In this episode, a foster and adoptive parent shares her experience of caring for her biological, adoptive and foster children.
In this episode, we listen to Andre Minett, a father of two, husband, and social worker. He discusses his experience advocating for foster children and his own experience as a father with a child with health condition.
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Female Speaker: Welcome to “Ask The Advocate” where mental health advocates share their journey to advocacy and what it is meant for their lives. “Ask The Advocate” is a Mothers On The Front Line production. Today we will hear from Andre Mina, a father of two, husband, and social worker. This interview was recorded at the 2017 National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health conference in Orlando Florida. During this particular recording, you can hear music and noise in the background from another event in the hotel. Please don’t let this noises distract you from Andre’s story.
Tammy Nyden: So, I’m just going to ask you to introduce yourself. Tell us a little bit of who you are and then the kind of advocacy work that you do.
Andre: Okay. My name is Andre Minett. I’ve been a social worker since about 2002. Definitely, this is what I do because this is the only thing I’m good at.
Tammy: I doubt that, but, okay.Andre: So, I’ve been working with children especially since 2002, right from Miami, D.C., now, here in Florida. I’ve been doing this work kind of a long time. It’s funny when I look at my resume, and then I’m like “man, I’m old.”
Tammy: That happens quickly. Doesn’t it?
Andre: Yes. My oldest son is about to turn four, my youngest son just turned two. I’ve been married for seven years. That’s kind of the highlight of my career, really.
Tammy: Right, right. Those are fun ages, too.
Andre: Yes. That’s where the real work begins, you know.
Andre: That’s where you understand everything you have already done, you know.
Tammy: That’s right.
Tammy: Tell us about your advocacy work.
Andre: So, I’ve been advocating for children for a long time. You almost don’t even look at it as advocacy, it’s just something that you’ve been doing for a long time. I’ve been working in foster care. I began my career working in foster care and so to advocate for a lot of those kids who really didn’t have parents who were able to advocate for them. I became their parent. I’ve been training foster parents on how to raise kids, even though, I was about twenty-two years old and telling a fifty-year-old woman – and men – how to raise their kids. It’s kind of raising their kids, raising my kids, that they have custody of. The way we kind of wanted and for them to be ready. It’s kind of hard too, because, you know, you have to set a standard of how you raise your own kids. You have the ideologies and all that stuff, but, you know, when you say that to a parent, who’ve been spanking their kids for a long time, like “don’t touch my kids”, you know? Yet I do it in the most professional way as possible. But, you know, you check on them, and you do things like that. So, I’ve been advocating for foster children. At one point I had my own mentoring agency, where I took kids in a city who were underprivileged, and kind of raising them that way because the Foster Care System, you kind of had the whole zone, what you can do and how you can do it.
Tammy: Right. Can you talk a little bit about working with the foster kids? Where are the areas were they were really needed an advocate to help them out? I’m sure there’s many. Just pick a few.
Andre: I mean, even in the court systems, where those custody battles of determining parental rights for adoptions. So, a lot of the foster parents and the parents, they have to kind of navigate through that and think, “look, what is the best thing for these kids?” Because that’s really all came down to. It’s kind of, having everyone see eye-to-eye. So the court system, you didn’t have to advocate within the system of the foster care system because I was privileged to be a part of a therapeutic foster care system with a private organization, but you also have to deal with the state. That was kind of our managing entity to work.
Tammy: So, did you do therapeutic foster care yourself at any point?Andre: No.
Tammy: I misunderstood. But you work with the agency that did it?
Andre: I just worked with the agency. Right. A lot of the times, you would want to try to transition a kid from one home to the next home because that’s right for that kid. Sometimes the state would say, “okay, look, just put him in a home,” and you have to say, “look, here’s the plan, here’s the plan that we have,” because you have been attached to that kid and you kind of know what’s best for that kid, and you see that kid maybe five to six times a month, you know.
Tammy: So talk about that of it, because I think, in the work we do, we talk a lot of times about how the parent’s the expert, but here, you have kids who their parent can’t advocate for them at that moment. So, the closest thing they have to that could be, this person who’s working on the system on their behalf who knows them as opposed to someone else who they might get passed off to as they only met them. How do you navigate that when you know, like, you know a particular child, you know them?
Andre: Well, I think, the best thing to do, and somebody told me when I first started social work. I said, “what does making you–” as she was a parent, that’s one of my fellow social workers, I said, “what makes you a great parent?” I said, “does a social worker can make you a great parent?” She said, “no, being a parent makes me a great social worker.” You see some of these kids in these situations when their biological parents are, you know, I’ve had parents who were struggline on drugs but still wanted their kids.
Tammy: Right. Well, of course. At that moment they needed to help themselves so they could help their kids, right?
Andre: Right. A lot of times they don’t know that. That’s the hard part. Because you have this six, seven-year-old kid who wants to go back to their parents who probably even sexually abuse them. You have to say, “look, there’s help.” You have to really be non judgmental when it comes to advocating between the kids and their parents. I was twenty-two when I started and a lot of these parents who were about twenty-two, twenty-three when they had their first child. You know, I couldn’t imagine them, besides professional work, my personal life is a little bit different. So you could understand how some might have a personal life and think it is okay to have their kids in the home when they’re doing drugs but they’re downstairs. It was kind of difficult just kind of having the parents come to an agreement, like, “we know you understand, we know you love your child, every parents going to love your child, and there’s a way that we expect things to happen for your child.” So, navigating between that was sometimes difficult, but you know, when you kind of come with a non-judgmental spirit with some of those parents, and say “this could be anybody.” Even myself if given the wrong situation. So, you educate the parents, that takes a while. Yes, it’s a system, that could take a while, even longer, but, at the end of the day, when everyone’s their best interest is the child, and that’s it, when you can actually really say that the best interest is my child, this child, and all the kids I have – somebody asked me, “how many kids do I have,” I’d say that I have hundreds, because it’s just, it’s hard to look at somebody’s thirteen, it’s hard to look at someone who is six, even a baby. To say, “look, we’re going to do the best thing for this kid,” and I took them as my own. I honestly felt like the only way I could actually do this child justice is to actually think that this child is my own. And that’s hard, but I’m so glad that I did it when I was twenty-two years old because I could take it home to nobody. It was difficult, but, you know, it needed to be done.
Tammy: In the work that you do, have you been doing any of this work since you’ve become a father?
Andre: I… Yes.
Tammy: Then had that change the dynamic at all of how you went to work, how you felt doing your job? Did it adjust anything for you?
Andre: Being a father is a lot, it kind of put everything in perspective. Because I really thought that I really knew—
Tammy: And first of all, you were twenty-two, what twenty-two-year-old doesn’t know everything? I mean, let’s just start off with that.
Andre: Exactly, exactly. But at twenty-two, I realized that I had a lot to learn but I’ve also realized that I had a job to do. So, it was kind of navigating between that, it was like, okay, look, I would tell these fifty-year-old parents on how to raise their kids but I got to… But you know, being a father is a lot. So,my son was diagnosed with Sickle Cell.
Tammy: Oh, so you have experienced also with a child who has health needs. So that’s helpful for you to relate. Not that you want that to be the case, but—
Andre: No, but, it put in perspective some of the things you do. Then, honestly, how some of these parents really felt. When the Cancer Center calls you when your son is two-weeks-old, and you’re only thirty-three years old, and, I don’t know if my kid is going to live or die, because you don’t know anything about the disease, or anything. So, the advocacy that came from that, saying, “look, okay, I already love my kid, he’s two-weeks’ old, I’m not giving him back.” So, thinking of kind of where that comes from or what you had to do as a family. Then it kind of puts it in perspective, some of these parents and what they’re going through. When they’re hit with certain situations at such a young age or old age, or whatever it is, what I need to now do? So that kind of helped bring some of that stuff into perspective and kind of see their point of view a little bit more. Okay, look, I’m thirty-three years old when I had my son and realized he was diagnosed with sickle cell – and we were still going in circles and I’m educated, I’ve been through social work, I’ve been to all of this stuff. Imagine —
Tammy: It still makes you spin, right?
Andre: Right. Yes, and I had a world of support around me, behind me. I had my wife, I had a community, I had the church, I had my family and friends come together. It was a natural healthy type of support system. Imagine when that’s not the case. What do you do? Where do you go? So, that kind of put the advocacy level just a little bit higher. Obviously with age comes a lot of experience through experiences comes to a lot more.
Tammy: You hit on something that, I don’t think we talk about enough on this interviews, and that is, a lot of us who are actively engaged in children’s mental health advocacy for instance, are so privileged already that is allowing us to be involved in this advocacy. Some of those privileges, like right now, I’m only here able to interview you because my mom is watching my kids. Okay? So I have this built-in amazing support system of a wonderful mom who is amazing in doing all this, not everyone has that.
Andre: No, they don’t.
Tammy: And so, as you’re talking about being non-judgmental with the people that you’re helping in your work, a lot of them don’t have any support system.
Andre: No, they don’t. That’s the scary part. Honestly, because I know how I felt when I was hit with that news. We’re still working through it, but we worked through it.
Tammy: Because there’s nothing worse than knowing your kids can suffer, and being powerless. I mean, you get them the best care, but you can’t make them not suffer.
Andre: You can’t do anything. All you could do is what you can do, but you can’t do anything with them. That’s hard. Just imagine, I’m just thinking about some of the backgrounds that some of my families came from. Now, put it in perspective, some of the things that they are going through, drug-related issues. It’s so easy, honestly, to be judgmental in these situations. I certainly did my share of judging, like, “how could you do this?”, “how could you do that?”, but, when you understand a little bit about the background even though my kids are not raised in a drug-infested background, you’ll understand when you could be hit with certain things that you can’t deal with, where do you go when I have nowhere to go?
Tammy: Right, and as you know, with a lot of drug use, sometimes you self-medicating for something that’s not diagnosed or there are really difficult situations without support. Not that it’s a good choice… It’s not. But, we can make the choices that are presented to us. If we don’t have a lot of support, we don’t have as many choices presented to us and I think we need to keep that in mind.
Andre: Yes, and then the environment, too. If you’re having drug-use, who are the people are supporting you? Probably people who are giving you drugs or the people who encourage you about “this is what I did.” I had one family, when I was in Florida, her son was diabetic but he was severely obese – he was about three to four hundred pounds. His A1C level was supposed to be like 2 or 3 I guess, it was about 15.
Tammy: How old was he? Was he a young child or a teenager?
Andre: He was about thirteen, fourteen-years-old, but the mom was also overweight, severely obese. She kind of went through some of the same things, so, her message to me was, “I’m okay, my son will be okay.” How do you kind of convince that “look, we all need to change.” Trying to come in, “I work with this family for about a year or so,” it’s trying to convince this mom on “look, your son needs help. He’s under my care.” So we created a program that kind of dealt with weight loss and also healthy eating and worked with a lot of dieticians but, unfortunately, in that case, I had to call DCF because she missed maybe a couple of health appointments. I want to let that go but she missed the third one without letting me know. I gave her a warning so I said, “look, I have to look out for this kid and if he’s going to live or if he’s going to die”. You know, it couldn’t be on my conscience, I’m trying to be nice to this mom, while this kid is suffering. You also have the other mentality, like, “I’m fine, my kids are going to be fine, I could be in drug-use, I’ve live, my mom did it and I lived, and now, it’s okay.” You had to have somebody to come in and step in and say “look, this is kind of the fine point when things are not okay. Look, I know things have been going well, I hope things continue to go well but we’re going to do things a little bit different.” You kind of have to have the trust of the family. When you come in with a judgmental attitude, you’ll never get the trust of the family. But you come in and say “it’s okay, I understand or maybe I don’t understand, but, look, we’re going to try to get you help as quickly as possible as much as possible”. When your job, especially with me, when your job is to look out for kids, and you love these kids, it’s kind of hard to not do the right thing. Even though it’s going to hurt your relationship may be with the mom like it did with that other mom there. Well, we got that kid help. He went to a camp and he lost maybe over a hundred fifty pounds and his A1C level went down, but he had to be separated from his mom for a while which kind of hurt. But, being an advocate, those are some of the risks you take but, when the end of the day and your job is to take care of these kids because I was concerned whether this kid’s going to live or die. Those are some of the hard choices that people deal with as an advocate. You want to be in a family’s life but sometimes that means that you have to be taken away just to do the right thing and that hurts. It does.
Tammy: Right, absolutely. Because of course, the child’s health is the concern but the child wants to be with his family, and that has been really position to be in. How do you keep going, like, how do you knock your burned out?
Andre: One, you had to know that this is your calling. Like I said this is probably the only thing I’m good at. And believe me, I tried to run away a couple of times.
Tammy: Just they pulled you back in, right?
Andre: When you love that type… Then you have your own life separate. I think, over the years, I’ve been doing this over the years – since I’m 22 years old – over the years, I really learned how to separate myself just a little bit. I think a healthy attachment is important to keep advocating, but, you kind of do things that allow you. Then I have my faith, I go to church, so that kind of relieves some of those issues.
Tammy: Right. So how do you take care of yourself? So, the church helps and having some kind of separation of your life and your work. Is there something that you do to just sort of… Because there has to be a lot of pressure at the end of some days. Disappointment, frustration, every case can’t work out, right? And that has to break your heart. How do you – individually like you – keep pushing on?
Tammy: Faith is very important and I can see that. Is there something you do that just helps you sort of blow off some steam? Re-center?
Andre: My wife is really good. I mean, having a supportive wife.
Tammy: Yes. That’s important.
Andre: Yes. That’s really important. My wife says all the time, “I couldn’t do it.” I couldn’t see my wife doing this work I do, she’d be coming home every day crying or adopting eight thousand kids.
Tammy: That’s right. You would have a big family.
Andre: Right. I think taking my time with my friends, and my wife is really good at having me go out with some of my friends and relax, away from my family too. Because we have our own routine that we go through every day. My kid is about to be four and two. But you know, having that routine just kind of breaking up just a little bit.
Tammy: That’s really important, in fact, there are just recent studies talking about men in particular that are in society men don’t always hang out with other man and it affects their health. As a woman, I know I’m not always telling the man in my life “you need to go out and have poker night” or whatever. We don’t encourage it necessarily. But it’s important—
Andre: That’s extremely important. I didn’t realize how important it was until my wife actually forced me out of the house one time to go to a basketball game.
Tammy: Good for her.
Andre: I’m from Connecticut, so the Yukon Huskies are playing. She forced me to go out. It was just kind of like “I have to look over the kids. I have to cater to my wife just a little bit.” So ever since then, I’ve been doing at least once a month, going out to see a movie, and I think that’s extremely important.
Tammy: I think it’s important for any man, like, everybody, to be able to get out with some friends that you don’t have obligations to, like family, even your most loved ones, right?
Andre: Yes. But you know, that’s one thing I admire about women and as far while women lived the longest, they know how to take care of themselves.
Tammy: That, well, we’re trying.
Andre: I mean, for the most part, you guys know how to take… I was just making a joke to my friend here. I said, you know, my wife and her friend just went out and they went to a spa date, massages over there. “You want to go out, let’s not call a spa date, let’s just hang out at the spa all day.”
Tammy: Yes, exactly. Exactly.
Andre: I think that’s important because they had fun and she came back so refreshed but she does stuff like that.
Tammy: I think you’re right. I think it’s easy for women to go do that whereas for men we really need a different name for it so they feel more comfortable about it. But yes.
Andre: I’m comfortable with my manhood. We could go out and have a massage, sit down and talk, watch a game, or do something and that think that is extremely important for people to take care of themselves, especially men. I think we bottle up a lot of stuff.
Tammy: I think that’s true for anyone. And then, if you’re working in this field where, or again, if it’s one of your kids and they get diagnosed, you feel helpless, but you’re watching kids. You could only have so much power in this system to help them. That has to just sometimes feel frustrating and powerless, right?
Tammy: So, just to be able to take care of yourself so you can go into the next case the next day and help that next kid.
Andre: Because I think when you’re really passionate about what you do – there’s going to be a lot of stuff that kind of gets to you, that you can’t do. Even the other day, I think yesterday, I was looking for one of my kids on Facebook that I taught a long time ago in Baltimore. He even joked that he was my favorite kid. But, there’s a lot of them. I wondered what happened to him, what’s going on with him. Because you feel helpless that you can’t control some of the path that your kids go through. That part is hard. That part is really hard, but I’m praying for them every night. I pray for all my kids every night. I’m a faith-believer and I understand that God is actually going to take care of a lot of my kids that I’ve watched over the years. When you can’t do anything, God’s going to.
Tammy: He’ll take over, yeah.
Tammy: Well, let me thank you for the good work that you’re doing on behalf of just all of us because it’s so important for us as a society, as family members, everyone – to know that someone’s out there watching after the kids.
Tammy: So, thank you for all the work you’re doing.
Andre: Well it’s a whole bunch of us out here doing it. I mean, we’re at this conference full of people that are advocates, so it just feels good.
Tammy: It does feel good to be around people who care about kids and they’re dedicating their lives to helping them. It really does.
Andre: Yes. Thank you so much.
Tammy: Thank you so much for sharing your story with us.
Andre: Appreciate it.
Speaker: You have been listening to “Ask The Advocate”. Copyrighted in 2018 by Mothers On The Front Line. Today’s podcast host was Tammy Nyden. The music is written, performed, and recorded by Flame Emoji. For more podcasts and this and other series relating to children’s mental health, go to mothersonthefrontline.com.
In this episode, Nate tells us about his journey adopting his young son from the foster system and how the trauma of his son’s early life has left a complicated matrix of diagnoses.
Voice: Welcome to the Just Ask Mom podcast where parents share their experiences of mothering children with mental illness. Just Ask Mom is a Mothers on the Frontline production. Today we will speak with Nate, an adoptive single Father of 8-year old Ricky. Nate is a military and railroad veteran and lives in Iowa.
Tammy: Tell us a bit about yourself before or after you had your son, just tell us a little bit about you?
Nate: Back in 2014 I chose to– well I guess I should go back even further—when I was 30, I told myself that if I wasn’t married with 2.5 kids by the time I was 40, it was time to do something. So I did something and when I was 40 in 2014, I got license to adopt. The end of October in 2014. And that’s when the road started. A road that I had never been down and very few people in my family ever have either. Including my cousin in Arkansas who is a Special Ed teacher. Prior to that I’ve been a locomotive engineer for 20 years. Worked all over the country. Before that I was in the military. I’m a military veteran. I was a medic in the military. I had that experience but none of that prepared me for what was to come when I entered the adoption world and the various spectrums of which you would encounter.
Tammy: Okay. So pretend you are talking to the public, or you’re just telling people who haven’t had these experiences that you’ve had, what do you want them to know?
Nate: Well, foster kids, they’re in a whole different class and you often hear, these kids are damaged, or these kids have baggage or these kids are bad kids even. The stigma that follows them and none of it is their fault. The public, in general, seems to block out the fact that these kids come from very, very bad situations, and because of that their minds have been reprogrammed in all essence to survive. And that’s where a lot of these behaviors come from, and that’s what, us, as parents struggle to reprogram. If you can imagine a Rand McNally map of Missouri when a child is born. You have all of those highways going everywhere, well that’s a child’s brain when they’re born. Once you place trauma, physical abuse, sexual abuse and every other avenue on top of that, you might as well take all of those highways on that Missouri map and throw them away and you could just draw four lines that do not intersect each other, that end in nowhere and those four lines are survival, food, shelter, safety and getting their way – what they think is best for them. Those four little highways, that is it in the entire state that end nowhere, that don’t talk to each other, and it’s up to us as the public, not just the adoptive parents or foster parents, it’s up to us as the public to build all those little highways back together again.
Tammy: That’s right.
Nate: To attempt to rebuild that entire map. Now, it’s a little bit easier when you get them when they’re pretty young, not much, but a little. But it falls back, it just takes a lot, a lot, a lot, of resources to do so.
Tammy: Right. Tell us about your situation. How did you come about meeting your son and having your son and what was it like in the beginning?
Nate: It was actually very interesting. The end of 2014 and through most of 2015 I had set my home study out on various kids all over the country, literally, that I was interested in but I never really, never got considered for them. Even once they had told me that they even had no other home studies being considered. But just as I was kind of losing hope thinking I had wasted my time getting licensed, I got a phone call. It was almost to the day – the anniversary of when my brother died in 1999. I think it was November 27th of 2015 my brother had taken his life, the end of ’99.
Tammy: I’m so sorry.
Nate: I want to say the 26th and his name was Rick, well I got a call about this six-year old that was named Ricky.
Tammy: Oh wow.
Nate: My initial intent was to adopt older like 11-12 what I tend to call the forgotten bunch -the older ones. To give them a chance number one. Number two, my work schedule is not the greatest and I kind of needed a child that was a little more self-sufficient. But they called me about Ricky, of course, the coincidence, that I could not ignore. He was a lot younger than what I had planned on but then the first things that start popping in my head is well he sure is young enough to still be able to create that bond. And whatever he has wrong should be able to turn that around or get it stabilized. So I went ahead and started visits December of 2015 and the visits I had with him, he seemed a little hyper, a lot of energy, but to me nothing out of the ordinary. Even when the visits progressed to him coming to my house to stay overnight, he wasn’t too bad. Manageable, he was manageable. Well, the end of January, they moved him in. Something had happened in the foster home and they needed to move him quickly so they went ahead and expedited the transition into my home. So I moved him in I think it was January 27th or 28th. And it was really neat because you could tell he was just happy as a lark to move in. He had never been in such a fancy house. He never had all these toys before. He was just the happiest kiddo West of the Mississippi. Then day two came.
Tammy: That quick?
Nate: That quick.
Nate: As soon as I went down to wake him up the morning of day two, I’m here to tell you, I just barely touched him on the shoulder and he just kind of cracked one eye open, he just slid down the bunk bed ladder down to the floor and he just took off running, I mean he’s running into walls and everything else. He’s still half asleep and he just zooms, right on up the stairs.
Nate: It was the craziest thing you’ve ever seen, you know what I mean? And he just– he was full board the rest of the day and I’m like, wow. I mean I’ve been around ADHD kids before but nothing to this degree. But at that time that’s all I was dealing with, I was dealing with hyper. An of course at the time he was on stimulants, he’d take his stimulant in the morning and he would kind of level out but then the rise to fame would start about one or two in the afternoon. Everyday. So he started school almost immediately and he did good at school for the first month. Then I started getting calls that they’re having problems. He would run out of the classroom and go running around the halls, or he would start throwing animals around the classroom or tearing up books or tearing up other kids’ papers. Not following directions, so on and so forth. There wasn’t any confinement at that time. But his outbursts — and at that time he was not in Special Ed either. So we dealt with it and over the– and right about then I started getting him into the local psychiatrist to figure things out. What’s going on with his meds or what are we missing or what do we need to do next. So they changed his meds to something different and well that was a mistake.
Nate: They didn’t wean him off, they just switched from one stimulant to another. At that time, I was completely ignorant to that.
Tammy: Right, so you’re just trusting really what they tell you–
Tammy: –because they’re the experts, right?
Tammy: I’ve been there.
Nate: And so he– after that for the next couple of months, I mean it was just problem after problem after problem in school. They were making adjustments wherever they could and I have to hand it to that school. They tried, tried and tried again. They genuinely adored him and understood what he has to be going through. At the same time, there were no secrets between me and the school on day one, they got everything that I had. Child studies background, everything. So they knew absolutely everything and they couldn’t come back on me on top of it, you know what I mean?
Tammy: Right, you were in it together, really.
Nate: Yes, yes, we were working together. And I was raised that way with school districts because my mom is a retired teacher. So I have a compassion for the teaching industry. I understand how it works. I had a lot of problems over the next couple of months and he didn’t really have many confinements. There was a couple – two or three instances where they had to use confinement, but me or the nanny was home and one of us would go get him right away. He wouldn’t stay there. But that it was only two or three times I want to say total in that first year. Now. In May, I had got him up here to U of I and uh, they are a great facility, they do try very hard to work with the different families. They changed up his meds again and kind of went back to the original med schedule and then just hit some tweaks and added one I think– one med. And things seemed to level off the rest of May. Well enough to the point that I thought that they had gotten things figured out. Or got him on the right track. He was on a good enough track that when his worker, his social worker came to the house for her monthly check up, she asked if I would be interested in his older brother and she told me what he had and he had all the same things that my guy had.
Tammy: How much older is he?
Nate: One year.
Tammy: So they’re close.
Nate: Yes. except for the older one also had RAD.
Tammy: Radical Attachment Disorder?
Tammy: Oh reactive, I’m sorry Reactive Attachment Disorder. Okay.
Nate: Yes. I had done some reading about Reactive Attachment Disorder and my cousin who’s a Special Ed teacher did a paper in college on RAD so she was familiar with it too. I figured with him doing well and what I knew and the resources that I had, I figured he’d be okay. So I took placement of his older brother middle of July and for the first few days, great. I mean, they were inseparable. As a matter of fact, they were inseparable the whole time they were in the same home together. But here’s where it went wild. About a week into it, the older brother became distant with me right away – not right away but all of a sudden. He didn’t want to hug at night anymore or he was just oddly distant. I couldn’t figure out what had happened in that weeks’ time that it turned his switch off. I didn’t really figure it was just RAD, I just figured something I might have done or didn’t do.
Tammy: Parents do that, don’t we? We always blame ourselves.
Nate: Oh, second guesses.
Tammy: Yes, second-guessing, yeah.
Nate: So it just started to get worse from there. Where he wouldn’t take a shower or he wouldn’t do something I asked or what have you. And over the course of the next two weeks is when things really got bad because what he was doing was bringing up their shared trauma.
Tammy: Oh, I see.
Nate: He was bringing that up to Ricky and getting Ricky stirred up, causing Ricky to act out.
He would keep feeding Ricky with these traumas and these ideas of acting out and behaviors to the point that I had, at the very end– three weeks is all the placement lasted. I had went to work and my job keeps me away roughly 24 hours. Nanny is there the whole time. I get down to the other end of my territory and turn her phone on and it’s just blowing up, the nanny is just blowing up my phone, “Well they’re doing this, the older one was caught with a knife behind the shed and the dog and this and that – and the younger one was just taking a hammer to the front steps,” and I’m like, “what is going on?” Taking paint throwing it all over the garage, it was wild. So I get home and they had done about $3,000 in damage to the house.
Tammy: Wow. Which actually takes a lot of effort for a child of those ages to do, right? I mean, well I guess not they can do damage quickly but it sounds like they were working hard at it.
Nate: These type of children, no.
Tammy: I see.
Nate: Because there is no self-control, there is no line in the sand with them.
Tammy: I see.
Nate: Everything’s game.
Tammy: And they must have been putting themselves in danger it sounds like.
Nate: Uh-huh and the nanny, she was doing everything she could to keep them–
Nate: –safe. But they were not listening to her whatsoever. They were threatening to run away, they were screaming obscenities at the nanny. There’s just no way. It was just an out of control situation. I don’t know what I could have done if I was there except call the sheriff. It was just a very bad scenario. The next morning, I had them go to bed after they ate when I got home that night and the next morning. Well as soon as they woke up I took them to the emergency room, I had spoken to a counselor overnight through my employer and they had suggested that that needed to happen. So I did. I went to the emergency room the next day and spent about 10 hours in the emergency room. Finally, the local officer came and picked up the older brother and took him away, removed him. And my little guy, that was the first time he got admitted up here, to the university. And so moving forward, he was in the hospital for about a week, a little over a week, came home, they tweaked a few meds. They didn’t really get to see any behaviors while he was in there, which didn’t help any. But they tweaked a med or so and they sent him home because he was being safe. And he had started school, second grade, maybe a week later. And I think it was not even a full week into the second grade and the calls started again, of physical aggression and screaming obscenities at the staff and out on the playground and dysregulation. Just you name it and I think it was the beginning of September he was suspended.
Nate: Second grade, your being suspended.
Tammy: At this point no IEP?
Nate: No, IEP, nothing. But he was suspended for…
Tammy: Individualized education plan, we try to recognize that we need to clarify for our listeners who don’t belong to this world of alphabet soup right? Go ahead, sorry.
Nate: I guess the acronyms will throw them off. He was suspended for — he’d been standing in line, turning around. A new student, first day of school for this new student moving from somewhere else, was standing right behind Ricky. And Ricky just impulsively, just turned around and grabbed his glasses and just broke them and threw them on the floor.
Tammy: Oh, wow.
Nate: No reason, no rhyme or reason, no anything. So they suspended him and I agreed with it. It is what it is. He was at fault. So that’s where it started going downhill. I want to say it was, middle of September, that I had called an IEP to sign paperwork for suspicion of disability so he could be evaluated for special education. Now I’m here to tell you that next 60 days, might-as-well have been 6 years. It, it just seemed to take forever. The stuff that he did at school, I felt so sorry for all the other kids that were being put through that. It was traumatizing for the other kids, just like it was traumatizing to Ricky.
Nate: But this is the way they do things and it’s unfortunate. But anyway, they started the evaluation middle of September and we rolled into October. He ended up going back to the hospital. I think it was third week of October. They started to see little behaviors. They kept adding diagnoses and it was just baffling. I mean this whole time, I’m constantly on the computer researching, constantly reading studies. I’m trying to figure out this, this web that we have going on with him, trying to make sense of it because from a logical perspective it does not make sense in any way, shape, or form. Just the fact that a six-year, well, seven-year-old at this time could be so complicated. It’s just scientifically baffling to me, but he went back to the hospital in October. During October, I also got him into a geneticist and had him tested for Fragile X syndrome, which he tested negative for. I also had a CMI done, chromosomal microarray, to look for any anomalies in his chromosomal structure. That did come back abnormal, but, naturally, the partial deletion that he has, medical research has not caught up to that part of the strand yet. So they did not know the significance, if any that it would be, even though this particular chromosome that he has deletion in has a lot to do with behaviors.
Tammy: Oh, okay, so that, there’s some link at least.
Nate: Yes, I mean there’s suspicion, because this particular chromosome can depict William Syndrome. It can depict Schizophrenia. It can depict Autism. So I mean there’s a lot of behavioral controls or programming in this particular chromosome. But anyway, moving forward, he come back home from the October hospitalization. He was okay that I could tell. It depended on the day. Some days, he’s all right. But he would go only a day or two for being all right and then you would pay the price. It was November ninth, they went ahead and ended his evaluation early, a little early because they had enough.
Tammy: For the school?
Nate: Yes. They had enough data to go ahead and qualify him for special education. In the middle of November, they moved him from the school he was in to the other elementary school in town which was where their Special Ed department was.
Tammy: I see. Do you feel that helped at all?
Tammy: [laughs] No. Uh oh.
Nate: Oh, boy. In the very beginning, yes. But my little guy is so complicated, they couldn’t hold a candle to his needs. They distracted him, that’s what I like to call it for the first week. Then he started to show some behaviors he was showing more and more and more behaviors and needing more and more time in the Special Ed room, out of the classroom. More disruptions and so in the middle of December, he just went downhill. We never got him back. When he got to the new school from the middle of November, he started getting a lot of confinements in Special Ed almost daily for long periods. This went on until Christmas and he got out of control on Christmas and he went back to the hospital on Christmas. He was there until about January fourth, when he was released again and there again, another diagnosis and another med. But I think that it was that hospital visit I– I could tell when I picked him up he wasn’t right. He just, you could tell, he wouldn’t really last very long.
Tammy: How is he doing now?
Nate: Oh, well, he’s been in residential for five months. And they’re just starting to see progress.
Tammy: All right.
Nate: In the beginning, he was getting his money worth out of them. They were seeing all kinds of behavior. They saw behaviors as the day he was admitted. He had quite a few confinements and so forth but of course that facility is designed for those type of children that need that kind of care. We did a med wash on him. Got all the five different meds out of his system which I requested last year. Just last year but the doctors wouldn’t listen to me. Then they had him off all meds for a month and he did better. They got him off all the meds. He did level up somewhat. He wasn’t getting what they call incident reports on a daily basis. He was still right in that line of getting them but he was not taking it all away. Recently they started him on a new med, just one, trying the non-stimulant route and it’s showing promising signs.
Tammy: Well, good.
Nate: Next month we’re going to have a neuropsychological testing done to look for autism, like Asperger’s or see if there’s something else there. It’s supposed to identify which pathways are dead-end, up to his pre-frontal cortex, to see if we can get any explanations in that area or if it’s just all pure psychological, as far as his trauma and it was discovered that it appears that the piece of the puzzle that I was missing all last year, the things that were not making sense when I got him he did not have RAD. But he’d, once he got to me, and felt safe, comfortable, which didn’t take very long and the behavior that started.
Tammy: Yeah, that’s not uncommon.
Nate: That’s when the RAD surfaced because before that, he was not, he didn’t feel safe. He felt on edge. He was in survival mode in his natural instinct. But like I said, once he come to me, these symptoms started coming out. And, you know, the RAD symptoms, a lot of these, disorders that we’re dealing with in special-needs kids, whether it would be autism, ADHD, ODD, DMDD, just the acronyms are endless.
Tammy: They are.
Nate: But the symptoms they overlap each other in such messy basket weave. And to get that sorted out, it takes time.
Tammy: Another thing, I mean your son is still young. And as I talk to a lot of parents and tell my own journey, the brain’s developing and the diagnoses change and are added as they grow sometimes, it’s very complicated. You’re absolutely right.
Nate: Absolutely, it’s complicated. Yeah, and what aggravates me to this day is that we don’t, we as parents, we rely so much on the professionals. And in a way, I feel like we’re being taken advantage of because the professionals seem to just push, push meds. And not the right meds either. They want to push diagnoses that aren’t the right diagnosis. You provide them with all of this information, background on them and they don’t look at it. So we’re going into it blind asking for their help and they’re just handling another piece of cattle coming through the office. I hate to use that analogy, it is what it is. Yeah, and it’s heart-breaking to know that your child is being treated like that, you know?
Tammy: Yeah, but I mean you have this insight to that child that no one else has.
Nate: Well, absolutely, all of us are the Ph.D.’s of our child.
Tammy: Exactly, yes. I agree. It’s important to have a team that listen to the parents, listen to the other members of the team, thinking of the whole picture of that child, but it’s hard to make that happen.
Nate: It is. It’s very hard. That’s why I’ve created a term – and it may be out there but I haven’t seen it — I call it respectfully aggressive parenting.
Tammy: I like this. Say more.
Nate: If you hear something you don’t like from someone in your network, you tell them, “Okay” and then you go to the next one. You either go to the one to the left of them or to the one on the on top of them.
Tammy: In the end, you’re fighting for that kid. That’s what you have to do.
Nate: That’s absolutely right. A lot of these people that we deal with in trying to secure services for our children they’re just doing their job. That’s the way they’re told to respond. So there’s no reason to get mad at them. There’s no reason to yell at them. There’s no reason to throw a fit. Go around.
Tammy: So, you know, there’s just so much, right? So I’m going stop you there, but I do hope we can come back to you as you progress in your journey and this is just, there’s just so much.
Nate: There is.
Tammy: So much. But at this moment right now, are you swimming, drowning, treading water? Where are you at?
Nate: Before he went to residential I was drowning. All of the community-based services in my area down there were exhausted. We weren’t getting anywhere with it. I had this seven-year-old that, for all intent and purposes, it was like gremlins in my house. I mean, swinging from the ceiling fan, you know just turning up the house and there’s nothing I could do to it, or do about it, you know. Police would have to come to my house to get him to do what I needed him to do. At that time, I was drowning. Even the local hospital didn’t know what to do with him. But at this time, I’m treading water, because it’s given me more time to do research and gather myself and understand what we really got going on with him. Working with his therapist there at the facility and her explaining some things. I mean, I’m feeling more comfortable. Now, that doesn’t make me a pro-at handling the situation yet.
Tammy: Right. It’s hard. And there’s just no way around it. This is hard.
Nate: Yes, yes, just because I’m not programmed like that. I was raised completely different, you know. It’s hard to take an eight-year-old and treat him like a two-year-old because that’s where they’re mentally at. It’s just very hard to shift gears down there. So I’m still learning, like I should be. I’m going to say I’m treading water right now, but I feel comfortable at it.
Tammy: Good. So what do you do for self-care to get through this? What helps you to get through it?
Nate: I think a lot and I read a lot. I don’t let myself– if I started feeling myself like a little down or depressed or overwhelmed, I simply just revert back to the task at hand, the challenge at hand which is understanding how all of these disorders tie into each other. What they mean, what the outlook is so I’m constantly on the internet researching, reading studies both here the UK. The UK is doing a lot of research on ADHD. But I just keep passing scenarios thrown in, I just keep reading, keep education– keep educating myself so I can fully grasp what we have here. You know what I mean? It pushed me to go back to school. It pushed me to start a book, if nothing else just to have it documented while fresh in my mind. um, That’s what I do to keep myself maintained.
Tammy: So this is all very hard stuff. We always like to end with this question, because the only way to get through this is laughing occasionally, having some humor about it. What’s your most laughable moment that you might like to share with us?
Nate: The most laughable moment and regarding to him?
Tammy: Anything you want to share but yeah, in terms of parenting and so forth. What can you laugh at through all this?
Nate: The first time that Ricky was– he’s had several very laughable moments –but the first time he was in the ER, during that ten hours, him and his brother they were pretty unruly. And they ended up having to separate the two in two different rooms. And Ricky was being very aggressive to the point– I was standing out in the hall. There was three nurses in there. And he was working all three nurses over pretty good. So they have to call security. So I was standing in the hall and here comes this very large man, security guard, around the corner. And he kind has-his chest bumped out a little bit. He just kind of glared over at me. And he walked over to the door, to the exam room where Ricky was at. He slowly turned that doorknob, slowly opened it, side-stepped in, told the nurses that they could go. That he’s got it. Nurses filed out. He slowly closed the door very quietly. And I sat there for about a minute, and I kid you not, it sounded like Tom and Jerry going at it in that exam room for a full hour.
Tammy: Oh my gosh.
Nate: I mean it did not stop. They were just, oh, I don’t know what’s going on there but they was chasing each other hard. And then it got quiet. After that hour, it just completely got quiet.
Tammy: That’s always frightening when things get quiet.
Nate: Yes, and within a couple of minutes of it getting quiet, that door slowly opened again. He pulled it open, he side-stepped back out of it, closed the door, turned around, looked at me. His entire shirt was soaking wet with sweat. He comes up to me and he’s out of breath. And he says, “I don’t know how you do it?” I said, “Well, I’ve been doing it for almost a year, what’s your problem?” And he just shook his head and walked around the corner and I went in to check on Ricky, opened the door and there’s Ricky just sitting on the edge, of the exam table watching TV. Not a bead of sweat on it.
Tammy: Like nothing happened? Oh my gosh.
Nate: Not breathing hard, no bead of sweat. Nothing.
Tammy: Nothing .
Nate: Just like it didn’t even phase him.
Nate: And so he worked that man over pretty good.
Tammy: Well, I want to thank you for sharing your story. And like I said, hopefully, we can come back, talk to you again as you get further along in your journey.
Tammy: Thank you so much for sharing this. We have to laugh sometimes right?
Nate: No absolutely, we got to find the humor.
Tammy: That’s right. Well, thank you so much.
Nate: No problem.
Tammy: Thank you.
Voice: You have been listening to “Just Ask Mom”, recorded and copyrighted in 2017 by Mothers on the Frontline. Today’s podcast host was Tammy Nyden. The music is “Olde English” written, performed, and recorded by FlameEmoji. For more podcasts in this and other series relating to children’s mental health, go to MothersOnTheFronline.com.
In this episode, Alissa shares her journey as a single mother raising 5 children, both biological and adopted through the foster system, and having a wide range of special needs, including physical, intellectual and emotional disabilities. She discusses how to stay centered in the tough times and how self-care is required before we are able to give to others, including our children.
Voice: Welcome to the Just Ask Mom podcast where mothers share their experiences of raising children with mental illness. Just Ask Mom is a Mothers on the Frontline production. Today we are speaking with Alissa, a mother of five children, including biological children and children adopted through the foster system. She works in Human Services helping other families with mental health needs as well as other special needs.
Tammy: Well, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, to get started.
Alissa: My name is Alissa Tschetter-Siedschlaw. I am a mom of five. I’ve been a single mom for ten years, although I recently got engaged.
Alissa: Thank you.
Tammy: Oh, that’s exciting.
Alissa: My children range in age from 24 down to 9. I have both children that are biologically born to me, and children adopted through the foster system, with a wide variety of mental health, developmental, behavioral, and medical special needs. I work full time, well, actually no, I’m part time now, in human services, helping other families. I also do professional theater, by contract.
Tammy: I didn’t know that. That’s really cool.
Alissa: You didn’t? I finished a contract recently and I have a Shakespeare contract coming up in the summer.
Tammy: Oh, how fun.
Alissa: Yup. That’s what my training was originally in, theater performance.
Tammy: Well, my next question – and you might have partially answered this – what are you passionate about? Tell us a bit about you, outside of, or before mothering.
Alissa: I am passionate about arts. I’m passionate about advocating for those who can’t speak for themselves. I was before this. I’m passionate about taking care of the earth, taking care of other people, treating people the way you would want to be treated yourself, trying to make a difference, and fighting against – whether it’s discrimination, or fighting against systems that don’t understand where loopholes are for people, or whatever. I’ve always been passionate about those political things and those kinds of things. I love lots of forms of art and exercise. I like to exercise. That is my medication. So yeah, those are the things.
Tammy: Great. Well, that’s awesome. So I want you to pretend that you’re talking to — In your case, you have five children, with multiple special needs, so I’d like you to pretend you’re talking to a parent with, maybe two or three kids that don’t have special needs. And try to give them some insight into what are the extra challenges.
Alissa: I think, it would be almost impossible to explain to someone else in that circumstance. What I would probably welcome them to do is come see a day in my life, or experience another family like mine. Because there’s a lot of things you don’t know until you know. A lot of very compassionate, very loving people, can say very callous things, because truly, – it’s never crossed their mind. They’ve never thought about the kinds of problems we might have before. So sometimes, I try to explain from a place of education – without being patronizing- sometimes, just even in gaining compassion, when I have one child that I adopted, who has a tremendously tragic story. There’s not many people you could explain such a rough beginning and not pull at their heartstrings, and then, say all the things that her life is like now, and how it is to go home to a child, who’s functioning much slower than her physical size, who might have a psychotic break, and bite you, and attack you. People have a hard time even wrapping their head around those things, so I kind of wish more people could peek into our lives, because it is such a hard thing to understand. I think it’s like a lot of things that might seem unpleasant to people. We all want to pretend that certain things aren’t out there. It makes you feel like you can survive. I know myself – there are times when you hear some horrendous child abuse story – we all want tp say, “No, that’s not, it can’t be. That’s not real.” Sometimes I think, our lives can look like that. I think it’s very scary to those who don’t experience that. I think it’s also why we so easily bond with each other, because so rarely do moms like us truly feel understood.
Alissa: Where maybe if I am in an IEP meeting and seem snappy and bitchy or something, other moms like me would get it and go, “You know what? You’re just cutting out the BS, because you’re tired, and you’ve probably been up all night and this is your third meeting of the day, and I get you.” Where, to an outside person, it’s like “Wow this mom is difficult to deal with”. I think so much of it would be welcoming somebody in, to see a picture of what it looks like. Because I don’t think it’s something most people can wrap their head around.
Tammy: It’s interesting you say that, because even if you had a video of it, it’s still removed, because…
Alissa: …because you’re not in it, yeah.
Tammy: I don’t know the neurology of this, I just know when my child has anxiety and I’m in the same room with my child, it starts to affect my body.
Alissa: Oh, absolutely.
Tammy: So if you’re in a situation like this, day in and day out.
Alissa: Well, it absolutely does. I actually think some of the best things, you know, you maybe ask what this in a little bit – but some of the best things I’ve done for myself, have to do with energy worth, and learning how to stay centered and calm, in the midst of chaos, rather than allowing yourself to snowball in the chaos. And realizing that chaos isn’t me, and it isn’t my own. And so, to be able to stay calm and centered in the midst of that, does reduce behavior of those around you, just naturally. It’s like tossing a pebble into a pond, and watching the ripple. If my pebble is a calm and centered and neutral pebble, it doesn’t get pulled into that. Because anxiety’s contagious.
Alissa: And it’s very, very easy for that to happen. And I would say, over the last six years, doing a lot of work, with my own therapist, with my own energy person, with a lot of alternative things like that, finding ways to do what I can do, because I can only do me when it comes down to it you know. And so, hopefully, my ripple is different. That helps reduce the amount of severity of my own reaction to the children.
Tammy: If it’s okay, I’d like to follow that up, because it’s one thing I notice, when I’m around the other moms, who go through this. I realize I’m drawn to them more than other people now. And part of it is like you say, they understand. But there’s something else, and it’s hard for me to sometimes put my finger on it. I think, in order to survive this, you have to do exactly what you said. To some extent, you have to center yourself. You have to understand that, if I’m going survive this, I have to not be carried away with it. And that’s a life skill that transfers everywhere else.
Alissa: It absolutely does. I think, in general a lot of moms like us tend to be overtly authentic. Which I love. For some people, that’s extremely off putting. Because I’ll just tell you flat out.
Tammy: [laughs] Yeah.
Alissa: You have a question you want to ask me, or somebody wants to discuss some topic. I don’t care. I’ll tell – because, I think, when you’ve gone through these kinds of things, it is just different. I do think there is an ability to be raw and authentic, in a way that I think is a tremendous life skill, that I have gained, from a very difficult experience. Yeah.
Tammy: Right. Well, thank you for that. That is really helpful. So you have five kids. And I know just having two, how difficult it can be, making sure the sibling is getting attention, and so on. What do you wish you could tell your kids? Like, and you could pick a few, if you want, like one of the time…
Tammy: That’s five intersecting lives and so many various complicated ways…
Alissa: Well, the one thing I do know that my kids know is that I would fiercely and vigilantly fight for what they need. Unfortunately, looking back, I feel like I have been more of an advocate than I have been a mom. That part hurts my heart. I didn’t have all of the sit down and play and do fun things together, or let’s go do some fun activity, especially when I had so many with so many special needs. Our activities were physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, behavioral therapy, treatment, med management. I grieve that – that I don’t think my children will look back and remember me as a fun mom. I don’t think they’ll have those memories. But I do think my kids would tell, “If you were in a pinch, who do you want in your corner? It was my mom.” So that part I’m proud of. What I’ve had to do – this usually does make me emotional – is let myself off the hook a bit because under the given circumstances, especially being alone for so much of it, I did the best I could, with what I had at the time. I apologize when I need to. I make the kids aware that I am a human, with faults, and I am so sorry, but I’m doing my best, and how much I love and adore you. I believe in a higher power, and God brought us together for a reason. And no matter what, even when I’m confused, and I don’t know what the reason is, or any of those things, I’m confident in that. I try to stick with that. That part can be, can be hard- I don’t think anyone has gotten the individual attention they may have needed. But I’ve tried to do simple things like take one to the grocery store. Even have one run down to the laundry just for a few minutes, here and there, I try to make sure everybody gets touched, every day. Especially when they get older, and they’re teenagers, that you get a hug goodbye and I’ll give you a kiss goodbye – that they feel physical love and affection from their mom. I think that they all know I wish I could have provided more.
Tammy: Your story is one that, almost of us, would resonate with, because we don’t talk about it very much, but I think we all also grieve, not only the loss of the motherhood we imagined, but the childhood be imagined for our kids. All of that.
Alissa: Exactly. Well, the other really nice thing is– and I don’t know why – I think I’ve always been a little bit of an odd duck, myself– I didn’t have expectations of what my kids would be. I didn’t. I actually think that has saved me a level of grief, that I know a lot of my peers have gone through. For the children that I adopted, there was this weird freedom from it. I don’t have guilt about their beginnings being crappy. I didn’t do it. And the neat thing about that is, I also know what they would’ve had without me and go, “You know, what? I’m doing pretty good because, you would have had worse.” It’s not that I still don’t feel like I wish I could give them more, but there is a sense of forgiving myself, when I know, okay, you know what? I know what your options were without me, so we’re doing okay. I do think I’ve grieved the mom that I wish I was. But I really want my kids to just be whoever they are. Especially with my adoptions. One of my children, they said she would basically be a vegetable. That is what I planned for. Anything above that is just bonus. So all of the issues she has today, when I look at her situation, this poor kid, I just think, this is just such a miraculous kid. I didn’t have expectations of her doing X, Y, or Z.
Tammy: That’s another thing. If we could transfer the rest of our lives, right? Just think about all of our relationships, all of our daily things, if we didn’t lead with expectations.
Alissa: I think, actually, that centered skill, being able to feel whole myself, it sets me up for much healthier relationships, because I don’t go in with expectation. If I’m here just to love you, then that’s all I’m here for. If you love me back, bonus. But I’m not here with an expectation of you offering me something in return. I view parenting much that way. It is our job to love them. It is not their job to love us back. That’s bonus. That’s gravy. That’s what we would hope for. But if they don’t, that’s not part of the journey. That’s not my job -to be your friend or to be liked by you. My job is to raise the best human being I can raise. My job is to love you unconditionally and with without expectation of being loved in return. Feeling okay with yourself, frees you that way, and helps your relationships be really authentic, really real, and you can have much deeper relationships, because you’re cutting out that expectation.
Tammy: I think that’s wonderful. So right now, at this moment, because every mom I talked to, including myself —
Alissa: A little different.
Tammy: — it varies from moment to moment.
Tammy: But in this moment, are you treading water? Are you drowning? Are you swimming? Where do you find yourself?
Alissa: If I’m doing swimming, as the most positive of the options, I think we’re mostly swimming.
Alissa: I think there are days we’re treading water. We aren’t sinking so much anymore, but I have had plenty of days where the goal was only to survive the day. In fact, I think, there was a decade there where I survived the decade – my goal was only to survive the day. I still probably have poor long-term planning, because thinking too far out causes me stress and anxiety, because of that. So sometimes I have poor planning – what are you doing in three weeks. I have no idea what I’m doing in three weeks. I’ll put it on my schedule. I’ll look the night before, because I will be overwhelmed otherwise. Over all I do feel like we’re at least always two steps forward, even though we take one step back. If you had told me five years ago we could be this good, I would have thought you were out your mind. So that’s exciting.
Tammy: I think it’s really good for people to hear. I know the biggest hope I get is when I talk to parents whose kids are now adults and they made it and they’re okay. And it was hard, but they’re okay. It just gives you so much hope.
Alissa: I think hope is one of the most pivotal things to hang on to, because your only option isn’t to sink. There are people out there. Are the resources what I wish they were? They are not. And do I see all kinds of holes, and all kinds of systems all over the place? I sure do. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t hope. We had come a really, really long way. We had a lot of near tragedy along the way too, and we have survived. I’d like to get to a place — I don’t know if I would say we are at thriving as opposed to surviving –but we’re somewhere in the middle and that’s pretty dang good.
Tammy: That’s really good.
Alissa: So, yeah.
Tammy: You’ve already talked a little bit about your self-care routine, but if you want to say anything more about it or in those really rough moments – the survival techniques.
Alissa: I tell lots of people to remember to breathe. Literally. I don’t think we realize how often we’re holding our breath. The difference it makes in your physical body to remind yourself to breathe. My Mommy Mantra is, “This too shall pass.” Nothing is forever even in the worst of circumstance, this won’t always be like this. No matter what, this will change and I remind myself of that a lot. I try to exercise most days, not every day — but that does help. I also see a therapist for me. I do some energy work with an energy person when I need meds myself, I go get meds. It’s usually in the winter. I’m like you know what, I need some extra help because I’m struggling. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I think remembering that, utilizing what’s out there to be the best who you can be. We also shouldn’t think that we should be a doormat. I’ll go get my nails done. I mean, maybe not all the time, but if there’s something that is splurge, you know, I — I’m on the list too. A lot of us forget that. I don’t think you can do the quality job you want if you’re cup’s empty.
Tammy: That’s right.
Alissa: I heard someone say once –and I loved it so much–they talked about when people say, “My cup runneth over.” And what they were saying is, “You know what? What runneth over is for me to give you. What’s in the cup is for me.”
Alissa: And so, if you think of it that way. I have to do my best to keep my own cup full or I’ve got nothing to offer, to my children, to others, to advocacy, to change, you know, I’ve got to do my best to keep myself whole and intact as well, you know, or it does no one any good.
Tammy: Thank you. This is just amazing.
Alissa: Thank you.
Tammy: I’m going to ask you one last question. Through all this, what’s your most laughable moment?
Alissa: One of my favorite moments, so, a little bit about my daughter – she is 17. She’s intellectually disabled. She’s probably functioning around seven and she has cerebral palsy. She has schizophrenia. She had a severe – grade 3 – bilateral brain bleed. She has hydrocephalus with a shunt. She’s meth and alcohol affected. She was three months premature and her birth parents are related. So, what basket a stuff to be given. But this is one of my favorite stories about her. I home-schooled her up until third grade. And then in third grade she went to public school. She comes home and she’s telling me the story about how she and the other black girls in class were having a discussion. I realized as she went on that she thought she was black and so I said, “Madeline, did you know you’re not black”, and she said, “What?”, and she fell straight over on to the couch in shock. Then she’s like, “Well, w-what am I?”, and I said, “Well, I think you’re Italian”, and she said, “I must have gotten confused.” [laughter] It was so cute. And another really cute one I have to say about my son who’s autistic. This was just his — the way he thought it worked. At 18, he sat down to come out of the closet as straight. He figured every kid – like each parent – you don’t know. And then, you wait until adulthood and then apparently each child needs to sit their parents down and explain whether you are straight or gay. I just thought it was the cutest thing that one he thought that there’s no concern about what you might be, but that, he better inform me.
Tammy: Right. That’s his job.
Alissa: That he is straight.
Tammy: To tell you at this age.
Alissa: Yes. Yes. So it was cute because he came out as straight.
Tammy: That’s great. Thank you so much.
Alissa: You’re welcome.
Tammy: Such a wonderful story.
Alissa: Thank you so much, Tammy.
Tammy: Thank you.
Voice: You have been listening to “Just Ask Mom”, recorded and copyrighted in 2017 by Mothers on the Frontline. Today’s podcast host was Tammy Nyden. The music is “Olde English” written, performed, and recorded by FlameEmoji. For more podcasts in this and other series relating to children’s mental health, go to MothersOnTheFronline.com.
In this episode, a Grandmother tells us about raising her grandson who experienced trauma and suffered from several conditions, including ADHD, anxiety, bipolar, and learning disabilities. Please note that this story discusses child abuse and may be triggering for some of our listeners.
Speaker: Welcome to the Just Ask Mom podcast where mothers share their experiences of raising children with mental illness. Just Ask Mom is a Mothers on the Frontline production. Today we will speak with a Grandmother who is raising a grandson with mental health and learning disorders.
Tammy: Okay. Alright. So just to begin, just tell us a little bit about yourself before or outside of mothering, just about who you are.
Grandmother: Okay. I’m a mother of two boys who are grown, and um, they seem to have a fairly happy life, one has moved back to go to school, and one of them is still living on his own. After my second marriage, my husband had a son, who was a substance abuser and he abused his young son when he was very small. And we took him, in fact we took him because his father asked us to take custody of him so he could get back at his wife for doing things he didn’t like. He didn’t really think we should take him, he just thought that this legal thing would make his wife afraid to talk to anybody. And we got the papers and our lawyer talked him into guardianship, which means you can make all decisions for the child, and when he was hit and really, and really only minorly, we said, “You don’t have to go back.” And he was very happy about that, and he recently told his psychiatrist that was the happiest day of his life. He was six at that time. We have had him now, and he just recently turned eighteen, and he’s moving into this town to live in supervised housing, because he has mental illness and he has intellectual disability. And so he needs to be supervised twenty-four seven, and they offer quite a bit of other programs, things for him to do like go to a parade, or go to the park, or—really not things that cost a lot of money, although occasionally they do, but they get passes to the fair and — what not. And so this is his first day, and he’s very happy about that.
Tammy: Wonderful, wonderful. What would you like people to know about your experience?
Grandmother: I would like them to know that often, children only show the surface of what’s going, we sensed abuse but it was only later when he told us– about a month later, he told us he had been sexually abused, about a year and a half later he told us that his baby brother who had died of SIDS was actually murdered. So he was keeping this all inside. We needed to get help for him, and I really would like mothers to know that, although it just breaks your heart to take a small child to be in residential treatment, that sometimes it’s the best thing and it’s definitely not a horrible bad thing. He was kind of like, “Bye, mom” (that’s what he called me already. They said he cried a little that night, but that’s all. And he learned so much in the various times he was in the residential treatment, and the last time he was in he got into a program that was for both mentally and intellectually problematic children. And I wish there was more because, to my knowledge, it’s one of the few places that has that, and he’s in a– was in place that only took care of eight children.
Tammy: How did that help him? Like, what was positive about it?
Grandmother: One of the best things he learned was coping skills, which as a peer support specialist, I know is one of the first things you teach people who have mental illness is how are you planning on coping with this? It might just be cuddling with a soft warm blanket, it might be setting boundaries with other people that says, “I will not pull up with that.” It might be a warm bath, it might be running or doing yoga. Everybody has their own, but you teach the children that we are all unique, and they have coping skills that they can use. And they teach parents the same thing, because when you put a child into residential care – or a lot of times they don’t get to stay as long as he did – but when you put them in, they have a goal in that time which is often 9 months to a year of learning these coping skills, which they then come home and use, and you’ve been learning them also.
Tammy: Right. So in trying to get help for your grandson, what kind of things were either barriers you ran into, or really great successes that helped you? So it sounds like one success was a residential home for him, were there any other things that either were really helpful or didn’t go so well?
Grandmother: One of the barriers was — and many mothers and fathers and even grandparents like myself, don’t know that you cannot take a child to the emergency room and say, “You can’t believe how this kid has been behaving this last month.” That does not count. A child has to have an acute problem to be admitted to the hospital which is often the best place to go, especially if they have a children’s ward for mental illness, because that way they can have their meds adjusted, which is a difficult thing to do at home. The doctor we had took him off of everything, and then slowly added things back which could be dangerous actually. So we were told- and thank God we were told- “Don’t ever go in and say: “You won’t believe how it’s been for the last month.” You have to say, “Yesterday,” – not even ‘yesterday’- “Today, my son woke up and he is been talking about suicide.” He was only seven actually when he first did this, and he wanted us to die too, because he wanted us to go along with him, he didn’t understand death. When we said, “No, we wouldn’t do that”, and tried to explain death to him, he said, “Well then, I’ll take my cat.” We woke up in the morning and he was quite angry and I went in the back room and he was trying to strangle his cat.
Tammy: Oh, my goodness.
Grandmother: He had been acting up in other ways too. I can’t remember right now what they were but that was a clue that he was saying, “Mom, I’m so suicidal.” So I lied, I called the doctor the next day, because we were completely snowbound and had been for several days, we live in a country and our roads weren’t cleared, there was no way I could get him to the hospital, so we just watched him all day, all night, and then I called the doctor in the morning. That night he was still agitated and he had bit into a light bulb, because he wanted a weapon to fight bad guys with. He though glass would be a good idea. That was another escalation of saying, “Mom, I am really hurting, and I’m really scared, and something has to be done.” So I called the doctor and I said, “He did this and he did that”, and I made it sound like it was simultaneous, and it just happened that moment where it has actually happened the day before. Fortunately, he was young enough not to even know the truth, and so when I’m rattling off to the interviewer at the hospital, they are like, “okay” So I think that’s important for the parents to know, if you want to get help for your child other than outpatient help and which I think it’s vital if your kid has any sort of difficulty: ADHD, Tourettes– any of those things–you need to be under their care of a psychiatrist who understands the medications they are on. But if they need to be hospitalized, you need to know how to do that.
Tammy: You’re right. That’s actually a common story that I hear, and personally have been through as well. If you don’t use exact right words, right? At the exact right time.
Grandmother: You need to know the words.
Tammy: Thank you. That’s really an important thing to hear. So we ask people as they’re dealing with this – we understand it changes as you’re going through this, how you are doing changes throughout it – but at this moment do you feel like you’re swimming, treading water, drowning – where do you feel like you’re at in your journey?
Grandmother: I feel like I just got out and toweled off, because my kid is, today, in a group home, where he has twenty-four hour supervision. He is not healed, but he is able to cope with most situations. He knows what to do when he’s angry, what to do when he’s frustrated. He even tells me sometimes. Maybe my husband and I have words, he’ll say, “Mom and dad, stop that! Use your coping skills.” [laughter] and he’ll guide us. Like, one day I said to my husband, the next day, because sometimes it’s best not to fight in the midst of it, I said, “You know? What you did yesterday really bothered me and I would appreciate it if you would do such and such.” And later after we had this little talk my son (my grandson had been listening) and he said, “Good job, mom.” [laughter] He’s come a long way. We got him when he was six. He’s now eighteen. He first stint in residential care was about nine months. When he was seven. It was very hard to leave him. And maybe it’s even harder for parents as opposed to grandparents, but I knew we couldn’t handle it, I knew he couldn’t handle it. We were in a mix of financial changes in the government, so how we went about it was problematic, but we had it done. We got it done and we got him in there for nine months and he came out a somewhat better person. He went back exactly a year after he had been admitted before and we realized that that time that he was probably cyclical. Some children don’t even know what day of the week it is or what day of the year it is, but his bad time was October. When the leaves fall, when the nights get darker, he had sensory things that said, “This is when I had my bad time when I was little.” So every year – and it’s gotten much better – he has had a bad time, actually from October till spring.
Tammy: Is that helpful at all on predicting? I mean, as you were taking care of him through all those years did that help you anticipate those months? Did it help you prepare for that more a little bit, or?
Grandmother: It did. At least we were ready for it. But every year it was less. So we’re prepared for what it was last year and the next year it’s a little bit better. Now I just recently bought, and he has never experienced it, but I bought him, one of those all-spectrum lights, which is supposed to be good for depression –that’s one of the things he suffers from. He has bipolar disorder. He experiences anxiety to a high extent sometimes, and he has just like regular depression as opposed to bipolar, and, a bunch of other [conditions]: attention deficit which is difficult, and he has difficulty learning. But every year gets better, and every year he tries harder, and so we’re looking for the worst and, bam! He’s a little worse, a little crabby, can’t sleep quite as well at night, but it’s no big deal.
Tammy: That’s great. So that’s really encouraging to hear that it can gradually get better each year.
Grandmother: Yeah, it did with him. And I think he will probably have this his whole life, bipolar is hardly ever something that goes away. But you learn what type of bipolar disorder they have and how they react as kids mature, I’ve heard of mothers especially say little girls have more of a problem, because of hormones and self-worth. Our boy got worse in early puberty, but he is such a gentleman now, it’s just—it’s wonderful.
Tammy: We like– we, parents of younger kids, really like to hear these stories. [laughter] I have to tell you. So what is your self-care routine, how do you take care of you when all this stuff that’s going on?
Grandmother: I will have to say I’m bad about that. But one of the things I remember because I also have, experienced depression and anxiety. I went to a psychiatrist and got medication. Mine is the type that I may not have to take it all my life except for one of the antidepressants helps with the pain I have it, from Fibromyalgia, which I think that many autoimmune diseases happen to mothers and grandmothers who are highly stressed. So every once-in-a-while I will make my needs known and say, “Do not wake me up in the morning.” My husband is an early riser, he likes to get up as soon as the sun is up, and sometimes he listens to me and leave me alone. [laughter] Another thing I try to do is do what I enjoy. I belong to a group that does art. I’ve never had an art class in my life. They didn’t have art when I was in school. I went to a parochial school and I won one prize in art and that’s because I picked up the wrong crayon and drew the sky dark blue. So they figured that I must have some inner angst of some sort. [laughter] But I just piddle with it. I love what I call fiber arts because it’s fun to call it an art, whereas it’s just working with thread. I like to knit. crochet, do a little quilting, and every once-in-a-while I’ll see some real arty stuff done with a little bit of yarn and a little bit of something else, and I’ve never done a piece, but I think it’d be fun.
Tammy: Yeah. That be a nice now that you have much more time on your hands, right? [laughter]
Grandmother: Yes, yes.
Tammy: Wonderful. And, you know, the only way we get through some of this is just by laughing sometimes. What’s your most laughable moment?
Grandmother: My most laughable moments have been with my child, with my grandchild. He’s a funny kid. This one didn’t happen when I was there, but when he had his going away party there were loads of people there, even people who had already quit and gone on to grow in other areas. They said that he had been invited over to another cottage one day, because periodically they give kids a rest from their caregivers and they give their caregivers a rest from the kid, and he had a particular cottage where he liked a lot of the kids and he liked the caregiver. He went over there (and he was no longer doing it but he was aware that kids do) they kick holes in the walls. They do all kinds of stuff that—actually he never did it at home, he did horrible things at home but he never dared to kick a hole – but when he was first there, he probably did it once a week. He went over to this cottage and there was one hole on the wall, and I had hoped that maybe he’d learn a little bit of maintenance and stuff while he watched the people constantly repairing things. [laughter] So he said, “Don’t worry, I’ll fix it.” And he got some card board, and he got some crayons and he taped it all together and he wrote on the thing, “Secret tunnel.”
Tammy: That’s the best one I’ve heard yet. [laughter]
Grandmother: And it’s things like that make me laugh, because he’s so funny. Sometimes even his mental illness is funny, and he’ll say, “Don’t make fun of me, mom.” And I’ll say, “I’m not making fun of you, I’m laughing with you because you are a delightful child.” He’s unusual, he’s different, and we try and praise that in him, that he should be who he is. And he’s a funny kid, he’s an outgoing kid, he’s polite, and let’s not look at the fact that he has trouble learning, he’s a beautiful artist even better than I am [laughter] umand he enjoys doing things for other people.
Tammy: That’s wonderful, that’s wonderful. Well, Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, I really appreciate it.
Grandmother: Okay. Thank you.
Speaker: You have been listening to “Just Ask Mom”, recorded and copyrighted in 2017 by Mothers on the Frontline. Today’s podcast host was Tammy Nyden. The music is “Olde English” written, performed, and recorded by FlameEmoji. For more podcasts in this and other series relating to children’s mental health, go to MothersOnTheFronline.com.
In this episode we speak to Paula, the adoptive mother of two boys from foster care. One son has PTSD, Trauma, and Autism. The other son has ADHD, Tourette Syndrome, and Anxiety. Paula talks about the importance of not taking your child’s behavior personally, the gift of adoption, and the importance of laughter.
For a transcript of the podcast, go to https://mothersonthefrontline.com/podcast-transcripts/
Resources Mentioned in this Podcast
99 ways to To Drive Your Kids Sane by Brita St. Clair. – This little book is full of wild ideas and hysterical humor to bring the laughter back into a home with an emotionally disturbed child. Need a good laugh? This book will do it! It includes lots of “one liners” and silly, fun ways to help parents avoid anger around tough topics. Written by a very experienced and loving Therapeutic Mom with years of success helping tough kids heal.
Female Speaker over music: Welcome to the Just Ask Mom podcast where mothers share their experiences of raising children with mental illness. Just Ask Mom is a Mothers on the Frontline production. Today we will speak with Paula, a mother of two adopted boys. One who has PTSD, Trauma, and is on the Autism Spectrum. The other son has ADHD, Tourette Syndrome, and Anxiety
Tammy: Well tell us a little bit about yourself.
Paula: Well, I’m a mom here in Iowa. We live in a semi little town but it’s in a metropolitan area so we have lots of great things around us. I have been married twenty-eight years.
Tammy: Congratulations. That’s wonderful.
Paula: Which is a long time. [Laughs]
Tammy: Yes it is. [Laughs]
Paula: Especially – I mean I am not quite fifty but still, we got married when we were twenty. I mean so we were late to the family thing. We wanted to wait, we didn’t want to jump in. And for a variety of reasons being foster parents and adoption was the way that we decided to go. So we have two boys, they are now fifteen and twelve. The first one we adopted when he was three and a half and the other one was seven. So we are no longer foster parents. I did foster care training and stuff but we are no longer foster parents. Because of the level of needs that they both have, they need our full attention. So I am now a stay at home mom, but professionally I am rehab counselor and mental health therapist.
Tammy: Wonderful. So before we get started I always like to ask people about themselves before they were mothers or outside of mothering. So you told us a bit career-wise so just tell us a little bit about your passions and who you are before we get ….
Paula: Well I love lots of things – my husband and I joke that we are renaissance people so we like lots of little things. Before we had kids we were married a long time, which I highly recommend. I mean we got married young, we were twenty. But we didn’t bring kids into our universe until year thirteen or something. Before we had kids though life was moving along beautifully, you know just the way it does, but it wasn’t easy, actually my husband is a stage four colon cancer survivor.
Tammy: Oh wow.
Paula: So when we were thirty three, he was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer and at that time in 2001, less than five percent survived stage four colon cancer. So um we were one of that five percent and so that definitely informs the way that we view the universe. We’re in year what? that’s 2001- so somebody else do the math – fifteen years that he is still you know alive, healthy, we had no recurrence. We went through everything you know all the chemo, liver resection, all the worse things humanly possible. So for us every day is a gift even after fifteen years. We often joke that I should have been widowed – had I been widowed what would I have done? That is what we worked on. You know in therapy — how do you deal with your life and literally I would have had a farm house with a bunch of foster adopted kids.
Tammy: That’s your passion.
Paula: So that’s probably what I would have done. I grew up in foster care and my mom had serious mental illness. She was bipolar rapid cycling and so this was something that was always on our radars to be foster parents and given the biology of our bodies, adoption was the way we decide to have a family.
Tammy: Wonderful. Thank you for that. So what would you like people to know? You have so many rich, great experiences. What would you like people to know?
Paula: When I do trainings on trauma development and the way our brains work, my favorite thing to remind parents – and it is so hard as moms, oh my goodness, it is so hard – is to not take it personal. One of the stories that I share in my trainings is about when my son was five. He was very big for his age, he wore size eight, nine or real close. He is a big boy. I mean he is tall now too. But he was a big boy. He would rage and when you have a child that has trauma you can’t allow them to rage alone because it’s not that they need to calm down. You need to be their container. Mentally you need to be a container – a safe place for them and so, one of my favorite ways to remind parents not to take it personal is, he was in the middle of a rage and he just, his caveman brain was just in charge he couldn’t handle what was going on and we were sitting on his bed and I had my arms around him. He was sitting, on my lap and you know he was just in that fully fledged bucking mode and he bucked back and he hit my nose so that it hit the bridge and I got a hairline fracture.
Paula: If you have ever had one of those, you would rather have your nose broken. The hairline fractures are unbelievably painful but where I teach people not to take things personal is in that moment when he raged and hit me, cause I wear glasses. He hit me and I felt the pain, I knew instantly – this was just the thing that was going into my head: “If I say something now this could undo all the work we have been doing to help him bond and heal. “So I just held him for a moment and I said, “honey I love you, I need to step out” and I stepped out and went to our bedroom, put my face in the pillow and screamed [Laughs] Some very colorful words.
Tammy: I bet [Laughs]
Paula: Took off my glasses and I went back in and finished helping him calm down. And then we went and figured out what was wrong. That’s a prime example of not taking it personal. Yes, he physically assaulted me. He broke my nose. That hairline fracture – I wore a little lightweight plastic glasses – I couldn’t even put those on – but it wasn’t personal. It had nothing to do with me. What was happening was not to me, it was to him.
And so always remembering that, so that’s my extreme moment of even now as a teenager when he does things I have to remember, he is not saying this to hurt me, it’s his coping skill. And even when he does now he will say, he will, you know, use the “B” word and so he never uses it anymore because we turned it into a joke and I am like, “you know what buddy I really am and I am really good at it so thank you for noticing.”
Paula: And he stopped. [Laughs]
Tammy: You took the fun out of it! [Laughs]
Paula: Yes, I took the fun out of it. But also I deescalated it and didn’t take it personal. And so that’s one of my biggest wishes for moms is to not take it personal because it is so hard to not do that.
Tammy: Right. And as is the case with so many of these interviews so far, you are telling us something that is especially true when you have a child with mental illness, but this is true for all parents.
Paula: You know I’m glad you said that because our best friend, I love her – she says when she talks about us to other people or she even complains about her children, one of her children is the same age as mine, fifteen years old and they have been in school several times together and she will complain about her daughter doing something and then she just looks at me and smiles and she goes, yes I know Paula, it’s that, plus. So everything that happens in quote ‘regular lives’ is what happens to all of us.
Paula: Which is stressful.
Tammy: Oh yeah.
Paula: Being a mom of a teen is stressful.
Paula: But I like the way that she articulated it. She is like, you know what, you guys have all the normal stress plus. And so it’s not that these techniques that we use with our family aren’t good techniques for everyone, it’s just that we have to be more cognizant of it and more mindful of doing it and the reason we are doing it. Its not accidental, that we use certain language or that we talk about topics more in depth than your average parent. Its purposeful and so I like that because she will do the same topic with her daughter and then she is like yeah, but you guys have to do the plus. So that’s kind of how I view our life work. Like everyone else, plus.
Tammy: Plus, exactly, yeah. Well that’s, I think a really helpful lesson. Is there anything else that you would like people to know in general. I mean you have done, by the way thank you, I always think we need to say thank you when people adopt children from foster care because you are doing not only something wonderful for those children but you are doing something for our whole community.
Paula: As a mom we feel guilt a lot and we feel the weight of the universe on us. And so again our friend that says the plus, I have stopped working for the past four years, almost five now. I got my Masters Degree and then I stopped working. So we were like, oh well that was interesting and so sometimes that guilt kills me. So I like the way that she rephrased it for me and that was, because we have this special needs adoption and we had to really fight for it. Which was really interesting given they were going to put him in an institution. But that’s okay, so we fought hard to get the highest level of special needs adoption but that wasn’t until he was like ten. So, you know we had five years of the first level. The reason that I could not work was because we had two boys that get the special needs adoption and so my friend reminds that, that is my job.
Paula: So it’s not that I am not bringing income into our family. It’s not that I’m not contributing financially. If I didn’t stay at home, and do all of the things that – school calls and “hey you know this child is not doing xyz can you come and calm him down?” -, you can’t do that with a job or you get fired. So letting go of that guilt that you have to make certain sacrifices and that’s okay.
So you know that’s one thing and then the other thing is that I always I have a hard time saying thank you when somebody says you are great for adopting, because I grew up in foster care. I know that it is good that we adopted them, you know hopefully somebody would have eventually. But from my perspective, I was an infertile woman in my late thirties who cried every time she saw all her friends having babies. So in a way, it’s kind of selfish. I mean it works out both ways I mean I wanted children, couldn’t have children, I had a special skill set that could work with kids with trauma. So it’s like I want to say thank you for saying that but a part of me is always like I needed it too. So its sort of a fifty-fifty, yes we saved them but they saved us. So it works that way, it’s not “yay we are adopted foster parents whoo –hoo”. Its not that simple.
Tammy: I think most of the time when we reach out to anyone else, it’s helping us as much as helping them.
Paula: Yeah, exactly.
Tammy: That’s always the case. That’s right.
Paula: They have definitely enriched our lives in ways that we could never have imagined and they drive us absolutely insane.
Paula: In the same breath [Laughs] – but that’s what most parents say.
Tammy: Absolutely, absolutely.
Paula: But ours is “plus”.[Laughs]
Tammy: That’s right! So we ask this question of everybody: right at this moment, do you feel like you are swimming, drowning, treading water ? Where do you find yourself?
Paula: I’m swimming.
Paula: I mean I have really great support. Our school is amazing. It breaks my heart when I hear of families that struggle to get basic accommodations. Shout to the Iowa City School District. They have done amazing work with our kids.
Tammy: That’s great.
Paula: They have always listened to us. They value our opinion, we value theirs. I feel that we have a good support system. I mean I feel isolated sometimes just as a mom because there are no mom groups for kids like mine. Yet sometimes I just want to be hermit so it’s a give and take – but I am swimming. I’m blessed – I have an amazing husband who – we are truly a partnership. I parent a fifteen-year-old easy peasy. Twelve-year-old, not so much. He parents the twelve-year-old easy peasy, the fifteen-year-old not so much.
Tammy: That works out nicely.
Paula: So it has worked out really well. [Laughs].
Tammy: Yes, that works really well. [Laughs] When you and I were talking earlier you said – and this seems to be universal among all of us moms – “ if we don’t laugh, we would be crying all the time”, so we like to ask, what’s your most laughable moment ?
Paula: So we laugh about that because I ask my family, “Like gosh what’s the most laughable moment?” and they are like “we can’t parse this out because we are goof balls.”
Paula: When we adopted the boys and when we brought them into our family, the biggest joke was, you can’t join our family unless you want to be silly and so one of the books that I always take with me when I do trainings is, the book, How To Drive Your Kids Sane. It has all these little great tips of how to just do silly stuff like singing silly in the car with a fifteen year old. Because you do that with little kids but when you do it with older kids they crack up at you being so silly but then they are silly and they lose that inhibition and so we try to be silly. Our family is full of puns, we are constantly trying to out pun each other or alliterations and so laughable moments in our life are always around the dinner table. We always eat dinner together. So I ask my husband what’s a laughable moment for me and he is like, you know after all these years the one that always pops into his head is, I was extremely exhausted, I was working the third shift at Dunkin Donuts and, you know we were what? Twenty two, twenty three years old and, the phone would ring but I’m on the different body clock than everybody else in the house and he says that I would always try to pick up the phone but I couldn’t find it cause I’m asleep. So I would always pick up the alarm clock. And so this is one those plugged in alarm clocks from you know back in the eighties and he is like you would pick up this alarm clock and you like shove it to your face and realize it’s too big and that it’s not a phone and you just saw this look and like, why isn’t anybody answering this phone but I am asleep.
Paula: And so he says that’s always the image that he has of laughable moments about me. But I think we just try to laugh a lot like you were talking about self care – so being funny and laughing is part of our self-care, of my self care. I am an avid knitter, and that has its own laughable moments whenever I make mistakes and have to undo stuff or you know I make silly things for the kids, yeah, so I can’t come up with one cause there is like ten from just going over to Hurtz donuts this morning.
Tammy: That’s awesome. Well thank you so much for talking with us and sharing your story.
Paula: No thank you for doing this.
Female Voice over Music: You have been listening to “Just Ask Mom”, recorded and copyrighted in 2017 by Mothers on the Frontline. Today’s podcast host was Tammy Nyden. The music is “Olde English” written, performed, and recorded by FlameEmoji. For more podcasts in this and other series relating to children’s mental health, go to MothersOnTheFronline.com.