Cue maniacal laughter. The wild, desperate kind.
This likely isn't the week for me to write this post with appropriate objectivity. But this is the week during which I feel like doing it, so take it for what it is. I will write while I polish off the Halloween chocolate, and balance out the intellectual effort with some "Say Yes to the Dress" and "What Not to Wear" as a backdrop.
Today, unless I hear anything too suspicious, I will not be heading upstairs during rest/nap time to make sure everyone is in his assigned location/conducting themselves in a generally responsible manner, and will hope for the best (despite somewhat shaky confidence).
Let's head back in time a couple of months. August. If my increasingly unreliable memory serves me correctly (read: recently cancelled a day of music class and a school outing due to the "theft" of my engagement ring, which I had apparently misplaced all by myself...although in my defense there was excellent reason to suspect/assume it's theft), during late summer I was starting to feel more comfortable with this whole having kids in my house business. As I have stated previously, we really didn't experience any "significant" issues with the kids over the first few months. Much of what we were facing appeared to be pretty typical 3-4 year-old stuff around attentiveness, emotions management, following rules, etc., and some not-uncommon infant sleep and temper issues (some of which I now see as very possibly being attachment/transition-related, given some recent progress/change). Likely the biggest struggle during that time was my own adjustment, which was in many ways less overtly difficult than I feared, but which involved a definite sense of discomfort in my new role, and with having toddlers around 24 hours a day (particularly toddlers who very much dove in and made themselves more than comfortable in "my" environment). So, likely by sometime in August I was starting to relax into daily life and the permanency of our new little family, and began September with a general sense of optimism.
Cue more maniacal laughter. The foreshadowing.
I must qualify the following discussion by stating clearly that anything we are experiencing at the moment is still very, very mild in the world of adoption and attachment. But, I am definitely framing some of the current issues at our house in the context of attachment and adjustment (for all of us), when previously it was not clear what was due to transition and attachment, and what was just typical kid stuff. And, having at least two children heating up at once likely isn't helping my energy level and frame of mind.
Just to keep us on our toes, one is experimenting with the more deceptive/sneaky end of the spectrum, and the other has ramped up his anger and oppositionality and limit-testing beyond what I would consider "typical" for his age and stage. I *think* the sneaky stuff may be tapering off a bit, but it has involved pilfering (from school, home, and a store), rummaging through drawers and cabinets all over the house, sneaking around upstairs during rest time, and misusing materials/property (tape & glue on hardwood, etc.). For this child, increased supervision has been necessary at times, but (due to a high need for attention of any kind) almost enjoyable for him (even when I try to keep it boring). The defiance in our other little guy (often over very trivial things, or his own intentional actions) typically leads to rages in response to even the kindest re-direction, which now require swaddling and holding, due to the onset of destructiveness and physical lashing out. He is also demonstrating very little inclination and self-control in regard to rule-following when outside of our direct supervision (well, within it, too), and is often out of bed after bedtime, making noise in the morning, etc. He gashed his finger last week on the stroller MINUTES after being re-directed away from playing with its wheel, and this sort of attraction to non-toys is constant (occasionally resulting in personal injury, and often in some sort of property damage). Trying to supervise and engage with all three effectively when managing some of the current issues is quite a creative challenge. Some days I find myself literally fighting sleep by lunch-time (which is thankfully followed by rest time for all of us).
It has been a relief to see the covert issues of our one little guy dissipating a bit the past week or so. I am trying to give him lots of positive attention, some special 1:1 time in bits and pieces, and need to keep working on being a bit more patient with some of the personality quirks and behaviours that really get to me. Overall, he's actually the "easiest" to parent on a day-to-day basis - very quick and responsible in following through with chores, loves to help out, gets excited about any and every activity. However, I have the most trouble just enjoying him - he's so bold (which can look bossy and demanding) and impulsive (which makes me self-conscious in public in particular) - qualities that don't appeal to me. Our other little man has the same enthusiasm for life, and still LOVES to be babied - he likely would be very happy if I could realistically wear him and cradle him all day. He is cute as a button, and can comply with beautiful cheerfulness when so inclined. His distractibility and slowness to complete tasks is astounding and frustrating, and I think is sometimes a bit of a game for him (but it's hard to tell). The oppositionality just comes out of the blue most of the time (although is often predictably associated with any expectation for follow-through with basic responsibilities - this week, he finally started verbalizing that he doesn't "want" to make his bed, and was trying to get his brother to do it for him yesterday - this issue is currently escalating - hopefully peaking???). I recently drove him home from a family gathering while leaving Geoff with the other two, after he continued to become more and more aggressive and dysregulated, after a minor incident.
Needless to say, while I spent the summer reading standard parenting books, I am back to the attachment literature to come up with strategies and responses which might be helpful (and if anything, which will give me a consistently calm and measured way of interacting). I have particularly appreciated revisiting Deborah Gray's "Attaching in Adoption" and Karen Purvis' "The Connected Child" (I have also ordered her "Trust-Based Parenting" DVDs). I hope to dive into more Daniel Hughes, and just finished "Love and Logic for Early Childhood", which I found very practical (although the concept that I will "keep" any toys left for me to pick up doesn't really work well when the kids start handing me things and telling me to take them so that they don't have to tidy up completely, or happily letting me take some of their money as "payment" for clearing their breakfast dishes. I'm sure someday I might find these memories amusing, but right now this stuff leaves me perplexed and uncertain what to do next). Another blog highly recommended Denise Best's "Therapeutic Parenting Manual", and I am curious to have a look at that. I also continue to be thankful for our very supportive, experienced, and helpful adoption worker, with whom we continue to meet about every three weeks (and can contact anytime in between).
Overall I keep thinking, intellectually, that we can do this. And that things are really not that bad. But when I am standing in the middle of three children, completely tongue-tied (seriously, I sometimes stand there frozen, frantically trying to come up with SOMETHING to say or do so we can move on. Today I had them all take a long "break" sitting and doing nothing, while I reviewed some tips and pointers in the Love & Logic book), I feel like some kind of pathetic joke. And when I've been all therapeutic and unfazed for incident after incident, and then lose it over a child asking an annoying question, I feel like the kids would be better fending for themselves while I spend the rest of the day in self-imposed time out (don't worry, I have always opted to keep supervising and meeting basic needs - if boxed mac & cheese can be considered a way of meeting basic needs - even when in a zombie-like state). Or, when one child has not fulfilled the basics of bed-making and PJ put-away (required before coming down for breakfast), and could possibly benefit from some moral support/connecting time, but two other hungry little ones are waiting to be fed (which in fairness, in my opinion, becomes the priority)...what is one to do? All of this has also challenged the progress Geoff and I have made toward our attachments to the boys in particular. I am hoping we will come up with some clear strategies, learn more about neutralizing our responses (and thereby neutralizing our internal emotional reactions), and benefit from this more challenging time by becoming more skilled and confident.
Next week marks five months with everyone home, which will be seven months since first meeting each other. I often remind myself how thankful I am that we studied and learned so much in the years leading up to this point - I can't say we have been surprised by anything we have experienced yet, so I think it's primarily a matter of coming up with a plan and giving it a fair chance, while also staying connected with each other and the non-kid parts of our lives. Some of the blog-reading and church sermons and discussions lately have focused on thankfulness in all circumstances (what with Thanksgiving having been this month) and peace in the knowledge that we are asked only to do our best without worry for the future.
With that, I must go - I may soon hear little Caye calling for me from her crib, which will signal the end of rest time for everyone. It's Friday, and there is always some relief in knowing the morning and days will be a team effort with Geoff home for a couple of days.