Thursday, June 19, 2014

Jon & Kate Plus 8

It's a stormy, rainy day here.  No pooling for me this afternoon so I've been curled up with my puppy and relaxing.  I turned on the TV to find a marathon of Jon & Kate Plus 8.  I have been glued to it.

It brings back such memories for me.  When Little Turtle moved in at the age of 6 (almost 7) it was tricky at first to find things on TV that were okay to watch.  My crime shows had to go for obvious reasons.  Take anything with sex scenes off the list.  And the drama of most reality TV shows?  Umm, no.  There were cartoons, of course, but I could only take so much of that over-stimulating crap, and the same was true for her.  Tried Little House on the Prairie, but the first episode we saw was the one where Laura shoots her Pa (on accident).  Sigh!  There was also Anne of Green Gables.  Ya know, how it starts with the nosy neighbor describing how orphan children put Strict 9 in wells and such.  After much trial and error, we landed on Jon & Kate Plus 8, and it became one of the few things we watched.

It was helpful on multiple levels...  "Look Little Turtle.  Do you see how those kids didn't like it when Kate said no?  They cried a little, stomped a little, and then moved on."  Or, "Their family is having fun together.  They are laughing and enjoying themselves."  It was a model of a "healthy" family - or as close as we were going to find.  Obviously, they were not perfect and things deteriorated over time.  Still, having Little Turtle use those toddlers (whom were developmentally her same age) as role models was worth a try!

She was pretty darn excited when on my third trip to the East Coast to train with Daniel Hughes, we actually found their house and I came home with photos.  Yea, I was a stalker.

Numerous times, I joked that TLC needed a reality TV show of a RAD mama, and I was willing to give it a whirl.  That didn't happen so I started blogging instead.

All in all, watching these re-runs makes me long for being a mom today.  If I'm going to be completely honest, the show gave me a taste of what mothering toddlers was like because I'd never done that before.  It brings up a lot of those early mothering memories.  The ones like, "Crap, I don't know what I'm doing here AT ALL."  Or, the ones about things I wanted to someday do with my daughter - those dreamy parenting ideals that most parents, regardless of trauma, need to let go of at some point.  Sniff...  Sniff...

It's interesting timing for this trip down memory lane on this - the day after a very raw and honest conversation between the treatment facility experts and myself about what's realistic in terms of Little Turtle's progress.  I said things I didn't know I was ready to say.  My heart broke.  Again...

I have another blog that is strictly for friends and loved ones who know Little Turtle.  Here's a paragraph from my entry last night.  It pretty much sums it up.

"There are no rituals for this kind of grief.  No gatherings.  No casserole dishes dropped off.  None of that.  Not that any of that would help very much, but at least walking through those motions lends the idea somehow, somewhere that others have walked this road.  There's "enough" normalcy to it that there is a "this is what you do."  There is no "this is what you do" with this kind of grief."

I guess I will stumble and fumble along - creating a "this is what you do" as I go...

Friday, June 13, 2014

Dear New Therapist...


There is much to share with you, and I'm hoping this letter can be a starting point for us.

At the time I'm writing this, you (our next therapist) are therapist #14 for my daughter who also happens to be about 3 emotionally and 16 physically 14 years old right now.  Keep in mind, of course, that if you happen to be a therapist who is coming after the one I wrote this letter in anticipation for, well, then you're more than 14th on the list of “experts” from across the nation - literally.  You get the idea; this is not our first clam-bake.  ;-)

I have empathy for you in that.  Not only are you about to work with one tough little cookie who has been through gobs of trauma and is by now, very treatment-savy, you're getting a trauma mama who has been through hell and then more.  Along the way, I've changed.  I'm a lot more paranoid anxious and trigger happy less patient than I used to be.  I'm more raw and honest too.  I tend to call it like I see it because I know that you will likely not be our last therapist.  I also know the damage a short-term therapist can cause for us when they are not up to speed from the beginning.  #notimetowaste

The number one thing I need you to know is that my girl is highly manipulative.  If she believes she is successfully tricking you (whether she really is or not) she will get sicker.  Not getting better, not staying the same - but getting sicker.  We cannot afford that.

As if getting a mama who has been through a lot with this kid and with professionals isn't enough, you're also getting a parent who is a counselor.  I know.  It stinks for you.  At least it has the potential to stink.  I'm sorry about that.  I know it can be intimidating.  I know it can feel like I'm watching everything you're doing.  I am.  Just like I know you're watching me.  ;-)

Obviously, being a mom and being a counselor are two very different things.  When parenting a kid with developmental trauma, however, the roles weave in and out in ways that sometimes create great big knots that are hard to get out of.  The therapist in me will be telling me to stay calm and help my child regulate her big feelings, but the mother in me says, "Screw it.  I'm not your therapist, and this is your third meltdown today.  I was therapeutic parent of the year (okay, nowhere near that) in rounds 1 and 2, but now I'm about ready to be late for work again so I don't care how you feel - get dressed, and get on the bus!”

You may be tempted to tell me you "get" how hard it is to deal with these kids.  Just don't.  It will be better for all of us if you simply don't go there unless you're a trauma mama too (and in that case, oh how I feel for you).  Maybe you worked residential like I did.  Maybe you have years of counseling troubled kids under your belt like I did.  Maybe you've read the incredibly sick expansive library of books I have read.  Before she moved in, I thought I got it had no clue.  No matter how many times you have been hit, spit on, or urinated on in your professional career, it is not comparable to being 24/7 with a child whom you love like crazy AND who has turned your safe place, your home, into a war zone.  There is no restraint team to call.  There is no colleague to take over when you need a break.  There is no end of the shift.  There is you, and there are plenty of professionals who come and go - many of whom are full of worthless well-intended advice.  The whole gig is personal.

So...  Here's how this the 14th round of Hunger Games is probably going to go... 

I predict that you are going to connect with my kid.  She is likely going to open up "just enough" with you relatively early on in your relationship.  You may think, "Why did people say this kid is a doozy?  And RAD?  She likes me.  She's even trusting me already because she told me why she's in treatment (i.e., she gets aggressive, treats her mother rudely, and needs to work on controlling herself).  That's the start of accountability folks.  Either others missed something or I'm that good."

Sorry, but you're not.  This is how my kid reals people in - not because she’s evil but because that is how she has survived.  It’s not premeditated; she simply does what works in the moment.  She gives just enough for the newbie to see she has issues AND believe you're making a difference with her already.  She will reward you for your belief in her too.  She will get angry, start to escalate, and you may find that in the beginning you are able to help her regulate and thus, prevent a restraint.  It’s understandable that you will feel good if this happens.  You may even ask me if I have noted the progress.  I will try not to stab my eyes out to remember that no matter how seasoned you are, she is that good.  

What I might also do is go into a rant a little explanation about the awful things the little darling has done because I will feel like you don't get it.  As I'm doing that, you may see me dys-regulate in ways that I never did prior to being a now 7-year trauma mama.  You might think, "Man, this mom doesn't give this kid a break.  No wonder the girl is discouraged.  Until Mom starts moving forward, the girl can't move forward.  My first goal is to help Mom be more positive and understand how the trauma that was never this child’s fault is impacting her relationship patterns today."  You might even counter what I'm saying with all the progress you're already seeing.  If I haven't dys-regulated by then, you will want to brace yourself probably see it soon.  This could lead to thoughts for you like, "Not only is this mom hard on this kid, but she is reactive.  Mom probably sets this girl off left and right.  We'll need to work on that." 

Of course, you won't say any of this.  Instead you'll say something like, "Mom, you've been through a lot."  And we'll both know that means, "Mom, you've been through a lot, and a lot of that is because you're not doing this the way it needs to be done.  When you know better, you'll do better, and it's my job to help you understand."  #iknowtoomuch

Because you're a good therapist you'll know that confronting me about your impressions directly, especially early on, is not the best way to go.  Maybe you'll let the child take the lead.  If so, she will be ready for you.

When you start to talk with her about her relationship with me, though, she won't do what you think would make sense based on all the concerns I've shared about the "m" word (aka "manipulation").  You'll think Mom is exaggerating be pleasantly surprised when she doesn't bash me.  No, she'll probably tell you she loves me (she does).  She'll tell you that she trusts me (she does).  She'll tell you that she has treated me badly (she has).  She'll tell you that she's working hard to change and she just wishes her mom would see it (it’s her truth).  She'll tell you that she feels like Mom has given up (not saying that's completely wrong in that realistic, I no longer believe unicorns poop rainbows kind of way mostly misperceived).  What you won't see in your first sessions with my girl is "splitting."  "Is Mom the real problem here?" will inevitably cross your mind though.

I, however, will see the splitting because I’m stalking her relationships like a wild cat hunting its prey.  And worst case scenario, I'll go crazy mom.  It has happened a few times.  I burst into tears, and well, it's not pretty, thus confirming your working hypothesis that the problem is me.  I will sense this and really go back brain.  I'll contemplate asking for a new therapist feel very mistrustful of you, hopeless about our future, and berate myself for it all along the way because I know it's my crazy mom-ness that is ultimately driving your perceptions.  Oh, and I will probably blog about it vent to my friends and then send a late night, perhaps lengthy, email to the team.  If it's okay with you, I'll go ahead and apologize for that now.

The reason for this is FEAR.  Fear that a) you don't believe me about what living with this girl has been like or b) you think she's improved so much when she really hasn't.  Either way - she’s back making me a hostage in my own home on my doorstep, and it’s my responsibility to keep the world safe from her.  I need you to "get" that this child could have killed me on multiple occasions.  Her younger sister, in fact, says things to her own adoptive mother like, “I think my sister (aka my daughter) is going to come kill you so I need to kill you first."  I still think my kid is capable killing me and maybe even more so than in the past.  She would not like it afterwards because deep down she does love and trust me in a tornado loves a trailer park kind of way her own way.  The problem is that not liking that I'm dead won’t make me any less dead.   

All in all, you are starting with us, but she and I are not starting.  You are entering a multi-tiered, 3-D Jenga game, during which she has thrown grenades at the tower pulled out many, many pieces, and I've taken many, many deep breaths, strategized each situation and made room for the pieces - one by one, hour by hour, day by day, month by month, year by year, by balancing them somewhere up on top.  What started out as a yes I have my own trauma history which allowed me to utilize dissociation when needed thank you very much and I have been in therapy for it already relatively strong foundation is now shaky as hell and full of holes - an infrastructure near collapse.

But more than all of that...

I'm DONE with violence.

I don't care if she calms down afterwards (that has happened hundreds of times).  I don't care if she picks up the mess (again, I've seen it hundreds of times).  I also don't care if she processes what happened, apologizes, or “makes up” for her destructive behavior (yep, hundreds of times).  My question is, "WHEN DOES IT STOP?"  I cannot answer that for her, but I can answer it for myself.  It stops now for me.  I am done with aggression in my home.

This sweet pea has had many chances.  She has had many "fresh starts."  She has had more hours than I ever want to count of genuine support, co-regulation, and empathy from me I even started authoring my own attachment-focused book mind you because I believed in PACE so nauseatingly much for everything she has been through.  Might she need more?  Oh please god no.  Yes, she does.  What I see, though, is a budding criminal very sick girl who does, at times, want to please me as long as it is pleasing her.  Although there are days, weeks, and yes, even months, when she has been able to accept limits (particularly in May-September), there are oodles of times when the slightest hint of things not going the way my kid wants them to go result in acts of violent revenge (nearly always aimed at property first and then people if they “get in the way” or try to stop her).  After a blow-up or series of blow-ups, her mood will improve and it will be smoother sailing for a bit until the feelings build again.  She often chooses not to rely on our relationship or the coping skills she has been taught for the first time ever over and over again because I never thought to teach her about things like that.  Sometimes she just wants to blow.  She wants the short term pay off of power, control, and emotional release.  #overit

While I am looking into kicking therapeutic parenting to the curb expanding my parenting repertoire, I promise you that I will give whatever scraps are left my all to be supportive.  I love this girl.  Nothing will ever change that.  I also “get” how trauma did this to her.   I understand that she was a victim.  I also understand how much she has victimized others.  I am prepared to be a loving, supportive mother even if she is never well "enough" to live in my home again.  That is not what I want.  I will always hold onto the goal of bringing her home unless that means she and her newest baby daddy either of which are currently on house arrest will be unemployed and living in my basement; just don’t mistake that goal for “false hope.”  She is welcome to come home when she has been safe - 100% safe - for a very long time AND I believe she is capable of maintaining that safety at home and not just in a locked, fully staffed psychiatric unit.  That means no property destruction - zilch...  No physical aggression to people or animals - zero...  No verbal threats - none...  Until then, I will not even entertain a discussion with her about "when" she might come home.  I can’t sugar coat it with her.  That’s not fair to her, and that’s not the mom she knows and trusts.  Besides, utilizing that advice about burying an animal dead from road kill on top of a grave so that canines will sniff out the dead animal instead of the body you buried in your backyard, is something I’m striving to avoid.

This is hard stuff for my girl.  Her brain and body are changed as a result of neglect and trauma.  I realize that she may very well be doing the best she can.  How terribly sad if that is the case; she doesn't deserve this.  She is worth saving, but so am I.

Another mom shared her mantra with me; it is one of the most powerful things I've ever heard.  “I’m willing to sacrifice a lot for my child.  I am not, however, willing to BE the sacrifice.”

Thank you in advance for working with us.  You are here because you want to make a difference.  I don't know that you will accomplish a big difference with my girl.  I don't know that anyone can.  Some might call it pessimism.  Some might call it whatever is left of my will to live realistic.  I do appreciate that you are willing to give it a go though.  At the very least, you're in for quite a ride that shall never be short on those ever loved "learning experiences" whether that's learning about trauma, disorganized attachment, or a pain in the arse committed parent.

No matter what, let’s build our alliance for the games now.  That’s what my girl needs.  Let’s also be gentle with one another and with ourselves (a reminder for me more than you) as we fumble and stumble through this crazy-azy world “down the rabbit hole.”  While you, as the newest tribute, will probably not make it to the end of the games, I intend to.  Still, may the odds be ever in your favor until there’s a “bong” and your new job flashes in the sky.


Jen (aka Mom)

Sunday, June 1, 2014

"Mama" in Boots!

A fellow trauma mama was talking about the attachment dance with her child, and how exhausting it is.  I told her I'm going to now refer to her as "Mama" in boots.  Love the line, "You are a woman?!?!"  Yea baby, you got that right!   


And with that, I cannot help but encourage you to get your boots on ladies!

Saturday, May 24, 2014


In the last 24 hours, I've been trying to come up with a metaphor to describe this experience - something to anchor me - to help me make sense out of the swirling yuck that I feel and feel again in regards to being a trauma mama. 

One that I've tinkered with is "Jenga."  I started this perpetual game when the tower was "relatively" solid and stable.  I researched.  I had a strategy, and I had hope.  I was ready to play.

Things happened...  Rages, more rages, frequent episodes of public humiliation for me and my closest friends, and the battles for all things services.... A block came out, and I found a spot for it on top, ready for another round.  Constant adjustment.  Nearly constant problem solving.  It was a never ending attempt to create a strategy to keep going and then going some more without letting all the blocks fall.  Of course, they always fell - at least 14 times if we merely count the hospitals stays, but Lord knows that in some ways the hospital stays were the easy part.  At least when hospitalized, I could let myself sleep through the night (which means I deemed it safe to take the drugs that would put me to sleep) along with a few days minus aggression or what was almost worse, the incessant pecking at you that only a RAD mama truly understands.  Ya know, about how I'm not using the blender right or I'm not taking the correct route to the grocery store because there was road construction requiring a "new way" today because that's not really true, there's not road construction, I'm making that up and don't know anything.  Or, those explanations about how unjust is that I never believe her when she's admittedly, lying to me. 

It really is hard to capture that in words for people who haven't lived it.  I remember the day my friend and I took her niece and nephew with us to go see my puppy when she was still too little to come home to stay.  We went to the farm, held several puppies, and stopped for ice cream.  As we got back in the car in the parking lot at the Dairy Barn, it hit me.  "These kids follow you."  Moms of trauma get this - no matter where you go, the child fights to be ahead, and you have to monitor where they are every second because you can't trust them anywhere with anything.  No matter where you want or need them to go, they go the other way.  It's a lot like trying to take a cat on a walk (without a leash because those tend to be frowned upon for 9 year-olds as well as for cats).

My point?  I think I've forgotten where I was headed with this...  Ummm...  Oh, the Jenga game...  Take out a block, carry it, and find another place to put it.  That's what happened energetically again, again, and again.  Obviously, the foundation (of the mother) becomes weaker and weaker and weaker when at some point, "one more block" is too much.

Know what makes it worse?  Multi-level Jenga.  I imagine it to be a bit like the 3-D chess game that I saw on "The Big Bang Theory" recently.  That's when you're playing the game, moving things to the top only you switch providers AGAIN (x5 just in this round alone).  Since the newbies weren't there for the earlier part of the game, they only see the level they're coming in on.  Foundation is full of holes, but they can't see that.  It's a new game for them - take out a block and put her on top - what's so hard about that?  And when the mother says, "You want me to WHAT?!?!" the provider gets all educational, explaining the strategy of the game - as if... As If...  AS IF...  you didn't know that already.  Thanks for the reminder of how I now suck at this mothering gig.  No really, I suck at this now.

I'm reminding myself though that I don't suck at this.  I get it.  I can do it, but too many blocks have been pulled out.  It's just that too many blocks have been pulled out.  The tower has fallen on me so many times, and it's teetering again.  Again...  AGAIN...  God no, please not again...

I have learned a little somethin' bout my signs of "infrastructure" collapse.  It's those moments when I think, "Just let her come home.  Just bring her home and let her kill me.  Let's get it over with."  I typed that a couple of times and erased it, but I've promised to be honest here.  Other mamas need me to be honest.  Jot this down fellow trauma mamas...  When you have thoughts like that, it's not good.  One could say you are perhaps losing perspective.  And I promise you that you are very, very tired. 

What do I recommend at that point?  Ummm...  Ummm...  Ummm...

Maybe...  Don't bring the kid home?!?!  Like... Maybe, probably, for sure, not ever.

So perhaps it's not such a bad thing after all that yesterday's Skype session (we are Skyping now in case I didn't mention that) left me stopping the car later because I thought I was going to vomit on the side of the road.  I didn't, but still.  That's because Little Turtle was praised for writing me a letter and reading it out loud to me.  The letter was all about how I never listen to her so the staff suggested she write me a letter instead of telling me in person because then maybe I would listen.  What did she need to tell me?  That she needs to come home, and she's tired of me not trusting her when she's been there the longest of all the girls, and more girls are leaving when she doesn't get to.  It's not fair, and I should get over it all and trust her by now.  Mind you, she has been extremely aggressive to property even though she "only" had one restraint in the last week (as if one in a week is AWESOME or something).  In the past 7 days, she took down part of the ceiling in the day room, ripped off a counter top, and pulled a shelf off the wall.  But...  "Mom wasn't that great that Cheyenne stayed regulated while explaining herself to you?"  "Yea, great."  (I do take hints well.)  I was not allowed to respond to the letter, which was a good idea.  That would just piss her off if I told her she's not coming home anytime soon, and since the goal is keeping her in the bleepity-bleep "green zone," we can't have that. 

I get it.  I really and truly do.  As a therapist, I can sit back and say the doc handled it all well.  And I want her to continue to handle it well.  I just don't want anything to do with it while she's handling it well.  Is that too much to ask?  I don't want to be therapeutic.  No, it's more than that.  It makes me physically feel ill to swallow my feelings and hide what I really want to say, which is, "Hell no, you're not coming home.  Not even going to discuss it."  I'm sick of allowing for grand pauses, carefully wording everything, watching for any hint of escalation, and then acting to help and soften the blow no matter how much dancing around it takes.  The doc told me that's my job as her mom, which I get.  It's what she needs.  Moms are supposed to give their children what they need right?!?!  What are you supposed to do when giving your child what she needs makes your every cell revolt and when you do it anyway, one's resentment toward the child increases exponentially?

To get back to the metaphor, all I want to do is pick up the Jenga blocks and throw them at someone.  I have a few people in mind...  Maybe the kid...  Maybe the therapist...  Maybe the biological mother who is posting on her Facebook page about how much she misses her long lost daughter after being unjustly taken away from her.  Yea, she's traumatized herself.  Yea, she's sick.  And, yea, I don't give a shit.

Is now a good time to mention that I hate Jenga and it grates on my last nerve when the inevitable crash startles me! 

Stupid, stupid game... 

This mama don't wanna play no more!

I kinda, sorta want to play Battleship... or Laser Tag... or...