Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Helping Me, Helping You

Two months ago when I wrote the post about the tender loving moment with Victoria, I allowed myself to become hopeful beyond expectation.  Others warned me but I knew I could maintain it. I could.  She couldn't.  This disappointment knows no words.  It unfortunately manifested itself in anger.  The ease in which I felt justified in my anger brought me back to the early days when we were both operating under massive amounts of rage.  I was so sad I allowed myself to go back there so quickly and struggled to pull myself out of it.  Anger is a secondary emotion that can be a result of both hurt and disappointment.  While I cannot protect myself from the hurt and disappointment, I can protect myself from the anger that ensues.  But it was so swift, it didn't even feel like I had a choice.  
So after two months of regression and changes I once again find myself in the arms of a loving little girl.  For five days now she has tried hard to obey and is being kind.  This is unprecedented.  For four years we beg, plead, encourage Victoria to do the right thing to allow herself to be happy.  And then, one day, she just decides to.  It catches me completely off guard. Instead of being excited, I am tentative.  I am encouraging yet cautious.  This skepticism protects me but hurts her.  I am beating myself up.  I still struggle to be gentle with myself.  I know I will eventually come around and offer my heart to her.  I do that tonight.  
It is again helpful, healing and pure.  I will spare the specifics and leave it with this exchange.
"I needed your birth mom to give you up so I could have you and you could help me.  Heavenly Father had a plan for us.  I needed you to help me as much as I am helping you."  I say.
"Heavenly Father knew I was going to mean to you and he sent me here?" she asks, "how can I help you if I am being mean?"  
"You helped me become a better mom." amongst so many other things, I think in my mind. 
"How?" she asks.
"Someday, I will explain it all to you." I end.  
(I'm not so sure it was God's idea to send her here to me.  If you ever get the chance to read "The Little Soul and the Sun" you may begin to understand her purpose in my life and what she was willing to do for me)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Love Lessons

I wish I had a tape recorder.  Victoria often says the most profound things that should not be coming out of a seven year old mouth.  But she has experienced emotional trauma beyond her years.  I asked her if she ever wondered how Max knew how to help her?  "Yep, he took love lessons", she says. Oh really? Where would he learn those?  "From his mom." She says like I should have already known. " That's where everyone learns love lessons." 

What she doesn't know is that she has taught me more about love than most will ever feel or understand.  This, from the same girl, that hasn't had the ability to accept or show love for her entire life.  This, from the same girl, that has broken my heart into pieces.  Relentlessly.  

I think I am avoiding it.  I don't think I am letting her, until one day I see all the pieces lying around me.  As I pick up each piece, it hurts all over again.  I pick up the piece that feels like there is no progress;  I pick up the piece that reminds me how lonely it can be; The piece that reminds me she doesn't care;  I pick up the piece that reminds me I am not doing enough; the piece that says I'm not doing it right; the piece that says we are not done yet; the piece that says I'm tired; the piece that says I'm making this take longer than it should; the piece that says she still isn't feeling all my efforts; the piece that says someone else could do so much better. 

Then, after I've picked them up, alone.  I find myself somehow whole again.  My whole heart reminds me  that there has been progress.  Inches when I want feet.  That I do have help if I am willing to trust it;  That I have a sweet and special witness that she can feel and reciprocate my love.  It says that I am doing what I can, when I can; That my best is more than enough.  It reminds me that I am in it for the long haul;  That says I know where to get more strength; That says I cannot compare myself; that says I keep giving for all the glimpses; that assures me I have the only heart to heal hers.  

I struggle to stay consistent with myself, in the middle of all her and life's inconsistencies.  But at the end of the days, where we have been in complete harmony, I learn love lessons.  

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Can't Wait To See You Again

Breaking through the wall is intense, time consuming and slow.  We are looking for that weakening in the fortress to have new, healing and helpful moments with her.  They are rare and fleeting.  Each day that passes I really do gain a better understanding of her and of me.  I also understand that nothing will ever get any worse.  I have felt as bad as it gets.  Of that I am completely sure.  What I don't know is the feeling that it's as good as it gets.  I had a small, beautiful, healing, hopeful, personal and LOVING moment with her.

We had just finished two hours of intense therapy.  We are focusing a lot of attention on feeling mad.  This is her most manifested emotion.  Anger.  We are talking about many things that could be the source of this anger.  Towards the end of the session, the wall was weakening. We get into the car to go home and I always have to sit for few minutes to regain composure.  The sessions can be draining.  She continues to talk about her anger.  I can see she is still "in the zone" and real feelings are being manifested.  I bring her into the front seat, hold her in my arms and talk for 45 minutes.  For the first time, heart to heart.  I will not be specific here. I will be in my book.

I cannot remember all the words that I spoke.  I cannot remember all of her responses but of this I am completely sure; it was divine, as real and pure as it gets.  Just trying to think of the specific words feels like it would somehow diminish the experience.  The revelation to her of the hurt and anger she has for her birth mom was freeing.  She has lived her lifetime with this anger not knowing where it came from. Neither did I.  She has taken it out on me for four years because she didn't know how to get rid of it.  And neither did I.  

 Allowing herself to feel the hurt she has endured is more than a small heart should ever have to bear.  For the first time since bringing her home, I felt fortunate to be her mother.  I am seeing what it is in me that made me the only one that could do this for her.  That could survive her.  I don't want to let her out of my sight.  I want to hang onto her.  I want this to stay.  It was the sincerity I have been waiting four years for.  It wasn't a sword.  It was the Balm of Gilead.  

It doesn't last.  Weeks have past. Hours of therapy have gone by.  I am waiting to see her again.  

Friday, June 20, 2008

Fortress of Fear

Victoria is fairly predictable at this point.  She is hard as nails when it comes to expressing her true emotions.  She is so wired to say the right thing rather than the thing she is really feeling.  It makes it very difficult to get to the heart of the matter.  What is that anyway?  What is this fear that motivates and directs her every move?  Because she is so inconsistent and contradictory, it is hard to say, but this, four years later, is my best guess.

A fear of being abandoned again is her biggest fear.  The hurt that doesn't answer questions about her birth mother? Why her? Why the orphanage? Why she doesn't have any baby pictures? When is her birthmother coming back to get her? What color of hair does she have? How old is she? How will she recognize her?  How will she find her?

A fear to trust.  This would require her to give up control; to be dependent.  She would prefer death.  She trusts me to feed her and take care of her but she does not trust that I will always love her and keep her and that I really know what is best for her.  She is trying to wear me down, seeing how far she needs to push for me to give up on her.  I am amazed at the intensity, still, four years later.  

A fear to feel.  Right now, all of her feelings are a result of pure selfishness.  The product of selfishness is the misery, the low self worth, the hopelessness, the defiance, the lack of remorse. Empathy and sacrifice feel different than anything she has felt before.  It feels vulnerable, risky, hard and submissive.  She is really not interested in any of that.  She will not allow herself to feel any of that long enough to feel the good that comes from opening her heart to others.  To me.

It is hard trying to find creative ways to show her love that she cannot misinterpret or use as a substitute for the real thing.  The love she requires takes time and very conscious effort.  It cannot use many words, candy, food, toys, other people, favors.  It needs to be intimate, directed and purposeful.  It has to be done in such a way that she doesn't feel like she has done something to deserve it.  Somehow I have to make her feel that it is unconditional, sincere and lasting.  Before I can ever reach that place I have got to get over some huge obstacles.  That fortress of fear.  

Caught in the Abyss

Victoria's obsession with relying on others to make her feel good always is frightening.  This is the stuff addictions are made of.  This isn't a typical kids demand for being entertained.  She wants to be having fun all the time and when she isn't, she is angry.  When she is angry, she begins to live in this dangerous fantasy land that wants to hold someone responsible for not providing constant attention.  That would be mostly me.  I knew her demands were insatiable but I thought there was a magic amount of attention that would suffice for her.  I see now, there really isn't.  There is no balance to be had between negative and positive attention.  She will take it all and all the time.  Again, it is never enough.  It was a long time coming to this place because I just couldn't imagine, nor really understand, how demanding she really is.  I felt it to be sure.  It sucked all the energy out of me. 
This dangerous fantasy land conjures up all kinds of half-truths, total imagination and vindictiveness.  Her view of reality is distorted by what she has lived and how she really wants to be living but a mind so abused by her past will not allow her to think clearly.  
For so long, I would think "How could she appear to be so smart yet be so completely senseless at times?"  I thought it was a trick.  It really isn't.  Between trying to say the right thing and suppressing her true feelings she is caught in the abyss.  

Her Story

I am not completely ready to take on her story in this blog.  I have found a personal coach to help me begin writing my book where I can be more expressive and specific.  But lately I have sat down and wrote a few posts about her as her behaviors begin to make more sense to me after years of fueling madness.  I suppose at times along the way I have read bits of this somewhere or someone has told it to me but I guess I had to live it to learn it.  

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


As the sun arose,
its light capped the snow covered peaks,
while the shadow blanketed beneath.
The icy blue sky fell behind
and lent itself to a magnificent backdrop.
Who would stop for a moment
and watch
as the sunlight
inched down the mountain
and see the shadow shrink away?
I don't have time.
I must make time.
He has got me to notice,
now I need to stay.
There are too many good excuses
to make me not pause.
And bad ones, too.
I listen.
I listen.
Averting my thoughts.
Even if I don't hear a thing,
I know I have reflected for a moment
and took notice.
I keep looking in good places for temporary comfort.
It is fleeting and volatile.
When will I stop pursuing this disappointment?
It only leads to discouragement and frustration.
Where is that true Comforter?
The One that appreciates me for who I am and values what I can give
The One that sustains me in peaceful reverence
not in impatient aggrivation.
The One that doesn't need specifics
because He pays attention to the details.
It is here that I will find enduring comfort
and His answers always sufficient.
If I would stop for a moment.
I will not only notice,
I will recognize Him.
And know that he is nearby
even though I feel so distant. 

written january 2008

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Today, but feels like Tomorrow

There is something hopeful about tomorrow, next week, next year.  I feel it on most todays now when dealing with Victoria.  Her anxiety, her hyper vigilance weighs on me and pulls my focus off.  But it will get better.  I just don't know when.  What I do know is that we are much closer than we have ever been.  
We are approaching the present now.  I don't know what that means for my posts.  I have shared only a part of my story.  I will be back on some tomorrow to share part of her's.  When I have that advantage of hindsight.  
This was just a glimpse.  Maybe someday I can write the whole story while not living in part of it.  

What I Know For Sure

I have been tentative about allowing comments on my post.  This has never been about receiving sympathy.  In the beginning months of therapy, my lament was, "I just wish I would have known this in the beginning when we brought her home." However, despite the pain, especially the unexpected pain that came from good sources, I can never wish I had known.  Far too many truths have been revealed and I am beginning to feel the warmth of the sun.  

This story is far from over but I am more hopeful than I have ever been and more prepared than I could have ever imagined.  I am anxious for the day when Victoria will be able to relinquish the fear and allow the love and joy to flow freely from her heart.  That she will be free from the weight of despair that has robbed her of a childhood that should have been full of innocence, light-heartedness and happiness.  I know before that day arrives there will be more disappointment and impatience but I have loved this girl more than anyone despite what I could not do for her.  This love brought her to this home.  This love allowed her to stay.  This love will mend her.  This love will allow her to love others.  

Saturday, May 10, 2008

A Heart In the Right Place

When we first started therapy I was depleted.  The insight and help Max provided in the first couple of months made such a significant difference in our lives.  I wasn't feeling confident in knowing what to do with Victoria based on my past history of complicating things. I hung onto to his every word.  I had some preconceived notions about therapist.  Lets just say they were pretty lofty.  Max had some challenges that would not allow him to ever live up to these standards.  I think it has to do with him being human or something. And that he had to deal with me. :) I expected the rest of therapy to continue changing at that pace and with that understanding.  That isn't how it works.  
We now begin therapy again and I have a much better understanding and perspective on how this all works.  No therapist has all the answers.  They have their best guess based on past history.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.  But my greatest lesson learned concerning this: Is that I may know what is best for her.  I am entirely confident in myself and my intent with her now.  I feel like I can make suggestions.  I feel like I can decide whether or not something will work.  This is important.  I live with her 24/7.  I have insight no one else has.  And I trust myself now.  It is amazing what happens when you have a heart in the right place.

Learning at a Snail's Pace

 I did not know some of these things for sure, for a very long time. Max tried to tell me. I tried to believe him. It has taken me a while to get here. It helps me understand her and how to respond to her but it doesn't make it any easier. Really in some ways it is more difficult.
I finally had to get to a place where I believed that all of her behaviors were actually selfish tactics to get attention from me. But because she places such an enormous amount of importance on negative attention, it appears so deliberate to hurt me. But she is really too self absorbed to focus on what she can do to hurt me. She is deliberate and vindictive but only so far as to get a reaction for her warped sense of love. I have to think that the demand for negative attention stems not only from what she received most at the orphanage but also for so long that was the way to get the biggest reaction from me.
We are in a place where we try to set her up for positive experiences so she can feel the good feelings, not be scared of them, and to prefer them. Right now, she has no interest in feeling good. She constantly sabotages the good experiences that could come into her life.  She finds comfort and familiarity in the misery.

Nothing Personal

I am here.  I am stronger.  I still have to allow her to take my love today, throw it away tonight and provide more in the morning.  I am not a paper weight.  I am the pin cushion taking all the jabs.  It is painful but I am not hanging onto it.  I understand her now.  I feel sorry for her.  I see it isn't so much about disobeying me, as it is so hard to let go of the misery, even though it takes more effort for her to maintain the despair.  So my heart hurts for the wrong choices but I am not hurt personally by the disobedience.  Finally.
She is starting to feel me.  My sincerity.  My consistency.  My love.  It is scaring her.  She is raging more often but not every day.  But I can see the progress in it.  It is breaking down walls.  S-l-o-w-l-y.  

Friday, May 09, 2008

Stumbling Blocks

 Right before I stopped taking Victoria to therapy my heart was at war with what I knew I should be doing and not being able to do it.  Especially showing her consistent affection.  Just thinking back on it is a bit traumatizing to me.  I felt like I could do it.  But literally, when I saw "that face" you know, the one that everyone falls in love with so quickly, my heart would not allow me to do what my mind knew had to be done. I could not see beyond the face.  I couldn't see her heart.  I knew that underneath it all is a little girl with so much love and happiness to give buried by fear but I couldn't see it.  I wasn't allowing myself to.  It never failed, for instance, on my worst days there would be a talk in Church on charity.  I was a mess.  I wanted this to be fixed.  I wanted to be able to do what I thought I was capable of.  I sent the same email to Max and my dad asking for help.  I sent an email to Max because I knew I couldn't be the first mom with this problem and I sent one to my Dad because I felt he knew what my heart was capable of.  
Max responded with suggestions that had worked for other mothers.  I could pretend to see a baby, or one of my other children's faces when I looked at her.  I could imagine her as having cancer or some other disease because she really is sick on the inside although she looks perfectly fine on the outside.  He also said that there was no magic trick that would fix it.  That wasn't going to work for me.  Max would soon see a pattern forming here, what would work for most Mom's, I complicated.  
My dad sent me back a treasured email.  He reminded me of the charity I did indeed have and had since my youth.  I couldn't seem to find it at the moment but his confidence in me and the other precious truths in that letter was a comfort to me.  Things didn't change in that moment.  I would imagine this is a significant stumbling block for many parents.  And it is too personal to have anyone figure out for you.  I have indeed gotten to place where I not only see her for who she really is underneath it all but I find the truths in her behaviors despite what she is saying.  I am not completely sure how this has happened.  Enough time has not transpired for me to objective.  But what I do know, is it is a miracle. 

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Picking up the Pieces

I knew that my reactions to her were making everything more difficult than it ever should have been but I couldn't make sense of her or me.  I was looking from the inside out.  I couldn't see everything objectively.  I didn't know how I was going to fix myself but I know I needed someone who could see from the outside in.  This was a problem.  I don't let people on the outside, in.  This is a part that is so intensely personal.  I want to share it, I don't want to share it.  I want everyone to understand it.  There is no way I could even begin to explain it.  I had to look to my past to make sense of my present.  In this last General Conference, Elder Scott gave a moving and tender talk on abuse.  I think this line that he quoted could be attributed to any deep emotional turmoil.  "Healing may begin with a thoughtful Bishop or Stake Counselor or a wise professional counselor...but remember a true cure comes through the Savior..." I come through this part of my journey, reminded of the woman, you know the one, she felt weak, helpless, depleted, unsure and reached out with just enough faith to touch the hem of the Savior's garment, "Daughter, be of good comfort, thy faith hath made thee whole..."

I am whole now.  I have more capacity to feel in my heart than I did before.  Pieces of me that had been numb are now more intense.  I need all of this for what will be required of me to eventually help Victoria become whole.  But it will be easier, though still not easy this time, not only because my best is so much better but He is still making up the rest.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Another Adoption Story

There are many adoption stories that aren't so complicated.  I actually have one.  Even though our journey with Victoria has been challenging, I did decide to expand our family again.  It was spur of the moment.  It required no background checks or paperwork.  They weren't concerned with how many kids we had or our parenting style.  I traveled to South Jordan.  And he can't talk :) And he has been so good for my mental health.  His ancestors originated in Cuba but he has an Irish name.   Meet my 6 month old Havanese, Finnegan.  

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Pieces of Me

I thought that freeing my heart from all the resentment would be enough.  I knew I was in a far better place now but I was still allowing things she did to hurt me.  And I felt an enormous amount of pressure to initiate and form trust with her so I could be the person she would bond to.  I just told Max, "tell me what to do and I will do it."  I could provide the affection now but I was literally just going through the motions.  And it was working.  For her.  But I couldn't maintain it.  The most painful part for me was in the evening.  I would take her defiance all day long.  I compare it to water torture.  The kind where they strap you down and a drop of water lands on your forehead every few seconds.  It's only water right?  But it is tormenting.  That is exactly what her "insignificant" behaviors felt like, all day long.  And then, I would need to go in her room in the evening to cuddle with her, feed her a piece of chocolate and act unaffected by it all.  The smile that would greet me screamed conditional.  Yet, I could not be.  I had to begin with a clean slate each day no matter what happened the day before.  A lesson in forgiveness nearly every day.
We went to therapy every Tuesday.  On about Sunday, the stress would kick in and I would want to cancel.  I knew this is what she needed, the only way she was going to get better, so I would go, never canceling,  knowing that I couldn't even manage to do what was required of me the week before.  
The previous three years and the demands of the present had left me in pieces.  I finally realized, I could not do anything until I was whole.  I couldn't pretend any longer until it became real.  It wasn't working for me.  It was scary for me to stop therapy.  I was worried about her, me, the support, but it was worth it just to free myself of the stress that I encountered every week going into that office.  So nearly six months after starting therapy, we stopped.

My Talk on Forgiving and Receiving Forgiveness

We know that Christ was sent here, and willing, to do the will of His Father.  We also know that His Father's will is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of each of us and all men.  Everything Jesus Christ did on earth was to help us in this life that we may return to our Heavenly Father.

Neal A Maxwell says, "Any serious disciple yearns to go home to Heavenly Father and be welcomed there by Jesus."  But the Prophet Joseph Smith declared, "We cannot go where they are unless we become more like them."

To become more like them we must accept the Lord's individual and personal invitation to "come follow me."  Why is this so important?  In John 14:16 the Lord declares, "I am the way, the truth and the life no man cometh to the Father but by me."  If our exaltation is dependent upon following Jesus then it is imperative that we know Him.  "Learn of me and listen to my words, walk in the meekness of my Spirit and you shall have peace in me."

As we study the brief time that Christ walked upon the earth we not only find the path we must trod but we also find a unique empathy and a perfect mercy that will help us on our way.  

As I thought about how studying and learning about the life of Jesus Christ helps us today, I knew this topic was no coincidence.  I knew that as much as I'd like to give examples of how others had been helped, I know no story better than my own.  

As we come unto Him, and find ourselves being perfected in Him, we find that this journey can often seem slow and difficult. But as Neal A Maxwell reminds us, "Be assured God is in the details and in the subtleties of the defining and preparatory moments of discipleship.  He will reassure you.  He will remind you.  Sometimes if you are like me, he will brace or reprove you in a highly personal process not understood or appreciated by those outside the context."

This highly personal process is one that Alma refers to as a mighty change of heart.  And this is not a one time occurrence.  It will happen throughout our lives and often the changes that leave an indelible mark on our soul cannot be easily expressed or often appreciated by others.  Simply because, only One knows the intents of hearts, where we have been and how far we have come.  But with this Spirit as my guide, I will try.

I have always been in the heart of the fold, just one of ninety and nine.  I have made mistakes, recognized them and immediately repented.  My life has followed a divine path.  I have prayed for and received direction from my Father in Heaven.  As a result of being a peaceable follower of Christ, he has seen fit in his wisdom only, to bless me both spiritually and temporally.  That is not to say that I have not struggled.  But with each struggle, I am made a little stronger.

It should be wise to remember: where much is given, much is required.  I had no idea what the Lord was going to require of me.  And as I ponder on my lot before me I must remind myself of these promises:
"Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn of me; for I am lowly in heart and ye shall find rest in your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
"Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, lean not unto thine own understandings.  In all thy ways, acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths."

I knew I could trust the Lord to forgive me for the wrongs in my life.  A promise that I take comfort in.  I love the healing power of repentance.  A much more difficult, yet divine quality, I struggled with was forgiveness.  And this is my story I'd like to share with you.

I had been lied to and manipulated.  I tried to trust and love someone who delighted in provoking my anger, causing confusion, and thwarted my best attempts to help.  Lies and empty promises.  Hopes dashed hundreds of times.  For three long, contentious and hard years I tried to make sense of the senseless.  I fought a losing battle, swimming against the tide, hanging onto a sliver a faith.  I was buffeted, bruised and torn  Not unlike, yet not at all like, the Savior himself.  Except how I handled it couldn't have been more different than when he said,  "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do."  This couldn't be anymore true than in my case.  She doesn't know what she is doing.  She is doing what she has always known- a result from a lack of love and security.  But at the time I didn't know, and the pain and hurt had turned my heart bitter and resentful.  For so long I was feeling wronged and all I wanted was a sincere apology for it all.  I demanded justice.  As you can see already, I had much to learn.  

A friend, in watching me struggle to mend, suggested to me the very topic of this talk when he said, "Maybe you should study about forgiveness, especially through the life of the Savior."  Of course, that evening I went right to studying and wrote out some comments.  It wasn't an answer but it opened my mind to what I needed to do to bring the peace into my life that comes from true forgiveness. 

Here are a few of the comments I wrote:
The Lord with that same infinite wisdom that blesses me, also would require of me, greater love, patience, long-suffering, kindness and not the least, forgiveness.  The very attributes that make him the King of Kings and Prince of Peace are suppose to be reflected in my countenance.  And this requiring a mighty change of heart.

"The spirit of forgiveness and an attitude of love and compassion is the very essence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ."  I need this spirit.  How am I going to get it?

I must change my attitude.  "Significantly when we forgive our wounds begin to heal.  As we faithfully surrender to the Savior the pain caused to us by others, the power of the Atonement heals our wounded hearts, lifts our burdens of sorrow, and brings peace...to our souls."
"Be ye kind to one another, tenderhearted forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you." (Eph 4:32)

In addition to the scriptures, another important resource was found in the words in this book, The Peacegivier.  I cannot even begin to help you understand the changes I felt but should you decide to read it, I can tell you I saw myself on nearly every page.  I began to see through the Atonement I couldn't make demands on justice.  The Savior says, "Let me deal with it if there is any dealing to be done.  But you, my dear daughter, let it go.  Let me take it as I have already done. Forgive."  I was beginning to see that the Atonement is as much for the benefit of the sinned against as for the sinner.  I did begin to understand these things clearly in my mind but truly my heart was lagging behind.  I still didn't know how this change was going to come about?  I didn't know where the strength was going to come from?  How was the Lord going to work this miracle in my life?  Of course, the Lord provides a way.  He was waiting for me to be ready.  And often times He works through other people and for this miracle to take place he chose my Bishop.

I did not know this man.  We have just moved into the ward.  I had met him and his counselors in our home for 30 minutes the previous night.  The following night as I met with him for a regular Temple recommend interview, the conversation seem to take a diversion.  He didn't know me or the extent of my torment or what he would say that evening would be an answer to my humble and fervent prayers but he didn't need to know those things because Someone else already did.

I know the Lord still works miracles because my heart has been a recipient.  The first thing the Lord was going to to was tell me I could do it.  He would let me know in no uncertain terms that as one of the most important things I was sent here to do, I can rise above this.  What a loving Heavenly Father, that first shows he has faith in me, tells me what blessings I will receive and then, only then, after I really understood this time, he tells me what is required of me to have that change of heart.  I cannot remember nor can I relate all of the things the Bishop spoke to me but the feelings of that moment will stay with me for an eternity and heal wounds that I didn't know how they would be healed.  

Forgiving her was obvious to me.  It was the only way to heal from the pain, resentment and bitterness.  I was ready to do this for her and now I see, for me.  Nothing was ever going to get any better if everything was contingent upon her finally doing or saying the right thing.  Forgiveness requires no strings attached.  I do not need her repentance (she has nothing to repent of) I need my own.  She doesn't need my forgiveness.  I need to forgive her.  Just once?  No seven times seventy if it needs be.  But you see, it will be easier now because I have already begun to feel the sweet peace.  I am beyond hopeful now.  His burden is light.

It is a miracle and a promise that the power of the Atonement can heal us.  I cannot diminish the significance, nor marvel at the speed at which the change came after studying with real intent and praying with a sincere heart.  Isn't that all he requires of us?  A broken heart and a contrite spirit?  My spirit has to be ready to hear what he has to say and until now my heart simply wasn't.  

As I have continued to study about the Atonement, I see that because I now have a personal witness, those selfish feelings have no place in my heart.  They cannot coexist with what I know and feel.  What do I know?  I know first of all that I can handle whatever is presented before me, even when I have no idea how.  I know that through the Lord's power, weak things can be made strong.  I know that he can heal the deepest hurt.  I know that in addition to healing he provides hope.  

Elder Roueche, from the Quorum of the Seventy has said, "When we forgive and let go of that which has weighed heavily on our hearts and taken us off the path, a great burden is lifted from our souls, and we are free- free to move forward and progress in our pursuit of the gospel of Jesus Christ with an increase of love in our hearts.  We will be blessed with an increase enthusiasm for life, and our hearts will be lighter.  A surge of spiritual energy will propel us forward in joy and happiness.
And now I say unto you that the good shepherd doth call after you; and if you will hearken unto his voice he will bring you into his fold, and ye are his sheep." (Alma 5:60)

May we always find ourselves in the heart of the fold, accepting His invitation of follow Him.  It is my prayer that whatever the struggle, we might look to God, and live.  I testify of these things in the name of my Savior, and my advocate with the Father, even Jesus Christ, Amen.

Matters of the Heart

I can talk all day about the matter-of-fact stuff.  Consequences, behaviors, therapeutic approaches.  But now we get to the intensely personal part of the story.  I should be hesitant to share this but I'm not.  I am not even close to perfect.  And this journey just confirms that for me.  This is my struggle.  Everyone has one.  Mine is personal, specific only to me in how I dealt with it. But what I want to accomplish here, especially for other RAD moms, is the comfort in knowing that someone is dealing with the exact same struggle although it is too personal for someone else to figure out for you.  There is not a one size fits all fix for the emotional challenges that these children present to parents, especially mothers. 
I just couldn't provide the physical affection required of me.  I didn't even want to sit down and read her a book.  Thankfully Jay was able to do all the things I couldn't do, until I could do them.  But it felt like never.  My heart had become so bitter and resentful.  Even with the knowledge I had now, that all her acts against me weren't so much to hurt me as reactions to a broken and sick child, I couldn't seem to let it go. 
This torment that I felt from not being able to do what was required of me was second only to the anguish I feel about how I treated her especially during the first year and half in our home. Simply not knowing what was going on is not a good enough excuse for me.  I am working on accepting forgiveness for my actions.  
I explain my journey to forgiveness in a talk I was asked to give shortly after coming through all of this.  I don't mention Victoria by name and I imagine most in the congregation had no idea I was speaking of my own daughter.  I know that each of us have our own way of dealing with difficulties in our lives and for me, it required a spiritual change.  

Sunday, April 27, 2008


There are a series of steps that we work with Victoria to initiate bonding.  On her part, it consists of respect, understanding, obedience, empathy, sacrifice.  Every week we try different approaches to help her learn these and other important characteristics.  We work on one until she has it and move on from easiest to most difficult, being sacrifice.  We are not there yet.  I work with her on recognizing and labeling her emotions.  These are the things that are required of her.  

The logical part, everything we initiated to turn the control back over to me, happened very quickly.  I was ready for it.  Jay and I were actually doing some of them already.  She was working on doing what was required of her.  Now, what would be required of me?  The bonding figure?  I had no idea what was going to be required of me would stretch me beyond anything I had done the previous three years or in my entire life for that matter.  

To form trust I had to provide her unconditional affection, something she has never had in her life.  But I was still reeling from the previous three years.  I was still far away from really understanding her.  I was still taking all of her behaviors so personally.  I didn't know how to stop it.  My mind wanted to make sense of it but my heart was clearly lagging behind.  How was I going to do this?  Max would make "simple" requests of me to show her affection and I simply told him I couldn't do it.  I was being asked to do those very same things I did so carefully and deliberately in the beginning.  The thought of doing so many similar things again nearly had me paralyzed with fear.  This is my part of the story I never read anywhere.  


Going to therapy and working with these kids is not a one-size-fits-all approach.  It is trying many different approaches.  Some work, some don't.  Consequences are huge for anyone but especially these children that do not think about the results of their choices.  I try to use natural consequences but it isn't always possible.  
What was suggested in therapy for these kids when they don't obey is to first give them a physical exercise.  Jumping jacks, running around the house, sit ups, whatever.  If they don't do the exercise, they then have to do a chore.  A repetitive, mindless, chore that doesn't require constant supervision and can take as long as they want.  We use pulling weeds, shoveling, moving a rock pile or sweeping out the garage, amongst others.  If they choose not to do the chore, they go and sit in their room until they decide to do the chore.  When that is finished, they must also complete the physical exercise.  Victoria never really gets to the room stage because I always have her do something that she can do as fast or slow as she wants.  She can finish in 15 minutes when she is compliant but she has been known to take three hours.  
This was very interesting when we started this because it took away so much control and it was very frightening to her.  And the way these kids manifest their fear, is often through anger.  She would usually not even try to do the physical exercise or mess with with me and we would go to the chore.  I can remember days (and there still are occasional ones) where she would yell a blood curdling scream forever.  If pulling weeds she would just sit in the dirt, cover herself with it, pee on herself, and sit there for hours.  Some days she would pull on her clothes, her skin , her hair in such a rage.  She has absolutely no control over me.  She was at my mercy and it was terrifying.  But she would eventually finish.  

In the beginning it was so exhausting trying to be consistent and outlast the rage.  And trying to ignore all the negative behavior that was clamoring for attention.  This was demanding but when she realized that this was going to happen every single time she began to carefully choose her battles usually to test me.  The fits of rage began to decrease but something interesting started to happen.  She started to enjoy the chores.  I must, rephrase, it appeared she was enjoying the chores and tried to get them.  So now, it was not serving any purpose in changing her behavior.  I will point out that she will pretend to enjoy many things that kids should not like.  But it is another way of her trying to feel in control.  
She doesn't do nearly as many chores but the occasional disobedience that demands a consequence will send her out to move rocks.  This has been taking hours lately.  She stands outside, looks around and the neighbors windows on both sides, looking for any attention and will scream at the top of her lungs.  Look around for any warm bodies to notice and continue her scream fest.  Until I spoke to the neighbors, I thought for sure the police were going to show up at my door. 
The discipline that works best with her is a delayed consequence.  But I must be ready for retaliation.  A delayed consequence comes when she least expects it and is totally out of her control.  She didn't have anything to do with conspiring it in her mind.  For instance, she is disobedient and being totally passive aggressive during church.  I don't respond or react.  Until next week, when it is the children's program and I tell her she cannot participate because I don't trust she will be reverent.  
My mind is working as hard as hers to anticipate delayed consequences, ignore deliberate negative behavior, trying to find the sincerity in the positive, deciding what to respond to or not.  It is hard, it is time consuming.  It doesn't allow me to the be the mother I want to be to my other kids or truthfully, wife, friend, sister or daughter.  But I know it won't last forever. And when that times comes, I have already learned so many lessons, that I will be a far better mother, wife, friend, sister and daughter than I could ever hoped to be. 

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Rules and Gaining Control

If I just would have had this knowledge in the beginning, it would have made her life and mine much easier.  These are things I needed to know.  When we implemented the following rules, our lives changed completely.  I now felt in control and she welcomed the consistency.
First, she could not talk in the car.  This was brilliant.  It relieved an enormous amount of stress from me. If she did, she put one hand over her mouth.  If she tried again, it was both hands.  If she still insisted, she put her head in her lap.  We rarely get beyond the first hand.  
There are times when she is relentless in the car but they are few.  
She has a mat that is her playground.  She has three activities she can do: Legos, read a book, or color.  This is a LIFESAVER.  This alleviated me having to entertain her, wonder where she was or what she was doing. For her, it allowed her to focus, not have to worry about making decisions and she was reaping the benefits of being compliant.  I could also sense, instantly, she felt safe knowing she had a place to go.  I know she welcomed the structure because she rarely leaves the mat or talks which both result in playtime being over.  As she maintains compliance, I expand her playthings.  Eventually, I will give her the choice of what to play with and also, expand her play area to a room.  I don't know if this process sounds logical to you, but for most people that came to our home it seemed cruel and unusual.  Unusual, yes. There is no way my other seven year old would stay on the mat.  Cruel, absolutely not.  But I think, with reason, it makes guest feel uncomfortable when they don't have the reasoning behind it.  Because on that mat, playing quietly and smiling she does "appear" to be a perfect child.  The best analogy I have is she is like a plastic flower.  She is quiet, doesn't move and looks perfect.  But sadly, that is all there is.  There isn't a lot of emotion underneath it all.  Yet. 
She cannot ask for anything.  I decide what she will eat and how much.  I get her up in the morning and chose what she will wear.  The purpose of all of this is, besides saving me a huge headache, is teaching her to trust me.  I need her to trust that I will meet all of her needs without needing to ask me for everything.  Eventually, we want to get to a place where she has choices between two things and then when she can,  just completely choose for herself.  

An Answer to Hundreds of Prayers

The first thing we do upon arriving back to the United States, next to having our teeth cleaned, is finding help for Victoria.  I go to a website I recall my mom telling me about that deals with RAD. Attachment.org.  Here I find a list of therapist in Utah and choose the closest one in Orem.  Even after all I have dealt with, I still have reservations about calling.  Is there really a problem?  What if it is really me?  But I also know we cannot go on living this way.  
I call Max.  I briefly explain my crisis and he responds by saying this is his speciality.  I am a very cautious hopeful.  We meet in his office a week later.  Within ten minutes I know this man knows exactly what he is doing.  The way he interacts with her, how he can call her bluff and confirming numerous behaviors related to attachment disorders. I am relieved. 
The first and most important thing that Max required was that I, as the mother, the bonding figure, and the target of most of her aggression, take care of myself.  It was imperative that I did things for myself on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.  You cannot help another if you are drained physically, emotionally, or spiritually.  This is such a natural law but I think as mothers, we do not live by.  I think it is because we don't understand the significance, do not have the support or sadly, feel guilty.  So while caring for myself is such a priority for me, the only challenge I have now is maintaining a balance. Filling my lamp takes more time and conscious effort than reading a novel or playing tennis.  

Friday, April 11, 2008

More On RAD Behavior

So now we have learned that because she lived her first four years in three different orphanages with multiple caregivers she did not learn to develop healthy attachments to people.  She did not have the consistency of having her needs met.  She could not trust others around her to take care of her.  She did not experience unconditional love and the security that as parents we provide so naturally.  We don't think about our baby's brain development when we are holding them close, stroking their cheek, gazing into their eyes, responding to their cries or constantly smiling at them.  These are natural reactions that are helping these babies trust, love and feel secure.  These seemingly insignificant actions are critical in the first three years of life.  Without this foundation, children will create their own survival techniques to feel safe.  They begin to see that they cannot depend or trust others around them to meet their needs.  They must protect themselves.  The love in their lives is either non existent or inconsistent.  To survive with any amount of security the become very selfish and demanding.  The learn to only trust themselves and refuse to relinquish control.  They learn love hurts.  Their brains are actually wired reflecting these survival mechanisms.  It no longer becomes a conscious choice between right and wrong.  There is no conscience.  It is survival.  

Thursday, April 10, 2008


I still cannot make sense of most of Victoria's behaviors but I really think I am the best person at figuring out a few of them.  I don't feel entirely confident trying to explain Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) but I will make a few comments knowing that I am unintentionally leaving out important components.  
From what I understand, RAD is a fairly new diagnosis, and very controversial.  There are some basic attributes that most children have but the way they manifest it can vary to the extremes. The best book I can recommend is by Nancy Thomas, "When Love is Not Enough" but I also know from interaction with family, friends and teachers the concept may seem understandable but the "reactive" part, how kids react to it, is often lost on most.  It stands to reason that children from orphanages would suffer from this disorder but any child that has significant disruption in the first three years of life is at risk.
This would explain why Victoria's ability to understand love and her cause and effect thinking is so under-developed.  It is the basic trust cycle that develops as infants.  As babies we cry to let others know there is a need.  Usually promptly, that need is met by feeding, changing diapers, holding, or just simply providing relief.  In a healthy relationship, this cycle is consistent and from this trust forms bonds that we associate as love.  I can't know exactly what happened in her first four years of life but I do know it wasn't consistent.  How could it be?  She had multiple caregivers.  Even with the best caregiver to child ratio in an orphanage, there is no way there would be enough time or enough of anything.  Which explains why nothing is ever enough for her.  And why she is so angry.
It also completely explains why she didn't trust me and how all my intense acts of love in the first year and half were actually more frightening for her than helpful.  But I took it so personally because I didn't understand why she was sabotaging all my efforts so willingly. She really wasn't.  It was reacting.  And eventually so was I. There was absolutely no trust on either side.  Without trust, bonds of anything, including love cannot be formed. 
I previously alluded about her cause and effect thinking.  She hasn't had opportunities to make decisions and learn from them.  She would operate purely on motivation (a selfish one) and doesn't think about the consequences.  That was maddening.  But she was also in self preservation mode.  The only mode she has ever known.  
But it wasn't just love that is underdeveloped.  It is most of her emotions.  She has a hard time really understanding what feeling happy is like.  I am serious, for the first two years, I can count a few times where I heard a true, delightful laugh from her.  She didn't know that feeling.  She has trouble feeling bad or sorry for things.  I am not even completely sure what she understands about feeling sad but I know she can feel mad and angry.  What a tragedy.  First that she has to grow up this way and then I complicate it.  

What I Knew For Sure

I am feeling a bit dramatic in my post but I don't know what to say, it was dramatic. It still is at times.  While in Ireland, things began to manifest themselves and give support to my feelings.  I knew that the only true consistent emotion that I had ever seen from Victoria was the one she showed the most: anger.  I knew she was angry.  I also knew is was stemming from fear but I didn't know what to do about it. 
I think I can count on one hand when I think Victoria has really opened up to me and not been scared of the consequences.  Even if there wasn't any. One of those nights (and they were all at night) was in Ireland.  I knew she was intimidated by me and didn't fully trust me.  Why would she?  Yet, one night as I talked to her, I brought out a purple elephant and began to talk to it.  I pretended the elephant was Victoria and she answered for it.  Things began to finally make some sense when she told me how she often thought about destroying her room, ripping up my clothes, and breaking everything.  She told me she hated everyone in the family.  I was so relieved.  You must understand why.  I have felt this from her but nothing she ever says indicates it.  I had no idea these feelings and others were even capable in a tiny child.  I also knew that our thoughts become our actions so it was no surprise that her destructive behaviors were predicated upon a very destructive thought process.  But I still didn't have the knowledge how this was all related to attachment disorders.  I still felt like she had a choice and always chose the wrong one.  Intentionally.  One other instance that validated my feelings was while we were visiting friends.  She came up to me on the couch and was being affectionate.  This was very unusual at this point.  When we got into the car I asked her what that was all about as she doesn't normally do that.  She replied, "I wanted them to think I was nice to you."  
For over three long years, wrong or right, justified or not, I took every look, every insincere hug, every intentional and manipulative behavior personally.  I held onto every grudge and infringement on my heart.  She was living on the periphery of my heart. The angst, the helplessness, the inadequacy, the illusive answers, beating myself up, left more depleted and depressed than even I understood.  It was a slow, tortuous process.  But I was the second victim.  I thought I was the only.  

Monday, April 07, 2008

Surviving...the Guilt

We didn't make any huge strides in helping her but we did have enough things working that we could at least deal with her day to day. They were just coping mechanisms on our part and I knew that.  I knew what we were doing wasn't going to help her get any better. It was just allowing us (me) to function at some other level than crazy.  
I knew that to keep her in check, I couldn't allow her to make any decisions.  (I'll stop and explain why as I go along but most of this was lost on me then.)  This just stands to reason.  She spent her first formable years in an orphanage where she was told what to do every single moment of the day.  She had no opportunities to make choices, suffer consequences or learn from her mistakes in a healthy environment.  So she comes into our home and suddenly can decide everything for herself?  There is no way.  It must have been so overwhelming, never mind, all the other things she had to deal with initially.  
It was best if she didn't play with the other children.  She was vindictive and controlling.  Not always but usually so I just didn't put her or the other kids in that position anymore.  And kids anywhere could pick up on this in minutes.  Adults? totally clueless. 
I could not leave her alone.  I dealt with her best when she was in the same room with me doing absolutely nothing.  She could not/would not entertain herself.  
I knew this wasn't doing her any good but it helped me maintain my sanity and most importantly, she had no control over me.  As time went on, my coping mechanisms became similar to hers.  I treated her with indifference.  This saved me from hurt, heartache and disappointment.  But, living with these feelings for so long made it very difficult for me to come back to a place where I could show her any type of affection.

I spent so much time being impatient and mean to her.  I never wanted to give her anything.  She made it very difficult for me and I struggled with this.  It would literally tear me up inside. I didn't know what was going on.  I hated my reactions to her.  This wasn't who I was.  And she accepted this.  She didn't like it but I think she felt she deserved it.  She wanted to do better but she couldn't and didn't know why.  
I don't like because of my reactions to her, the boys had virtually no patience for her.  I had set a precedent that she was always wrong.  There came a time where she probably could do no right in my eyes and gave up trying.  I did not know what was going on and my hurt, confusion and numbness where all natural reactions.  But the problem came when I wanted to feel justified for it all and held her responsible.  The guilt, this guilt, still manifest itself but I am working intently on letting it go.  

Heart Bypass

Everything is bypassing my heart at this point.  I can be more specific now but nothing was clear to me then.  Victoria never developed the foundation needed to form secure attachments.  That was the simple part for me to understand.  The more complex part, that is only really beginning to make sense to me in the last few months, is that she has no concept of love.  All of the time, energy, tears, and pain, I spent showing love to Victoria is processed in her mind the exact same way "attention" is from complete strangers.  My sacrifices didn't mean any more to her than the sticker she would get from the cashier at the grocery store.  While in Ireland my mind couldn't make sense of this but my heart did and I was taking it all personally.  It had worn me down. I had no more to offer her.  
What was recommended in Carolyn Archer's book sounded completely logical to me but my heart wanted no part of it.  Essentially you go back to babyhood and reconstruct time and activities that she missed out on.  I started to do it.  But I just couldn't.  I could sense that it wasn't serving the right purpose.  I felt like Victoria just could not process and make sense of my actions to "rewire" her brain.  It felt like she was sucking the life out of me.  The best analogy I have is that I was pouring love into a soul full of holes and everything I would do, everything I had done, just wasn't enough.  Things weren't just bypassing my heart.  It was feeling numb.  

Nothing New

At times when I would post my travel blogs that you see here, I would feel that fraudulent feeling again.  There is no doubt that we had an incredible time spending a year traveling Europe.  We were able make memories and strengthen relationships that will continue to manifest throughout our lifetime.  But there was one relationship that was still suffering and now regressing and none of my post would indicate it.  
There were MANY things I did not know. But this year in Ireland I was able to begin to catch glimpses of what was going on however nothing here was going to tell me how to deal with it. 
I began reading books again on attachment disorders.  And while I found some of Victoria's behaviors in them, they are broad and were not addressing her passive aggressive nature.  They certainly weren't giving me any ideas on how to deal with her.  
She continued to seek attention any way that she could, usually through bad behavior.  We spent hours trying to talk to her.  Jay and I would go through periods where we really felt like we got through to her but be in the same place or two steps back the next day.  Talking to these kids does nothing for the problem.  In fact, it probably encourages it.  We spent so much time trying to "make" her feel responsible and sorry for her actions.  She then would respond with the right words but her actions were the complete opposite.  Her sincerity became a sword.  These kids are never sorry enough.  Never happy enough.  Never full enough.  Never anything enough.  And it is terribly, terribly sad.
I was beginning to understand that fear was the motivating factor for most of her behaviors but I didn't know how to calm those fears.  I had tried the best way I knew how the first year she arrived.  By now, our inconsistency, was fueling the fear.  
We were able to meet a supportive source from the international adoption community while in Dublin for a conference.  We met with Carolyn Archer for about 30 minutes and it was so refreshing to meet someone who really understood what we were talking about.  She made some suggestions, gave us a couple of her books and offered any support by telephone or other means.  It was encouraging.  And then, I read her books and she gives specific responses to these kids. But what she was suggesting is comparable to performing open heart surgery on myself.  

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Auto Pilot

We are functioning on auto pilot at this point.  I really feel like the Lord was giving us just enough to get by.  I know now I had a lot of lessons to learn at her expense and mine.  There are some things I could have done differently to make our lives easier.  That is hindsight.  
You must be asking yourself where is Jay in all of this? He is doing what men do best and I envy: compartmentalizing.  But he is also traveling 2 weeks out the month.  I was her target and I am female so I am reacting emotionally.  He recognizes this and would come through with his nearly flawless patience.  Provide me relief from her whenever he could and be a soundboard and support.  These crisis on the very things that can make or break families.  He clearly had the strength and I was hanging on a sliver of hope.  
My saving grace, on my most difficult days, was the complete assurance I had that she was where was suppose to be.  I felt helpless to be sure and every other synonym but I was never hopeless.  I had just enough faith to know someone, somewhere had the answers we needed. But for now, we were off to Europe.  

Finding Help

Finally, you say.  If it were only that simple.  For about a year I was trying to understand this girl and my reactions to her.  Nothing was making any sense.  She appeared happy.  She was affectionate.  She was friendly.  But it felt empty.  But all I had were my feelings to justify my thoughts.  Those are not easily transferred into words.  She was sneaking water.  She was "accidentally" breaking things.  She was constantly lying.  She was rocking.  What part of any of this sounds so devastating?  I see now when I talked to our social worker I wasn't specific enough.  I didn't realize it then.  And also, when it came to discussing her behaviors with professionals I had a tendency to down play them.  I could speculate as to why but it didn't help matters any.  
Our social worker was not helpful.  I then talked to our pediatrician.  He gave me a referral of a prominent child phsychologist in the area but he had a six month waiting list.  I didn't have six months.  I didn't really have six hours at this point.  His office gave me a referral to a child's mental health facility.  The doctor there was no longer practicing but set up an appointment with one of their licensed social workers.  I was apprehensive really.  I kept thinking that somehow what was wrong with this relationship was mostly me at this point.  
I meet with this social worker three times before Jay comes with me.  During those visits she never once talked with Victoria and was so endearing to her. She gave her toys and candy.  Victoria was eating up all the attention.  I knew I was in trouble when she just kept telling me, "You just have to remember where she has come from."  Remembering that she spent nearly four years in an orphanage did nothing to help me. What I needed were answers to my reactions and how to deal with her.  The last visit I took Jay and she pulled a book off the shelf, began to thumb through it throwing ideas at us and finally giving us the website in the back of the book.  Jay felt like we were there for counseling and could clearly see that she didn't know what was going on.  To say I felt discouraged is an understatement.  
We are closing in our second year of having Victoria home.  My heart is constructing barriers.  I am operating on auto pilot with this girl.  I can't see what a bad place I am in until I look back now.  We get one more referral.  A child psychologist.  He labels her as controlling.  Duh. Tries to instill fear into her by telling her if she doesn't start being obedient she will have to get shots.  Oh brilliant, what I didn't realize is, this girl is already operating on fear, let's give her some more to deal with.  And then he recommends parenting classes for us.  I was at first offended at the thought but soon realized it was a good idea.  Unfortunately this was also about the same time that we were planning to leave the country and live in Ireland for a year.  

Her Heart and Mine

I must say that we tried loads of positive reinforcement.  She just relished in the attention but did nothing to change behaviors.  One thing I wish I had known, is that these kids do not respond to typical punishments.  The only punishment that even begun to work was physical exercise. Jay came up with doing steps. I was initially opposed to it. It seemed cruel. But it worked. Except when it didn't, we had no back up. At this point, I know people were looking at us suspect.
I cringed when I would hear her ask for drinks at Church or friends houses. I knew she was doing it for the attention and because she knew it was a source of contention between us. She has this way of asking and then glancing at me with a coy smile.  She uses this often in different circumstances. When I told others not to give her drinks, or ask them to withhold anything from her, I know they are thinking I am being unfair.
I didn't even think that her physical affection towards me might be insincere but again I felt it. I was feeling like she was only doing it to get more affection from me. I was becoming conditional and I knew it was obvious to those around me.
I hated to see her crawl up on people's lap or demand their physical attention because I knew it was entirely selfish and so unsuspecting to them.  And frankly, it hurt that others could provide so easily that which as the mother, I was now struggling to. 
I must be truthful here and tell you I felt entirely taken advantage of but I fought it nearly to the death because she was so small. How could I allow a six year old to victimize me? I have had to reflect on my past for that one but I tell you I still struggle with it.
I wish I could be more specific but I know that on the outside my behaviors and reactions towards her seemed harsh and undeserving.  And some of them were.  

Monday, March 31, 2008

She Just Needs More Love

I should let you know that I am only able to share my story because we (I) have made a significant amount of progress. I am still tentative that it will be lost on most. But I hope someone will find something comforting (the comforting part is still quite a few posts away) and of worth. The title of this post is still a little painful for me.

So we clearly have a child that is operating on selfishness, manipulation, without conscience or cause and effect thinking. It wasn't that specific to me.  I didn't understand the extent of the damage she had endured or that she could even be so calculated.  

What I did know is for all the wrong decisions and bad behaviors there needed to be consequences. So I draw on my limited discipline knowledge that I used for three very obedient boys. We begin with timeout. I could put her in the corner where she would just spit on the walls or pee on the floor. She spent a significant amount of time in her room although I knew it wasn't serving any productive purpose. I could not withhold things from her because she didn't value anything. Although she clearly acted like the very thing we were taking away from her was life itself. But it was so superficial as time would tell. As were most of her emotions. We would try to bribe her but she would sabotage it. Nothing I was doing was working. I was operating on very high levels of anxiety and finally succumb to spanking. This was scary for a number of reasons. I didn't like it. I felt out of control. She seemed to prefer it to a timeout. And it was the only thing that would get her to be compliant. But only for a moment. I then would feel terribly about how strict we were being with her and convince myself she needed more love. It was a destructive, emotionally draining cycle that this clever little girl recognized. She knew if she pushed hard enough she would get an enormous amount of negative attention and confidently knew would be followed by an enormous amount of positive attention and love. She knew exactly what to do to get the most reaction out of me. I had no idea that a 4,5, 6 year old could be so manipulating. I had no idea that she reveled in the negative attention as much as the positive. I had no idea that her meaning of love was attention and only went one way. I had no idea that every one of my reactions were digging a deeper hole in which I had no idea how to get out of. 

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Lighten up

Thought I would post some funny things the boys have said over the years:
Cameron singing me a Row, row, row your boat:
"Row, row, row your boat gently down the drain
Merrily, Merrily quite contrary how does
you garden grow?"

I had been searching for a notebook for three weeks and finally decided to say a little prayer.  After I finished I went downstairs, straight to the closet and the box it was in.  I knew this would be a great opportunity to teach Cameron about Heavenly Father answering prayers.  Only half-interested he looked up and said, "You got your wish!"

When Noah was 3, he ran into my bedroom to watch TV.  As I came in he was lying on my pillow, smiling so big saying, "Mommy, I got your parking spot!"  Apparently I spent a lot of time there:)

One Christmas Noah was very introspective.  I asked what he wanted for Christmas.  He thought for a moment and said, "Everything I don't already have."  While looking through a toy catalog he asked, "Can Santa hear us from here?"  I said, "No."  And he replied, "Maybe we should talk louder."

One night putting Noah to bed he was holding on to his arm in pain and said in a suffering voice, "My arm hurts, I think it's losing weight."

Noah came walking out of the bathroom and I heard him say, "Simon says..."  He then looked at me and said, "What does Simon say?"  I explained the game to him and said, "Simon says put your finger in your ear" then "Simon says put your other finger in your ear."  I then said, "Take them out" and Noah said, "What?  I can't hear you?"

Last one:
One day Noah and I were riding in the car.  
It was very quiet and he said, "Jesus is talking to me." 
I said, "Oh, really?  What is he saying?"  
Noah said, "Well, he is really talking to Daddy.  He says to keep both hands on the steering wheel."
The next night I was sitting by him and I said, "Is Jesus talking to you?"  
He looked at me like I was crazy and said, "No, that was yesterday and there was a light."
I think Jay drove a little safer for a while 

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Her Conflict and Mine

I felt inadequate. Conditional. Unfair. Angry. Misunderstood. We were treating her so differently from the boys and I didn't like it but she was so different. But again unless you lived with her you couldn't see it. So I felt an enormous amount of guilt from those on the outside looking in. I had virtually no patience with her and found myself yelling at the kids. And for me this was so disappointing because it meant I felt out of control. There were a few things I would do better as a parent than I had growing up and this was one of them. But I wasn't doing better. I see now I was very hard on myself. I was taking the blame for so many of her actions. I clearly needed help. But I have discovered on this journey that I don't like to ask for help and I don't want to appear needy. That I gladly report is changing. So for far too long I felt like the source of the problem. Nobody would believe that this small girl could cause so much torment. I could hardly believe it myself. The dynamics of the family were changing. The spirit in the house was contentious. I was experiencing anxiety attacks (I recognize that now). And I had no outlet. And all the while, I tried to put on my best face. I felt fraudulent. I was becoming and doing things that I told myself I would never do as a parent. It was causing the trauma I was feeling from her to be more intense that it ever should have been. These feelings, at varying degrees, lasted for nearly 2 years.

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

I can tell you that while I couldn't make sense of her behaviors, something felt terribly wrong. As I shared these and other behaviors with friends and family I always got the same response. Lying, sneaking? "Oh my kid does that'. Talking and wetting the bed? 'That is a girl thing.' And even, "You finally got a difficult child." A favorite was "Well, if she was in the orphanage 4 years, you need to give her 4 years to adjust." These were all statements from certainly well-intentioned, caring people that did nothing for my mental health. Never once did I hear something that could possibly explain the lack of feelings I had for this child. This was scary for a mother, whose natural instincts are to be so nurturing. Those natural tendencies were running for the nearest exit. The stress and anxiousness I felt from her demands and my lack of understand were beginning to push me to the edge of sanity. It was only magnified by her behavior outside of the house.
If you did not live with this girl, this is what you saw: beautiful, happy, always smiling, sweet, charming, extremely smart. If you lived with this girl, this is what you saw: fear, anger, vengence, manipulation, misery, extremely smart. I have learned that it is nearly impossible to convince someone that has not spent at least a week with her, the intensity of this destructive behavior. Most just cannot see past the face. And she saves her best behavior for everyone else. So I can't and don't expect much understanding from others.
I knew others just felt like I had a strong-willed, difficult child but it felt so much more complicated than that. I was starting to convince myself that the problem was me.

A Hint of Rose

I guess I can admit that the glasses I was looking through were a wee bit rosy. There are a myriad of reasons that people choose to adopt. A universal reason is that of service. I knew that I was capable of providing Victoria with all the material and emotional needs that she lacked for many years. I did think that would make all the difference in her life. Yet, it hasn't. I wasn't as prepared as I thought.

After about 6 months of being home I started to notice some consistent behaviors that I could no longer attribute to a language barrier. These are in no particular order, just as I think of them. These behaviors also seem insignificant. Which is why I didn't really know that there was a problem.

We will start with rocking. This is a typical behavior of children in orphanages. It is a comfort and soothing mechanism for them. It is recommended that when they begin to rock that you cuddle with them and rock them. Victoria's rocking never looked soothing but I guess it was. She would rock lying down going from side to side with her arms stretched out and hands clasped together. This was not slow and gentle. It was fast and furious. So whenever I saw her rocking I would cuddle with her and encourage her to stop. I spent hours doing this. However, this seemed to only encourage her rocking. This will be a recurring theme in my life that took me far too long to pick up on: the more I told her not to do something the more she did it. When I would rock her she would have a huge smile on her face but her eyes seemed empty.

Her smile complicated, complicates, my life.

As time went on the rocking became less about comfort and more about attention. She could control the rocking if she wanted and it became a power struggle in which she won both ways. So you are thinking just ignore it, right? So difficult. Every morning as I combed her hair it would be a ball of tangles from a night of rocking. She didn't even need to tell me and I know she felt empowered by it. I tried to praise her when I know she didn't rock and it didn't seemed to make a difference.
Toilet training. I anticipated some delays but this was so much more. So she had "accidents" often. She was wearing pull ups for nearly the first year or more that she was home. She was always needing help getting on and off the toilet (with a step stool). This small act became a source of contention because at times she needed no help. I was especially sensitive to this as someone who wet the bed when I was an older child and have memories of an impatient parent. I recall that certainly when I was younger it was not intentional. So we limited her drinks at night (as you will see later this seemingly normal act was a nightmare), made sure she went to the bathroom before bed, occasionally woke her up in the middle of the night and from a doctors recommendation, had her delay going to the bathroom to strengthen what might be weak muscles.
So, she would tell me she needed to go to the bathroom and I would try to delay it by giving her something to do or entertain her for a while. Yes, then, she needed to go to the bathroom ALL the time. I didn't pick up on it initially that she was doing it for the attention. The only thing I was picking up on was how irritating it was. So when I stopped entertaining her she just stood there and wet her pants.
She would wet the bed and be soaked from her head to her toes. She would often not pee in the bed until I went to wake her up in the morning.
Telling her she couldn't have a drink after 7pm only encouraged her to do everything she could to get a drink and lots of it after 7pm. She would sneak out of bed, find a drink anywhere. The sink, the tub, the kitchen, the toilet. Incredulous. I must tell you at this point, as there are far more troubling behaviors than this, is I had no idea what was going on. I saw it as blatant and intentional disobedience. I wish I could say that I suspected other motivating factors but I simply didn't.
Her lying was incessant and crazy. She would lie about eating candy and the wrappers would be all around her. I couldn't trust anything she did or anything she said.
She was always sneaking. Sneaking food, toys, drinks, anything that she was told not to. This among other things was increasing my anxiety.
She was obsessed with drinks. She wanted any drink and lots of it. Initially I had to practically force feed her. ( I see now that was a control issue). And now while the drink issue has subsided, it has been replaced with food.
She demanded my attention all the time. She would talk unceasingly about nothing. It was constant chatter and senseless. In the car, everywhere. I couldn't tell her to be quiet, that just fueled the fire.

Destructive. She didn't value anything. She would destroy toys, her clothes, things that after 3 boys I thought were unbreakable. It made me not want to give her anything.

There are many, many more but I need something to write in my book and I simply think it is too lengthy here. But what I want to convey is that all of these seemingly normal difficult behaviors were coming from a very destructive place. I couldn't make sense of it, but I felt it. And sadly, I was reacting to all of it.

I was taking such care to nurture her and care for her emotionally despite (what I know now) were controlling and survival techniques. But to me they just felt hateful, damaging and intentional. The most difficult part I think was that there wasn't ever any remorse for the turmoil she was causing. I wasn't having any tender feelings toward Victoria and I needed to figure out what was going on. So, first I talked to family and friends.

Friday, March 28, 2008


  I feel compelled to let you know that I am by no means an expert on adoption, attachment disorders, parenting, discipline and now that I think of it, anything.  This is just one of thousands of stories.  No two children are exactly alike and certainly each parents reactions are different.  I can easily tell you there are MANY that could have done a better job than I.  The Lord either had an enormous amount of faith in me or he was taking a really big risk.  I have to believe it was the first, because being a gambler certainly is not one of His attributes.
I am apprehensive to try to tell my story in print because I know I will not be able to convey the torment that I have felt.  I wish, at times, that her behaviors were more blatant and obvious.  If she were starting fires, killing the neighbors cat or being violent it would be so much easier for you to see the difficulties.  But she is very passive.  I suppose she was doing the worse things she could think of in her 4,5,6 year old world. And she didn't need to burn down the house because what she was doing was giving her the desired effects.  

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Welcome Home

Jay and I traveled to Belarus in 2004 and brought Victoria home to our family of three boys.  We were all thrilled to have her here.  She was not only a beautiful little girl but also had the brightest smile.  I thought I was prepared to bring her into our family.  I had spoken with other adoptive parents, talked to renowned international adoption doctors, read many books and faithfully followed other people's journeys to adoption on message boards.  There were many positive experiences and happily ever afters.  I had also read about the challenges, especially attachment disorders, and felt fairly certain that I was ready to bring this little girl home.  

The first couple of months were certainly a "honeymoon" period.  She was getting an enormous amount of attention from us and many family and friends.  It was entertaining trying to communicate with her using our very broken Russian and mostly charades.  She loved attention.  She loved to hug and be hugged.  She didn't mind being touched, held or kissed.  I was relieved.  I thought during these couple of months that we had avoided the challenges of attachment.  I was certain our biggest problem would be learning and speech delays.  I was very attentive to providing her consistent touch and affection.  She was the center of our conversations at home and everywhere else.  

She was so tiny at 4 years old she was wearing 24 mos clothing.  It was so refreshing to buy girl clothes after 6 years of boys.  Her hair was so short, which was typical of an orphanage, so I looked forward to growing out and fixing her very blonde hair.  

She blended so well into the family.  Initially she fit right in and I was amazed at the ease in transition.  I will say I experienced some unexpected mourning for Noah (who is 19 days older than Victoria) and I as we had spent so much time together before she arrived.  But it didn't seem disruptive to our relationship.  

We had a few problems but they were all expected.  Toilet training, strange foods, language,  going to strangers.  We were amazed that within a couple of months she was understanding everything we said and by six months she was putting a few words together to make sentences.  But during this time more complicated things began to manifest themselves.  It was subtle and unspoken.  It was making me feel uncertain about myself and very confused.  

Friday, March 14, 2008

This Week Top Ten

I have got to break up this seriousness.  So for the fun of it; I will list my top ten most played songs from my IPOD:

10  Tomorrow                Avril Lavigne
9     Demons                   Kenny Chesney
8     Say                           John Mayer
7      Where'd You Go   Fort Minor
6      Bring on the Rain    Jo Dee Messina
5      The Blessing            Celtic Woman
4      The Riddle               Five for Fighting
3      Won't Go Home Without You   Maroon 5
2      I Don't Wanna Be in Love    Good Charlotte
1      Shadow of the Day   Linkin Park

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Many, Some, None

Many of you know that 3 1/2 years ago we anxiously adopted a beautiful, blonde, blue-eyed, four year old little girl.

Some of you know the struggle we have had with bonding and issues with attachment disorder.

Nearly none of you know the intensity of my suffering I have had not being able to do what was required of me to help this tiny, broken, child.  

I finally feel comfortable telling part of my story even though I am still very much living it.  I am not going to be terribly specific because I don't think this is the right medium but I hope to provide some insight in which you might learn something new or interesting and not totally bore you.  

Hindsight.  Is it biased?  Probably.  I will relate my experiences as I remember them but also with the new found understanding that comes with reflection and life's learning curve.  

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Sand and Foam

"Only great sorrow or great joy can reveal your truth.
If you would be revealed you must either dance naked in the sun, or carry your cross."-Gibran

The truth revealed in my next few posts will indicate that I am in fact trudging along with my cross but you will want to stay as I anticipate great joy coming and loads of sunshine.  And no I won't post the photos of me dancing.  

A Different Life

I feel like I need a new blog name to distinguish between this new beginning and the previous posts that seem like a totally different life.  Our time in Europe seems like a dream.  Now my posts will pale in comparison as I muse on the ordinary life.  But I am still Jodi and this is still a blog so it will remain.  It will be nice not to try to be so interesting.  My intentions here are totally selfish so you won't find many updates on the family.  Just me.