Thursday, October 20, 2011

Who Hesitates...

So, Ruslan has to do a timeline for a school project.  All of my kids have had to do one in first grade.  They get a large sheet of paper and draw a horizontal line across the middle, then make little vertical dashes to indicate years, starting with the year they were born and ending with the present, marking each year with captions and photos.  We had to make a timeline last year for Sharon.  We adopted her when she was three.  I had some earlier photos of her from her foster mom so it wasn’t too bad, except for the impossible-to-miss fact that she never smiled, even once, in any of those early photos.   

Ruslan is eight years old, so I have to come up with eight photos; one photo and a caption for each year.   The problem is that I don’t have any photos of him younger than about five.   Who would think that something so innocent would cause so much trouble?  I don’t think the people who come up with these assignments ever adopted. 

As I was innocently digging through my photo pile, I came across these pictures:

It was a beautiful evening.  I had been putting our tomato plants in cages.  Reilly and Sharon took some of the leftover tomato cages and made “fashion art” out of them.  At first they were merely decorative, but eventually they came up with the cup-holder model, and the trend really caught on  (don’t try to understand, it’s art).  It was a really fun evening, just as school was winding down and we were all gearing up for summer vacation. 

Anyway, I was doing fine, until I noticed the date on those pictures: May 20th 2011.  The pictures were taken five months ago, the day before Bruce died.  It was such a contrast.  Here we were relaxing in the midst of a laid back, balmy spring evening.  Who could have guessed what was to come?  In a few hours, I would be on the phone with Maryann, hearing the news that Bruce was dead.  That one overwhelming loss was about to slam into our souls and then surround my every waking thought for the next several months.  All I kept thinking as I looked at those photos was, “God knew.  He knew that whole evening.  He knew what we were in for... in just a few short hours.”

And then I wondered, “Did He hesitate?” 

The first day of school for my kids was August 29th this year.  That morning, I had a difficult time waking them up, especially my daughter Reilly.  The little ones really don’t mind school and I homeschool the older ones, but Reilly is in fifth grade this year and school is hard for her.  Plus, summer for a ten year old… it’s just the ultimate kid-age; old enough to be a top dog in your little circle of friends, but still young enough to play hard and play well.

I sat at her bedside thinking, “now it’s summer but when I wake her up, summer will be over for her and the school year will begin.  As long as she’s sleeping, it’s still summer.  When she wakes up, summer ends.”  The weeks of sleeping late, staying home, playing with neighbors all day long, swimming, canoeing, and spontaneous roadtrips were about to end.  Enter: early mornings, peer pressure, school lunches, homework, and bedtimes.  I sat watching her sleep for ten full minutes, wondering why I hadn't found a way to stop time and trying, too late, to grab hold of those last few moments and keep her a child in the midst of summer vacation forever.  Of course, I failed.  I wanted her summer to go on for eternity, but I only managed to salvage ten minutes.

I finally mustered the will to wake her up.  After all, there is no stopping time and this was hardly a personal tragedy.  Still it was hard, because I love her so, to see that summer end.

So, I wondered as I was looking at those pictures whether God hesitated before He took Bruce away from Maryann, even if it was just for a second. 

I suppose it doesn’t matter since He still took Bruce in the end.  But all the same, I’d like to know. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Regarding My RAD* Problem

 So, I began the draft for that last blog way back in the spring.   When I finally went to post it, I thought the grimace-filled hug was just a few weeks earlier, but later on, I realized it happened in April and we had been dwelling in that dreadful limbo for months.  I don’t want to come back now and write, “well, it’s not all THAT bad,” because it really has been very, very bad.  However, things have been improving. 

Over the summer, every time Bill and I talked about Ruslan (and financing that ejector seat/ vapor gun) Bill would say, “I just don’t like who I am when I’m around that kid.”  I thought for a while that this was our fault.  If we “don’t like who we are” when we are around Ruslan, I thought that the solution was for US to change.

However, we finally had a knock-down, drag-out fight about a week before that last post.  It had gotten to the point where Ruslan was so very annoying to everyone, all the time, that we were doing everything we could to keep him away from us.   NO ONE wanted to be near him.  To make matters worse, anytime Ruslan put one foot out of line, Bill was on him like a sledgehammer to a thumb tack.  My point was that, “it’s just really hard to be around that sort of extreme disciplining” and Bills point was, “yeah, but it WORKS.”  Finally, as we were talking it out I said, “this is just really hard because the ONLY WAY to really get through to Ruslan is to be mean, and I hate to be mean.”

Imagine a light bulb illuminated over my skull.  After going through the same time-consuming motions of explanation/reprimand, warning, time out, spankings.  I realized that maybe the answer was to understand that extreme discipline is the only thing that is helping him so I’d better learn to appreciate it.  Some people are going to be just horrified at what I am about to write (these people are welcome to take Ruslan off our hands).  Others (like my parents) are going to be reading this thinking, “Well, FINALLY!!”  In retrospect, I’m embarrassed that I spent SO MUCH TIME in the “talk it over” phase.  I started the draft of this blog back in APRIL and for months we’ve been in a sort of purgatory in which Ruslan has been requiring a huge amount of our time and attention with no measurable improvement.  In my defense the only thing I can say it that it’s hard to skip the explanation/verbal reprimand stage, even this late in the game because Ruslan is SUCH a blank slate. 

As late as August, I was having a hard time getting him to correctly wash his hands at bedtime.  I was ready to kill him because after EIGHT MONTHS of nightly hand washing, he would still just smear soap on the top of his hands and arms and then splash waster on them and decide he was done.  No matter how many times I made him do it over again properly, he would not scrub and rinse his hands, top and bottom unless I was on top of his every move.  Finally, in exasperation, I went into a long, detailed, (repetitive) explanation about hand-washing.  I explained that his hands were DIRTY after a day of playing (show him the dirt).  His arms were not dirty (show him the clean arms).  I explained that soap kills germs.  So, we put the soap on our hands ALL OVER our hands to kill the germs (repeat).  We scrub off the dirt.  We don’t have to wash our arms, but we do have to wash our hands (repeated at least five times and have him say it back to me).  We wash the top AND BOTTOM of our hands with soap to KILL THE GERMS and then we RINSE OFF THE SOAP AND THE DIRT SO WE NOW HAVE CLEAN HANDS  (also repeated at least five times in as many ways).   I was really annoyed with him at this point, but thank goodness he didn’t notice.  He just listened quietly the whole time and when I was done he looked at me in amazement and said, “I learn so much here.”    

This was one of those times when I just wanted to bang my head against the wall.  The only reason I am not at all skeptical that Ruslan really had no idea what he was doing or why he was doing it is because the whole Eastern block of Europe is living their life on that same level.  One of the things you notice when you live over there is that half the time they do anything, they are just copying the people next to them with absolutely ZERO understanding of what is going on.  They are not expected to understand.  They are just expected to DO.  It reminded me of the time we bought a screwdriver, only to have it stripped the first time we tried to use it.  As long as it LOOKS like a screwdriver, a Ukranian will think it’s adequate.   The idea that a tool might need to be capable of meaningful work seems lost on them. 

Therefore, I’m not sure if I can communicate it clearly, but it’s sort of a constant ….dance, trying to determine what Ruslan does and does not understand.   Sometimes, after an explanation, he will get it.  Other times we tell him the same thing over and over again with no improvement.  

Anyway, about a week before that last post, poor Bill was just about to go crazy every time he was in the same room with Ruslan and the rest of us were at about the same point.  So, after that I realized we were at yet another breaking point in which something HAD to be done about Ruslan’s behavior, I went to totally non-verbal discipline. 

The next day was the yogurt episode that I described earlier.  When Ruslan asked “why can’t I have more?” before I’d even had a chance to put any in his bowl, I just put down the yogurt without one word and took him straight to time out.  It feels mean at first, but I’m less annoyed because I’m not repeating myself over and over.   Ruslan knew exactly what he had done and really, I don’t think he’s complained about amounts since then and that was well over a week ago.

With the incessant talking, I now just wordlessly take him right to time out when he interrupts or talks out of turn.  It sounds horrible, and I feel horrible doing it, but it also works.

Thank God, Ruslan has been improving.  Out of the behaviors on that list above, we have had at least a 75% improvement since we implemented the silent discipline program a few weeks ago.  

I realize though, that it is only dealing with the surface problem.  Like Simon and Garfunkle’s “Fighter,” the psychosis still remains.   After that last blog draft one mom wrote to me that, “what you're describing in your blog is everyday life in our house (and has been for the past 3 1/2 years) and for every other parent of a RAD* child.  Nothing you described is new, odd or isolated.”   She also sent me to an excellent web site on Reactive Attachment Disorder:   The RAD page has a list of behaviors that perfectly describe Ruslan.  If you’re in the same boat, you’ll want to check it out.

Another mom wrote that her adopted daughter was the same way and she was diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and is on Zoloft for anxiety.  She has found it really helpful.  The PTSD is totally logical, since the kids were in horrible environments, starving (literally) and abused/neglected as a way of life.  I haven't put Ruslan on Zoloft (yet), but it has set me thinking…. You mean there’s a drug for this???  …Really???

* RAD is short for Reactive Attachment Disorder

Thursday, October 6, 2011

I Have Adult-Onset Reactive Attachment Disorder

So, a few people have been asking about Ruslan and I suppose it’s time to give the dreaded update.  We’ve been having a few problems with him.  I didn’t see how horrible things were until one day in April when Ruslan asked me for a hug in public.  After realizing there was no way out, I hugged him and …I’m afraid I was visibly grimacing the whole time.  There’s not much affection there.  I tried to smile (or at least not scowl), but I couldn’t pull it off.  …pitiful.  I faced the awful truth:  I just can’t stand to be around my kid.  Merely touching him makes me want to cringe.

I thought it was just me, but thank God Almighty, we had a few house guests over the summer and I’m so happy to tell you that after a few days, they couldn’t stand him either!  After just one afternoon together one adult blurted out, “What is WRONG with you??”  Another finally told him, “You HAVE to learn how and when to talk because people are NOT GOING TO PUT UP WITH YOU as you get older.”  A third told me, “WOW, I just can’t stand to be around Ruslan.  He’s really hard.”

Any other parent would probably be in tears over such comments about their children, but for me and Bill (who have been thinking along the same lines for months now), these words were very encouraging!  Now we could say with certainty, “It’s not US, it’s HIM!”  Such a blessing…

After the grimace-filled hug, I started to really pray that God would help me like my kid (or at least not dislike him), but it’s not working.  Behaviors that were charming when we first adopted him are now flat-out annoying.  We’ve conquered a few things:  the two hour meltdowns are now no longer than ten minutes tops and happen maybe twice a month vs. twice a day.  He’s totally potty trained, his English is coming along well, and he’s not hoarding any more.

On the downside, besides dealing with the ever-present behaviors that have been troublesome all along, he now has some new behaviors to replace those we conquered.  Here is a partial, current listing:

Incessant talking:  Horrible, and the better his English gets, the more he talks.  Compounding the problem is Ruslan’s ability to say ABSOLUTELY NOTHING in 100 words or more.  The best example of the emotional black hole that we are dealing with:  one day, Ruslan was trying to get my attention.  I was trying to talk to one of my other kids and Ruslan kept on with his Mom, Mom, MOM, etc. etc. until I threatened a spanking if he didn’t quiet down.  When I finally had time and said, “Ok, what is it Ruslan?”  He said, “Mom. Um….Mom….Mom…. um….Mom….There are two apples on the table." 

Whining/Complaining:  Ruslan was born dissatisfied.  If we give him one scoop of ice cream, he’ll ask why he doesn’t have two scoops.  If I comb my daughter’s hair, he’ll ask why I didn’t comb his.  Just this week, he asked for some yogurt and before I had even scooped any into his bowl, he said, “why can’t I have more?”  After a while, this just gets really old.  Compounding this problem is that his voice is a sort of high pitched, loud, nasal whine.  Every time he opens his mouth, the whole family reacts as though he’s run his nails across a chalkboard. 

Jealousy: If I give one of my kids a kiss or hug, Ruslan will want a hug, even if he’s on the other side of the room.  Since I have six kids, I’m just NOT going to give Ruslan a hug or kiss every time I give another kid affection.  I do give him hugs, but I have to hold his hands down and hug him back to front.  If I let him hug me back, it is AWFUL because he is never satisfied and will not LET GO.  This is partly due to the tight tone of his muscles, but not entirely.   He also has a disgusting desire to make out with anyone who hugs him front to front.  He closes his eyes and wants to really KISS people on the lips.  We tried to deal with this right away, but since he’s so stubborn, he keeps trying and the upshot is that no one will hug him properly nor kiss him at all anymore except me: one kiss at night on the forehead. 

Abuse:  About once a month, Ruslan gets away from me long enough to hurt/destroy whatever is handy and vulnerable.  The worst case of this was with Will.  One afternoon, I found Ruslan in the play room (just off the kitchen) with Will playing “surgery.”   Ruslan had found a flat head screwdriver and was scraping/digging it into Will’s flesh.  Will is so compliant, he just said, “ow,” quietly.  I was five feet away in the kitchen and I didn’t hear a thing.  Will ended up with about three deep scratches across his torso and another couple on his back.  Ruslan also cannot be left alone with the dog (hits), books (rips pages), paint (gets it everywhere), crayons (broke every one)  etc. etc. etc. 

Stubborn/Argumentative:  When he is given directions, Ruslan’s response (if tolerated) is to  say, “no,” then ask “why,” then argue, then complain.  He is so stubborn about this little routine that whenever I give him directions, I now add the Obligatory Warning.  It goes something like this, “Ruslan, Your job is to hang up your coat.  We are not going to talk about your job.  If you say ONE WORD before you get your coat on that peg, I will spank your bottom." 

Dependence:  Ruslan loves attention.  The easiest way to get attention is to remain dependent on everyone for everything.  He resists therapy and I am starting to think that beyond his dislike for change, he just doesn’t want to walk.  He still tries to combat crawl rather than crawl on all fours (necessary for brain development) or use his walker.  The idea of doing things by himself is so terrifying, he can’t handle it without shrieking.  So, for example, last week he was on a step that is about three inches off the ground.  He has gotten down from this step many times with his walker placed safely behind him, but last night, his walker was to the side.  He wanted me to move his walker but 1.  He could easily move it himself and 2. He could easily get down on his own regardless of the walker location.  So, I totally ignored him.  Rather than just get down, he had a tantrum that resulted in a time out in his room, then a spanking.  It really wasn’t over anything more than his stubborn insistence that he could not do something that we all knew full well he could do.  After he calmed down, I wordlessly put him right back onto the same step with the walker in the same position and he got down in two seconds.  Then I had him get down two more times, just to cement the point that he was capable.  The thing that is so infuriating is that while yes, there is a small list of things he simply can NOT do, he insists on making the list longer by pretending he is less capable in order to get attention and manipulate. 

Inappropriate Play:  Ruslan doesn’t know how to play.  His latest idea is to wait until the older kids are watching TV, then crawl over and whack one of them with a plastic sword. 

Revolting Table Manners:  Ruslan talks with his mouth full and chews with his mouth open.  This drives my husband and children crazy.  It is actually really disgusting if you are sitting across from him.  He is capable of chewing with his mouth closed, but you have to remind him.  I think part of the problem is that he breathes through his mouth.  He CAN breathe through his nose, and we practice often, but he has to really think about it.  This also gives him chronic bad breath (another reason he gets back to front hugs). 

Laughing: A new and currently ­­HUGE problem is Ruslan’s inappropriate laughter.  Any attention is so wonderful to him that even when he is getting reprimanded, he is excited and can’t help laughing.  It’s also a problem at school and it’s the worst problem with Bill, who cannot stand it when Ruslan laughs over being disciplined.  Ruslan is smart enough to know when he is being disciplined, but he is so needy that every bit of human contact is exciting.

As implied in the April hug story above, it so bad, I can't fake it anymore, even in public.  A few weeks ago, I took all the kids to Wal-mart (our favorite family outing) and Ruslan was trying get my attention and point out something else for me to buy.  With his blonde hair, contagious smile and pediatric walker, he can really pull at female heartstrings.  A woman came over to explain what he was saying.  I finished putting grapes into my plastic baggie, tied the knot and then said, “thank you, but really, I’m trying my best to ignore him right now.”  She gave me a stricken look and walked away.  Reilly who was at my elbow said, “I don’t think that was the right thing to say, Mom.”

I know it’s easy to read a blog entry like this and think, “ok, well, you could try this, or this, or this.”   We are open to suggestions but after ten months, we have probably already tried it.  I just don’t have the patience to list all our ideas and attempts.  We inevitably fall back to dealing with his behavior in the obvious ways but there's no denying that the bad behavior is still ONGOING.  He is just really, really stubborn and needy.  Eventually he is going to need counseling, but our schedule is so full with his therapies, medical appointments and upcoming surgery that it is just going to have to wait.  I am left acknowledging that the behaviors above come from an emotional deficit and then determine how to best meet it without going crazy.

I know I have love for him on some level since after all, we’re still here.  I well remember that if we had not adopted him, he would be in an institution, tied to his bed, 24/7 and probably losing his mind.  As bad as things are, I still couldn’t live with that alternative.  So, I force myself to hug him when he is behaving correctly and I stay away from him as much as I can during the rest of the day.

Sometime during my search for answers, I found a book review of The Power of the Powerless by Christopher de Vinck.  It’s about a family raising a profoundly disabled child (bedridden, nonverbal etc.).  The last line of the review states: “It’s hard not to notice that for all its championing of the disabled, this book doesn’t treat them as individuals so much as empty boxes in which the able-bodied can admire their own perceptions, insights and efforts at nobility."

My first thought was, “Fair enough, but even so, at least that family came out on top.  Being around Ruslan only makes me hate myself.”  My child has the ability to bring out the absolute worst in me (I hope it’s the worst anyway).

The only insight that has come out of caring for Ruslan lately came from Bill.  After he read this blog draft and pointed out that “Ruslan has made some progress” and “this is a really depressing blog entry,“ he also added, “remember, this is how God sees us.”  These three points are undeniably true.  Yes, Ruslan has made some progress.  And, yes, the situation is depressing.  Adoption is not all sweetness and light.  I’m certain I am not the only mother in the world to discover that humans are irritating.  It’s also true that I have a tendency to marinate in certain sinful behaviors.  Justice demands that I add this line acknowledging that I live in the same stubborn, depraved state as Ruslan, yet God forgives me.  There is hope for us in the long run, probably.