trying to not be a jerk.

“People are constantly saying:

Oh, its a boy thing.

Oh, its a stage.

Oh, everyone goes through that.

They mean to be helpful, but I am feeling lonely and inadequate. If everyone goes through this, why does it feel so insurmountable? If everyone goes through this, why am I the only mom I know without a dramatic scene?  Is every mother really sitting at home Googling ‘how to safely restrain a child’?”  -Jillian Lauren, Everything You Ever Wanted

I have been dwelling in self pity all day. Because I can’t seem to focus on my work, I am back here, on my blog.  It is partly because my left eyeball has been throbbing all day. The morning’s punch can’t be easily forgotten and although no bruising or swelling occurred, that tiny, angry fist landed right on my eyeball.  My vision is blurry.  Luckily, he hit my bad eye. I don’t actually use that one.

We signed up for the Echo Parenting Class on Nonviolent Parenting. We had our first class last week.  During the class, I sat their self-righteously thinking I am already a good parent, I wonder if I’ll get anything out of this. I get it, don’t spank, don’t belittle, don’t injure your child’s mind, body, or soul. I KNOW this. I whispered to G that we only really needed 6 hours to complete our foster parent licensing requirement for the year, so we could bail after a few classes. But really, I NEED this. I am a jerk.  We use that word a lot in our house. Mostly, because we don’t want to call our children assholes.  When in reality, most (if not all) toddlers are assholes. Of course, we are careful not to label the children as “jerks” and instead say things like “that was a real jerk move, M.” I feel relatively strongly against saying “that is not okay” that I here uttered so often when I am around other parents and their children act out. It is too general for my M. He needs to know specifically.  He already gets confused between, when actions are unsafe and when actions are unkind.  I need to tell him which is which.

I am proud of the non-jerk way in which I maintain my cool 99% of the time with the kids in their worst moments.  I can’t even start to tell you how hard it is to speak gently to a 2 year old who his kicking me while simultaneously trying to pry my eyeballs from their sockets. Let me tell you, it isn’t easy. Luckily, I get a ton of practice.  But I have my moments.  Today, although I didn’t say or do anything  in particular that would count as hurtful by any definition. But, I think my body language this morning was communicating all of my frustration and impatience. And I think that is also a “jerk move,” as we say in our house.

At this point, though, I don’t know how to react to the punches.  I feel torn, it isn’t okay.  At home, we do a lot of “time-in” but usually that is just time for him to take out more of his aggression and frustration on me before he can settle down.  Someone, maybe his therapist, maybe the pediatrician, recommended to us to give him something else to punch/hit.  Hit a pillow, or a drum! how fun!  Except, I can tell you this is not a need to pummel something.  It is an urge to injure me.  He doesn’t want to hit a pillow, he wants to break the skin on my arm with his teeth.

So I am left with this conundrum, how should I react?  I’ve read in some attachment based adoption literature that I should be leaning into his fists and teeth, letting him know there is no way for him to drive me away.  I can tell you though that it is instinct to dodge teeth and fists and feet and fingers when they are angrily coming towards me.  So maybe that leaning-in reaction would have worked if I could keep myself from dodging and flinching.

“Time-in” is supposed to be a magical solution for attachment challenged children.  Of course, we weren’t supposed to be offering it as a consequence but as an opportunity to regroup and calm down.  Well, it quickly turned into a consequence in our house. Not to mention, the time it takes for M to calm down in a time-in could be up to an hour.  And we could be out of a time-in for 5 minutes before he needed another time-in.  There has been days where he spent significantly more time in time-in than not.  Maybe its working? The biggest problem is we have two kids, M2 has insecure attachment issues and leaving her alone is like punishing her.  So, I can really only resort to time-in when G is home as well.

Then there are the people that tell you, to stop the hitting, connect the language. Say things like “ow! that hurts mommy!”  Oh my GOD.  He thinks that buttons on pants “hurt”, that the sun “hurts”, that the tag on his t-shirt “hurts”, the buckle on his seatbelt “hurts”.  That kid thinks feeling “hurt” is a normal every minute experience.   He thinks that it “hurts” when I hold him.   Telling him I am hurt must make him feel like, welcome to my world lady. 

All 20 hours of this parenting class will be worth it, if I can just find some better ways to handle his aggression.   I am constantly reminding myself. He is not giving us a hard time, he is having a hard time.  I am trying to model empathy so that he can learn empathy.   I am trying to model patience so that he can learn patience. I am trying to model gentle hands and gestures so that he will learn them as well.  I have to learn how to quit being a jerk. Every time I slip up and tell him to be gentle through a clenched jaw and with tense movements, those are the jerk moves he remembers. Those are the lessons that are sinking in.

 

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trying not to cry.

One of the hardest things for me to reconcile about raising kids with a trauma background, is that they need me and I need to work. In particular, I need to get to work on time in the mornings. This morning is entirely my fault today that things didn’t go well.  I hit snooze and then I turned the alarm off the second time it went off.  I got out of bed at 7:30. I normally leave the house at 7:45. But everyone slept in this morning after a relatively good night sleep and I was not about to give up a precious few moments of sleep after so many terrible nights in a row.  At least that is how I felt when my alarm went off at 6am.  I know better.   I know that my morning goes 100 times better when I get myself ready before the kids get up and then give them plenty of time to transition between steps in the morning.  In any case, I seemed to just make a ton of mistakes this morning.

G handed M an old iPhone at some point as I was getting myself and M2 dressed.   I was already disgruntled when I got out of the shower and found that happening.   However, I used it as a distraction to get him dressed quickly.   We were ready to walk out the door by 8:15.   Already a half hour late, but not too terrible.  Despite the fact that I told M twice that we were almost ready to go and he would need to leave the iPhone home.  That got lost in the shuffle out the door and the iPhone ended up in the car with him.  About 30 seconds in the drive he started screaming because he needed help with the game he was playing.  That proceeded to just escalate through the whole drive to school.   At some point he threw the iPhone at my head.  At least I didn’t have to pry it from his hands.   He was then upset that he didn’t have the phone and already in full blown meltdown mode. We pulled in to school I got M2 out of the car. She always takes her shoes and socks off in the car and it takes me a minute to put them back on. M is screaming that the buckle on his carseat is “hurting him”  I reach over and unbuckle but then he rages about not wanting to get out and not wanting to go to school.   At this point, I am still reacting calmly.   I get M2’s socks and shoes on and get her out of her seat and walk over to get him out on his side of the car.   When I open the car seat he just says “no, leave me!”  I reshut the door.   He is already unbuckled so he climbs into the drivers seat.  I go to the driver’s seat to get him out open in and he punches me in the face, hard.   At that point, the calm left. I grabbed  him around the waist while holding M2 and M’s blankie in my other arm. I marched to the front door of daycare crossing the drive but M2 has an amazing ability to go completely limp so that she is like holding on to a jellyfish and can just squeeze her way out of my grasp.  She was falling from my arms just as we finished crossing the street.  I let her climb the stairs alone but she was dawdling and I yelled at her to “hurry up!”  Normally I am not in the habit of yelling commands at my children, but I knew that I would lose the wrestling match with M any minute.  As I got through the door, needing one hand to open the door and one arm to hold M, he wriggled free.   His classroom is directly next to the front door.  I brought M2 into that classroom quickly where she went and started playing with the kitchen set peacefully.  In the meantime, M ran back out the front door back towards the parking lot and two staff members ran to retrieve him.  The whole time I was dragging him inside, he was screaming. “Stop hurting me!”  and “You are being too rough with my body!” I sit with him for a few minutes out in the lobby but then realize it is not helping and I should just get him settled into his classroom.  When I bring him into his class and start distracting him with toys, he grabs a toy from another kid and then hits him within 30 seconds of me putting him down to play.   He gets settled in relatively quickly, still saying “Stay, don’t leave!” every few seconds.   He refused my hugs and I left.

Now, back in my office, I am just too distraught to work at the moment. I cried for a minute in the car before I walked in.  I stopped and got some ice for my eye at the coffee shop below my office, hoping that punch doesn’t cause swelling or bruising. I can still feel the anger in his tiny fist as I type this.  My other eye has a significant set of scratched on it from where he scratched my eyes because he was frustrated trying to get to sleep. My face seems to always wear the marks of his frustration.

I am hoping this post will help me settle in to my day. It definitely gives me a minute to reflect, perhaps this is the little “me time” that I can allow.   I am now an hour late in starting my work for the day.   Which just means I will skip lunch to finish what I need to do.  Either that or work after hours.  Actually, both.  I usually need to do both.   I can’t help but feel like, if I didn’t have to work, these kinds of struggles wouldn’t exist in my day.  There would be no hustle out the door. There would be time to transition without someone else’s clock imposing deadlines on my day.   There would be the allowance to sleep that extra hour when the nights have been so rough.

 

trying to get some SLEEP.

 

It is estimated that 85% of kids with FASD have sleep problems (Chen et al., 2012).   Luckily in my house, we are currently at a rate of 50%.  The problem is that, while M2 sleeps like a champ, M’s sleep is horrendous.   Now, I have been complaining about his sleep since he was an itsybitsy baby.  I don’t think anyone at that point took my complaints seriously.  Ah, a new mom complaining that her kid doesn’t sleep enough, sounds serious, right?! Except since the very beginning, M had trouble sleeping. Well, not the very beginning.  In his first few days with us, he slept all the time.  In fact, we were told to wake him to eat.  He would sleep through night if we let him.  Shortly after that, he started vomiting all night long, and he was diagnosed with pyloric stenosis.   We haven’t had a good night sleep since.

As a newborn, he only slept a total of 11-12 hours a day.  And not much has changed, he maybe sleeps 12 hours total in a day now which is within the normal range for a toddler.  The only difference is that he was happy on his 11-12 hours of sleep when he was an infant.  Imagine a 6 month old that we couldn’t get him to nap, he was almost always awake from 7am – 8pm. Happy as a clam, playing and babbling on. People would always comment on how “alert” he was.  I just wanted him to take a freaking nap so I could get a few things done during the day.  I spent hours and hours reading books on how to get kids to sleep.  Sleep lady, “no cry sleep”, etc.  Some of it lead to temporary fixes, but none of it really has fixed our problem.  We don’t have trouble getting him to go to sleep at night.  It is the staying asleep that is the problem. We are often up 2 or 3 times a night with him.  Nearly every night.

The books will tell you, you are creating a crutch when you help your child fall asleep.  They need to be able to wake up in the night and just put themselves back to sleep.  Even though our bedtime routine works like a charm, I thought that maybe that is the problem.  We are influencing the environment too much and he needs to figure out how to sleep without any help.  I will admit, that in desperation, we tried a “cry-it-out” method.  You know, the ones where you go in and soothe the baby every 10 minutes until they fall asleep.  They tell you it may take a few hours the first night, but then it will get better.  Our first night, it took 8 hours and then we gave up.   It was 5am.  I had to at least get a few hours sleep before the next night.   I gave up around hour 5 on night 2 and then we were done with “cry-it-out.”  Obviously, this method works for neurotypical children with no sleep issues.   I think M just felt abandoned and he has almost zero ability to “self-soothe.”  He needs me and G as his external brain for sleep transitions.

I can tell you that when we first expressed our concerns about his night waking, people often suggested it was night terrors.  This is because from about 10-18 months, when M woke up in the middle of the night, he would scream and claw at himself and his clothes seemingly totally unconnected to us or anything concrete.   If we tried to pick him up, he would claw at me, struggle in my arms, try and climb to the top of my head by grasping and pulling himself upward.   The sight of it was disturbing.  This was not a child waking in the night asking for a bottle or to be rocked.  He was distressed.   That phase subsided for the most part, mostly because of language development. It was truly the first stage of his sleep disturbances.

Right now our bedtime routine, is dinner, bath, books, bed with his blankie, a cup of milk (I know, I know, teeth…) & white noise.  Most nights, it goes well.  He quickly drifts off to sleep.  We’ve recently added the “Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep” audiobook to our routine over Christmas when dysregulation hit a peak.   Now, it seems to be very soothing to the kiddos as they drift off.

Currently we deal with a few major sleep disturbing issues: night-terrors, the night diaper conundrum, and god-forbid, some outside noise wakes him up.   The night-terrors are the best of the scenarios. They really only bother us.  I run out of bed to hear him struggling with some unknown terror for a few minutes and then he settles back into regular sleep.  I lose sleep, but he does not.  Really, best case scenario in our world.

Then there is the night diaper conundrum. We potty trained about a month ago.  Mainly because, diapering had become such a struggle.  M did not want to wear a diaper.  If I could distract him, I could usually change him with little to no trouble.  But if I had to interrupt him, even with careful transitions, he would get so distraught it would become a wrestling match. The scratching and punching got to be too much and potty training was on my agenda for my Winter break from school. Potty training was a breeze.  He was excited that there was a diaper alternative.  But now, he doesn’t want to wear a diaper at night.  Not only is it a struggle to get a pull-up on him, he will usually just take it off sometime in the night.   He doesn’t currently have the impulse control to not take it off.  Typical with FASD, rewards do not work. There is an obvious natural consequence, i.e. waking up wet, and of course that doesn’t help.  He doesn’t understand consequences either.   So now, he either wakes up because he has to pee (last night that was a 2 hour ordeal because now he is tired, awake, and alert enough to not be able to return to sleep = meltdown) or he wakes up in a wet bed distraught that he peed the bed and is now awake = meltdown.  I am still trying to find a solution.  Maybe he will get used to the pullups but more likely, he will just learn to stay dry at night as a function of age.

We live in a city, by choice. Many of our neighbors in our diverse urban neighborhood love fireworks. Christmas, New Years, Halloween, really any holiday, is a cause to celebrate with fireworks for hours at a time in our area. Drives the dogs nuts and wakes the kids up. Yes, fireworks are illegal in our area.  It doesn’t stop people.   The city bus stops 100 ft from our house with its squealing breaks runs every 10 minutes until 1am and then starts up again at 5 am.   The police, firemen, helicopters, etc. all permeate the quiet of our hilly urban surroundings.  There is no end to the noises that may wake M up.  This is by far the worst.  When he is roused from deep sleep, it is like unleashing an animal.  At least now he talks rather than just wailing and pummeling us.   Now its, “leave me alone!” “don’t leave me!” “I can’t!” “pick me up!” “no, you are hurting me!”   This can last for hours.   We use white noise, but only so much works when sirens go wailing by.

Then there are the times when we have no idea what wakes him.   Sometimes, he falls back asleep peacefully in minutes comforted by only our presence. More often, it is a struggle.  With the sensory issues, M is often wanting us to comfort him but unable to be held, “stop hurting me!” or sung to, “you are too loud!” or rocked, “Whoawhoawhoa!”

Of course, I can’t just let this be our pattern. I don’t think any pediatrician would put a 2 year old on sleep meds nor do I want to go there just yet.   I’ve been warned about melatonin. But this kid needs help sleeping.   I need sleep.  G needs sleep.  Our current brainstorms for solutions include building an enclosure for his bed to block out more light and sound, working harder at coming up with solutions to the night time pee problem, and keeping a record of his sleep patterns so that maybe when we write it down there is an obvious solution.

 

Chen, M. L., Olson, H. C., Picciano, J. F., Starr, J. R., & Owens, J. (2012). Sleep Problems in Children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine : JCSM : Official Publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 8(4), 421–429. http://doi.org/10.5664/jcsm.2038