Nothin' much new happening around here these days. Oh, well, other than my part-time return to work last week (so thankful for one of the most flexible jobs out there, which is mostly work-from-home). Week one went well, and any adjustment-related stress for all of us is being quite nicely mitigated by Geoff taking four months of parental leave. Hooray! No idea how we will navigate things after that point.
After a delightful Christmas, January saw a resurgence of dramatic/whiny/reactive/less-than-honest/petulant behaviour from one child, and of angry/non-compliant/oppositional/moody/sneaky behaviour in another. Little Caye has developed an even more assertive voice at 22 months of age, and overall, continues to mesmerize us with her brilliance and charm. With Lute, the dramatic stuff seems to have slowed down in the past week or two...and actually, we've had a week of less intense angry stuff from Kitch as well. Still getting the "no!" responses, turning away, and refusal to comply, but without the intense raging and restraining - there has been some choosing to settle and get back on track, which is amazing and refreshing.
I think a couple of factors may be at play here. One is that Kitch seems to be processing some of his loss and transition stuff in a new way, perhaps with the advent of increased cognitive capacities and language (at 3.5, we are seeing signs that he is shifting developmentally, both socially and cognitively/linguistically). Lute was nearly four when he came to us, and before and during transition had the chance to piece things together and express his feelings about moving (something he did NOT want to do). By the time he was home, he had verbalized increased willingness to be part of our family and let us "take care" of him. Overall, with a few ups and downs, I think his attachment and transition have generally progressed along an upward trajectory. Kitch, at two (nearly three) was pretty laid back about moving in with us. He expressed very little verbally or behaviourally in regard to leaving his first family, and focused most of his energies on grasping the basic concept of our family make-up. He easily accepted and sought out affection early on, called us "Mom" and "Dad", and basically went along with it all.
One event just a few weeks ago, in January, led to some of these musings on my part: the boys' foster/first family made a video last spring, showing the family (with our boys present), familiar sights and activities, etc. We watched it together last July, and the boys actually paid very little attention to much of it, talking and playing throughout (which surprised us a bit). While reminiscing over breakfast one day in January, they expressed interest in seeing the video again. After watching it, Lute happily went off to play, noting that it had been fun to see it. Kitch, however, looked quite glum, and identified feeling sad afterward. This is when I started wondering if he was experiencing a new awareness of his loss and transition to our family, including working through feelings of safety and trust.
His response fit with some of his other strong emotions and reactions throughout the month (things like becoming furious and fighting to get away from me in a parking lot after I snatched him away from the wheel of a car that started to back up, after he managed to scoot over and start playing with the tire with his foot while I focused on Caye for a moment. Lute's responses in similar situations - like when he pulled away from us and stopped in the street to bend and pick something up as a car approached - are more appropriate, including fear, tears, and a realization that we protected him from harm - um, these examples explain why I still rely on stroller containment for the boys when I am out with all three, particularly on my own), as well as increased intensity in his "baby" play (he often wants to be "Baby Johnny", and stays in character for long stretches of time, wanting to be cuddled, etc.).
Another observation, since seeing an increased capacity/willingness in Kitch to calm himself, and reduce the intensity of his anger, is that there may be a correlation with re-visiting some of our responses to him. I went back to the attachment books (after spending a lot of time with "general" parenting books), and tried to review what has and has not seemed effective with the boys. Generally, I have been making a greater effort to remain soothing rather than strict, give him chances to alter his behaviour before it is "too late" (likely one of the harder things for me, as I had really been leaning toward a "one chance to do it right, because you know what is expected and need to show respect the first time" approach), sticking with him through the initial stages of the anger (rather than moving away in response to repeated defiance and lashing out), empathizing with how difficult it can be to make "good/wise/respectful decisions" when feeling angry - and encouraging him to do so anyway (with examples of how he has done it before), keeping him directly under my supervision - time in - until he calms - but not insisting on a specific chair/spot so as to avoid power struggles (and while ignoring any wailing and wiggling designed to get my attention, barring unsafe/aggressive behaviour toward objects or people), and trying to be very consistent with expecting him to rehearse the appropriate behaviour afterward (sometimes multiple times).
All this is not a total about-face in terms of our response, but there is greater commitment to working with him during the anger, and increased effort is being made to remain very gentle and calm, while also making the expectations and consequences very clear (e.g., trying to avoid being unnecessarily military in getting my point across while still being consistent). I would like to think the shift in approach is helping, because then I have hope that things may continue to improve incrementally (but we have had a few such weeks of reprieve before, so time will tell). Now, I am still seeing ridiculously frequent and excessive defiance over very minor requests (from my perspective, although I realize Kitch is feeling things strongly in those moments - to him it is a big deal). So, the intensity has vastly improved, and the frequency has likely gone up a bit. But at this point, I am celebrating some progress toward greater self-control.
Today we had an interesting incident. I intervened as the boys squabbled over a pair of moccasins (Kitch was convinced they were his, only because they were the only pair he could find - wishful thinking)! When I quietly removed the moccasins because both boys were not using words or respectful actions to resolve the issue, Kitch became angry with me. After calming down, I sat down with him, and said something about him being angry at me. He replied that no, he was not angry at me, he was angry at himself. And it seems that my flighty and stubborn little three year-old, who avoids the mental effort of self-reflection at all costs, realized that he was actually upset with himself for not being able to find his moccasins, and simply directed his anger at me when I arrived on the scene. Insight!
Ok, my brain and eyes need to rest. I have a quick, cute Kitch story from Sunday. I wore my Karen skirt to church (a colourful, woven item, purchased and sewn for me in a refugee camp we visited in Thailand). Geoff was describing the male version, which he owns but was not wearing, and Kitch asked Geoff if the folk in the camp threw him into a pit while he was wearing the "taku". We were confused for a moment, but then pieced together that Kitch must have seen my skirt and been reminded of Joseph's "coat of many colours", which led to the pit association. We assured him that the Karen people we met were incredibly kind and friendly, so there was no risk of being tossed into a pit and left to expire, while wearing a colourful woven garment.
And finally, Caye freaked us out a little at supper-time (fluke, I'm sure, but quite funny - or she is reading tone and context really well, which is also impressive): Geoff spelled out to me, wondering whether the kids needed a b-a-t-h this evening, and Caye, who had been listening, exclaimed, "Bath night!"
And on that note, good-night.