Monday, August 17, 2009

A Deeper Look into Our Family

We've kept very busy this summer. About a month and a half ago, I decided to home school the kids. I've been trying it out during the summer to see if it would even be feasible for our family. It's been kind of rocky but I'm amazed at how well it's been going.

Everyone I tell this to asks me if I'm crazy, especially those who know our family best. My kids (the older 4) aren't necessarily 'normal'. They have a lot of past trauma and neglect and all suffer from Reactive Attachment Disorder. As I learn more about older adopted children,the issues they face and how to help them, I am becoming more eager to do whatever I have to do. In a book I recently read there was a list of possible behaviors children with Attachment Disorders might have. Including:
  • Superficially engaging and "charming" behavior
  • Indiscriminate affection toward strangers
  • Lack of affection with parents on their terms
  • Little eye contact with parents
  • Persistent nonsense questions and incessant chatter
  • Inappropriate demanding and clingy behavior
  • Lying about the obvious
  • Stealing
  • Destructive behavior to self, to other, and to material things
  • Abnormal eating patterns
  • No impulse controls (frequently acts hyperactive)
  • Lags in learning
  • Abnormal speech patterns
  • Poor peer relationships
  • Lack of cause-and-effect thinking
  • Lack of conscience
  • Cruelty to animals
  • Preoccupation with fire
Between the four of them we have dealt with every behavior in the list. I was actually encouraged when I read this. Finally there was someone who understood what we were going through and who had answers for us!

I've learned that my kids, who were so charming and affectionate to us at first but then became angry, aggressive and refused any affection from us were acting out of a pattern that they've been forced to learn; that any time you let yourself get too close and to love someone things will change, that person will leave you or hurt you. We've dealt with consistent stealing; getting reports from neighbors, family and the school that things were missing and have woken up many morning to find the contents of our pantry ravaged through, eaten and thrown all over the house. We've watched in wonder at the dinner table night after night as they stuffed their mouths so full they couldn't chew, ate everything with their hands or putting their mouths to their plates (like dogs do), eating all the food within sight 'til it was gone sometimes 4 or 5 times as much as I can eat, finding food under mattresses, in pillows, in drawers and closets.

I've seen them make friends only to scare them away a short while later. We've repaired countless drywall holes, replaced several destroyed beds, found every toy they've ever owned at our house cut, chewed, torn apart, smashed, crushed and completely destroyed. We've tried to calm them as they run rampant around the house screaming, hitting, kicking, and pulling each others' hair.

I've watched in horror as they've hurt our dogs, kicking them, hitting them, dragging them by their tails and smothering them. After we pull them off, I wonder what the smug smiles on their faces meant.

I've felt helpless and fearful as my 7-year-old, after being sent to her room, bled from several cuts from climbing out her broken window (broken during a tantrum the previous day) several times, screamed at the top of her lungs 'til the neighbors started to worry and refused to let me stop her. In fear of her seriously injuring herself and me being unable to help, I called the police to have them help. Their appearance did stop that specific behavior but not the screaming tantrum that continued for another 2 hours.

I've woken up at 2:30 in the morning to the sounds of one of my kids, having climbed out her bedroom window, running around the outside of our house yelling, "Someone HELP me!" This behavior continues for several consecutive nights causing my mom (who herself fantastically raised 9 children) to sleep outside her bedroom window on the ground. Each time she tried to come out, my mom would tell her to go back in! (One of the many funny stories to be told around a family reunion camp fire in the future I'm sure!)

I've had to inform the neighbors of our situation and to not be alarmed when they heard strange noises coming from our house.

I've become an expert lie detector. I can see them coming even before they start! I was stunned into speechlessness when I realized that my 7-year-old was peeing down the heating vent in her room, my 6-year-old down his metal frame bed post, on his walls and drawing pictures in his carpet with his pee, and my 3 year old into her laundry.

I've wondered what to do when every time we went somewhere and my son would poop his pants. He also would poop his pants whenever something made him angry, sometimes as often as 6 times a day. We've found poop smeared all over walls, mirrors, clothes, beds... practically every place imaginable.

I've held kids for over an hour as they scream, kick and hit until they calm down, then hold them longer rocking them and singing to them as if they were a baby. I tell them that they didn't have someone to take care of them when they were young so I want to do it now.

I felt so much sorrow at realizing what all of these behaviors mean. Realizing that as tiny infants they were left to cry in hunger and discomfort for hours. Instead of receiving love and care they were hit. When they finally found someone to care for them who they gave their hearts to (some of their foster parents) they were taken from them. They learned that those you love and care for will disappear so it's easier and less painful to not let yourself love or to be lovable.

I've wondered how I can recreate their early years with four of them at once. I spend much of every day holding them, rocking them, reading to them and even feeding them with bottles to help them heal, but still I feel like I'm not doing enough. Sometimes I have to choose which ones I'm going to hold and which ones I have to let wait while they cry and tantrum. Even when they're all home all day, there doesn't seem to be enough time in the day to attend to all of them how I should.

But we are doing everything we know to make things better. Brad has cut his work hours drastically to be home more and we are homeschooling them to keep them near us more, to help them be able to attach to us how a child should be attached to a parent. I spend almost every waking moment of everyday with them.

I'm reminded of just how fragile they are and how vulnerable they feel when after several months without a date, Brad and I go on a 2-hour-date. We came back to angry kids who won't look us in the eye or even acknowledge that we're talking to them. When we got too close to them they'd lash out at us. It took nearly 3 full days to get back to where we were before our 2-hour-date.

So with a huge and constant prayer in our heart and with all the energy we possess, we push forward with the hope that things are getting better and that we can make a difference for these kids that we love so much.

This is a creek that is about a 5-10 minute walk from our house!! It's SO beautiful and the kids had a great time playing in it for several hours.

I can't even begin to express the adoration I have for this little girl. She makes my every waking moment brighter and even my dreams too. I am convinced that I have the sweetest, happiest most tender-spirited baby ever born. I have a hard time sharing her with others who are dying to hold her. She makes motherhood SOOO rewarding.

Several times throughout the day I'll be holding her or she'll be lying somewhere close to me and I'll glance over at her to see her busting out in a big grin as she follows me with her eyes.

She 'talks', laughs and smiles all day long. Her spirit is very sensitive. Brad and I have both noticed her become uncomfortable around contention and be awed and calmed by beautiful music.

When she was just 3 days old, I took her to a musical fireside the missionaries put on that I was asked to sing in. My mother-in-law sat in the back with her and was in awe as Kenzie completely relaxed at the start of each song and looked around the room in wonder. As each song ended she'd drift off to sleep until the next song started and she'd look around again, sometimes with a smile on her face. Then as my mom and I sang a duet tears ran down my mother-in-law's cheeks as she watch her react to our voices.

She's been a happy and content baby from the very start. She was smiling at me before I even left the hospital with her after she was born. During her first 2 weeks, I heard her cry maybe 3 times including the minutes after she was born. Many times when I'm holding her she relaxes into me so much that I'll be sure she has fallen asleep. I face her toward someone and ask them if she's sleeping and be told that her eyes are wide open and she's looking around.

One of my very favorite things she does is while I'm nursing her. She'll be eating then pull off, look up at me and smile the sweetest, biggest, most precious smile at me then, she'll go back to eating.

She smiles at EVERYTHING! She smiles when I'm changing her diaper, when I change her clothes, when she meets my gaze, while she's eating, in the car, when I wipe her mouth, when I give her baths, when she spitting-up, when I lay her down, when I pick her up, she's even smiled at me a few times when I cleaned her nose out with a bulb syringe!! She knows how to make her momma's heart melt.
She's our angel and makes every day brighter!
This video is classic Kenzie behavior!
(make sure the volume is turned up)

She even tells me she loves me while she sleeps!Her quiet, peaceful influence everyday calms every member of our family. She is adored by all of us.


Morris Mama said...

Thank you so much for sharing! I'm no therapist so I have zero advice. Homeschooling sounds like a crazy undertaking but of course, like any good mom knows, if it helps your children heal then it's worth it. It breaks my heart to hear the neglect your sweet children went through as babies. Sounds like undoing all that damage is a huge undertaking. That's why Heavenly Father gave them you to be their wonderful mom.

Carl and Amber said...

I don't think that you are crazy for homeschooling! I've actually been considering it myself. I can't think of a better way to protect our children. Don't forget the power of priesthood blessings. You are doing an amazing job. The damage that took years to create, may take years and years to overcome.

Melanie W. said...

Thank you for sharing, and it's great that you're writing this down for yourself. I seriously am so lucky to have you as a friend! You are amazing for all that you do!! I'm sure lots of people could adopt 4 young, battered children at once, but it takes special people to do it how you and Brad have, people who care SO much, who sacrifice SO much, who constantly think about how to make the kids' lives better, who faithfully endure the endless challenges, who see so much positive and potential. You guys are incredible, selfless parents. You guys are the kind of parents everyone wishes they could have. From what you write it sounds like you're doing an amazing job! (and I wish I could lend you a helping hand when you need it!) I'm sure having Kenzie helps give you a different perspective of the other kids. I am so happy Kenzie is blessing your lives so immensely! And she is SO adorable and happy! I love that she's very bald, just like Owen. :) I wish I could meet her!

Lindsay said...

that video is too cute. motherhood is fitting you perfectly with this new little tike. what a cutie. i love this age. so glad you are getting to experience it from the very beginning. and i comend you for homeschooling. a huge responsibilty that will have lasting benefits for your oldest kiddos. love you, glad to see you so happy. your babe is a doll.!

Laurie said...

We just started homeschooling this past week, too! But I must say that reading this post makes me realize that I just don't treasure my children enough. You treasure every single one of your children, through all their ups and downs. Thanks for being such a wonderful example!

Kilie said...

ok heather... my goodness... i usually hate reading long blogs..but u had me realed in... U are already my idol because you posess so many traits that i dont have! like ... pATIENCE! haha..i just look up to u so much..this made me cry because i love all your kids so much. i had no idea it was that hard for you guys! U and brad hide it well, and u are in my prayers. I hope u know that u are such a blessing and example:) I dont know many people that could do what u and brad are doing. most people would just GIVE up. but u keep pushing through! ahhh... i love and miss you guys! and kenzie is soooo sweet:) i hope i can come visit soon when i get some time off from work ill have to shoot your way!..

Kristi said...

Hi Heather I'm a childhood friend of Brad's. Thank you for such an inspiring post! You sound like such an angel, I'm glad Brad found such an awesome wife! All 5 of your kids are so lucky to have such wonderful parents!

LaNae Norton said...

Sweet Heather, This is your long lost cousin LaNae. I was so glad I found your blog and read your latest entry. We share some of the same ups and downs that come with adopting children with special needs and problems. I just want you to know I would love to get in touch with you. I can't find your number or email, but maybe if you felt like it you could email me your number at What an amazing example you are to me. May the Lord watch over you and bless you through this process. Love, LaNae