness to me, it’s not always easy to constantly straddle and attune simultaneously to the world they exist in and the one that the five other children live in.  Sometimes, when they seem to be doing ok, you can lose focus on the fact that their attachment to you isn’t like that of the other children and the next thing you know, you’ve fallen out of your ‘Therapeutic Parenting’ role. You slipped and just let you be you…and that’s always when they hand you the bill.

Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) comes in two general flavors: Inhibited and Disinhibited.  Those are the starting points. From there, they can zig-zag all over the list symptoms and ways this disorder presents itself.  But generally speaking, they will start in one camp or the other.  Our daughter is in the ‘Disinhibited’ camp.  She comes to the world like Alexander, where everything is Be Conquered or Go Home. Whatever the type they happen to be however, the battle (and it will be a battle, make no mistake) is to successfully affix a normal attachment between them and one caregiver. After that has been achieved, if it is, then from there they will hopefully have a blueprint to successfully model all future attachments.

We have made progress over the past 3 years, but never as much as I’d like to believe. I have had to learn how to become that “Therapeutic Parent” that she needs, and I am still very much learning. In the normal course of things, when we come to parent our kids, we rarely come to it so clinically. But for RAD kids, they will be saved no other way.  One person has to be willing to go and stand in the storm with them and lead them out. And that storm around them and within them is a howling of the gods.

In an ideal world, that one person has a very good support system, because it’s a relentless job. Most of the time that child is focused on you like a laser,  24/7. They are inexhaustible in their energies and strategies, because they remain in a constant, vigilant state of hyper-alertness. For them, they are engaged in a battle for nothing less than their very survival. This has been hardwired into the brain trauma they have experienced at the most crucial developmental stages of their early childhood.  At times you can well end up feeling as if you have attachment disorder yourself.  And all this effort can be frustratingly empty at times, when they will, with a gesture or a word, show you once more that you are still discardable.

So, yes, I’ve been stressed this week. Terribly stressed. Terrified and feeling without safety. And in the midst of it, my daughter lost her way again because my focus wandered in the moment.  And these kids, RAD kids, are so hyper-aware of your state, and reactive to it that sometimes all it takes is one asteroid strike on the mothership, and like a badly wired escape pod, they will pull the emergency cord and  just detach, floating free into space again, determined that they can survive without you. They have no idea that they are wrong.

And in that moment, all you want to say is…eff it. Because no matter what else you’re trying to do, all crises management has to stop and you have to go after that detached escape pod. You have to put everything and everyone else aside and bring them back into the docking procedure.

I can relate a recent moment that might illustrate the reality. My 5 year old daughter, the child who has been with me, with the exception of a few short months, for over 3 years as a part of our family. She has called me Mom from almost the beginning, zeroed in on my stress, which reads to her as instability of her environment, and said “Mom, you really only have 4 children, cause we’re only living with you for a little while.” That’s a survival statement that says she’s ready to go if things get dicey. Notice that it doesn’t occur to her that staying with her family or her adults is the safest place to be.

Hearing that statement you have to struggle with the knowledge that the most intense efforts of your life as a parent have achieved such incrementally small successes at times. And you have to lock down the feelings of unfairness that you aren’t even allowed to be stressed, even when it is so justified. And you have to pull out the much worn script of the Therapeutic Parent and begin it all again.  For the RAD kid, you have to be “On” 24/7 . There are no carefree moments, no moments of casual parenting. Everything you do can seem weighted down with the most impossibly heavy layers of context.

And then, you do it anyway. Because it’s your child. Because you cannot afford to lose even one pod. Because despite your exhaustion you will never quit on any of your children. Because they are lost, alone out there in the void and failure is not an option. No one gets left behind.

Attachment Disorder – as it appears in our house:

Control issues. Most children with reactive attachment disorder go to great lengths to prevent feelings of helpless and remain in control. They can often be confrontational, disobedient, defiant, argumentative and manipulative

Anger problems. Anger may be expressed directly, in tantrums or acting out, or through manipulative, passive-aggressive behavior. Children with reactive attachment disorder may hide their anger in socially acceptable actions, like giving a high five that hurts or hugging someone too hard.

Difficulty showing genuine care and affection. Easily replacing caregivers, showing no marked preference for a primary caregiver.

An underdeveloped conscience. Lack of empathy. Children with reactive attachment disorder may act like they don’t have a conscience and fail to show guilt, regret, or remorse after behaving badly.

Also included are hypervigilence, sleep disorders, food issues, poor response to discipline and consequences, physical contact issues, hyperactivity and a desire to be constantly stimulated, difficulty learning cause/effect, poor planning & problem solving, pervasive shame, poor communication strategies and failure to produce interactions that facilitate demonstrate mutual enjoyment, appearing to be on guard or wary, engaging in self-soothing behavior lack of eye contact, rage, aggression, lying, stealing, hoarding food, an apparent lack of a conscience, nonstop chatter, a desire to wield control, and a desire to create chaos among others.



A Prayer…


A little prayer I found today:

“Let me change what I can.

Let me accept that which I cannot change.

Let me ignore that which I cannot change or accept.

Let me run away from that which I cannot change, accept, or ignore.

Let me lock myself in the bathroom, hold my hands over my ears, and hum about that which I cannot change, accept, ignore, or run away from.”

Amen.

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Image for a prayer



This Year, We’re Going With Festivus!


I was wondering what my topic would be for today, then I came across this post by Erica Ehm at the YummyMummyClub about her trip to Africa and the effect it had on Christmas. (I have to admit that I struggle with the name of this blog…it seems fraudulent of me to hang out literarily with other Moms who consider themselves “Yummy”. You could check into my post about the hat, wherein I explain that this is not a “Yummy” year for me).

That aside, I decided to write this post.  Then I had to decide to post it. Then I had to actually post it…it wasn’t easy. But it seems that if this blog has any value then it has to be authentic.  There will be some things I won’t write about…but I needed to post this because it’s honest and I don’t think I should be ashamed by the admission that money is tight, even though I am just a bit.

So, this year, we’re going to have what I like to think of as the “Broke-Ass Christmas”.  I am learning how to say “Broke-Ass Christmas” in Spanish…and French, just because one should never ignore a chance to learn, even in times of stress, Besides, I have long regretted not speaking a second language.  I’ve always thought of it as kind of rude not to speak Spanish since I live here in SoCal. But anyway, there it is. Our tree will be a little bit bare underneath this year. I’m not a huge fan of having this decision forced upon us, but having my kids know that there isn’t actually a money tree doesn’t hurt them either. They have had many marvelous Christmas mornings before this and will I’m sure have more to follow.

This is not to say that my kids will do without. Far from it, if they didn’t have enough already, and they do, they will receive gifts from at least 3 separate households. It’s just that ours will not be one of them.  But I don’t think that this will irreparably harm them.  I’m kind of hoping it will be the beginning of a new trend toward less materialistic Christmases in the future, because I’ve long been annoyed by the pressure to find gifts that no one really needs.  In this day and age in society, goods are quickly and relatively inexpensively produced and just as quickly replaced. Also, I am bad at giving and receiving gifts and I’d like to be excused.

Mostly, I don’t want to spend hours, days and weeks stressing and searching out presents for other adults that don’t need them in the first place. And really, you have my permission to skip me as well.  I have now sufficiently matured enough to tell you I don’t need anywhere near as much in the way of things as I think I do.  With the possible exception of maybe a house or the gift of having my current dental crises handled, at this age, the things I value most are the kind that generally can’t be put under a tree.  Things like more time, less fear, a deeper sense of peace.

I’d like to have more energy. I’d like to spend more evenings with really good people who have something to say.  I could go for more laughter and kindness. Actually, I’d like to stay in my pajamas for a week and just be generally irresponsible in a way that I haven’t been since before I had kids.  But just for a week, because I don’t know if I could handle any longer than that.

But the thing is, I just don’t know how to break the people around me of the habit.  They would feel terribly, terribly guilty if they didn’t get me something.  For me, much of the pressure comes from the Golf Pro’s family.  They would feel terrible to know this I’m sure, as that isn’t their intention. But you see, they have this elaborate present ritual where we all sit around in a circle and then the presents are given out individually, one at a time. They are not opened until everyone’s attention is centered on the individual with the present and the givers name announced. The present is opened and there is much ooohing and aaahing and admiring. There is a Vanna White moment of display and demonstration and only then do we move on to the next present.  This is all for the adults mind you.  I think it happens because the 2nd generation of children was very late in coming and so they have continued with the familiar traditions of their house when it had children in it rather than being able to incorporate fresh traditions. But perhaps this is a very common way to do it, I wouldn’t know.

In the midst of all this, picture being the ones who are conspicuous by not having gifts to offer up into the display rotation. And yet, they don’t seem to need anything much.  So what do you give that is not embarrassing somehow?  In over 10 years I have never been able to crack this problem.  And it seems like a struggle to me, but at the same time, you have to admire the strength and commitment of their family traditions…it’s just that it feels like theirs, not ours. But that may be on me, it’s hard to say. They are nice people and I don’t want to imply otherwise.  I just never can get comfortable with the formality of it all (says she with her terribly limited Christmas tradition experience).

I think I’d still like to have a less material take on Christmas (thanks this Christmas for lending a hand with that!).  And I think I’m not doing it right, but that’s a problem for next year.  This year, I’m pretty exhausted, and I’m running late putting the tree up and all. And the older three will be gone away for a week on their annual ski trip with their father, which I am doing my level best to pretend isn’t happening.  So I’m looking at a low maintenance Christmas all around…

I wonder if I could get away with giving them all a George Costanza type Christmas gift –

“A Donation Has Been Made in Your Name to the Human Fund.”

Happy Festivus.



T.G.I.F? More Like F.U.I.F…on Shared Custody.


That’s right. You read it correctly. Friday, that godsend to the rest of the working world, is my least favorite day of the week. For a long time now.

For starters, it’s traditionally the day of the week when the Golf Pro opens and as a result, he’s long gone by the time the alarm sounds to call us to the morning get ready for school routine. So that means it’s me vs. 6 kids with two school drop-offs to make. It used to be three different schools. And it used to be Hell on earth, but I have to admit, this year it got slightly easier now that we have one less school, the baby can get himself to car with everybody else and the 10 year old’s are better able to assist in the routine. But still, I have no doubt that Friday mornings have shortened my life. If I ever succumb to the family history of aneurysms, mine will have Fridays written on it.

The mornings always start the same, with me hitting the snooze button as many times as I can get away with. And in between five minute intervals, I try and rate myself on a scale of 1 to “irresponsible as hell” how bad it would be to just call everyone in sick that day.  I eventually realize I cannot do that and lurch out of bed (read – Not A Morning Person).  I wake up the 5 school-goers, gently at first, then with threats of violence and tearful pleas for help. When this behavior fails,  I bust out the trump card – I tell them they will walk if they don’t get up and help me. That always works.

The next part of the negotiation is where I stumble to the kitchen and mentally start counting up how much money is in my wallet so I can get out of the monotony of making lunches. At some point in time, while I am making my coffee and still yelling threats of missing the ride up the stairs, I will have talked myself into actually caving in and will have sent my childish, petulant, non-lunch-making self to another room in my head.

The third phase of the negotiations begins during the lunch making, breakfast, serving, traffic-directing time. This is the one where I start figuring whether I’ll be late to just one school or both.  It’s usually around this time, I usually see a glimmer of hope and realize that we are doing better than I think we are and I kick into gear…and mostly, everyone gets breakfast, to school and has a lunch or snack in their backpack. On time. Every Friday. I don’t know why I have to play this psychological game with myself, but I do. Mentally, it’s like some sort of Friday morning airbag deployment.

But all the above isn’t the real reason I hate Fridays ( although I think it’s enough of a reason).  On Fridays, my oldest children go to their fathers house for the weekend. And I hate it.  I will never, ever be used to the fact that my children have another home where they live without me. I will never be happy about the disruption to our family routine or the pressure I feel not to argue with them and end our week on a bad note right before they leave. Or the dreaded “re-entry” period when they change houses, routines and general expectations. But on the whole, they have always handled it fine, because that is what I worked so hard for. For them to feel that all this is exactly the way it is supposed to happen. And they do.

When this arrangement all started, I would breath deeply, smile and deliberately open my hands to release them with exhortations to go and have a wonderful time with their Father. At the time we were engaged in deep hostilities. The kind that involve lawyers and mediators while we negotiated what I call “The Un-Divorce”.  It was one of the lowest points of my life.

Every Friday, without fail, I would suck it up and send them away from me to the place that had been our home. Now it was only theirs and I was not welcome in it at the time.  I never once made them carry my burden of how would I live without them for even 2 days, when they had been every minute of my whole life up to that moment. I made no panicky demands that they call and I placed no such calls myself. I gave them no burdens to carry with them and behaved as if it was all perfectly normal. And to his great credit, so did their father, even though we were not on speaking terms at the time. That they never experienced any of the conflict the adults were experiencing is something I count as one of the most right things I have done.

And then, once they left, I would lay down on the couch with total numbing grief and mute from the pain of having my entire impetus ripped away from me. I would not get up again until they returned and the earth would right itself on it’s axis and begin revolving once more.  They had been the sole focus of my every minute for 3 years. Years riddled with health crises and emergencies that required a watchful eye and hyper-vigilant focus, as well as a total mental record of their rather complicated medical histories. How would I trust anyone else to guard them? When they left, they took my reason for living with them.

In those days, only one thing kept me from sliding completely into the darkness that threatened. If it hadn’t been for the Kid, who, at just 2 years old, still had those pesky needs to be fed and changed and kept from choking on things, I don’t know if I could have coped.  He kept me going until the others returned. He has always been my miracle, and on the weekends, even though we all still miss the older kids and our family is incomplete, we all still get by with each other.

Things got better between their father and I over a period of time. Being able to put their needs above everything else made that possible for both of us, although it’s still a journey. And I catch a break because of the sports.  I go to every game to see them and in that way they are not gone quite so much. But I still don’t like this day of the week any better than I ever did . So from me to you Peggy Sue…Fridays, you can Suck It.



The Jacket


Gifts and their meanings when we adopt

I love this jacket. It so suits the girly-girl who is wearing it. But I didn’t buy it for her. It came with several other absolutely lovely dresses as part of a birthday present. It was sent to her by a woman who doesn’t like me. It was sent to her by her grandmother on her father’s side.

It’s possible to count on both hands the number of times we’ve had any interaction since all this started 3 years ago. It’s also possible to count on both hands the number of times those interactions have gone badly, most often due to outside circumstances it seems to me. But to her…well, she seems to blame me.

I have twice been shocked by phone calls that have seemed extraordinarily hostile to me. She has no recollection of the first one. I expect she’ll never forget the second one.

When I looked at my daughter wearing this jacket over the weekend, the best thing I can say is that I am still processing all the feelings from the last time we talked. I am trying to operate on good faith that things can look very different in a year.  I don’t know if this will, but it can. And it might be something that will matter to my youngest daughter one day.

I can tell you that the phone call was full of accusations and a blinding hostility. It was full of emotional response and betrayal. No investigation of the facts. Just emotional reactions and snap decisions. And victimization. What it wasn’t full of were any questions about why I suddenly felt that adoption was what was in her best interest. That was the simple question that was  never asked.

It’s a beautiful jacket.