Friday, January 28, 2011

The Shrieking Shack

Vitals: So, this post will be about Ruslan (the 7 year old).  Will is too complicated to address right now. 

Details:  My Mom called after she read about Hell Week, asking me if I’m OK.  I suppose it would be a little disconcerting to read about your daughter’s "hell week" in two remarkably lengthy posts.  It’ll be worse if I decide to title the next post “Hell Month.”   But, of course, everything's fine, so, you know, there's no need....

Anyway, I think we’re up to January 12th and today is January 28th.  Thanks be to God, we have made some progress.  It’s been about two weeks and there is much to write, but I’m trying to break these things up so they aren’t so long.  Life with mal-adjusted kids is so eventful, it’s hard to know what to post!  However, I do have actual news this time because I think  (or to be more precise, I have some faint reason to hope) that we are over the bulk of the TOTAL melt-down temper tantrums with Ruslan.  If I am right about this, it is HUGE progress because that child can SCREAM.  

We have “movie nights”  every Friday here.  The kids really love them.  We started out with the idea of a “family time” or “game night” but by the time Friday rolls around, both Bill and I are so wiped out, we can hardly stand to talk to each other, let alone the kids.  So, movie night is a perfect compromise.  We all sit in the same room together, so it passes as family time, but we don’t have to actually talk to each other.   It’s a great way to feel like we are doing something worthwhile for the kids without actually investing any effort. 

For movie night, I usually make homemade pizza.  I know that sentence nullifies everything I just wrote above, but I’ve done this enough that it’s not really an event and with the kids help, we can whip out two pizza’s in about 30 minutes—provided I remember to start the crust at 3:00.  We let the kids choose their own toppings so it’s something they will eat without complaining (remember, it’s all about NOT TALKING to them).  Then, we let them eat in the living room and about 40 minutes into the movie, after dinner is gone and they are just getting hooked into the plot, we pause the screen and tell them to go upstairs and get ready for bed.   Let me tell you, there is no motivation to get ready for bed quickly and without fighting than the thought of a paused movie waiting for you downstairs.  One of us goes up to monitor the kids while the other one gets out the sofa bed (such a marvelous purchase).  They all come down with a stuffed animal and their pillows, choose a “spot” and get comfortable.   Then they watch the rest of the movie and fall asleep right where they are.  It’s glorious.

We did this every night in Ukraine.  There are enough benefits that I would consider doing it every night here, but the drawbacks are that: 1. They stay up late whispering to each other and 2. They always fight over the better “spots.”  This was the cause of another most awful melt-down for Ruslan.  He LOVES movie nights. He would sleep downstairs every night if he could and he asks about movie night all the time.  We count down the days and talk about what we'll have for dinner (he loves pizza), what stuffed animal he will bring down etc. etc. So, on this latest movie night he was well geared up for the event.  The pizza went down fine but unfortunately, the “spot” that he wanted was on the sofa bed and he had been sleeping on the sofa bed during every movie night since we got back from Ukraine. 

Will is too young to understand the movies and he really loves his bed, so he doesn’t take part in movie nights.  That leaves five kids.  The sofa bed is good for three spots.  Then there is a love seat that is another spot and two chairs the kids put together to make a last bed.   Ruslan had been sleeping on the sofa bed, in between two other kids.  It was OK for a while, but Ruslan can really be a pain.  He wants to touch people all the time and though it’s really cute and charming at first, after a while it just gets to be a flat out annoying.  My kids were so generous about it that I didn’t realize what was going on.  But now we were at the point where none of the kids wanted to sleep with him and it was really his turn to be "off" the sofa bed anyway, so we took the plunge. Eventually, he has to learn to take turns and share.

Ruslan might be seven years old in body, but emotionally, he is about two.  He has NO ability to handle not getting his way.  I explained to him about taking turns and that it was his turn to be on the small sofa (aka love seat) by himself.  He was about to throw a total fit, so I told him that if he screamed, I would take him right upstairs and he would miss movie night.  To his credit, he didn’t scream.  But he did whimper.  He whimpered and whined until he finally realized he couldn’t get his way.  So, he reluctantly settled into the small couch and we turned the movie back on.   I told him that he had to be quiet and watch the movie.  If he kept crying and whining, he would ruin the movie for everyone and I was going to take him upstairs.  Well, he was quiet for about one minute, then he started in at a low whimper, trying to get his blanket perfectly flat, with no wrinkles.  Then he changed the pillows, then he changed them again which wrinkled the blanket and he decided to start over.  I helped him once and told him that there was no way the blanket was going to stay perfectly flat, to lay down quietly or he would miss the movie, etc. etc. etc. 

The upshot was that after ten minutes and three warnings, he still hadn’t stopped pointing at the sofa bed and whining about the small couch, changing his pillows and whimpering about his "blanket wrinkles" so after the third warning to be quiet, I took him upstairs.  Well, that did it, as we knew it would.  He SCREAMED and SHRIEKED in his room for the rest of the entire movie.  Ninety Minutes: alternating between flat out screams and yelling things like, “MAMA, MAMA, I LOVE YOU, MAMA, PLEASE, TURN THE PAGE, MAMA, MAMA, CLOSE THE DOOR, I LOVE YOU, PAPA, PLEASE, I LOVE YOU”  etc. etc.  Totally hysterical.  He woke up Will because they sleep in the same room and Bill and I just took turns standing outside the door in case he fell out of bed or tried to leave his room.   He finally calmed down toward the end of the movie and about five minutes after it was over, he fell asleep.

I don’t know if you can glean this from reading, but it’s incredibly infuriating to have a child scream so loud for so long.  If I watch him too long, I can feel my chest get tighter and tighter and I want to run into the room and scream at him just as loudly as he is screaming at us.  Bill and I sort of tag teamed, with one of us wanting to rush in there and have our own hissy fit and the other one warding it off. Then we’d swing the other direction, since he looks SO PITIFUL, laying on his back with very little bodily control, all contorted and screaming because it’s all he knows to do.  Then we’d ponder the fact that if we just took him back downstairs, he’d probably be quiet and the kids could enjoy the movie, but there’s no way that would be a good idea and we would both rather DIE than give in at this point.  So, we’d get mad at him all over again and so it went.  That’s why we had to take turns standing outside the door. 

The next morning we sat Ruslan down and we had a little talk.  Thank goodness he is smart.  His English is incredible for being here for such a short time.  We told him that he was a big boy, seven years old and too old to be screaming like a baby. I pointed out that none of us scream like he does when we are sad or angry; we don’t do that in America.  His teacher doesn’t scream at him.  The kids in his class don’t scream.  The neighbor kids don’t scream.  His brothers and sisters don’t scream. We told him we are DONE with him screaming.  We are really tired of it.

Then I told him that if he started screaming like that again, I was going to spank him, on his bottom with my hand.  Then I would give him five minutes time to calm down, but if he kept on screaming, I would spank him again, harder, until it stopped.  I told him it really had to stop and if the spankings didn’t stop him, then I would start to take away his things.  I would take away movie night, I would take away his books, I would take away his stuffed animals, I would take away his favorite clothes, his necklaces, his night light and if I had to, I would take every item out of his room until there was nothing left but a pillow and blanket on the floor, but whatever it took, these total screaming melt downs were going to stop. 

He nodded yes, and said he understood and kept saying, “Ruslan big boy.”   Then we prayed together that he would stop screaming and I marveled over the fact that I could imagine myself strangling him with my bare hands while saying, “thank you God, for my big boy,”  in a sweet, loving voice at the exact same moment.  After our heartfelt, desperate prayer for sanity, we said, “amen,” I gave him a hug and we let the matter drop.

This worked for exactly three days.  Every time he was about to gear up for a hissy fit, I would remind him that he was a big boy and take some deep breaths with him.  He would say, “Ruslan big boy, “ and he kept it together. 

Until Monday night, when he had to finish his vegetable soup.  He started to cry, the “big boy” mantra didn’t work and I could tell he was working himself up toward a full-fledged shriek when I thought of the video camera.   I ran upstairs and by the time I got back the boy was in full on melt-down mode.  I got right in front of him at the table and turned on the video camera, flipped the screen so he could see himself and I video taped him shrieking.

He stopped in mid scream, totally shocked and told me to turn it off.  Then he waved his hand in front of it and told me to turn it off again.  (heh heh).  I said, “NO WAY BABY.  NOT A CHANCE.  YOU KEEP SCREAMING LIKE THIS AND I WILL TAPE THE WHOLE THING AND TAKE THIS RIGHT TO YOUR KINDERGARTEN TEACHER AND HAVE HER PLAY IT FOR THE CLASS.  AND IF YOU DON’T THINK I WILL, TRY ME.” 
Well, he stopped for a minute, then he looked down at his soup and started to cry again, but he didn’t scream.  Bill was on a business trip so I gave the camera to Reilly, just in case, and she taped him while he ate his soup and I cleaned up the kitchen. 

I was going to play the tape back for him, just for emphasis (and a little bit of revengeful enjoyment on my part), but I’d had the thing on “stand-by” (such an idiot).  Thankfully, Ruslan doesn’t know that and if he has a fit again, I can tape that one.  There’s likely to be plenty of material and if not, then I won’t need it.  I put the camera on the counter where he could see it clearly from any angle and, thank God, he hasn’t had a melt-down since.  A few days ago, I realized I’d probably killed the battery and felt safe enough to put the thing back on the charger. 

This is the longest we have ever gone in between screaming fits and thank God because honestly, I don’t think any of the other ideas would have worked.


  1. Oh boy do I feel your pain! So many of the things you are describing sound SO much like our first few months home. We counted down the days between outbursts too. Before she understood much English at all she came to me after a tantrum and folded her hands to pray. So I folded my hands and said "Thank you God that her tantrum is over because I was about to send her back to Ukraine!" It's been such a long time since we saw a tantrum like the ones at the beginning. Those days seem long gone and they will for you soon too!

  2. what a great idea, you can try a mirror as well if in a pickle, a large hand held one to have around. We just got a set of videos -"Model me" we are using with our daughter. Very basic but couldn't hurt to try some videos that model or train expected behavior, just a thought.

  3. Isabel isn't a full-on screamer, but she is LOUD at night when going to bed. Happy sounds, but loud enough to keep me awake. I know that boiling feeling in my chest all too well. Way to keep it together. I think you guys are doing a great job. It's got to be hard, but thank God for His grace!