Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Regarding Ruslan


So, here's what happened...I stopped posting.  I didn't mean to.  It just happened.  Then more and more time passed so that every time I thought about writing, I would get that image of Molly Weasley screaming, "Where HAVE you been?" to her wayward children and cringe a bit inside.

Well, let me just insert this handy visual aid.

See?  I mean, could you walk away from all that loveliness to hole up in a room and write?  Because I couldn't do it. 

Suddenly, now it's six years later (SIX YEARS!) ...So much has happened.  I'm down to six kids at home, two have left for college and one moved out to have a life and family of his own.  Our little ones progressed through preschool and kindergarten and our youngest is now in third grade. My nest is getting empty.

It wouldn't be an issue except in 2014, I took all my earlier blog posts and had them published in a book--a real paper book, with exactly two copies made; one for me and one for my parents.  Oddly enough, my kids just love the "Family Book."  We end up reading entries at bedtime, over and over, so I have the same love/hate relationship with it as I do with Green Eggs and Ham, with one difference.  The other day I realized when we get to the last page, my heart drops and I wish I had recorded more. 

Something must be done....

So, I'll start with Ruslan, since he was my first reason for writing.  For those of you who are just jumping in, we adopted Ruslan from Ukraine in 2010.  He is now seventeen, still with many special needs and, thankfully, turning into a kind-hearted young man.

However, we went through some really hard years with him and just about the time he started sixth grade, he became full-on impossible. The only time he spoke was in order to argue or complain. He had a completely over inflated, irrational view of himself and his abilities, with no friends, no insight, and basically no redeemable qualities.  He got to the point that belligerence was his only personality trait. He was so hard to be around that every time he walked into a room the whole family would simply leave.  At school, he had no friends and during lunches, he was walking from table to table trying to find people to eat with.  I finally called the school and with no other options, the principal ate with him for a good part of middle school. I was the only one who could tolerate his presence (love is blind) and, lest you think I'm being too harsh here, I'll just point out that when the rest of the family reads this, they will accuse me of sugar-coating.  

Three things happened to save him from a group home. 

1. Counseling.  This is not going to end the way you are expecting, so read on. We consulted a few professionals--both private and with the state.  In the end, we were told that, "in order for counseling to be effective, two things must be present; the ability to understand what is happening and a desire to change."  Ruslan possessed neither trait. So, that saved us a lot of time and money, but didn't really solve any problems.  Things at school went from bad to worse and got to the point that he was ending up in the EBD (Emotionally/Behaviorally Disturbed) classroom just about every day.  His behavior was so bad that the school finally recommended (asked) us to consult the state about some one-on-one mentors, employed by the state, to be with him in school and hopefully help him behave.  During the intake, he got another set of letters after his name; ODD as in Oppositional Defiant Disorder.  I don't know why, but for some reason, this diagnosis really helped everyone understand what was going on and gave us gumption to move forward.  In the end, we couldn't get funding for the mentor, but that diagnosis clarified a lot. 

2. Discipline. Many of my friends recommended reading books by Karen Purvis.  I did read some of them and in many ways, they were helpful, especially when it came to feeding the kids six full meals a day and working consciously to establish a connection.  The point that I deviate from her methods is the lack of any real negative consequences (also called punishment) when kids are willfully misbehaving.  I'm a Calvinist.  I've never had to teach my kids to misbehave.  They come up with it all on their own and it's simply not true that all bad behavior is just misguided, noble intentions.  Willful bad behavior requires punishment.  

It works both ways, by the way.  If my husband and I were ever under the delusion that we had anything resembling proper familial love/patience, a few years living with an EBD child was more than enough to change that idea.  When the Bible talks about God fashioning man out of dirt, I read with the full understanding that my soil is just as toxic as the stuff under Chernobyl.  

However, beyond the general sinful nature, the main problem we were having with Ruslan was his complete unwillingness to follow directions.  I wrote earlier about offering him his favorite dessert, just as a test.  I would do this occasionally, to remind myself that I was not crazy.  I would put his two favorite desserts on the table, lets say cookies and brownies and say, "Ruslan, there are cookies and brownies for snack today."  Without fail, he would answer with, "Why can't I have ice cream?" or "Why can't I have lemon bars?" etc. etc. because no matter what he was told, his response was to argue or complain.  If he didn't get his way, he would have a full on melt down, which is why he was spending so much time in the EBD classroom.  

It got so bad that one day, after series of wholly ridiculous meltdowns, my husband asked me to find another home for Ruslan.  This was an entirely reasonable request.  Ruslan was constantly disrupting our life and our children's lives.  Things were bad enough that I knew he had to shape up or he was going to be shipped out, literally.  

So, I sat Ruslan down and told him that from this point on, when he was given directions he would have one chance to say, "OK" and do what he was told without arguing or complaining or he would be sent to his room for the rest of the day.  We wrote a contract and I posted written reminders throughout the house.  

The upshot was that for almost three months, he spent just about every afternoon and evening in his room.  I would give him directions and remind him every time, "you have one chance to say OK and follow directions without complaining."  Usually, he would argue and complain and end up in his room.  It was horrible, but honestly, our family really needed the break.  For months he did this and believe me, he was not happy.  He hated being away from "TV/screens" and hated being alone, but he just could not bring himself to say, "OK." 

Until one day, and it took three months for this to happen but one day, when I told him to hang up his coat, he paused for a long time and finally said, "OK," and then he did it, which was a full on miracle as far as I was concerned.  I remember it as clear as crystal and it was the first of many wonderful moments in our life together because from that moment on, saying, "OK" was an option, not every time, but the response was finally admitted somewhere into his brain and is still in residence, Thank You Jesus.

3. Wrestling.  About this time, out of the clear blue sky, I got a call from the EBD teacher, who was also the JV wrestling coach.  Talk about an unsung hero...  

He called to ask if Ruslan could join the wrestling team.  I could hardly believe my ears, because remember, this was the EBD teacher.  He had been dealing with Ruslan from the very beginning of the year and here he was asking to spend more time with him?   Beyond just getting him on the team, there was a huge amount of logistics involved, that were going to take a lot of effort.  The coach thought that I would be worried about Ruslan, but my concern was really about the coach.  I need not have worried.  When God passed out patience, he must have allotted an infinite amount to that man.  

The practices were not at the middle school and the season was from November to February.  So, through the winter (in rain, snow, sleet and hail), the coach ended up pushing Ruslan in a wheel chair uphill to the elementary school gym, then collapsing the wheel chair and taking it home with him every evening.  He also arranged for Ruslan to take the regular bus to and from the wrestling meets and went out of his way to find wrestling holds and exercises Ruslan could do while the other students scrimmaged. 

As he predicted, this is just what Ruslan needed.  He suddenly had a sport, an identity, a goal and a dedicated team who were not going to put up with any nonsense.  

Now, mind you, this is not The Blind Side.  He didn't end up becoming a star player and I wouldn't exactly call him popular, but over time, he did win a few matches and it does wonders for his discipline, self concept and self esteem.  

What's more, when he hit high school the new coach and the new team took him right into the fold.  Now, rather than being wheeled to the gym, one of the many beasts will hoist him onto their shoulder and carry him upstairs to the wrestling room.  During the meets, at least a few of them will cheer with interest when Ruslan is at the mat and the crowd is definitely interested.  Afterwards there is usually one or two players who will help with his braces and walker/crutches etc.  It's really beautiful, to be honest. 

So, now Ruslan is in tenth grade, with goals, a peer group, the ability to say, "OK" and working hard to pass his classes and get a diploma.  He's come a long way!!

There are lots of other stories to tell.  A lot can happen in six years, like the time we totally missed that offer for our own reality TV show, the time the school guidance counselor called DEFACS and accused me of child abuse, the narcissistic psychopath who became our elementary school principal, setting the thermostat on fire, setting the lawn on fire, setting the oven on fire, the pet dog, the pet goat, the pet chickens, our newfound love for prescription drugs, and our new family mantra, "bad decisions make good stories."   God willing, I will get back to writing them down. 

In the meantime, please take a minute to thank God for our wrestling coaches and our son. 

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