Super Mom vs. Wonder Woman

Posted by admin on April 10, 2013

I have learned a TON in parenting my child that comes from hard places.  I have learned perhaps more than I ever hoped to know.  But the most important thing that he is still teaching me is to stop trying to be Super Mom.  This is likely going to ruffle some feathers and I truly don't mean to point fingers.  I am still on my own journey so I resemble my own remarks. 

Super Mom.  We have all seen them.  They are the ones who bring juice boxes to the park and baggies of nutritious nuts to eat.  They are the ones who are completely and totally prepared for anything that comes their way.  They are never caught without tissues or bandages and they carry the little single serve packages of antibiotic ointment.  They are the mom's who can shop quietly and carefully through Target with the children sitting perfectly in the cart playing on the IPad reciting Shakespeare.  She is the Mom who has a routine that everyone follows and she has it dialed into her schedule perfectly. A Super Mom is a woman who is trying to control everything in the lives of her children.  Nothing is left to the spur of the moment.  It is a parent who controls and hangs onto that routine for the life of her.  Is being in control a bad thing?  No!  Is having a routine bad? No!  But just like M&Ms, I think there is such thing as too much of a good thing!

A Super Mom of a child who has experienced trauma or has attachment issues would be the one that can whip out a book at any given time to help another mom struggling.  She would be the one to tell you about 15 different  coping mechanisms and have a giant list of "tools" that she can call upon at any time day or night to help get her child through the fact that she doesn't want brussels sprouts.  She is the one who can read too much into every little thing her child does, says or writes.  She can decifer dreams and journal entries and tell you what psychosis the child is exhibiting.  She is an amazing talker and a wonderful perveyor of knowledge.  

I and NOT, by any stretch, sayingthat knowledge and tools are a bad thing.  I am saying that, I think sometimes that we, as parents of hurt children, tend to focus TOO MUCH on their therapies, their tools, their healing and simply forget to be a parent.  We spend too much time controlling the situation and advocating to just sit back and enjoy life and make memories. Sometimes we need to sit back, relax and enjoy our children (even if they make that difficult!)

My journey in the last year has brought me to a place of acceptance.  That acceptance has allowed me to sit back and love him for who he is, hurt or not, and allow me to just be his mom, not his therapist.  My focus has shifted from always trying to "fix" him to love him where he is.  I still have tools that help us through the day.  I still talk through things differently than  I would other kids.  I still work on things that need worked on.  The difference is that my major focus is not on the TRAUMA and the HEALING, it is on the FAMILY.  The child is first and foremost, not the HEALING that I hope to help him accomplish.

This shift in my focus has brought us closer as an entire family unit.  We have begun to make more memories that are not speckeled with therapies.  We can go on with our lives.  I can shoot him an "evil eye" when he is acting up in public and not go into a long discussion about why he did something and how he can imporve on it later.  I don't think about how I am missing an opportunity to work through something.  I simply live my life.  I simply enjoy what it is and deal with it in an appropriate manner later.   Not everything has to be discussed til it is dead. For the most part, he knows when he has  chosen something that is wrong.  He simply lacked the impulse or the desire to make a positive choice and that is something that will likely not change just by a conversation.

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Managing behavior is streamlined for me.  We have minor phrases that work to remind my kids that they need to make a better decisons. I can simply say "Let It Go" and be done with it.  My kids know that they need to drop it an move on.  I think it is so important in eliminating the shame and the guilt that happens when we lecture.  My journey over the last year has taught me how important and remarkable it is to Let It Go and not hold onto all the ugliness.  When we Let It Go, we elimnate the anger, the frustration and the hatred that can sour our mood, attitude and our outlook.  We don't allow it to get ahold of us.  We are the winners. We don't ignore the past, we learn from it and move on.  It doesn't pervade every part of us.  It doesn't get a foot hold in our mind or heart. Letting something go is the first step in moving forward.  Moving forward is a very important part of healing.  By not dwelling on the past, we can accept the ugliness and move forward into a new space. I teach my kids that tomorrow is a new day with a clean slate. That in itself is a gift.

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The other phrase we use often as a reminder, is "Good Character".  That is a reminder that the choices they are making is not something that builds a good character.  We talk often at bedtime, or at the dinner table about what a person with good character "looks" like.  We talk about how we strive to live a life that others will see us as having a good character.  If I say "good character" while on an outing,  or even in the backyard, it is a signal to one of my kids that they are choosing something that is disrectful, dishonest, or just plain not nice.  It is their choice to make an adjustment to be a person of character.

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Consequences versus punishment. (which is a whole blog post in itself).  Natural consequences are the best learning tool. "Hmmm, the nighbor doesn't want to play with you? Well, yesterday you treated him badly andrefused to play the game he wanted to play." Or,  "Wow, your sister won't play checkers?  I seem to remember you getting angry and clearing the board.  That probably isn't a fun way for her to play."  Of course those always offer learning opportunities and times to rectify the situation.  "Perhaps, if you told her that you realize that  was a bad decision and this time you will try to control your anger, she will give you another chance."  Or, "I bet if you choose to play his game this time, maybe he will play yours next. Working together is always a good choice."  Or it could be something that cannot be fixed, "Yep, the DVD player is broken, it seems someone stuck something in there.  Sorry, I can't buy a new one right now. I guess you will have to pick something else to do."  And those times, while frustrating, tend to offer many learning experiences and hopefully will curtail that destructive behavior in the future.  I don't have to own my child's mistakes.  If my child (or others around him) is not in immediate danger, it is ok to let them fail and deal with the consequences of their action.  That will make them better grown-ups and perhaps learn from their own mistakes.

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This year has been one of huge learning oppotunities for me as a mother.  I have grown into a different person than I used to be.  I have learned that it is ok to not always be so gosh darned therapeutic and just be a parent.  It is ok to clear the slate and hug my child 3 minutes after a massive rage.  I used to get so bent out of shape when he would act like nothing happned right after he had to be restrained or raged.  It was infuriating!  Now, I envy that ability to move forward and treat it like water under the bridge.   For me THAT is freedom.  He knows that he did it, I know he did it, we both know it is unacceptable, his traumatized brain made an impulsive and bad decision to "act the fool".  It's over, move on to making memories.  Move on to living the life we have been given.  There is a time and a place for everything.  I perfer to make the time for anger, hatred, frustration a much smaller place than happiness and freedom.  That is a place of WONDER.  That is a life of character.

I don't want to be a Super Mom, I want to be a Wonder Woman.

It is a journey. 

It is a metamorphosis. 

I will never stop learning how to make myself, my family and my world better.

- Sheri (who blogs at Ain't That Sherific)

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Impact of Broken Attachment

Posted by admin on April 08, 2013

Ok…we’ve now talked about what both healthy attachment and broken attachment look like.  Today, we’re going to spend a little time talking about the impact that broken attachment has on kids.

 
I’ve been around the block a few times now.  Because of the nature of what we’ve had to deal with in regards to our boys, I’ve had to learn a lot about this subject of attachment in order to survive.  I gotta tell you friends, the more I’ve learned and lived with it and worked to help my boys, the more I’m astounded that a) this isn’t taught in most colleges or during foster/adoptive trainings b) that more people involved in working with or parenting hurt kids don’t feverishly research this subject and c) I’m even more jaw dropping astounded that so many people are still content to live in denial about this stuff!  Even with all the great information that’s out there, I still continue to see SO many families, especially foster and adoptive families and those who serve them, not taking attachment anywhere seriously enough.  And that’s why I write about it. J
 
The common perception I still hear so very often – both from within and outside the adoption community is that *if* they know anything about attachment at all, they believe the attachment spectrum looks something like this:  there's secure attachment and then there's RAD...with some kind of nebulous gray matter in between.

 RAD_not_1.jpg
 
Even though attachment is an issue that affects every single human being that’s ever walked the planet, 90% of the world has never even heard of it. For 9.5% of the remaining population who have, it is still generally assumed to be just an adoption issue and/or that once a child is placed in a loving family and given the best of everything, children will be resilient, grateful, all that trauma stuff won’t matter, and attachment will just happen on its own. (And every parent who’s raising an attachment challenged child just laughed!) It’s almost as if the same principles of “innocent until proven guilty” apply to attachment. Unless there’s something big that happens to prove their children aren’t securely attached, it is assumed they are.
 
That’s all well and good and sounds nice on paper. Except that’s not the way attachment really works.

 RAD_not_2.jpg
 
But this is...
 
 RAD_1.jpg
 

Attachment – either healthy or unhealthy – falls on a spectrum, or a sliding scale. On one end you have healthy and secure attachment. This is the type of attachment you see in infants and children who are loved, cherished, and wanted from conception.  These children have devoted parents who either intentionally or maybe even seemingly by instinct met the needs of their precious little one during their infancy and early childhood.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have personality disorders.  These disorders aren’t diagnosed until adulthood and are extremely difficult to treat (IF they can be fully treated at all.) Very often, there is a strong correlation between personality disorders and untreated trauma and attachment problems earlier in life.

And then you have everything else in the middle. Notice that diagnosable Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) area takes up a significant portion of the spectrum. That's because there varying degrees of severity and manifestation of it.  You’ll also notice that in the grand scheme of things, secure and healthy attachment actually only occupies a very small portion of the spectrum. This is because a child is either securely attached or they are not. If they are not, they will fall somewhere in the attachment disorder spectrum.
 
So what is it that would cause the shift from a healthy and secure attachment to attachment problems? Broken attachment.  Plain and simple.  Something went wrong during the first few years of life (with the first two years being the most critical) that disrupted and/or completely severed the progression of the natural attachment cycle.  So really, the attachment spectrum should look more like this.

 RAD_2.jpg

Pretty much anything that causes a long term physical or emotional separation of a child from their first primary caregiver constitutes a break in attachment.  Some things that could cause this level of  separation and disrupt the attachment cycle include things like:
 

  • Abandonment/Institutionalization
  • Death of a parent
  • Adoption
  • Emotionally unavailable adults (both before and after birth)
  • Medical trauma (long term illness and/or hospitalization)
  • Undiagnosed/untreated painful child illness that can’t be soothed (colic, ear infections, etc)
  • Premature Birth
  • Poor prenatal care
  • Young mothers with poor parenting skills (especially if they have little support)
  • Military deployment of a parent
  • Caregiver depression or substance abuse
  • Abuse of any kind
  • Neglect (physical and emotional)
  • Inconsistent care (sometimes it’s there, sometimes it isn’t)
  • Multiple caregivers
  • Frequent moves or placements (foster care)
  • Autism
  • And the list goes on...
 
 Regardless of how the break happens, broken attachments distort and/or destroy a child’s ability to form deep, authentic, and lasting relationships with anyone.  This may manifest itself early in childhood through severe behavior problems…problems that may appear deliberate, but are really the child’s natural defense mechanism.  They already know at a core level (even if they don’t know it at a conscious level) that being rejected and abandoned is the most painful thing a human could ever experience.  As such, they become determined never to let anyone close enough to hurt them again
 
One of my boys manifest this right from the start.  We had NO honeymoon with this child.  From day one he was more interested in what food I brought and what was in my bag than me.  Looking back, and knowing what I know now, this child had never, ever attached or connected with another human.

Even though it might appear to be a natural instinct, it is not. It is a learned skill that comes from thousand of iterations of the healthy attachment cycle.  My son was absolute evidence of that.  When we first met him, life was all about insuring his physical needs were met.  He was always far more interested in what was in my bag than he was in playing with us.  If we were doing something that met his needs, he would engage with me and my husband.  Otherwise, he played much better with our daughter.  When we tried to get close or impose boundaries, he did everything he could to be naughty, evasive, aggressive, silly, prove he was in control, push us away emotionally, or shut down and make us not want to get close to him.  Yet at the same time, this child was and still is so very, very, VERY scared of being hurt, of losing me, and that he will once again end up in a place where no one will take care of him.
Not all kids manifest their stuff outwardly, though.  My other son didn’t (or at least not for long.)  He was touted as being very compliant, quiet, and preferring the company of adults to children.  Imagine our surprise when we took him out of the orphanage and he moved in with us.  We saw a TOTALLY different child.  All of the sudden we had over the top behavior problems that we weren't in any way, shape, or form prepared to deal with.  It was all stuff we’d never seen or experienced before.  Again, knowing what I know now, I can so clearly see that it was all driven by fear.  Fear of rejection, intimacy, authority, and the unknown.  Even though we were still in Ukraine at the time, everything was completely new to him...us, our American ways, our language, the city, the hotel, and yes, even much of the Ukrainian culture and foods were new to him.  Once he learned that boundaries exist, where they are, and what happens when you cross them, he settled back down.  He was back to being compliant (but still quite passive aggressive) while we were around, but often reactive when we weren’t.   He welcomed and gave affection most of the time.  But, he was still pretty prone to defiance and both being a bully to and being bullied by other kids.
 
I’ve since seen many, many, MANY families in the same situation. They don’t realize the problems are there or that they are as deep and significant as they really are until MAJOR problems start surfacing in the tween and teen years.  Of course, by then, the kids are naturally more resistant to anything adults think is a good idea anyway, which only makes treatment and the ability to reach these kids all the more difficult.
 
As I mentioned earlier, attachment is a human issue, not just an adoption issue.  Unfortunately, as society’s values shift, abuse becomes more prevalent, and families continue to disintegrate and become more and more emotionally disconnected with each other, I believe that insecure and disorganized attachments even among bio kids are becoming more common. Kids are being bounced back and forth between parents, foster homes, and/or are growing up in day care and after school programs.  If you don't believe me that things have a huge impact on kids, go spend a little time in any school classroom or playground and watch how kids behave when their parents aren’t around. It’s deplorable! And the adults are to blame!! Unfortunately, most people just see these kids as “difficult”, "spirited" or "bratty" kids who are making bad choices. They’re not seeing the hurt kids who are being forced to grow up way too quickly and have never learned how to engage in healthy relationships because they don’t have descent role models to show them the way.
 
Does that mean I believe that all adopted children have RAD?  No!  Many kids, even kids like mine who hadn’t ever been attached to another human being prior to their adoption or who’d only had inconsistent care at best, will eventually be able to heal and form healthy and functional attachments. That healing will create a bridge that will allow them to live and function very close to normally.
 

RAD_3.jpg Regardless of how perfect the kids seem or how ideal the situation surrounding their adoption may have been, EVERY adopted child (or any other child who isn't living with the woman who birthed them) has still experienced a broken attachment. At some point in their lives, that broken attachment IS going to be a big deal, too.  It might show up when they’re kids or it might not be until they are teens or young adults and start to wrestle with their own identity. Just like shattered glass, even when those attachments heal and are functionally strong, they will never look or feel exactly like an attachment that’s never been broken.
We’ll be talking about some of the specifics of attachment problems and disorders in later posts. To wrap things up for this one, though, the long and the short of it is that attachment is serious stuff.  For better and for worse, it has a lifelong impact.  If you’re parenting a child who has experienced any form of broken attachment, take it seriously.  Treat it seriously, even if you’ve never had “big” problems.  Learn all you can about attachment.  Seek help and practice therapeutic parenting techniques.

No matter how awesome and how amazing your family is now, and no matter how much love you pour into these kids, if you’re parenting a foster or adopted child who has had multiple attachment breaks or has experienced multiple things that cause them (such as neglect or abuse on top of abandonment), and ESPECIALLY if you’re parenting a child who was institutionalized (even just for a relatively short time) or was bounced around the system or between various relatives at all during their first few years, your child is at very high risk of having attachment problems.  That risk level is so high that it's almost safe to assume they DO have some kind of attachment issues that will need to be recognized and properly addressed.   If that same child experienced significant trauma on top of their multiple attachment breaks, that risk increases even further...really, almost to the point that it's a given.   
 

It really doesn't matter if your child been formally diagnosed with attachment problems or not.  The whole diagnostic thing has it's own set of problems anyway (which we'll talk about later.)  It's kind of like that age old question "If a tree falls down in the forest and no one was there to see it or hear it, did it really fall down?" Of course it did.   It likewise doesn’t matter if the symptoms are manifest externally or internally or are obvious or subtle.  A break is a break is a break.  Just as you wouldn't expect a broken arm to heal properly on it's own without some kind of intervention, it's kind of naive to think broken attachments will heal properly if ignored.  The sooner those problems are recognized, accepted for what they are, and they are appropriately treated through parenting and/or therapy if necessary, the more likely it is that the children will be able to heal and have functional, healthy attachments and all types of relationships throughout their life.

-Diana (who blogs at From Survival to Serenity)

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I am a Turtle

Posted by admin on April 05, 2013

I am a turtle.  No matter what happens to this shell (my body), it does NOT effect my spirit unless I allow it too.  True, my wounds occurred as a child before I had that realization. So for many years, I believed that I was irreparably damaged.  As the turtle, I didn’t realize that I had pulled my vulnerable parts tightly inside my shell and continued to live wounded.  Long after the wounds stopped, long into adulthood, I still lived wounded.  To be within my shell, I was safe.  I couldn’t be harmed.  I was comfortable and happy there.  I had survived my ordeal. 
 
What I didn’t realize, was that even as an adult, I was only surviving. I still allowed my wounds to effect my spirit.  By choosing to stay inside my shell (walls or whatever other analogy used to describe protective measures), I was still choosing to live wounded.   As long as I continued in that choice, I’d never heal or grow.  After all, a turtle tightly tucked in his shell, doesn’t move.  I wasn’t moving, spiritually, emotionally or physically until I decided to brave the vulnerability of exposing my turtle legs…then my turtle arms and eventually my turtle head. 
 
With the confidence of not having any appendages ravaged by a predator, I gained the confidence to take a step, then two.  And just like the apprehensive turtle, at any sign of danger, I suck right back into my shell.  Having seen the world, I’m no longer content to stay inside.  So, I venture out of the safety of my shell again and again, still retreating back in at times but with growing courage and confidence to continue moving.  Moving toward life.  The life I want to live.  A life of love and trust instead of fear and suspicion.  A life of joy and hope instead of complacency and disappointment.  A life of beauty and wonder instead of dark clouds and pessimism.  A life being lived instead of survived.
 
I have become very fond of the turtle as symbolic to my emotional healing.  Truly, it is as slow as the turtle and really does happen by building on one baby step at a time.  But this journey all began with the realization that I wasn’t living, I was still “surviving” and purposefully choosing to muster the courage to be vulnerable so I could heal and grow and live.  One day this turtle will have the confidence to cast off that shell, completely free of the damage that was inflicted upon it.  Showing the world my spirit, my essence, the real me.  But today is not that day.  Today, my head is peeking out to see this beautiful world, wondering if it is indeed safe.

- Lisa (who blogs at Trailblazin')

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My son is sexually predatory

Posted by admin on April 04, 2013

This is a difficult post for me to write.  My son is sexually predatory.  I have two younger children in the home that I have to keep safe from his escapades and it is tiring.  I am constantly looking for signals that he is being triggered. 

This all began to surface about three years ago.  He had recently turned 15 and we began having inklings that he was interested in being inappropriate. (Keep in mind that he is mentally handicapped and functions on a 5 year old level)   He would saddle up to his brother and ask him to take down his pants.  His brother was almost 8 at the time and thankfully he wanted to no part of these shenanigans.  He would always tell him that was gross and would holler for me to make him stop. 

As these episodes became more often, I began to take steps to ensure that he was never alone with anyone younger than him unsupervised especially boys.  It was about this time that we realized we also needed to protect our pets from his unwanted advances.  It was then that I realized this was serious.  I could no longer bury my head in the sand and pretend this wasn’t happening.  I had to get real.

We took some steps to ensure that those in our home were safe.  I purchased cameras that could be accessed through our smart phones and a better door alarm system so that we knew for certain when he was out of his bedroom at night.  We instituted a 3 foot supervision rule when any other child or animal was in our home.  Basically he had to be within arms reach of an adult at all times.

We openly talked with him about what was acceptable and what wasn’t.  He was mortified that I would say things like “Your penis does not belong anywhere near the dog” but it was important to let him knew that I was aware of his intentions and that they were not happening in our home.  We instituted rules like you must have pants on at all times and if you are covered with a blanket your hands must be outside of the blanket while anywhere but your bedroom.  We insured that the other children always had clothing on while in public areas of the house.  And that they knew they could always kick, hit or pinch in order to escape from him.  Thankfully, he is not an aggressor so he does stop when his intentions are discovered.  

In the past, we have treated this like our family’s dirty secret.  In the past three months or so, I have become really open with my circle of friends and family about my son’s issues.  I decided it was time to explain why I was keeping him on a “short leash” around our children and others.  I decided that it was not something that I was interested in being ashamed about.  This is due to something that was done to him; this is compounded by his attachment issues, his low IQ and his impulsivity.  Shame will not fix this.  Shame just makes everyone feel more guilt.

Of course with all of this we deal with copious amounts of masturbation.  There are rules.  It must be done only in your bedroom, while the alarm is on.  It is facilitated by a toy that I purchased for him after some prompting by some other moms who “get it”.  I go through large amounts of coconut oil in my home.   I never thought I would be providing sex toys and lube to my child.

This week we traveled to Florida for spring break.  For obvious reasons, he is not allowed to sit in the same van seat with another child.  This trip, my mom hitched a ride with us due to a scheduling conflict with my step dad.  That meant that he had to share a seat with an adult.  I knew that was safe.  I was however concerned about what he would attempt during the night.  I made certain he was directly behind the passenger so that the driver would be able to keep watch if he began to crawl around the van trying to get to his brother.  My mother was driving and woke me about 3:00 in the morning.   She knew that he was up to something.  She was right. He was completely naked from the waist down and was masturbating, not 6 inches from my sleeping husband.  My mother was mortified! 

My mother had been told that it was a possibility and had heard many-a-story about his escapades, but seeing it is a different thing.  For me, it was freeing to be able to share that with someone else other than our immediate family.  It was as if a HUGE weight had been lifted off my shoulders.  It was as if I had been carrying a very heavy burden and I just shared a bit of the load with my mom.  That was priceless. My mom has asked more questions this week and has seemed to have more patience for me and my parenting than before.  Truth is a great thing. 

It was then that I decided I would write this post.  I am still deciding to publish it anonymously only because I want to protect his privacy to those who don’t know him.  But, it became important for me to tell you that it can be very freeing to let those in your circle know if your child struggles with these same type of issues.  It is not something that needs to be hidden away.  Perhaps if we share, there will be less of a chance for someone to be abused.  Perhaps if we share, there will be understanding. 


- Anonymous.

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Pulling Back and Reconnecting

Posted by admin on March 29, 2013

Pulling back and reconnecting

 

I wrote this post several weeks ago. I needed it to sit for a while to make sure I was ready to post it. I think it's ready now.

Parenting is hard. It just is, and there is no way to really prepare for it. You jump in and hope you swim. Fortunately, Rich and I have managed to keep our heads above water, despite some very deep water and long periods of doggy paddling. Occasionally we have needed some help and managed to grab on to some floaty devices at just the right time.

I've learned from every wave we have managed to navigate ourselves through. I've learned to float when I can, but always have lungs full of air just in case.

And I think maybe I got a little over confident.

Amidst juggling Noah's medical needs, his academic needs, and his physical needs, I think I forgot about his emotional needs.


We had a pretty good summer, and his transition into fourth grade and a new school overall went smoothly (on the Noah scale of smoothness anyway). Soccer was great in the fall and although it took lots of encouragement he's loving playing basketball this winter. We've seen improvement with his reading, and he's keeping up in math. He even received an A in science last marking period and a B in social studies.

He has an amazing emotional support teacher and overall the school is very supportive of him. There were bumps to be sure, but overall we have been so proud of him.

While I am always thinking about what is coming up next and what more we should be doing for him, I let us float the last few months. We received the results of his neuropsych testing from the FASD clinic the end of October. It included several recommendations, medical and academic, that I was very slowly chipping away at, but not with any urgency. Mostly I was enjoying not feeling like we were always being chased by the shark.

Looking back, I think things started to change in November. Perhaps it was Kiel's birthday. Or the month of disrupted school attendance due to super storm Sandy and then school holidays around Thanksgiving. Or maybe it wasn't any of that.

What I do know is that Noah started to struggle a little more, both at school and at home. He created more chaos at home, got into more things around the house we thought he knew he shouldn't. He was plugging up the toilet again, the encopresis was back and I felt like poop was everywhere. He was taking longer to do homework and was almost impossible to keep focused.

He started picking his nose again and washing his hands obsessively. And new motor tics started in his arms and neck. 

It was getting to the point where I didn't trust him out of my site. Too many times he created chaos in minutes. Some of it dangerous. I questioned if I could keep him safe.

He was mouthier and brattier and ruder than ever. And so incredibly oppositional.

Words were said that should never been spoken. 

I was frustrated. Rich was frustrated. The things we used to handle OK started to drive us crazy.

And then we have Kiel. He turned five. He's sleeping in his own room (finally). I'm able to spend more time alone with him and LOVE our Mommy-Kiel days. He's a sweet, funny kid that loves to cuddle. He tells me a hundred times a day (if not more) that he loves me and that I'm his best mom ever. He's the best of everything a five year old little boy can be.

I love both my boys intensely, fiercely, with a depth I never imagined was possible. But the truth is that I like Kiel far more than I like Noah the last couple months.

Looking back, I realize it's an insidious, horrible pattern. The more frustrated we became, the more Noah acted out. The more he acted out, the more frustrated we became. More frustration, more yelling, more rudeness, more acting out.

He was in trouble all the time. And while I was saying we can't let this continue, I was handling it more like a a strict no-nonsense parent, than the therapeutic parent he needed. The parent that understood why he struggled.

He had several rough days at school this week, and on Wednesday he hit a new low. On Tuesday he was in trouble for rhyming "stick" and "dick" (except he didn't know what "dick" meant so didn't understand why he was in trouble) and because he ate like a dog at lunch (except it was like a pig and he can't believe they didn't know that). Wednesday at recess he jumped the property line fence (because they were playing chase and he was running away from the kid that was "it."), he was removed from art class, and screamed at his aid, his general ed teacher, and his ES teacher; all before 1pm.

When he walked in the door that afternoon his first words were "I had the worst day ever."

Those words changed something in me.

Instead of consequences, I gave him a big hug and told him I loved him and it was OK.

We sat on the couch together and I held him.  I asked him if he knew how much I loved him.

He told me "no."

Those words broke my heart. How had I let it come to this? How did I let him get to the point that he questioned my love for him?

You can't fix everything with love, but you are going to find it much harder to fix anything without it.

We talked and cuddled. We reconnected physically. I'm not sure the last time I sat with him like that was.

Before bed we sat on the couch together again. The hour between dinner and bed had been rocky. I could see a physical difference in him. He was more settled when we were together on the couch. Now he looked angry, and sad.

We sat together, although he wouldn't cuddle then, and I asked him why he was so sad. I wouldn't let it go. He covered himself, including his face, with a blanket. He didn't want to talk. He said he didn't know how to say it. He didn't know the words. I pushed a little more.

Finally he said "it's you and Dad." He didn't say much more than that, but I didn't need to hear more. The pieces were coming together.

I know I had pulled back from him. I know things were said that made him question the stability of his life here. I know he felt misunderstood.

He was in trouble all the time and more often than not he didn't understand why what he did was wrong, or couldn't understand why it was such a big deal. It wasn't like he planned on doing those things.

While I could tell other people that he had brain damage and it affected his impulse control and ability to connect actions with consequences, I wasn't using that knowledge as I parented him.

We talked. I made it very clear how much we love him. I apologized for my poor behavior. We talked about how we could both make it better. I reminded him that my job as his mother was to keep him safe, to raise him to be a good adult, to teach him how to be a good person, a good husband, a good father in the future. We talked about how the older I get the more I learn, and that when you are only almost ten you know a lot less than your parents, and that is why sometimes you just have to accept that mom and dad are in charge and even if you don't always like it you have to do what you are told. I'm sure I said far more than he could absorb. It seemed to work though.

Rich put him to bed with a quick whisper from me that he needed to reconnect and I would explain later.

I shared with Rich and made it very clear that we both needed to rethink how we were parenting because what we were doing was breaking Noah.

Noah went to school Thursday morning with a smile on his face. He told me he was going to have a great day. I emailed his teacher to tell him what I thought was going on, especially that I thought he was feeling misunderstood.

His teacher sent me this picture in the morning and said "This is the Noah I know!"



He had a perfect behavior day on Thursday. He also participated in his first after-school basketball program and did great. He was SO EXCITED when he came out of the gym to tell me he received a 100 points (perfect day). He was a different kid than the one we had been living with the last two months.

Sometimes I forget just how easy it is to screw up as a parent. Sometimes I lose sight of why this gig is so important. Sometimes I need reminders, like the sweet, silly face of this boy.

- Kat (who blogs at Mommy Needs Therapy . . . or a bottle of wine)

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More Alphabet Soup

Posted by admin on March 26, 2013

When we received our adoption referral back in 2007, it was documented that birthmom in Russia drank alcohol during pregnancy. In fact, it seems birthmom drank a lot. So much so that one of our fab four was actually born intoxicated.

Armed with their pictures and their social history, we did a little research and, at the suggestion of our adoption agency, sent our referral to the Seattle Children's Hospital to have one of their experts on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome review the information and give us a professional opinion. While none of our kids presented with the facial and other physical features necessary to diagnose FAS, the doctor who reviewed our info did tell us to always be on the lookout for the long-term effects. She told us that some of these effects may not present themselves until school-age, in ways such as learning disabilities, ADHD, language delays...and the list goes on.

It is crystal clear to me that right now we are in the throes of those long-term effects.

Since Orlando, FASD has become part of my everyday alphabet soup/research/obsession.

At the recommendation of one of my Sweet Home lovelies, I bought the book Trying Differently Rather Than Harder by Diane Malbin. This book has changed the way I look at and parent my kids.

It has also made me angry.

As if the trauma of severe neglect, malnutrition, abuse, and orphanage living weren't enough, my kids now have to go through life with an invisible disability. Their brains are messed up and there's nothing I can do to change that.

In utero, alcohol passes through the placenta and pickles the brain. Pickles.the.brain. It kills brain cells. Period. So while my kids don't look it, they are disabled. They can't read well. They can't process things quickly. They can't control their impulses. They literally can't "act their age." As the book says, "They are ten second kids in a one second world." Spot on. No wonder they are frustrated. No wonder they are anxious. No wonder they are angry. No wonder they act out.

The book also made me angry at myself. I can't tell you how many times I have said, "Why don't you just listen?" "Why are you taking so long?" "Can't you just sit still?" "Why don't you follow directions?" "Why are you so angry?"

Ugh.

If only life had do-overs.

But once we know better we do better, right?

Ken and I have done a lot of good in the past 5 years. I can proudly say that our kids are, for the most part, beautifully attached (well, except for Marina) and I am beyond grateful for that. But as the kids grow, the game changes, and as the game changes, our parenting has to, too.

Once I finished this book I had a good cry. I cried for my kids and the struggles they face and will continue to face for the rest of their lives. I cried because sometimes being their Mom is just so.damn.hard. After my good cry, I let it go. It is what it is and we are where we are. I try my best not to continually feel sorry for them. I believe that pity does not serve them well.

I am getting educated on Fetal Alchol Spectrum Disorders and I am changing the way I parent. It's exciting, actually, because while I had no influence over their pre-natal care, I have total influence over their lives now and moving forward.

Being their Mom is the ultimate challenge and the highest honor.

So bring it on, FASD.

I have knowledge. And I have more than 100 powerful women who now have my back.

I am ready.

 

- Christie (who blogs at Zukorville)

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I Didn’t Start the Fire!

Posted by admin on March 25, 2013


(written 7/13/11)
I was out walking in my forest one day and discovered a fire. I was the first one there and was allalone. I started throwing water on it as fast as I could. I called in for help, lots of help. The help wouldcome and go and some of the helpers worked hard and did a great job, and some of them tried tohelp and were well intentioned but used the wrong techniques and actually made it worse. I put on fire retardant gear and studied books and websites and talked to experts on forest fires and that all helped. I got better at fighting the fire and made some progress. But then a big gust of wind would come along and feed the flames. I called fire jumpers—experts–and begged them to help. They told me no. Finally I walked around to the other side of the fire and found some other fire jumpers who said they would help. I rejoiced and we all got to work.

I stayed there every single solitary day and fought it day and night for 7 years. I got singed; I inhaled smoke and got ash in my eyes. I fought it and fought it until I was physically exhausted and it nearly killed me. I was forced to take a break from fighting the fire to literally save my own life. So, I stepped back and let some of the other people I had called in “take over.” Two or three days a week I would go back to the fire and help out as best I could, but I was still trying to recover from the injuries I sustained when I was there every day and was still weak and couldn’t help out with the same fervor and dedication that I had. The fire jumpers started asking me questions about why it had grown larger and hotter. I told them that as hard as we were all working the fire still continued to burn, it kept finding more fuel. This was a fire like most of us had never seen before and we could only make educated guesses about how to fight it. Then, some of the help I brought in found more help and brought them to help, too. The helper I didn’t know started asking more questions and accusing me of making the fire worse because I took a break to save my own life and said I was making the fire worse by not being there every day and not fighting it with the fervor and dedication she thought I should—but she didn’t know the whole story.

Then, the fire jumpers who came in to help told me they wanted me to leave the fire fighting and never come back. Even though I had made lots of progress and brought in cutting edge fire fighting equipment and did every single thing I could think of and was more dedicated to fighting the fire than anyone and stayed with the fire far longer than anyone else, they wanted me to throw in the towel and let them figure it out without my help. They actually insisted I leave! They said they had a plan for putting out the fire—or at least for maintaining it, but they said they had seen me fan the flames! They said I was making the fire worse!

Yes, there was a new lead fire fighter who was dedicated to putting it out and she had done a great job for a year and a half, but she wasn’t there in the beginning, she didn’t find it and she didn’t nearly get killed trying to put it out. If it wasn’t for me none of them would be there working to put out this fire—all of them were there and dedicated to this fire being extinguished because of me.

The very first helper I enlisted stayed by my side for 6 years and finally just couldn’t take the heat any more and felt he had no choice but to abandon the fire. He was strong and dedicated for 6 years and when he left he took several others helpers with him and that hurt our efforts—but he had to do it—he couldn’t take the heat—he felt he had no choice. The heat bothered me too, but I said to myself, “too bad, suffer, this is important!” There’s a limited number of fire fighters, there’s a limit to how much funding we can get to pay the fire jumpers and they don’t work for free for the most part.

I spent thousands of dollars of my own money trying to get help to the fire. I even neglected my friendships and my marriage and lost my house to fighting this fire. I gave until I had nothing left to give but kept going back to help. Some days I had to crawl or limp to get there, but I did it. Some days I had planned to be there and had to apologize and opt out because I was just too ill from the longterm injuries I had sustained fighting the fire. I knew I was too weak to be of any help and figured the effort would be better off without me in the way. And yet I was criticized mercilessly for being late some days, for not being there at all some days and being held responsible for the fact that the fire still continued to get bigger and hotter even with all the help and resources I brought to it.

Some people would argue that I knew the fire was there and agreed to be responsible for it no matter what and that I should be ashamed of myself for not staying with it every single day. Well, I had no idea what kind of a fire I had found, had no prior experience putting out fires and yet learned as I went and became a great fire fighter. But the fire was bigger than me! I DID accept responsibility for this fire, and even though I could not have known how big and how hot it would get and would never have guessed that some of my recruited helpers would actually accuse me of making the fire worse and ask me to walk away from it, I am still dedicated to putting out this fire!


I love the trees and the plants and the flowers and the rivers and the animals that live beautifully right where the fire burns! I can’t walk away! I won’t walk away and I NEVER FANNED THE FLAMES!!!

Ironic isn’t it, how in addition to finding the fire, bringing tons of help and resources to it, being singed and otherwise injured by it, nearly dying because of my dedication to it and committing myself to the end, that I also get to deal with some of my recruited helpers—including the expert fire jumpers—speaking poorly of me behind my back, plotting to take me away from the fire, accusing me of making the fire worse! How could I after 7 years of full-time, unrelenting dedication to fighting this fire possibly even think about making it worse? I haven’t the slightest idea of doing so. I felt horribly guilty about having to take a break!

What they don’t understand is that even though I didn’t plant the forest where the fire was started, it was given to me, entrusted to me for its care for as long as I live and it is the most beautiful forest I have ever seen! I love everything about that forest and every day I worry about the damage that’s being done to it by the fire. I refuse to let the fire totally destroy the glorious forest! I will keep talking, and recruiting and bringing resources and proving my dedication until every single fire jumper and helper believe and know that I am this forest’s number one advocate and I will not waiver even though it hurts to be judged, to have assumptions be made about me and to be told to leave. One way or the other, I will persevere! No matter what.


It’s as if they think I started the fire. They know I didn’t, but I get treated like an arsonist anyway—I guess because most of the forest fires they’ve come in contact with are started by arsonists. That may be true, but it doesn’t make me one. I’m innocent; I found the fire that somebody else started. I wish they’d stop treating me like an arsonist—I haven’t yet figured out how to convince them that I’m not to blame for this fire, but I will not give up trying.


~ Shelley Calissendorff, Foster-Adoptive Mother to one daughter and the love of my life. (visit her facebook page Preserve Families with RAD children NOW)

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Adoption Before & After

Posted by admin on March 22, 2013

If you would've told me that my life would've taken this turn 16 years ago I would've thought you were crazy. Sometimes I have a hard time remembering the person I used to be. Does that make sense? I cannot remember the person who advocated so harshly for services due to her child. I cannot remember the care-free adult who could drop everything at a moments notice and hit the road to Indy. I have a hard believing that I was the woman who had no idea what IEPs (Individualized Educational Plan) and BIPs (Behavioral Intervention Plans) were. What was my life like before assessments, plans, case managers, wrap around facilitators, intake coordinators, and mentors?

All of that sounds like I mourn this previous life. I don't. While I would prefer that I would not need to have some of the information I have rolling around in my head, all this HAS made me a better person. It has made me more aware of those around me. I has made me look at people (and children) as more than their behaviors, but as people who may struggle with their own demons. It has made me more tolerant, more compassionate and more kind. It has made me a better mother by advocating for my kids even when it doesn't include a disability. It has made me more aware of my world.

When I think about the "before me" and the "after me" there is one memory that always stands out to me. The memory is so burned into my mind it is like playing a movie in my head. I was probably 24. I was out of college and working fulltime at the daycare. I had gone to Target to purchase something for the daycare. There was a family in front of me that was a mom and 2 kids. The kids were perhaps 7 and 10. The mom had a large order and the boys were irritating in each other. The younger boy started throwing a fit, screaming and hitting and kicking. The mom tried to straighten them up and askedthem to stop. She reacted a little roughly, what I perceived as impatience, I look back on now and see fear. She was fearful that this would quickly escalate and get ugly fast. She was right. The older boy stepped to the end of the lane and quickly began ignoring what was going on. He was mortified. He looked tired and embarrassed. He was not an angel, but you could tell he was tired of dealing with his younger siblings fits. The little one kept on fighting an flailing and screaming. The mom was trying to write a check and he was pulling on her coat and kicking her legs. She was trying to write the check and ignore his behaviors. She "trapped" him between her body and the counter and finished writing her check. The checkout girl was getting info off her identification and the child kept going. The mom looked tired and worn out. She was obviously aware of the attention she was getting, but she never reacted to the stares. By this time the child had wrapped himself in her long coat and was stuck to her legs. He began to calm down. She said, "Let's go home and get some dinner."

The "before me" saw a mom who had no control of her kids. The "before me" saw a mom who was unable to stop her child from hitting her, a mom who was ignoring and had no idea what to do. The "before me" was sickened that she would say "Let's go home and get some dinner" instead of "You are grounded!". I remember walking up to the checkout girl and saying, "Lord, he needs a serious whooping!" And we chuckled.

How would the "after me" react? I would probably give her a knowing glance and tell her it is okay. I may even attempt to help disengage him. I would definitely explain to the checkout girl that I could be "that" mom and that my child is special needs.

I distinctly remember the day that this scenario became a part of my thoughts. We were in a hotel in Indianapolis that had a water park. We were eating in the hotel's restaurant and Dustin was carrying on. There were only a few people in the restaurant, but of course there was one family at the table next to us. Dustin had to be removed and Robert took him back to the room. I was left with the 2 little kids and an awkward silence. The mom at the other table locked eyes with me and I was mortified. I apologized and said he was special needs. She said, "I recognized that. I am sorry you had to deal with that at your dinner. We have been foster parents for years so I get it." Serious. The woman apologized that I had to deal with that at dinner, she wasn't worried about her dinner. She was worried about mine. That is kindness. That is compassion. That is what I want to be like. I instantly remembered that exchange at Target and I swore I would never make assumptions about parent's in a similar situation ever again.

My boy turns 16 this week. Sixteen years ago he was inside his mother's womb. A womb that is designed to be a protection from the world until he is ready to be born. His womb could not protect him from the alcohol that his mother chose to drink while pregnant.

 


- Sheri (Who blogs at Ain't That Sherific)

 

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Stepping Up to Trauma

Posted by admin on March 21, 2013

Tsega's new therapist is like a heaven-sent angel. It's not even fair. Every human should get to spend time in her office. She is one of those people who when she starts talking you want to curl up on her lap and have her pet you and tell you It's all gonna be OK. Her voice is like a mild dose of oxytocin. And Tsega knows it. He is calm and comfortable in her presence, he likes being there. It's kinda amazing to see. I always wonder what path a person has traversed who dedicates her life to healing others. I am convinced she has had to walk her own refiner's fire. Empathy and compassion are not created in a vacuum.  I am grateful we've found her.

Today while we conferenced about the plan for my baby boy's continued work, my role in it and a few other things I wanted her to know about our family, his past, etc, she shed some light on me. All of a sudden, we weren't talk about my kid. We were talking about a few things that happened to me that still cause me pain. (Sidenote: As it turns out, I have a bit o' PTSD around my pregnancies and hospitalizations and the traumatic pre-term birth/aftermath of my youngest). As she spoke the words aloud and repeated back to me what I was saying so I could hear myself, it was like a revelation. She was right. I am so dedicated to helping my child heal, I haven't paid much attention to my own wounds. Sure, they are bandaged up really well, I am not dysfunctional by any means. But they are still there, and sometimes, when I need to be able to focus on my child or children, I am in overdrive because I have activated my own junk and piled it on top of the junk going on with my kid.

It is so obvious but crystallized for me today with her help: To be a better parent for a child who has trauma, I cannot lump my crap, my fears with his. He has enough to deal with, he doesn't need mine, thankyouverymuch. 

Before I knew it, in the middle of a session about my son, with his therapist, I was writing down names of other EMDR therapists she wanted me to call to do what she called "short term" work to help reduce my anxiety related to my past.

So what is EMDR therapy? It has been described really well in other places, like here for example. In technical jargon: Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a comprehensive therapeutic approach that helps patients release disturbing thoughts and emotions that originate in traumatic experiences. In my own words, this isn't your average lying-on-a-couch-crush-on-your-parent Freudian stuff. It isn't even play therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy. It is very specific to trauma and PTSD.

This is taking a traumatic memory and processing it while physical stimulation occurs. This stimulation is not sporadic, it is very purposeful: it works between the left and right brain. Your eyes follow lights, and sometimes, especially for children  both hands hold little buzzers that pulse in sync with the lights, and even tones in ears, are all synced up bouncing from left to right.  While processing, talking through the traumatic memory, this left to right movement of the eyes help take away the triggering effect the memory has on the body.

The goal is to be able to remember the traumatic thing, but it's power on your brain to make you freak out with anxiety is lessened.  One goal of this therapy is to reduce the impact of triggers and help a person stay more regulated.So, while no one promises magic, the results can be magical for some people.

Tsega's therapist has had success doing this kind of therapy with little ones who still don't have great verbal skills AND she's had success with this therapy for folks who do not remember their trauma (both of which were important for us). Her experience and philosophy is: actually, we humans who experience terrifying, painful, hard things when we are infants and small children, do remember. The body remembers what there are no words or images to tell. The fear is there, present in the brain,sometimes mucking stuff up.

I am so excited to work with her, to have her in my son's life. I am grateful for her being mindful of me, and even chiming in on some of the other kiddos as well. I want encourage those of you out there seeking answers, healing, and professional help for your children or maybe even yourself: A good friend of mine once told me that when it comes to therapy, you gotta kiss a lot of frogs. Finding the right fit, and -Please God- someone who accepts your insurance is like finding needle in a haystack. Not every therapist is good. And not every good therapist has a decent, easily, searchable website. I searched for eight months and was considering flying out of state and paying out of pocket just to get Tsega with a pediatric EMDR therapist because I couldn't find one near me.

I found this therapist because a blog friend, who I've never met, was doing EMDR therapy with her child across the country, and asked her therapist if she knew anyone in my area. Like magic, after months of failed searches and dead ends, I had a name. And even then it took a few weeks to get the correct number to find her. When we finally spoke I told her it felt like tracking a rainbow unicorn.

If a therapist doesn't get your kid, and doesn't speak the lingo of understanding how trauma, adoption, attachment, and even sensory integration issues all work together to disrupt children and that all of those things can and possibly should be addressed for maximum healing for a child, if someone tells you what your kid is experiencing is "normal" or that your deeply distressed child is "energetic and spunky" and if those words go solidly against your gut, keep looking. I found my unicorn. Don't give up on yours.

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(You're welcome, by the way, for the gratuitous eighteen-months-old picture of my two little partners in crime. For the record, Brady still likes to be squished and Tsega still likes to squish. I miss those days, when they were slower and easier to catch...)

PS. If you haven't joined the Scooping it Up FB page, come join the party. Sneak peeks on posts, important discussions about who is the most attractive man on Grey's Anatomy  ethics in adoption, etc. I love learning from you and "meeting" you.

- S, The Scooper (who blogs at Scooping it Up)

 

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Tools - Tapping (EFT)

Posted by admin on March 20, 2013

(written last year after Orlando 2012)

Darling Lisa over at Life in the Grateful House has been touting the healing possible for our kiddos using the EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), or Tapping, for a few years.  J has been doing Tapping for some time and has had great success.  Lisa began Tapping a while ago for herself and has found that it has helped her deal with many things in her own life.  This year in Orlando, she shared the technique with a bunch of moms.  These mamas went home, began tapping with their kiddos and for themselves.  They have seen great changes in their kids and in themselves.  I was still not moved.  Lisa organized a teleconference with Tapping-Guru Brad Yates and I was not one to pass up on free, so I decided I would give it a whirl and listen, maybe.

I am a bit oppositional when it comes to things people think I should be doing.  The posts on our Orlando forum were not helping me.  I was thrilled these mamas were having success, but I was not having it.  I would not be convinced.  Until the other day. . .

I decided to Tap last Friday.  I figured what could it hurt right?  I was in a bad mood.  Dustin has been horrific.  We are dealing with some money issues.  Work was crazy.  I was not feeling well.  I did not want my mood to carry over into my evening at home and make the kids bonkers.  I was determined that my weekend would start off on a good foot.  I did it.  I tapped for the first time.  It totally calmed me down and turned my mood around.  As we all know, if mama is happy, everything goes much more smoothly.   I was an immediate believer.  I posted about it on our forum and Lisa refrained from hitting me with a big ol' TOLD YOU SO.  She is gracious like that!

Yesterday I Tapped before coming home.  Dustin has been very off lately.  He yells and screams all the time.  He is angry, foul tempered, and nasty.  He is either screaming, whining or crying.  He is argumentative and picks fights with everyone.  I did not want to come home.  I came home and Robert was fed up with Dustin. We began to bicker with one another.  I was calm, but I could tell I was getting fired up. I ran to the store for a couple items and to catch my breath.  I decided to Tap on the way home while at a  stoplight and I look over and see the occupants of the car next to me staring.  It was hysterical.  I knew then I was hooked! 

This brings us to tonight.  I introduced my kids to tapping tonight.  The littles Tapped on the ride home.  We focused on them being kind, respectful and obedient.   My thought was that they would be better able to deal with Dustin is they were in a calm frame of mind.  I tapped with Dustin when I got home.  He thought I was crazy, but he did it.  I kept his script pretty simple, we talked about being calm, obedient and peaceful.

Here is the kicker.  Tonight was AMAZING!  He did not raise his voice once.  He did not scream or cry.  He took direction.  If he asked for something and I said "No" he said, "Ok".   That never happens.  I swear. This stuff is the real deal.

If you want to understand more about Tapping and the science and history behind it, you can watch this short video.


It is not voodoo.  It is not religious.  It is not new-age.  It is based on acupuncture points.  It is amazing. 
 
If you want to figure out how to make your script, you can go here for the "recipe". 

If you want to see some tapping videos you can search for Brad Yates on YouTube, or visit Lisa's blog.   

Really, what can it hurt?  Give it a chance. I promise you will not be sorry.


- Sheri (who blogs at Ain't That Sherific)

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