Sunday, October 30, 2011

Puss in Boots - Movie Review

A lot of trauma mamas are cautious about the movies we let our kids see.  We know keeping our kids’ worlds small, and not allowing everything other families might be able to experience without a problem, helps us keep a reign on certain trauma triggers – things that trigger our kids and cause them pain.  There are other blogs out there where trauma mamas can find reviews of movies written specifically for those of us raising hurt kids.  One of my favorites is Gold to Refine.  You’ll find links to Diana’s  movie reviews on the side column of her blog.  Now that I have my own blog, I thought I’d write a movie review from time to time, too.  Our family does not go to movies often, but when we do, I’ll let you know what I think.  For now, let me tell you about Puss in Boots(Warning:  if you don’t want any spoilers, read no further.  However, as a trauma mama, you may appreciate a spoiler or two if it helps you help your kids.)

We saw Puss in Boots in 3D this afternoon.  My hubby and I took our two younger kids, as well as one of our older boys (who has a mild form of Asperger Syndrome).  All five of us enjoyed the movie.  It was funny, and there were plenty of mild zingers for the adults in the crowd.  There was no cursing, though there were a few off-color references – much that would go over most kids’ heads.  The movie is filled with plenty of action and its theme is “good overcomes evil.”  All good stuff.

The thing trauma mamas might consider, however, is that Puss and his childhood friend, Humpty Alexander Dumpty, are orphans.  The boys are raised in a Mexican orphanage where they are bullied by the likes of Little Boy Blue.  They have a kind and loving “mama” who runs the orphanage, however.  She grows to love Puss as her son, even calling him, “my boy” a few times in the movie.  Puss and Humpty emotionally wrestle a lot with their past.  Humpty is especially affected by it and makes many poor choices throughout the movie.  In the end, he makes a decision for the greater good, but gives his life to do so.  Humpty dies by falling off a cliff and being cracked open.  Inside, we see he is a golden egg.  Puss comments he always knew Humpty was a “good egg” inside.  This golden egg ends up being taken up into the heavens by the Goose – you know, the one that lays the golden eggs.

All three of my kids did just fine with the movie for the most part.  Remember, they are older.  My daughter is 13 and my youngest son is 16.  I asked them if the boys being orphans and being in an orphanage made them feel funny at all.  My daughter said no, and I believe her.  She’s a positive person and is not a deep thinker about hard things.  My son looked at me like I was crazy (but this is not unusual – he looks at me like I’m crazy as a matter of course) and also said no – with extra emphasis (“NO-ah!), and a deep Eastern European accent – which is especially exaggerated when he is stressed.  So, while he did fine for the most part, I know the orphan theme bothered him.  He said he liked the movie and he thought it was funny.  My Asperger young man (22) was stimulated by the action scenes – he always is.  He tends to chew his hands when this happens.  So if you have an Aspie, be aware that the action scenes cause excitement like most action and adventure movies do for Aspies.

I’m not sure why SO many movies seem to center around characters with tough backgrounds.  I guess it makes the character more interesting.  As your hurt kids get older, it’s hard to keep all the parameters around their worlds that you once did.  You can’t shield them from all the violent movies, or all the movies with themes that make them crazy.  You can teach them (or try to teach them) to be discerning – to consider whether or a not a movie is a good thing for them to watch, or whether the content of a movie is worth their time.  After all, there’s a lot of JUNK out there!  And if you happen to stumble on one that’s not good for you, it is OKAY to teach them it is perfectly fine to walk out of a movie (or turn off the TV).

That said, I don’t think Puss in Boots is junk.  Far from it.  It is fun and it is funny.  But for some kids with orphanage backgrounds and traumatic pasts, it may not be a movie to see.

Ever been dumped?

Ever feel abandoned?  Like nobody “gets” you?  Ever feel like you’ve placed your trust in someone you thought would always be there, but they weren’t?  Have you ever been excluded, or left out of things?  Have you been told by someone that they would pray for you when things were tough, but what they really should have said to be honest – to say what their body language was screaming – was, “You scare me, and I don’t really want to get involved?”  Ever feel as though you’ve been dumped by someone you care about, and that you thought cared about you, but didn’t?

I know a lot of trauma mamas who have experienced these feelings.  Parenting children who are dealing with the rough stuff of a traumatic past can sometimes be very isolating.  Their “stuff” is weird.  Their “stuff” causes problems for others.  Their “stuff” makes us look like we don’t know how to parent.  I’ve also read a lot of blogs, written by moms who were left out of girls’ nights or get-a-way weekends.  I’ve talked with women who’ve tried to make friends with other moms in their churches – even other adoptive moms --- but they cannot make a real connection because those moms either don’t understand therapeutic parenting or trauma, or they want to pretend trauma doesn’t exist.  I know a mom who trusted other moms – other adoptive moms, in fact – and was abandoned by those moms when things started to get rough for her and some of her other trauma mama friends.  They told her they needed to “simplify,” that they “didn’t want to think about” those hard things, and that her life and the lives of her fellow trauma mama friends frightened them.  Talk about a sucker punch!  It’s not fair to be abandoned by people you trust.  It’s not right to have people who are supposed to be the people you think would be the most trustworthy not stick around when the going gets tough.  It hurts.  It’s not fun.  And it can leave trauma mamas with PTSD scars of their own that make it hard to trust again.

I hate it.  I really, really hate those feelings.  I’ve felt that hurt and that sting.  I’ve experienced that feeling of abandonment when someone told me they thought life with hurt kids was too much for them to “handle.”  I’ve wondered, “What are YOU handling?!  -- A few minutes of empathy? – Of listening to someone else’s pain?  This is too much for you to handle?” I’ve also wondered, “What about bearing one another’s burdens?  Is it too much to ask, unless you’re the one asking?”  And I’ve been hurt.  And I can get pretty angry.  It’s hard to trust again when you’ve felt so abandoned.  I’ve wanted to hide.  I’ve wanted to run.  And the cycle of isolation is compounded even more, because I’m afraid I’ll be hurt again.  (Thankfully, in that hurt, I’ve also been reminded to try very, very hard NOT to do that to someone else!  I’ve asked God to make me more aware.  I certainly want to ask for forgiveness and make up for it when I’m thoughtless enough to let someone feel as though I’ve abandoned them.  After all, I usually have no clue.  That’s what “thoughtless” means.)  Still, we can’t stay in that place of hurt ourselves.  We have to let it go.  We have to open up again.  We have to try to remember we’ve been thoughtless, too.  We have to remember there are times we didn’t realize what our words or our actions did to someone else.  All we can do is pray we are more of a blessing than we are a burden and move on.  We can do that if we have a basis of love – of knowing how to bear one another’s burdens – to begin with. 

Have you ever felt ANY of that?  Have you ever experienced ANYTHING like this?  Can you relate at all?

The gift that the pain of abandonment for trauma mamas is this:  we get just a little taste of what life’s been like for our hurt kids.  Before their adoption, they experienced all these feelings and often, much more.  However, for them, it all happened before they were old enough to know they could be okay or that they could let the thoughtlessness of others go.  However it happened, they were abandoned, before they were able to take care of themselves, or knew how to move on – to move past the hurt.  For them, the cycle of isolation wasn’t one or two traumatic events that shook their world, it was their world!  So, how does anyone survive those raw, hard, painful feelings?  Real feelings.  Real, yucky feelings?  Yet our kids do survive.  Our kids are still here.  Where they live, who they live with, is different.  And they survive that, too.  What may have crushed any one of us is simply a part of matter-of-fact life for them.  It’s not fair.  It hurts.  It’s not fun.  And it leaves PTSD scars that run deep, and it makes it hard to trust again.

So trauma mamas, can you relate?  Can you get a glimpse of what it’s like for your hurt child to wake up and have to navigate the world with raw feelings ALL the time?  Strangely, I think most of us can.  I think if you’re reading this, and you KNOW you’re a “trauma mama,” then you can absolutely relate.  You’re aware of your child’s past and the needs that exist in their life because of their traumatic past.  You’re aware – painfully aware – of how it affects their now, as well as their future.  You’re aware of how it affects YOUR life now, and YOUR future.  And you are hoping, you’re PRAYING, and you’re hoping some more, for some peace in your life and for someone who “gets it,” so you won’t feel so isolated so often.

Some of you, dear readers, share my Christian faith.  Some may not.  I’m not a far right-wing, thump-the-Bible-over-your-head kind of person, but I am a Christian.  For me, that faith shows through in some of what I write and it will also show through on this blog.  I hope it doesn’t turn you away if you don’t share my faith, though.  I still think we can learn from one another.  But again, for me, faith is what gets me through the lonely times.  I’ve been called “weak” for depending so heavily on God and for calling out to Christ when I feel most afraid or alone.  To those folks I say, “Yes!  Weak?  That’s me!  But my God is strong.”  I depend on the knowledge that He is there for me and that He loves me – no more and no less than anyone else – but that His love is perfect and unfathomable.  I may not always know exactly what that means – and I may not understand fully who He is, but I know He is there.  I know He hears me.  I know He blesses me.  When I cry out, it is true I most often cry out for Him to come to me “with skin on.”  I ask for Him to send me someone I can see and hear, who will see me and hear me, and “get it.”  I ask for someone who won’t leave when things get tough.  I ask also to be that someone for a mom who needs the same.

My prayer for this blog is that it can serve as a way for me to be that person for a trauma mama “out there somewhere” who needs a friend that “gets it.”  I certainly don’t have all the answers.  I don’t think any one of us -- even those of us who have been at this therapeutic parenting thing for a while now -- would say we have all the answers.  We just know some things we’ve tried that don’t work, and we know some other things that have worked.  We keep trying new things, too, because new trauma drama pops up all the time.  It’s an on-going process.  It’s a 24/7 career.  If we can help one another along the way, even by just BEING THERE and being that one friend that doesn’t exclude, doesn’t run, doesn’t say “I’m praying” without also sticking around through the rough stuff, that doesn’t bail – well, then, I think we’ve found a very good thing.

Thanks again for reading this far.  We’re just getting started.  I have a lot on my brain I want to share with you.  Parenting stuff.  Therapy stuff.  Movie reviews for trauma parenting.  Ideas about “stuff” for our kids for Christmas and about how to handle the holidays.  How to be there for someone who’s struggling.  Yep, lots of things.  If you like what you’re reading so far, will you share it with another trauma mama?  Please link my blog to yours and let me know your blog address, too.  Click “share” for Facebook or Twitter below.  Click on +1 to recommend the blog to others.  And thanks for standing by me as I get this thing rolling.  It means more than you know.   

Friday, October 28, 2011

New Chapter or New Book?

There’s an old saying.  You know the one  -- something about changes -- about closing one chapter and beginning another.  For me, I think it’s more like beginning an entirely new book.  As I write this first blog post in this new, semi-anonymous blog, I’m ready for a truly new book in my life.  I cannot rewrite the past – not for myself, and certainly not for the hurt kids I’m raising.  Their beginning was too hard.  Too raw.  Too painful.  While my past with them as their adoptive mom is painful as well, there are too many changes from what once was – even from just yesterday.  There are too many things that are no longer true for us.  There are too many dreams I’ve had to let go, but there are also too many things I want in what’s yet to be -- too much life to simply begin a new chapter.  There must be an entirely new book.  Granted, it won’t be a stand-alone edition.  It cannot be.  This new book can only be written because it builds upon what is already published in permanent ink, on stained pages, bound by a hard cover.  The past is past.  My kids’ past is not pretty.  The work we do to help them navigate that past and write the book that is their future is also ugly most of the time.  This is true.  Our future as a family living with the aftermath of our children’s past trauma, abuse, neglect, and post-institutionalization is forever tied to that past. 

So, who am I?  What is the synopsis of this book? 

I am a wife and a mom.  I have six children.  Some are young adults, beginning life on their own.  Some are still in college and still dependent upon us.  Some are young teens, living at home, attending public school, and working through a past and toward a future they only dreamed about until four years ago.  My youngest two children are biological siblings, but have only been our children for four years.  They are amazing kids.  They’ve come so far from the frightened orphans who landed at JFK airport in the summer of 2007.  Yet, they will always deal with their past.  Their lives deserve a new book, but that book will forever be written based upon the past.  Their psychological diagnoses look like alphabet soup to those not familiar with the terms.  There is PTSD, RAD tendencies, ADD/ADHD.*  We also deal with anxiety (sometimes quite high for both kids), and major depressive disorder in my son. 

My kids were not born in America.  They were born and lived the first decade of their lives half way around the world.  Not all kids will have suffered the kinds of things my kids have suffered.  Some will have suffered more.  Some less.  I do NOT believe all adopted kids are attachment disordered.  However, I do believe all adopted kids have experienced trauma.  Just going through the process of getting adopted is traumatic.  A child leaves all they know, even if it is hard, and is placed with a family they do not know.  In the case of international adoption, they’re also placed into a culture and a language they do not know.  (Imagine being plopped in a country whose culture you have little to no experience with and with a bunch of people you cannot understand who cannot understand you!)

I’ve seen people deny the fact that their kids have a traumatic background.  They can deny it all they want, but then adolescence hits, and they’re not prepared for the trauma that exhibits itself all wrapped in all the "normally" crazy teenager crap, because they pretended their kid was normal and had no traumatic past.  They want their kids to be “normal” so badly that they ignore the fact that being adopted isn't "normal!"  It's not commonplace.  It's not common practice.  If it were, everyone who had biological kids would also have adopted kids.  If it were, adoption would be as commonplace as pregnancy.  For some of those people in denial, dealing with past trauma without much knowledge about its effects on a kid isn’t so bad; for others, it’s pure hell.  Still, even for those for whom it is not so bad, they might handle it better if they’d taken the time to get to know others who’ve been through it – or worse.  It just breaks my heart to see these folks struggle, when they could have been open and learning all along – and maybe even making a friend or two along the way-- someone who would “get it” in way others can’t when they meet these kinds of challenges with their kids.

My kids have seen some really horrible things.  They’ve watched people they love do things many cannot begin to imagine.  They’ve experienced things no one should.  They’ve been told terrifying lies by people they trusted.  They have felt things no child should ever have to feel, and they have the scars to prove it.  Yet, here they are.  They function amazingly well.  My son can fix just about anything mechanical and my daughter is a straight-A student.  They have survived.  They truly fight to be “normal.”  So badly, they just want to “be normal.”  While our family is probably far from “normal,” at least they have a chance – a chance they did not have four years ago.  Still, that chance does not come without a price.

I am also recently retired from a career position I have deeply loved.  I made decisions that helped people.  I developed programs and administered services that changed people’s lives for the better.  I worked to keep families whole and kids healthy.  I engaged volunteers in collaborative efforts and I raised awareness by working with media outlets to bring people the news.  I was recognized in the community as a leader, even if that leadership sometimes ruffled feathers because I didn’t go with the status quo.  My job was an extension for me of who I am – what I am – where my heart rests beyond my family – and how I “make it” in this world.   I got to help people.  I got to make a difference.  I got to be me. 

Oh, when I say “recently retired,” I mean “yesterday.”  --  Literally.

I am also fairly well-educated in a traditional sense, as well as self-educated out of necessity.  I’ve read more essays about child trauma, abuse and neglect, and more journal articles about mental health diagnoses, and even more web sites about adoption and the issues of internationally-adopted kids coming out of orphanages, than I ever imagined I would.  I’ve talked with more moms of kids with issues that are far more severe than those of my kids, and have held more moms in my arms who are tired and just don’t know what else to do, than I can begin to count.  Thankfully, there are those that have done the same for me.  I’ve learned a lot these last several years.  I’m writing this blog because I think I have a lot I can offer – things for which even teachers and therapists have come to me for an opinion.

I can sometimes be awfully lazy, but I cannot be still – not in my spirit – not in my heart.  I cannot “just rest and take some time” in my retirement, not even to regroup as I adjust to not working outside the home.  I’m not old.  Okay, so I’m older, but I’m not old.  I’m not ready to retire.  Sharing myself, trying to help others, seeking help for my own struggles, NEEDING help in the form of support by other trauma mamas who “get it” – all these things are things I value.  They are all part of who I am.  They are as breathing is to me.  So, I’ll write.  So, I’ll begin this new blog.  I may be more anonymous than I’ve been in the past.  I think this may actually be more helpful to those reading the blog, because I can be even more open about our family’s struggles with a shield of anonymity.  So, if you happen to know me, please do not name me here.  For now, just call me “Trauma Mama T,” or “Mama T,” or even just “T.”

My plan is to write about my life as a mom, as I work to help my kids with their past trauma while they develop skills to navigate a world that doesn’t usually understand the fact that some things just do not heal, no matter how much time and love you invest.  Love does not heal all wounds.  Time doe not heal all wounds.  But love – and time – sometimes, LOTS of time – allows us to teach our kids skills that can help them make it through, and maybe even to thrive in ways they, and we, can only learn as we go along. 

This is a different kind of parenting.  This is a different kind of life.  This is my life.  If it is also your life, or even if you’re just curious, perhaps you’ll join me here.  Thanks for reading this far.

And so the blog – and this new book in my life – begin.

  RAD:         Reactive Attachment Disorder