Thursday, January 26, 2012

Letting It Go....

Things have been better with Ruslan.  I was going to write a post about his general progress, but just writing about his emotional state has taken so long, I’ll get to the rest later. 

In the fall, when I posted about our problems with Ruslan, another mom told me that her Ukranian daughter had been diagnosed with PTSD and was on Zoloft.  I am well aware of the wonders of medication, since I’ve seen Zoloft, Valium and Seroquel at work on different occasions in my little world.  We strongly considered meds, but since Ruslan had been showing steady improvement (and since the local pediatric psychiatrists do not take our insurance and their therapy is $215 per session) we decided that it might be better to wait.  

Besides, I’ve taken friends and family to therapy over the years and seen how helpful it can be, maybe meds wouldn’t be necessary??  I was discussing therapy with a psychiatrist once, trying to understand how/why therapy helps with something like PTSD.  He finally said to me, “The bottom line is that if a person endures trauma, for some reason they are much better off if they are able to face it and almost re-live it by talking it out, but the key to therapy is that they are re-living it in a safe place.”  He said more than that, but that was the gist of his point.  

Luckily, Ruslan loves to talk so after that PTSD connection, I thought I would try to get him to talk about Ukraine.  I told him one night that if he has a memory about Ukraine, I wanted him to talk to me about it because I want to know about his life there.  I expected him to talk about his surgery, since what could be more traumatic than waking up from tendon-lengthening surgery, in a cast and with no pain medication?  Instead, he immediately started to talk about a particular care giver in the orphanage that he didn’t like.  He said she used to hit him on the bottoms of his feet and pull his hair.  This sounded traumatic enough to me but the memory didn’t seem to phase him, he was really matter of fact about it.  So, I asked him if anything else happened and he started to cry and said she locked him in a closet.  That, apparently, is where the bulk of the trauma lay.  He cried for a good long time and kept telling me over and over again that she locked him in a closet.  

Now, before you get too down on Ukranians, it’s only fair to note that, um,  ….I understand.  While I would obviously NEVER lock any child in any closet for any reason, there have been times in the past year that similar ideas have crossed my mind.  Mentally/Emotionally disturbed children are fantastically annoying and at times I have put Ruslan in his bedroom and closed the door, just because I knew I needed to get away from him or I would explode.  Ruslan didn’t have his own room in Ukraine so, I'm not sure if there were all that many convenient places to let him scream things out.  While again, locking a child in a closet in inexcusable on every level, I do understand the necessity of getting away from him at certain points.  

Anyway, back to America.  I had pulled Ruslan onto my lap when he started crying/screaming and I was hugging him tight, thinking that if he just got his crying out, things would be OK.  Well, he cried for a good long time and it was getting rough.  Ruslan gets really tight when he cries and he screams LOUDLY.  Since his body is so stiff, his mouth ends up right at your ear, unless you completely turn him away from you, which is not very comforting.  Well, he kept screaming, “They lock me in a closet! They lock me in a closet!”  So, I quieted him down enough to tell him, “Ruslan, you are not in Ukraine any more.  You are home and everyone loves you here and we would never, never lock you in a closet.”  Now, I thought that was pretty good, but believe me, it was useless.  He quieted down for maybe three seconds and then he went right back into his mantra, still crying, still tight and still very, very angry.  

I wasn’t sure what to do because rather than creating a safe environment that would lead to the ultimate cure-all like the good doctor said, I was in a situation that was getting worse and worse by the minute.  I had the incredible foresight to start this conversation at bedtime, so all the other kids were upstairs, well within ear shot.  They were starting to peek their heads into the room, one by one, trying to figure out what was going on.  I was thinking that I might have to put him down and just let him cry it out and wondering if the rest of the family was going to have PTSD by the end of this when finally, Ruslan changed his mantra and went from, “They lock me in a closet! They lock me in a closet!” to, “WHY MOM?  WHY THEY DO THAT?  WHY? WHY?”  

I finally stumbled on what he needed to hear and told him, “Ruslan, it was WRONG of them to lock you in a closet.”  He actually stopped crying when I said this, and looked at me with full attention, so I went on and said, “It was very wrong of them to lock you or any other child in a closet and I’m SO SORRY that happened to you.  If Mommy or Daddy had been there, we would have done everything we could to stop it and we would have told those people in Ukraine that it is wrong to lock children in a closet and that they should say, ‘Sorry Ruslan,’ for the way that they treated you.”  Thank God, that was the last of the crying.  His body relaxed (more or less), he put his head against my shoulder and let out a deep sigh.
Once again, I came to see a little more of the jumbled emotional mass that resides inside my boy.  He was sad and angry, but he wasn’t really sure that his feelings were valid.  Since he wasn’t sure whether he deserved the abuse or was suffering injustice, I suspect he was feeling the anguish of both.  

He took a few minutes to process the whole thing and interpret it on an eight year old level (Daddy, the good guy, comes rushing into the orphanage and beats up all the care-givers and tells them, “NO, NO!  You say, ‘SORRY Ruslan!’”) and we went through a few key points over again, but after a few minutes, he was visibly lighter and I felt we had made progress.  

For several weeks over the fall, that was our drill.  We discussed his memories from the orphanage, his biological parents, his surgery, his Cerebral Palsy, his small size, his walker and on and on to infinity.  After that first day, we fell into a pattern and I got the clue that what he really needed to hear was: what happened was wrong (or very sad), he is right to feel angry or sad about it, Mommy is so sorry that these things happened, God put Ruslan in a safe place now and Mommy and Daddy are here to help/protect Ruslan.  We seem to have to get through all five points before he will really relax and let things go, but to everyone’s relief,  it is possible for him to get there.  

At first it was every few days, then once a week, then twice a month and by Christmas, he had gotten enough of it out that he could reasonably function.  I say this because at some point about mid-December I sent him to time out and rather than screaming in protest and then crying in frustration, he simply went.  He crawled over to the time out chair, sat down and when the egg timer was done, he told me what he did wrong, apologized, and then went back to his toys.  …Glory be to God in the Highest and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men!

We had a few rough days over Christmas, but with travelling, no routine and almost daily excitement/stimulation, we were expecting a few bumps.  Now that we are back into our routine, everyone can see progress.  

I finally got the ultimate affirmation yesterday, January 25, 2012 from Reilly, my eleven year old.  Whenever things were really falling apart with Ruslan or Will, she would often ask me, “Mom, will our family ever be normal again?”  This broke my heart.  I used to tell her, “Yes, our family will be normal again. We’re just going through some changes,” etc.  But, sometime around mid-summer, I decided we’d better face the truth.  I finally told her, “No, our family will probably not ever be the same as it was before we got Will and Ruslan, but that doesn’t mean it will be terrible.  It’s just different.” Then we talked about the changes that happened in our family and how it was worth it to have the boys.  It took a few minutes during that conversation for her to really grasp what I was saying and that life would still be OK, but she did get it, and she hasn’t asked me that question again, probably because the answer was now more depressing than the question.  

However, last night our family had a reasonably enjoyable dinner.  Everyone was chatting amiably, Ruslan did not talk every ten seconds, Bill did not lose his temper with Ruslan for talking every ten seconds, I did not glare at Bill for losing his temper, and the dishes of vegetables did not morph into a fatted ox (see Proverbs 15:17).   

Toward the end of dinner, Reilly said in front of everyone, “Mom, you were wrong about our family.”  So, I gave her my standard answer.  “Don’t be silly.  I am never wrong.”  Reilly, God bless her, smiled and said, “You said our family would never be normal again.  But we are back to normal now.  You were wrong Mom.”  

Of course, my immediate thought was that this hardly matters, since we are about to screw everything all up again anyway, and adopt two more girls, I’m certain to come out right in the end.  But, I let it go. 

* Proverbs 15:17  Better is a dish of vegetables where love is, than a fattened ox served with hatred.  

Thursday, January 5, 2012

I Thought If I Came Here, It Would Stop

So, my friend Maryann lost her husband (Bruce) in May.  Over the summer, I started hatching a plan to get her away from home for the holidays.  I spent a considerable amount of effort convincing her to spend Thanksgiving with us at a beach house in North Carolina.  Most of the effort lied in keeping my mouth shut and letting her make the decision on her own, but it was effort all the same.  In the end, she came. 

I was so relieved.  I’m always glad to have her company because she’s really nice to be around, but also relieved, because then I didn’t have to think about her at home, alone, on a holiday.  When I think she’s in pain, I have an irrational urge to hover over her like a panther and mercilessly shred anyone who gets within five feet.  This is totally unjustified, since she’s a competent adult, but it’s still there.  So, we spent Thanksgiving at the beach house where I was able to indiscreetly hover and no one was the wiser.  It was perfect.  It’s always beautiful there and totally NOT Thanksgiving-like, which is exactly what we needed. 

We were in Corolla, NC.
You can drive out on the beach anytime you like and see wild horses.

This is the view from our deck. 
This is the local lighthouse.

You can climb the lighthouse for a small fee (that becomes a large fee when multiplied by all the friends, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins).  This is looking up the stairwell. 
This is all the kids, except Ruslan who wanted to stay home with his grandma.  Since, more than likely, I would have been the one to carry him up those stairs, I didn't press the issue. 

Talk all you want about great men who lead armies, rule wall street, change the world through their innovative thinking and exploit their good looks to sell Cornflakes.  MY HUSBAND opened a Monopoly game on Thanksgiving Day, managed to rotate 11 restless children past GO and emerged hours later, having accomplished a the impossible—a tear free, TV free morning in a house full of friends and relatives. ....Be still my heart.

Anyway, once I saw that Thanksgiving was going well, I started planting the seeds about getting away for Christmas.  We ended up at a ski resort, a perfectly rational Christmas plan, unless the resort is south of the Mason-Dixon.  I’m a Yankee, and let me tell you, no one even THOUGHT about skiing in my hometown unless the weather was AT LEAST below 30 and no one went with enthusiasm unless it was below 20.   Our first full day there, the high at our ski resort was 45 degrees.  They had made “snow” the night before and they had two lifts open, but I was skeptical.  On the plus side, the place was empty, on the minus side, we were looking at skiing on snow cones.  In the end, Bill stayed back with our three youngest, while Maryann and I took the six older kids to ski on the slushy ice.

The boys all got snowboards and the girls got skis.  Reilly, my eleven year old, cried and wailed all the way down her first run, telling me she hated it.  Halfway down the second run, she caught on and I didn’t see her for the rest of the day.  When it was time to go, I stood at the end of the run near the lift entrance where she could see me.  She headed straight for me and about ten feet out, I thought she was going to plow right into my knees, but she did a perfect “S” curve and parallel parked two inches from my nose.  If there had been anything similar to snow that day, she would have sprayed it in my face.

Matt and Paul were a different story. Have I mentioned that all the boys got snowboards?  Paul, being a little smaller and more coordinated, was able to catch on OK.  Matt, my oldest, didn’t take to it well at all.   He’s 14 years old, but he hit a growth spurt and is now in size 17 clothes (with a size 14 butt, but that’s a different post).  He spent most of the day on his teeny tiny butt.  A few years ago, this would have sent him into a tizzy, but, now that he’s older, it all came out in fierce, targeted sarcasm.  As we were going up the ski lift together, he went into considerably long streams of incidents where I clearly wronged him and usually ended with, “and now you’ve got me going down an ice-covered mountain strapped to a tid-bit of stick!”  I finally told him to stop complaining or I would use his college fund to finance a visit to the spa. 

About five hours in, Paul fell and hurt his wrist.  I had been itching to try out those snow boards all morning, so I decided this was my chance.  I got him some ice, made sure he was reasonably comfortable, convinced him that he was too injured to board any further and strapped on his clunky boots.  Snowboarding is one of those sports that looks possible, until you get strapped in and then you realize what insanity it is.  Matt went up the lift with me to “help.”  As I was ignoring his instructions, I took a moment to take in the skiers (rather than the scenery) and noticed that there were no other females on snowboards.  Then I noticed that, of the boys on boards, there were very few people over twenty and only one who looked over thirty.  Putting these two observations together I realized there were NO OTHER middle aged women on snowboards!  Could there be a reason for this? 

I started thinking about those V8 commercials on TV where people have white rectangles over their heads indicating how many servings of vegetables they’ve had each day.  Only, the rectangles I imagined had numbers designating the skiers/snowboarders IQ, or labels like, “too old for this,”  “about to face-plant,” and “Aaaahhhh!!.” 

We got to the end of the lift and I wiped out on the downramp.  The rectangle over my sons head changed from, “annoyed” to “dreams come true” while mine started streaming obscenities.  On a snowboard, there is no way to move your feet.  If you are at all used to keeping yourself balanced with your legs, you have some adjustments to make.  At first, I was making it OK.  I’d go a few feet and then fall before I really got any momentum going.  The trick was to fall on your fists, not your wrist or butt, which (legend told) is much more painful, especially on ICE.   Unfortunately, I started getting better and working up some momentum and distance in between falls.  In fact, I have to say, in  defense of my own skill, that I did make it down the first half of the hill in reasonable form.  I even had enough control to look around a little more and notice that a lot of my fellow boarders were made up largely of adolescent boys with somewhat blank, “1000 yard stare” expressions (and appropriately empty boxes over their heads).  I asked Matt (who was, it’s only fair to note, behind me) whether that was a function or a prerequisite to snowboarding, but he didn’t seem to hear.  His rectangle was back to “annoyed” and mine was “acquiring 1000 yard stare” (this is foreshadowing).  As I was pondering this, I was getting better and better, with more and more momentum and then suddenly, I hit a little rise and I was airborne. 

My feet went straight up, right in front of me, my arms went out to my sides, I hovered in mid air just long enough to think to myself, “This is bad, very, very  --WHAM!!   I landed right on my tailbone, on the ice.  I’m 46, so it’s been several years since I landed on my tailbone.  It’s just as painful as I remember.  It took me a few seconds to get my bearings again.  When I was coherent enough, I hit on the realization that the 1000 yard stare is not necessarily a requirement to snowboarding, since it will inevitably come with time.  Normally, in one of my past lives, I would have jumped right up and kept on going down the hill (Death Before Defeat!), but as a testament to my age, my sanity or my ability to be taught, I caught on that the rectangle over my head was now flashing, “OSTEOPOROSIS.” 

I unstrapped my snowboard and walked down the rest of the hill with my son sliding down beside me, just out of arms length, serenading me with taunts.  I finally made it back to a bench and after a short rest, I went to find Paul and fight him for the ice pack.  I ended up sitting on a pile of “snow” and walking around as though I was keeping a cantaloupe between my knees for the rest of the weekend. 

The next day was Christmas.  We opened presents, had a huge breakfast, observed the kids fighting, and settled down to unlimited TV for the morning.  Then Bill, who had his fill of small children for the week, took the older kids to see a violent movie while Maryann and I took the younger, more well adjusted kids ice skating.  If I hadn’t bruised my tailbone, I would have gone on the ice with them all, but I was terrified of falling again and losing my cantaloupe.  This was probably better in the end.  I shoved Ruslan, walker and all, out on the ice and immediately, someone came over and offered to help him and someone else helped with Will.  They had a blast.  Everyone was great with them.   

Unfortunately, this is when everything suddenly hit me all at once.  I don’t know if it was Ruslan, screaming with glee out on the ice, or Maryann and her kids, sort of drifting through the holiday, everyone missing Bruce, or the fact that my tailbone was KILLING me… whatever it was, I started to cry.  I hate public crying.  I did everything I could to stop it.  I prayed.  I bit my lip.  I gritted my teeth and I tried to think about Oreos.  Nevertheless, tears were just streaming down my face. 

I know I was obvious because middle aged women started coming over to me, putting their hands on my shoulder and telling me  how cute Ruslan was, what an inspiration it was to see him on the ice, how brave and happy he looked in his walker, how lucky I was to be his mother, and etc.  I didn’t want to tell the truth and say, “Actually, he’s usually a pain in the ass and I’m crying about the pain in MY ass,” so I just kept my mouth shut, nodded sweetly and stayed as far away from Maryann as possible until I could pull my pathetic self together.

After dinner, Bill offered to watch the kids so Maryann and I could go out.  We thought about going to the hot tubs, but if we did, I knew we’d just end up talking about Bruce and crying (again).  Maryann hadn’t been to a movie theater since Bruce died so we decided to see a movie.  Maryann said she could handle anything but a sappy romance.  I was with her there.  So, we ended up seeing, “We Bought a Zoo,” about a dad who, ironically enough, loses his wife and buys a zoo.  Unfortunately, it is well done, well written and well acted.  Whoever wrote that script …they get it.  Do not see this movie without at least 50 tissues in your pockets, especially if you’re with your friend who has just lost her husband.

About half way through the movie, when everything is falling apart; the zoo is in trouble, the son is rebelling, the tiger dies, the dad is just in agony over his missing wife, and everyone in the audience realizes that 20th Century Fox is passing our souls through a cheese grater, Matt Damon (the dad) rather unexpectedly blurts out, “I thought if I came here, it would stop.”   I knew exactly what he was talking about.  If it seems like we were running scared over the holidays, that is because we were.  By design, it was nothing like Christmas.  We weren’t at home, we didn’t read the Christmas story, we didn’t have the Jesus birthday cake, no one freaked out over the evening meal, I didn’t over eat.  For the adults, it was more something we were trying to get through or past.  I want to write that God took away the pain of loss and that there is a balm in Gilead, but that’s not the way it is. There are some things that are just too hard to face head on and yet, no matter how hard or fast or far you run, it just. doesn’t. stop.