Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Every. Freakin. Time.

Sneaking candy at a trick or treat event should be no big deal. Most parents are completely cool and allow their kids to have as much of their Halloween candy as they want - or at least pick a handful of pieces to snack on.

Today at Day Treatment, my oldest had a party. They went around trick-or-treating around to different offices. It was a social activity, something for the kids to do to work on their eye contact, interactions and such. So when my son came home with a bag full of fruit snacks, pretzels and stickers I was floored. His breath smelled like candy.

He wasn't supposed to have candy. We talked last night all about it - he had a bunch of sweet treats over the weekend - birthday cake, lollipop, donut, candy from trick or treating in our neighborhood. I have been trying to loosen up with him at home since he can keep it in control here. I packed him a snack of his choice to eat while the other kids were eating candy. We talked it out. He knew what to do.

I really am trying not to be the crazy, overprotective mom. But, this kid cannot control his sugar intake. If he steals sugar - he does it big. Like 3 packages of gum. A whole bag of oreos. Or like today - 15 or 20 Starbursts. (It's hard to say how many - that was his best guess.) He overindulges. He can't control his impulses and overdoes it every. time. If he could go to an event and just eat one snack the other kids are having - that would be great. But, if the music teacher gives him a skittle for singing well, he sees candy in the school library and steals a pocketful.

He can't control himself.

So, here I am - feeling horrible about the way I treated him tonight. The way I overdid the guilt trip. I was clearly disappointed and listed all the ways Baba (Daddy) may punish him. There was a lack of tact in my attempts at being subtle. Not my strong suit.  My goal was to tick him off. Why?! Because I am basically a 12 year old occasionally and want him to hurt. He hurts me and I wanted his feeling to be hurt. Everything in me wants him to feel as frustrated and hurt as I feel. It doesn't make sense to me why I continue to let his choices hurt me. Why do I care if my 9 year old ate a bazillion Starbursts?! Boys will be boys. Kids steal. I get it, but I can't just let it go.

Because I love him. I want to protect him. I often fear what will happen to him when he is older and can't control his urges. Sometimes I agonize over the endless possibilities of what he may choose to do someday. I dread he will become another statistic. So many kids in, aged out and adopted out of foster care struggle with big things at young ages. The possibilities really are endless and unpredictable.

But as my husband kindly reminded me tonight: this was not personal. My son doesn't steal to piss me off. He feels left out. The snack he brought didn't seem as exciting as Starbursts. He is a kid. It is ok for him to make mistakes. So, as I desperately try to let go of the hurt and forgive my kid for deliberately disobeying me again, I choose not to take it personally. At least I am trying to. There is no value in my worrying about his future.

Here I was pouting and throwing a fit of my own. But my 9 year old son kept it together. His homework got done (mostly). He kept his cool. The shower helped him relax and he used his coping skills. He owned his choice and consequences. I should've been proud. It would've been much more beneficial for me to see his growth in telling me the truth when I caught him. I should have noticed, not reacted.

One of the advantages of the future being unknown is my ability to enjoy the ignorance. To choose to pray and trust my boy in God's very capable hands. He is not my project to fix - he is my child to love. He IS learning. He IS growing. He IS an amazing kid. If only I could've remembered these things while he was awake.

Thank goodness for tomorrow. We will start the day with my apologies. The ability to apologize and start over in the morning never cease to amaze me. It reminds me of the amazing grace God extends to me. Humbled tonight and thankful for tomorrow. 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Day Treatment

Last week, our oldest started Day Treatment (DT). He's going to the facility on the same grounds as the hospital he spent the week before last. When being able to come home from the hospital, they included a month or two of DT as part of his discharge plan. As soon as insurance approves it, our youngest son will also be starting DT at a separate facility with more age appropriate groups. He hasn't been able to stay in school and needs more observation and monitoring to help determine what he needs.

Adolescent Day Treatment is a therapy option provided to keep kids out of inpatient behavioral health (psychiatric) hospital stays. For kids with mental health issues. The kids issues could range from moderate to severe including social interaction issues, safety issues, medication monitoring/adjustments, developing coping skills, etc. Depending on the specific program, the kids go half or full weekdays with kids in their age group.

The different therapies include, but are not limited to: art therapy, individual therapy, group therapy, play therapy, yoga, pet therapy, etc. Each day our son learns new coping skills and how to safely and appropriately express himself in different situations. Psychiatrists will meet with him each week to see if his medications need to be adjusted, check his blood levels for side effects (with specific meds) and update prescriptions as needed.

Each day forms are sent home to find out what is happening at home and school so the therapists can talk about any new or re-occurring problems or behaviors. It helps evaluate if the skills learned in DT are being used by him in all environments. It is important to be sure he is not discharged from DT before he is able to cope and function in day to day life to avoid a readmission. Teachers and parents are required to daily report how the child is doing. His behavior for the four hours he is there is monitored closely and even minor things are noted.

While there is so much frustration I have with my kids' needing these services I am so grateful for them. We were able to tour my youngest son's DT location last week. I was filled with peace as I saw the intentionality in which the staff cared for the kids there. Each person that worked there saw him as a kid yet understands how to measure his mental health needs. They want to know how to equip our kid best for daily life.

In a weird way, it comforts me to know that my kids need these kinds of therapy. It helps me understand the depth to their trauma that I can not solve for them. I am very aware that I am not a therapist and that they can not be healed overnight from the trauma they have endured. There is a strange way I find comfort in knowing that the school also needs help. I am not the only one who struggles to contain him. No human can fix him single handedly.

Both of our boys have made such AMAZING strides over the past two years, but even in the last month. We have had so much growth. They are able to express themselves - my youngest has even started to talk! He was mostly non-verbal for anyone but me until his anxiety meds were prescribed. Now he is asking for help, crying (yay?) and able to say why he's making the choices he is making. It isn't everything he needs, but it is a start. Imagine what growth will happen with this intensive therapy?!

While I am obviously not thrilled about my kids being in Day Treatment at 5 & 9 years old, I am ready for them to get the help past what I can provide them in one hour a week in play therapy or even in-home therapies. Both of these have been CRUCIAL in their lives, but they need more. Since they have been attaching to me so well, they have received services for over two years as we've worked with almost a dozen different therapists, psychiatrists and psychologists. It is time to take the next steps and get them the deeper help they need.

Some days it makes me feel like a weak mom because I can't protect my kids or fix them. After hundreds of hours with therapists, it hasn't been enough. But most days I feel confident that this is what they need. I am aware of them needing more help and resources than I could ever provide them. I need back up. It was time to take this next step.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Waiting In the Gap Between Before and After

This month has been brutal. Between day to day life, my kids' mental health issues, school behavior and now fall break - it has been rough.

I feel like I am one of those circus plate spinners. I am spinning so many plates that I can hardly keep them all spinning. Some days I am trying so hard to glue together a plate that dropped that other plates fall. Sometimes I know other plates will fall, sometimes I was so focused on something else I didn't even notice. Our lives just feels collectively overwhelming. Trying to keep it all together seems impossible.

Yes - things are brutal, but it's my head that is the biggest issue. Avoiding so much processing has become a skill because I am just so tired. Why should I have to acknowledge and accept my kids' diagnoses?! I don't even want to accept the help my kids' need because it is to invasive and time consuming.

Most days I feel like I am managing chaos that feels so outside of my reach. I have amazing friends & neighbors who have offered to take one of the kids with them to the park, dropped off a pizza or came over to just be with us. We have been so supported and that is amazing.

But what do I do for the month my son is in limbo between being approved for the day treatment and day treatment actually starting? Thanks insurance....He's getting worse and more behaviors are coming to the surface everyday. He needs more than we can offer him.

How do I wait another month for another son to meet with the psychiatrist?! He's been diagnosed and assumed to need more help, but now we have to wait. What do we do in the mean time?

I am just so grieved at having to wait when all I want to do is be able to move. I feel like I can see the horizon of hope and every time I take a step closer it gets farther away.

So, we are functioning - the kids are hilarious, silly and fun a good chunk of the time. We have resources. We have support. We are getting through this fall break. Emotionally we are exhausted, but we will be fine. Please pray for us as we are in the gap between before and after. We are waiting for help - no longer questioning what we need, but feeling like the resources are taking too long.

Pray for peace. For calm. For perseverance. For hope. So grateful you're on our support team.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

"I'm just so happy to be home."

I saw so much hope today. It was so sweet to have him back. He responded to my concern for his misty eyes with, "I'm just so happy to be home." He was moved to tears at the sight of his whole family at the table together - just doing homework. We were finally all back together.

I wish I could say this was a familiar feeling, but last time was not like this. There was raging & threats. The aggression and violence were out of town.  It was hours - not days - before he was right back in the hospital. Even after two additional hospitalizations that month we weren't exactly excited about him coming home. He was barely able to control his body. I was filled with fear and anxiety. I was ready for the in-home therapy to start. I felt afraid and unsure. He was coming home, but none of us were ready.

Today, I couldn't stop smiling. I was filled with joy over the contrast. My heart was hopeful as my son - who NEVER connects the dots - was linking together his triggers and his coping skills at our discharge meeting. He was coming up with a safety plan all on his own. He was owning his future. He cut out sugar himself over the weekend after we shared with him our concern of him struggling with it. We didn't restrict his diet for him, we let him decide since they let the kids order their own food. He is thinking things through and considering what may happen. He's connecting the dots on his own.

I mostly HATE medications. I wrote all about this last week, but my hate is not as extreme these days. A new, big, scary pill (seriously this thing is huge) is changing my kids' life. He is on more medication each day than I ever thought I would support, but he is functioning as I always knew he could.

Today he was expressing himself. He was owning his choices. He didn't stress at his consequences. He played with legos by himself in his room for almost an hour - usually 10 minutes in his room sends him into an anxious panic. He closed his own door!  Hopefully someday he won't need the help. There may be a future with less or possibly no meds. But today, I need to accept that the difference in him is remarkable. I am seeing my son at a new level of his potential - and it is worth it.

There were more hugs in this home tonight. A few extra kisses, too. We enjoyed his welcome home dinner and cupcakes. The other kids shared how much they missed him all week. He got caught up on their most memorable dreams. A few stories of theirs included how he scared them or how they were worried about him. All valuable things to say to someone you love who had to go away to a behavioral health (psychiatric) hospital. They shared and expressed their genuine care for him.

When she got home from school and saw her big brother at the door, my sweet 7 year old grabbed a sticker she had apparently been carrying around all week for him. I didn't even know where she got it from, but she had it ready.

Apparently (upon further investigation) she picked it out for him at the doctors office on Saturday. I told her he had to get his flu shot at the hospital since he missed our family appointment (they book months out!). There was a sticker she wanted him to have and she wasn't sure if he'd get one at the hospital when he got his shot. Instead of asking, she took matters into her own hands. She said the nurse said it was ok. (Heart melting.)

When I asked him to take the sticker (from his sister) off of his shirt before putting it in the laundry tonight, I assumed he threw it away. Stickers in the laundry are the worst - so I heard him take it off and was relieved. The sticker was Winnie the Pooh and he isn't a huge fan. I didn't think much of it. After I read to him, I tucked him in.

As I was walking out I saw he had moved it to his shirt for tomorrow. His clothes all neatly in a pile with the sticker right on top. He had kept the sticker that was so precious - not because it was cool, but because it was from his sister. What a precious memory I will always cherish.

Then, one of the five year olds sent down socks that have a wolf on them. Daddy was instructed to bring them downstairs. Our oldest's favorite animal is on those socks (he's seriously wolf obsessed). He wants his brother to have those socks because he likes them. He considered how our oldest is staying home from school to ease into day treatment tomorrow. He thought of his brother's outfit for tomorrow and wanted to make sure he had these socks. Taking care of his big brother was a priority to him. Even if to me it is just a pair of socks. This is love.

The way my kids love each other never ceases to amaze me. Yes. They are normal siblings. You wouldn't know they didn't all grow up together if they all had matching skin. They tattle and yell at each other. They get in fights and tease each other. They do incredibly mean things.

But, when it counts - they step up for each other. They take the blame (annoying, but sweet). They think of each other. They cry over the other missing something fun or delicious. They save stickers. They set out socks for each other. Their love is simple. It is pure. Their love runs deep.

So, I'm filled with hope for our future. For kids who feel. Kids who think of others. For compassion. Kindness. Gentleness. Empathy. From across a handful of diagnoses, I have seen my children show love today. While I'm sure they'll be back at it tomorrow, I choose to stop and appreciate this moment.

What a beautiful end to such a horrible week.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Another impossible decision...

I've been avoiding writing this post as I question why I'm compelled to write about my oldest being admitted into the behavioral health (psychiatric) hospital a few days ago. Again. It felt impossible to take him in to be evaluated - knowing we'd much rather have him stay home. We knew we had to do what was best for him, not what was comfortable or easy. But it was clear to the doctors that he needed to immediately be admitted.

Last year we were in a much different place. Our same son was admitted into the hospital after threatening his life, raging and then endangering my life as I drove him to get help. While last time I felt in danger, this time I felt he was the one in danger.

It isn't every nine year old that considers killing themselves, but after the years of trauma, neglect and abuse our son endured before the age of 7 - these things aren't coming out of left field. This week, he took it to a new level by creating and starting to execute his plan to hurt himself - which we are still wrapping our minds around. How can our son who is so sweet, fun and when he has come so far still have so many dark feelings?

It was simply heartbreaking to hear the case worker at the hospital suggest that we may need to accept that no matter how well our son is doing, occasional bouts at these behavioral hospitals may continue to be necessary for him as his body grows & changes. He likely will continue to need help keeping himself safe.

The tricky part is he is excelling at school most of the time and usually has great behavior - even at home. The dangerous, impulsive, scary choices are so few and far between. It is so rare, but we can't ignore that they are happening at school.  At the same time we are so glad there is a place - only 15 minutes from home we feel is safe to take him where he can be monitored as he is introduced to medications (with possible side effects/health concerns), educated on age appropriate coping skills and  practice calming strategies.

When I got to visit with him today he was showing me the shield he made to help him with bullying and teasing. His coping skills on the back of the shield to remind him how to protect himself in those moments. He was finishing with yoga with the other kids. It gave me so much relief to see him today - such a sponge - finally in a place he is ready and able to start applying these coping skills hes been introduced to over and over the last two and a half years.

I am such a proud mom tonight. Proud of my son who is accepting help. Proud of my husband who kept the house & family together as I've crumbled and fought through anxiety, denial and fear. It has been such a learning experience as we navigate raising kids who have been through so much. We are learning when we need help from family, from therapists and even hospitals.

To be super honest for a second: we don't need your pity. We don't really want your advice right now. If you have been in a similar place, we want you to know you are not alone. There may be a day you need to consider getting help for someone you love and we will not hide our journey which may be confused for shame. I share our story to take the stigma away and educate about a topic so confusing in our culture.

Our son wants our family, friends and his classmates to know that he was in the hospital because he knows the power of prayer. He knows that he needs help. There is no ounce of his being that wants to hide his struggles or humanness - he is ok with being broken and needing help putting the pieces back together. What a blessing it is to be a mom of such a wonderful, resilient, humble little boy.

As you read this, please, oh please cover all of us in prayer - this has been especially difficult on our other four children. Hugs are good. Acceptance and support are welcome, but know that we have amazing friends and family walking through this with us.

While we wouldn't wish these painfully hard days on our worst enemy, our son is worth it. We know this will not be the end of his mental health journey, and we feel honored to get to be the ones to love and support him through it.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The blanket.

My seven year old daughter just came down to give me a blanket. She wanted me to wrap it. My heart broke in the best way.

Last winter, a 6 month old girl was placed with some of our friends from church. It was super exciting because these friends were anxiously awaiting a call - a call for the right little one who they could love for a while or forever if that little one couldn't return home. My friend and I had been meeting, talking, texting, praying that God would bring their family just the right child. Well, He certainly did. 

The little girl they were called about was the same little girl I was called about last year. Setting the stage - our 8 year old was recently released from a behavioral health hospital, my three 4 year olds were transitioning into full day K4 and my other daughter was 6. Ben and I were very aware that our hands were full - we had reached capacity. But, I questioned everything when I got this call. 

I was actually in the car driving to the park with the 5 kids (they had off of school that day) when the case worker called me. The induction was was scheduled - my daughter's sister would be born in a couple days. They wanted us - the people with VERY FULL HANDS to consider taking her. The girls are blood the case worker reminded me. Foster parents of her other little sister already said no to placement. "Can you take her?"

I had known my daughter's biological mom was pregnant for some time, so the call didn't exactly shock me. But, I was taken aback at how hard it was for me to say no. There was something amazing and magical to pick up our son at the hospital I remembered. The only child of our 5 we met at 3 days old.

I daydreamed for a moment about how the baby would stop my oldest son from raging. She may help my 4 year olds be quiet for more than 30 seconds at a time. My kids would never fight because they would all want to be kind and loving for the baby. The kids would be helpful. My huband would want me to consider! 

Then: REALITY CHECK. "Of course you said no, right?!" my husband said - so nonchalant. There was no reason for him to think I was actually considering this. 

My brain started flooding with heavy doses of reality. Where would she sleep? We'd have to re-buy all that baby crap. Bottles. Night feedings. We already don't get enough sleep. What if the kids hurt the baby? This is not a good idea. Not exactly peace, but I knew - I had to stick with the no. There was no reason to call the case worker back. We needed them to find another home - hopefully one we will get to keep in touch with. 

Months passed and we heard nothing. We eventually learned that she was placed with a family in Waukesha (not too far) and knew that they had our contact info if they wanted to reach out for sibling visits. We knew she was safe, but didn't have any contact with her. 

Fast forward a handful of months and I get a text from my friend with the most wonderful news. She was getting placement of this same baby girl the following week. She needed a new foster home. I knew her name. I knew her birth date. It was the angel we knew we couldn't love. The girl we knew wasn't ours. She got away from us, but now we get to know and love - at least for this season. 

This morning, this precious friend who is raising my daughter's sister - gave us an invite to this precious little girls upcoming 1st birthday party. I was so excited and honored to be invited. I got excited about all the adorable toddler clothes, books and hair bows I could get her, but her big sister, my daughter, had another idea. 

Right at bedtime, she came bounding down the stairs (as she often does) and had her old baby blanket in her arms. This blanket I knew well. One of the two blankets her mom sent with her the day she came to live with us. One blanket was homemade by someone who loved her & I have tucked away in the basement for safe keeping, but the other has been on my daughter's bed these past 6 1/2 years. 

She brought the blanket down for a very specific reason. "I want you to wrap this, mommy." She was very sure about this. I was confused and unsure, but she clarified. "I want my sister to have it. I have two from our tummy mommy, but I want my baby sister to have one of them." Holding back tears, I reminded her that if we gave it to her sister, she would want to keep it forever. She was sure. "I'm too big for it now and she will love having something so special."

"Yes. Absolutely. If you want to give it to her, we can take it to her birthday party in a couple weeks!"  Her smile said it all. She hugged me, she thanked me and asked me if I could come sing to her.  We cleaned up her room, she told me all about her day and I got to sing to her. We had a sweet time after her siblings were asleep. I got to remind her of how beautiful I think her gift is. 

Amazed, I sit here grateful. I am such a proud mom tonight. So glad she gets to love her sister - knowing that sharing the same tummy mommy is important. We didn't take her in because it wasn't right for us, but God had other plans. He also gave her such a generous, thoughtful heart for this baby she's only met a handful of times. She knew the perfect gift. Something so beautiful I never would've thought of: the blanket. The. Perfect. Gift. 

Saturday, October 7, 2017

To medicate or not to medicate. That is the question.

About 5 years ago, I was a young mom with LOTS of nannying/babysitting experience. On staff at a church, I was in charge of hundreds of kids. I had a lot of experience with kids. There was that one class in college I took on child psychology. With all that knowledge, I didn't really believe in medicating kids with mild/moderate behavior issues. I knew there were kids who needed meds, but I thought only a handful of kids would benefit from them. It was hard for me to imagine kids on meds as young as 8, 6 or even 4. But, WOW has my opinion changed.

Over the past several years, I have seen medications change my kids' lives. I have seen sleeping meds allow a couple of my kids with PTSD to find rest (vs hours of screaming at bedtime). I have seen medications keep my oldest son out of a behavioral health hospital after almost 4 weeks in and out. Honestly, those medication decisions were the easiest. The necessity of the medications were obvious.

The psychiatrist was clear and compared my kids' diagnosis to heart conditions. She asked me if was aware that one pill (or even several) a day could help our son's heart work better, wouldn't we try it? The meds she prescribes cab help brains. The problem is not as visible to most, but she reminded me that their brains need help sometimes to work properly and it is our choice how much we want to try.

So, now I'm here aware of the necessity of some. My oldest's teacher called me within 30 minutes of dropping him off at school saying he was in the office and I may need to pick him up a couple times last year.  Both days we had forgotten his meds in the chaos of the morning. Whoops. At least we learned his meds are necessary. He literally cannot keep others or himself safe without them.

Recently, I have seen one of my 5 year old's verbal skills skyrocket with the use of an anxiety medication. I was hesitant to try it because he is only 5, but his inability to keep other kids safe or keep up with his "normal" home behavior at school led to more diagnosis and hard realities. He - at least for a season - will need help to curb the anxiety he feels when he is separated from us.

We have already tried so many therapists, coping skills, attachment strategies during his little life with us over the past 2 1/2 years. The teachers and I have brainstormed and tried so many things. They have kept him in the classroom. We tried me picking him up from school several times. I have sat inside his classroom for hours. His teachers have asked for help and resources long after we exhausted things to try. The school has worked with us. I have advocated when we weren't all on the same page.

It has been a long road. Medications were NOT our first go to. They have been a last resort. Therapies will continue. We will continue to  learn and try to understand how trauma has altered his brain. We will also remember that all 5 year old kids cry and scream and fight. We need to keep in mind what is typical behavior, but be ok with the fact that many of their behaviors - even if we "can" live with them, are not to be ignored.

Now, with our two boys who are medicated and have had significant trauma, I am also understand that one of my babies - the one I raised from birth also has impulse control issues. He is often out of control. Seeing him in the therapy room this week broke my heart. He couldn't sit still, couldn't focus and then got hyper focused on other things. It woke me up. He also needs help.

This son whose mental health has been pushed on the back burner (as we had bigger behavior/mental health issues in our other kids) is now struggling more in school and at home. Hes so impulsive. His heart is breaking as he can not control his strength and is hurting people, destroying things and unable to stop in the moment. He is almost always apologetic and sad about his choices immediately after.

As we learn more from the therapists and psychiatrists and then eventually get off the waiting list for the psych eval, we will have more answers of what is going on. What is biological. Which things can be linked to trauma. We will discover how to move forward. In the mean time we will continue to resource teachers, partner with the school. We will do everything we can to parent our kids without meds.

We will trudge on, we will keep learning and keep using therapy and other resources to keep medications away as much as possible. We will try, but we will also not keep our kids from getting the help they need because of pride. I will not allow the way I used to feel about medications keep my kids from being successful. There is no way we will rely on meds to fix all of our kids' problems, but I can not allow my fear of being judged and misunderstood to get in the way either.

Please keep an open mind and allow others to do what is best for their kids. Understand that no parent wants their kids to be medicated. These decisions are impossible to make. But if you saw the growth in my kids - their ability to speak, read/comprehend, learn, stay in class, sleep, enjoy life - it really has become a no brainer. While I wish my kids could be successful without meds, they need them right now and I have to be ok with that. We will keep trying to be sure they are on the least amount possible, but know that their brains need help. Who am I to stand in the way of them getting the resources they need?

Every. Freakin. Time.

Sneaking candy at a trick or treat event should be no big deal. Most parents are completely cool and allow their kids to have as much of the...