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.  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.