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.



I am Melvin Udall…


I have been changing diapers now for going on 11 years. That is about 7 years longer than I had originally planned. I have a chance to end that finally. The Baby is 2+ and clearly showing all the signs that he is ready. I actually think he has taken himself potty a couple of times, so, yeah, um ready. But it hasn’t happened yet. He’s ready. The problem lies with me.

To preface my situation, I have been covered in horror that doesn’t deserve details…but I’m going to give some of them anyway because I’m that kind of person. My firstborn son wasn’t home  2 hours when he peed on me. And when I say on…I mean in my mouth, which was baby-talking my love for him at the time.  In moments like that you will thank God for your natural instincts taking over and making you jerk out of the line of fire, because the thinking park of your brain is too busy trying to take in what it happening to it…”Wait. Is he…? No way is this actually happening. NO WAY!”

At least one of them has thrown up in my mouth when I was laying on the floor and giving him flying time. (Really, I have been thrown up on more times than bears thinking about). I have an unspeakable story about one son learning to remove his own diaper. There was the infamous stomach flu of ’01 that swept through the triplets, and oh dear God, did it sweep through them. There was an event during a diaper change that I still need therapy for, and countless times that I have just stepped fully clothed in the shower with a recently exploded child. There was the child who was obsessed with playing in the toilet at a time when his 5 year old siblings routinely left the door to the bathroom open and often didn’t flush. And then there was the trauma of potty training the special needs child that scarred us both due to the weird fears and anxieties of said child when it came to his own bodily functions. I have thrown out virtually brand new clothes because of coordination and product failures.

And spectacularly, there was the time that a sleepy 4 year old child sat straddling my lap at CPK, roused briefly and then hurled repeatedly down the front of my shirt. In a moment of panicked action, I grabbed both sides of the sweat jacket I was wearing and pulled them closed like curtains coming across the stage on the performance from hell.  In a state of shock, I quietly flagged the waitress, rallied the remaining 3 troops and managed to get out of there in under 3 minutes with the meal paid, food boxed up and a mom’s eternal gratitude to the waitress who put my untouched glass of merlot in a go-cup.

With the exception of the waitress, no one around us ever knew what had happened. I had manged to contain the whole event and I considered that a huge win on my part. The Golf Pro was baffled beyond words that I would take that bullet. A win for him would have been not getting thrown up on and the restaurant and diners be damned, but the differences between men and women is another 10,000 posts worth.

Those are by no means a complete list of all the skin-crawling events that I have been subjected to by 6 children and I can’t tell you how many times I have been psychologically saved by the words of a nurse who assured me that “urine is sterile.”  The point is that you’d think I’d be tough as nails when it comes to such events by now. Completely immune to the kind of germ warfare that my children have launched at me. Able to compete with Mike Rowe for the host gig on Dirty Jobs.

But that’s not how it’s worked out. Instead, I have become steadily more and more paranoid about my environment. I fear to touch surfaces (this can include the surfaces of my children) and shudder at even the thought of brushing up against something in the bathroom.  I have become Howard Hughes. And not good-looking, rich, adventurous Howard Hughes. I mean the twitchy, obsessive, surgical glove wearing Howard Hughes.  I could kiss the ring of the person who invented Purel…you know, as long as that ring had just been cleaned in Purel of course.

I cannot bring myself to hang out in bathrooms anymore. Any bathroom, anywhere. Deep down in my own secret psychosis, they all make me think of grossly neglected, back water gas station bathrooms.  Even my own bathroom gives me Charlie Brown head spins if I think about it too long.  And forget about the kids bathroom (recall that I am the mother of sons). You could hose that room down with bleach and pine sol twice a day and I still don’t think I could do it.

I don’t know when this happened to me, but it cannot be denied anymore.  I wonder what’s next? Do I end up like the Jack Nicholson character from “As Good As it Gets,” using a fresh bar of soap every time I wash my hands under scalding hot water?  I fear the day could come.  In the meantime, the child remains in diapers and I bathe in hand sanitizer and have begun changing all my stationary monograms to H.H.



Why I Love the Game…


Baseball.  I love baseball. I could easily have the Ken Burns documentary on the subject as the soundtrack to my life for long periods.  I don’t watch a lot of it on TV necessarily (I don’t watch a lot of anything, which is how I KNOW I have lots of young children),  but I love the experience of baseball.  It’s spring. It’s childhood. It’s Bull Durham. It’s Field of Dreams and a League of Their Own. Mostly, it’s my father and the last time I remember my own childhood feeling safe and without crises.

Baseball has carried on for me a lost history as I watch my oldest son use the old little league mitt my brother used. Now he too is wrapped up in all my memories of my father, who loved baseball and basketball like it was air and painstakingly showing my brother how to break that mitt in, which was an exotic mystery to me involving mink oil and a ball being rubberbanded into it and then being placed under his mattress.  They are both long gone from me now, but my oldest son’s use of this mitt carries them onward through the history of the game.

Having children has brought me all new things to love about baseball.  Like T-Ball, which is a chaotic and hilarious game played by tiny athletes who demonstrate a cartoonish skill and are  ushered around the field by men who demonstrate the extreme patience of people who could herd cats. But mostly, it has brought me Coaches.

The Coaches rock my world.  They have been a boon to me and my children in ways I could not have predicted.  They have stood in for me when I needed the boys to have a man. Lectured them on homework and responsibility, taught them sportsmanship and how to stick with something that needed work, how to take take correction and think on their feet. They have taught them lessons from the Guy Handbook and how to be part team. And I have enjoyed watching every second of it.

When my first sons were born, there were many things that I knew they would need that I wasn’t sure I could find ways to provide.  I didn’t know when they were babies that these men would be my avenue to exposing them to the kind of character I wanted for them. Now, I get to watch these men being men in the best way possible. Being engaged leaders and mentors. They willingly spend their time instructing, teaching, encouraging and being role models in the most fundamental sense of those words.  And by doing so, they hand down the secrets of the Guy Rule Book.  These are men who understand at the heart of it all that children don’t just grow up by accidentally and they respond to this understanding with active intention. They are leaders by nature, positive and proactive, and my boys learn from this that being a man is about engagement.

I have seen this spirit of mentoring be absorbed down into my boys as they begin to take the first steps into the knowledge of themselves as young men. I hear them emulate the words and phrases of encouragement that they were given towards the younger boys in their home and this has been particularly valuable to me since our boys live across 2 separate families. It has built bridges across one of the most painful and hated divides that exists in our home. The one that echos with the phrase “half-brother”. They have watched their coaches put their younger, special needs brother into the rotation at the practices and their team mates root for him to do well, and this year they have had the chance to attend his games and give back.  To cheer for him in return, as he has done for them over these past few years.  And all this had shown them better how to be the kind of young men and older brothers they will need to be during their lives together.

So, on this journey, I am Moses – destined to chart the course, but never to see the promised land of manhood. And that’s why God made Coaches Virginia…

I see great things in baseball…It’s our game–the American game… It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us….”
~ Walt Whitman (as quoted in Bull Durham)