Five Things Your Adopted Children Would Like to Tell You Part 1

Hi, thanks for joining me for the Series “Five Things Your Adopted Children Would Like to Tell You”. If you missed the introduction, you can find it here. Last month, our focus was PLAY and ways to play or use home therapy for free. We’ll have more posts on that in the future, but the theme for the month of June is “Adoption.”

My mother had a pressure cooker. Remember those? Not the new fancy ones. The old ones that had the small metal cylinder on the top that wobbled and whistled like it was going to blow to kingdom come. My mother had a love-hate relationship with the pressure cooker and often blew before it did. Any child who was in the living room and wandered into the kitchen right before Mr. Pressure Cooker blew his top, got a firm yell from Mom, “Get out of the kitchen! The pressure cooker is on!” as if we kids could read the signs of Mr. Pressure Cooker from another room.

stock-vector-sleek-pressure-cooker-and-tomatoes-92591596Our adopted kids are like a pressure cooker. If we learn to see the precursor to a meltdown, we can help them develop strategies to avoid one! The problem is, many of these kids who were adopted as older children (not at birth) have no self-regulation powers. These hurt children want to be in control, trouble is, they feel out of control. All the time and they don’t know how to tell us parents. What they wish they could say is:

  1. I am in sensory overload. I’m overwhelmed and I am about to blow a gasket.

We parents must first become detectives. We cannot stay in the living room playing a game while the pressure cooker is on in the kitchen, so to speak. We must be present with our kids, watching for signs and symptoms of the meltdown. We have all seen those kids who lose it at the bookstore or the coffee shop or the grocery store. Truth is there were some signs before the meltdown (not that these tantrums can always be avoided). Maybe the kid was too hungry, too tired, too overwhelmed by all the errand running or the strangers pinching their rosy cheeks or engaging them in conversation.

Older kids can say things like, “I want to go home!  When are we going to eat? I’m hungry! How many more errands do we have?”

Hurt children struggle with verbalizing their feelings.

They have other tells (this is just a short list):

  • Clinched fists.
  • Elevated heart rate.
  • Stands in close proximity to mom or dad.
  • Sways back and forth with hands clasped in front of chest.
  • Stands ramrod straight and stands in back of the group.
  • Insists on being carried and clings to mom with a death grip while other children play.

Watch for your child’s tells and keep track of them mentally or on paper. Does your child freak out when you change the schedule at the last-minute? Even if the change benefits him? Such as going out for ice cream? Or going on a picnic or to a movie? Make a note of it. Does your child remember any info from an interesting field trip? If he doesn’t, he was probably hypervigilant the whole trip and could not learn/enjoy the trip. Does your child hate leaving home? Does he rule the roost at home, but is quiet and seemingly, mild-mannered out in public? Public may scare the life out of him and thus present a false front. People may refer to your child as “quiet and mature”. All the while you are thinking, if you only saw him at home!

After getting a handle on what your child’s tells are,  educate your child to recognizing them.

Don’t they know?  No, probably not. I know that getting into an elevator is going to raise my heart rate and make me feel a bit panicky most days. My son has the same reaction, but he doesn’t recognize it. He steps on the elevator clueless to what his body is going to do once the doors close. I watch him. His hands clench. His muscles tighten. His breath shortens. All the while, I may do the same, but I KNOW. I recognize my dislike of tight quarters. He doesn’t.

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How do we teach kids to be aware of their sensory overload and potential gasket blow? Talk about it. Help the child recognize his racing heart, clenched fists or shortened breath. Then teach them some strategies to relieve the stress. The Tangle. Deep breathing. Chewing gum. Stepping out of the crowd and getting some air.

images (1) wheat fieldPractice the trip before you take it.

When on a field trip to an art museum, help him hyper focus on the art in a museum instead of thinking, I’m in a strange big city, I cannot get out, there are lots of people here I don’t know. Lean in towards him and the painting. Talk about it. Find the horizon line. Talk about the shape. The imperfect symmetry. Practice with them. Before an outing, talk about it. Show them a map to where you are going. Talk about how many tunnels you will go through. Let them know (if possible) how long you will be there. Make sure the child has food and water and remind him to eat and drink something every two hours. If you are doing something new, explain it in as simple terms as you can. Stay engaged with them. When they begin learning the skill of self-regulation, you can back off little by little and watch them pick up their own body’s signals.

What are your child’s tell? What sort of strategies have helped your child self-regulate?

Grieving the Loss of Your Mother on Mother’s Day

I dream about my mother at this time of year. I awake drenched in sweat and remember, she’s gone. She’s not here. I can’t pick up the phone and call her. I can’t buy her a gift for Mother’s Day. I cry at the stupidest little thing. A commercial. A post on Facebook of a tea party for a mom. A picture of fresh-cut flowers.

In the dreams I have of her, I never seem to say anything meaningful or profound to my mother. She is just there, like she used to be, rushing around in the kitchen in her pink and blue plaid robe over her flannel pjs. She’s working over a skillet on the stove or a stainless steel pot or that scary pressure cooker.

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My mother didn’t die a few weeks, months, or years ago. It has been a few decades and still the wound seems to gape open on holidays and especially on Mother’s Day. I awake to it taunting me. I see others celebrating their mothers and I’m jealous. I hear others complaining about their mothers and I want to whack them on the back of the head with a rolled up newspaper and say, “Be thankful! Stop your whining! Celebrate your Mother while you still have her!” That wouldn’t make my pain any less potent. It wouldn’t make my mama come back, so I don’t.

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Grieving the loss of a Mother is like having a learning disability. I am learning to live without a Mom and every once and awhile I have a slew of great days and I think, “I’m recovering!  I’ve got this grieving thing down!” I’ve run through the stages of grief like running a gauntlet. I am whipped, bruised, scarred, but I have made it through again and again. I’m learning.

Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance.

“It’s frustrating to be in the midst of learning. It is like sitting in algebra class, listening to a teacher explain a subject beyond our comprehension. We do not understand, but the teacher takes the understanding for granted.

It may feel like someone is torturing us with messages that we shall never understand. We strain and strain. We become angry. Frustrated. Confused. Finally, in despair, we turn away, deciding that formula will never be available to our mind.”- Melody Beattie

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Sometimes I feel as if I will never be finished grieving the loss of my mama. It won’t work for me. I will keep cycling through, keep picking up the phone to call her, keep dreaming about her  I have good days and then I get catapulted back to the beginning of the process. Scars open to expose old wounds, festering, seething with loss.

And then I think of my adopted children. They had a mother before me. They had a loss different, yet similar to my own. They had an Eden. A beginning with someone who birthed them. She didn’t die and leave them like my mama did. She abandoned them. Rejected them. I hear adoptive parents try to sugar coat this and say things like: She couldn’t take care of you. She was too young. Addicted. Whatever.

I know I am guilty of this. The truth is you can’t fool a child. The grief and loss are as real for them as it is for us. And at this time of the year, when mothers are being celebrated, they may be confused, especially if they were older when they were adopted. They may be wrestling with grief and it often masquerades as anger. The children may not want to buy new mom a card or celebrate. They may be missing something that never was. They may have a picture in their mind of a perfect mother from their past. It is an illusion. We didn’t adopt these kids in a perfect scenario. We adopted them in the midst of trauma. They will run the gauntlet of grief just as we do. The wounds will re-open, fresh or old, and be festering, infectious.

After Mom’s death, I began life as a new kind of orphan. A motherless adult. At first, I had a strange sense of surreal detachment, watching my life play out, walking through the normal activities of the day. I also felt a profound sense of peace- a peace that surpassed all understanding. Then, I moved into a period of anger. I couldn’t fathom while people still grocery shopped, went to work, bought new clothes. My mommy had died!

Gradually, my outlook changed. The pain of the loss remained, but God changed my perspective. There is a point when death makes way for new life. It is when we accept the death of a loved one that the platform of love and remembrance can be constructed. The legacy of that beloved person births a new life: A ministry, and organization to help others, a continuation of the work, an act of compassion and empathy.

“While other worldviews lead us to sit in the midst of life’s joys, foreseeing the coming sorrows, Christianity empowers its people to sit in the midst of this world’s sorrows, tasting the coming Joy.”- Timothy Keller, Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering

My adopted kids had a magic carpet ripped out from under them, too. Their beginnings may have not been ideal, but it was their beginning. Their mother, their grandfather. The abnormal life of neglect was normal to them because it was the only life they ever knew. When that was taken from them, it was death. I understood death. All those years ago, in a courtroom, they stood a the threshold of a new life.

New life is birthed out of death. A seed must die before it bursts forth with new life. Life begins in a dark place. Deep within the soil. So, if you or your child are grieving right now, don’t despair. Grieve, but don’t despair. There is a coming JOY. There are moments of if. Remembering the good times. Enjoying the good days. Accepting a homemade card from a child who is beginning to warm up to the idea of a new mom. Looking through old photos of your mama with flour on her apron and fresh-baked cookies on the counters. Be patient with yourself and your child. Allow yourself time to grieve. Allow your child to grieve. Grief is a job that must be done!

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“We are promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not in imagination.”-C.S. Lewis, A Grief Oberved

My Christmas Carol Nightmare

*This is a re-post. Background notes: Bud- my stepfather who died in 2000.  Audrey-daughter and mother of twins. Celeste and Heston-friends of the family.

To sleep perchance to dream…- Shakespeare

Bud was dead: to begin with. This is how my own Christmas Carol began, just like Dickens’ Marley, Bud was here again, haunting me with his presence, his love, forgiveness, patience, with a warning of Christmas past.
Mom was here, too. Smiling. Loving. Encouraging.
What had they come to tell me in the middle of the night?

 

“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” -Marley, Charles Dickens

Was that the message I needed to hear?

Funerals….

Bud and Mom die again.
Grief.
Intensity real.

What? Why do you torture me so?

Driving down the road. Heston and Celeste in front of us, beside us, singing. Sam or Theo in a car seat beside Sophie. Where is Audrey?

Dead.

I awoke, my heart ripping,shredding with anguish, my body heavy with weariness, my mind racing, frantic, praying for Audrey, protection, health, long life to raise her boys, the words pour out of me in a torrent….

What is the message?

 

 

“You are about to show me shadows of the things that have not happened, but will happen in the time before us,” Scrooge pursued. “Is that so, Spirit?” -Charles Dickens

Do not let that be the message of the dream!

Holy Spirit speaks, whispers quietly.

This is how adopted children when they lose their birth parents whether abused, abandoned, neglected, beaten, bruised…

Such anguish, fear, emptiness…

 

Is that how you felt, Jesus, when the Father turned His face from you?

…Eli, Eli, lama sbachthani?- that is My God, My God, why have you abandoned Me?..-Matthew 27:46

Is that how you felt when your Father sent you to earth an an infant to feel what I feel: cold, injustice, rejection, abandonment, poverty?

Good news! You came to heal the broken hearted, to bind up their wounds, to set the captives free, for all of those rejected and abandoned by someone, YOU came to receive us as YOUR OWN.

The true Christmas Carol.

Thank you for the hope of healing for all those who are broken-hearted who abide in my home and in my heart. May I never forget the anguish I felt on that night.

 

My Christmas Carol Nightmare

To sleep perchance to dream…- Shakespeare

Bud was dead: to begin with. This is how my own Christmas Carol began, just like Dickens’ Marley, Bud was here again, haunting me with his presence, his love, forgiveness, patience, with a warning of Christmas past.
Mom was here, too. Smiling. Loving. Encouraging.
What had they come to tell me in the middle of the night?

“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” -Marley, The Christmas Carol

Was that the message I needed to hear?

Funerals….

Bud and Mom died again.
Grief.
Intensity real.

What? Why do you torture me so?

Driving down the road. Heston and Celeste in front of us, beside us, singing. Sam or Theo in a car seat beside Sophie. Where is Audrey?

Dead.

I awoke, my heart ripping,shredding with anguish, my body heavy with weariness, my mind racing, frantic, praying for Audrey, protection, health, long life to raise her boys, the words pour out of me in a torrent….

What is the message?

“You are about to show me shadows of the things that have not happened, but will happen in the time before us,” Scrooge pursued. “Is that so, Spirit?” -The Christmas Carol

Do not let that be the message of the dream!

Holy Spirit speaks, whispers quietly.

This is how adopted children when they lose their birth parents whether abused, abandoned, neglected, beaten, bruised…

Such anguish, fear, emptiness…

Is that how you felt, Jesus, when the Father turned His face from you?

…Eli, Eli, lama sbachthani?- that is My God, My God, why have you abandoned Me?..-Matthew 27:46

Is that how you felt when your Father sent you to earth an an infant to feel what I feel: cold, injustice, rejection, abandonment, poverty?

Good news! You came to heal the broken hearted, to bind up their wounds, to set the captives free, for all of those rejected and abandoned by someone, YOU came to receive us as YOUR OWN.

The true Christmas Carol.

Thank you for the hope of healing for all those who are broken hearted who abide in my home and in my heart. May I never forget the anguish I felt on that night.