30 May 2011

Brat Fest!!

Summer has engulfed us -- so hot today! We had the heat on in the house on Saturday for a few minutes because it was very cool and very damp, and right now, I have all the ceiling fans going and windows open.

Julia and I went to Brat Fest -- a big deal in Madison with more brats/brat cookers and sellers than is good for one small town. Apart from the food, which includes the regular fair food as well as brats, dogs, and vegie brats (which were really quite good), there were rides and games of skill and chance and very loud music.

Julia donned a hat to keep the noise at bay and when we were at the ride part of the fest, she asked for ear plugs under the hat. So, in hat, ear plugs, and sun glasses, Julia conquered the fest! The first thing we saw was a mural for kids to color. Julia went right to work -- coloring a single figure in the mural and earning compliments from those manning the magic markers.
Is this a vision of the future? How I would not be surprised!
And then the rides began! First up was the carousel. She had to mount the tallest horse on the circle.
Mary and Robert brought us to the fest and then one or the other went on the rides with Julia that I just could not do -- And Julia loved doing rides with someone.
Mary and Julia on the tea cup ride -- really, Julia loved it, but she also loved hugging Mary!
Again, Mary and Julia. This time on the perilous Chinese dragon roller coaster. So this one I could have gone on if I had been alone.
Julia on the revolving turtles -- a young ride but she loved them all and she still fits so why not?
Spinning balloon baskets.
And a purple plane.
Last but certainly not least, Julia and Robert rode the bumper cars.
Good to have a real bumper car lover to teach the fine points of the bump!
No pictures of the food or the Ferris wheel or the music and the hot, hot walking, but it was sure fun! Thank you, Mary! Thank you, Robert!

A friend who has been living and working in Yogyakarta,Indonesia, for four years is sorting, discarding, gifting, and packing up her household for the return trip to the USA. I read her short notes on Facebook and feel a tremendous kinship with her journey. (Umm, journeys again. Theme here?)

Was it yesterday or the day before, that I decided how to organize the boxes of edited David files? During therapy yesterday, I was able to get started after a run to Staples for supplies. Plastic file boxes, labels, and hanging files came home and got spread around the dining room floor. It was chaos for awhile, but I started on a box of David’s manuscripts which will be saved together in two boxes -- 25 of them are now alphabetized, labeled, and sitting in neat, new hanging folders. I imagine David laughing at me but enjoying that I would want to take such care. I imagine a great-grand daughter reading in some dusty attic and wondering about her ancient relative. I imagine, and this might be fantasy, Cheshire and Julia sighing with relief at taking over a few neat boxes when I die.

Then, I wonder about this choice of my work right now. I should have been doing it a few years ago! I could have done it right after we moved to Madison, but David would not have given me free reign over all of his papers and so most of what I’ve rummaged through, thrown out, and culled would have been off limits. What about the files of old bills, credit card statements, and receipts? Honestly, I didn’t know how much of that stuff was tucked away in file drawers and boxes. And I might have been gentler with it all if I knew. Now, I slash and burn -- shred and trash. And vaguely, I feel like had I done this a few years ago, it would have changed something. It would be silly to imagine that it would have changed the course of last year -- David’s illness, operation and death. What then? Maybe I wish I could have offered more support than I did. Maybe it would have taken some burden off David, some burden that he asked to shoulder, but that he really didn’t need to.

And I come to my first feeling of guilt. That I let David take care of too much of our lives. I let him guide too much and did not partner as completely as I could have. It would not have changed anything in the end, but a better partner might have given him a bit more time to create, to smile, to enjoy more.

Drawn to the Journey. On the open wide sea.

Julia just said this. She is playing with something that looks like an ark, putting many small dinosaurs into it. And a few big ones. Is the Flood story so universal that even a child who is not exposed to it intuit it somehow? Of course, we do read a lot of stories and there is lots of adventures on boats and at sea.

I was surfing and reading travel notes from various friends on Facebook and feeling the tug of travel. Drawn to the journey. Yes, indeed. I imagine that if I did not have Julia to raise that I would rent this house out and go traveling -- Italy, Australia, Vietnam, China, Cambodia, England, Scotland, Bolivia, Peru. Of course, it would not be that easy. Truth be told, if I did not have Julia, I would not be collecting widow with a minor child social security, and without that money coming in, I would be hard pressed to even keep the house, let alone rent it. I would be scrambling for work or depleting my investments that I am bound and determined to live on for a very long time.

But another truth is that if I did not have Julia, life would be so different that I can't say where I would be right now. Like pulling the crucial piece out of a Janga tower -- the tower impossible and unimaginable without it. And she is woven into the fabric of my being.

Still, I take that mental break at times from wondering and worrying and teasing out ideas for our future to imagine a simpler future, alone and unencumbered, in which I spend time as an independent woman of means drawn to the journey.

29 May 2011

Finally! Down to organizing papers and writing. A long road to be sure, probably most of the summer, but I know how I am going to organize our stuff -- by year, and all together as a family, except for manuscripts which will be catalogued together. This is probably making a mountain out of a mole hole -- as my mother would say of any of my projects. I have no excuse but the need to simplify, organize, and stack. I need to sum up. Only when I am finished with this work will I be able to move ahead and to see what I will take on next.

28 May 2011

Julia had a sleep over last night!!

I am going to let that sentence stand by itself and just take a step back to admire it. Ah, it looks so good! I know that this is a step that seems small and insignificant. Cheshire started having and going to sleepovers when she was 6, and by 10 they were a regular and longed for event. But Julia!!

The child that is here is a generous, incredibly kind-hearted 10 year old. She is much more mature than Julia and she is patient and loving. She gives Julia wide berth and gives in to her at times, but also is not scared of telling Julia she is not being fair or complaining to me. All works very well.

This friend's parents came over for dinner, and Julia and her friend were happy to be left behind. When I asked Julia if she wanted S. to stay over, she beamed and told me, "S is staying with me." Clearly, she was happy and she was also ready. When she was not fair, Julia was willing to modify her behavior. Even so far as handing over the controlling remote on the wii during a game of Super Mario Brothers. They played SMB for about a half hour and when I asked them to go to bed, they gave me no trouble at all. Sweetly agreed and headed upstairs.

Julia was very willing to sleep in her own bed, with a made up mattress on the floor for S. Julia, who usually sleeps with me, was happy to climb into her bed and snuggle into her quilt, which I remembered was her favorite when she slept in her bed. Maybe this is an opportunity to move.

They chatted after lights went out -- like the two little girls that they were -- and settled down within the hour. School these days is full of field trips and physical activity and these girls were really tired.

And they slept until after 8 this morning. Woke up and ate oatmeal, got dressed, tidied the room, and are playing with Julia's therapist of the morning. Yes, Julia still needs direction and help with being a friend, but it is wonderful to see her wanting to have a friend, and being able to please her friend.

27 May 2011

I edit the garden. A long time ago, I used that phrase writing to the Findhorn email group. It describes the act more like modifying sentences, changing words, and clarifying ideas than merely weeding, planting, and pruning. Gardening as metaphor, gardening as meditation, gardening as the way to a middle path. Gardening is so good for me.

I've always had some garden in front of the houses that I've lived in but in Madison my front garden, the garden beds between the sidewalk and the street are my primary gardens. And they have suffered since I moved into this house almost four years ago. The formers gardener had put lots of plants into those beds but did not have much design sense, and did not think about how big plants would grow, or how tall, or how trees would turn sunny beds to shade gardens. And that gardener moved houses sufficiently before I moved in to start a cycle of ignore the front garden beds that has grown to be a normal over the past few years.

I watched the first garden cycle from summer to summer to see what came up where. The jumble of plants without a plan stymied me some. The lack of rich earth where grass was dug up and garden plants put did not encourage growth. A few easy flower-ers were also too aggressive crowding everything and anything put in their paths. The sun garden turned shady spot languished after the trees leafed out, and the hot summer sun baked the dirt to clay with no cover.

I mulched that first summer and set up a compost bin -- too over a compost bin, rather. A bin that possibly had never really been emptied. I started my own earth enrichment of mulching in the summer and putting down a layer of compost in the late fall. I was waiting for worms.

And during this time, I was feeling my own angst and I don't garden well with angst. I was trying to figure Julia out, I was trying to find a job, I was trying to find some sort of path of bliss that unfortunately did not include the practice of law. And I didn't garden well during all of that time. And then came last year -- David sick, David dead -- and again, I did not garden well during that year. But I mulched and composted.

And all this time, I had a very public garden. Not something hidden behind the house with a few evergreen protecting my gardening pride, in fact, no evergreens at all on this tiny plot of land. This spring I've ventured outside, finally, to find better soil, worms, and a garden with a voice. I've moved a few things, added a few more, culled back aggressive invaders, and did some retro-design. I've mulched a little bit and have much more to do, and for the first time, I feel like this garden is looking like the garden of a gardener. And for the first time since I've moved to Madison, I don't mind that my garden is in the front of the house for all the world to see. Yes, a bit of ego and some pride, but both of those have been battered around for some time now. I had even been wondering if I was still a gardener.

I am returning to myself and changing radically, and for me, it is all about editing the garden.
Looking back to last year at this time -- it was so hot that we went swimming! And inflated and filled a little backyard pool. David went bike riding for the first time with a new heart and although we did not get far, we were feeling jubilant about his progress. And I worried that Julia would never read a chapter book or count with one to one correspondence to materials. So many of those causes for jubilation are gone but I ordered a chapter book from Amazon this morning -- something called "Sunrise Over Fire Rock Field," by John M. Dolbey. A book that will be a challenge for her to read but because it is about iguanadon friends, it will be a good one to work on comprehension. We read the first paragraph (on the computer screen) over breakfast, and Julia was excited that there was a suggestion of danger and excitement for the dinosaur friends. It is this excitement that I see she now has for books that I was so concerned about developing last year.

And I ordered a book -- "Just Give Him The Whale!: 20 Ways to Use Fascinations, Areas of Expertise, and Strengths to Support Students with Autism" by Paula Kluth - recommended in a comment and which sat on my amazon cue all last summer without making it home. It was recommended reading just as I was discovering that I should use Julia's dinosaur love to teach her reading. Interesting that the title floated up to the top again and snagged my attention.

Today, with my poison ivy under control and a cool morning, it is gardening again for me. (And dear readers, if it is poison ivy that you fear, really, really, buy Tecnu products. Now at Walmart! Their after exposure super wash works! -- If I could advertise these products, I would.) And then a 3rd grade field trip to a nature center. I want to be in Julia's school next school year, and I told the principal as much yesterday. I hope he can find a project for me that gets me around often -- not necessarily in Julia's classroom but in and around to feel the community she is a part of.

Two boys on China lists have caught my eye. There is no sign that the PTB are giving single waivers yet and I may just watch them find families or go further down on lists. Still, a thought.

26 May 2011

My grass is so long that it is going to seed. There is no reason that I don't cut it right now except I want to write and this is the first chance I've had to sit down and I think I committed to having a high school kid cut it -- I just don't know when. I have to clear this up today and cut tomorrow if I need to.

Last week, I caught (umm, right word?) poison ivy -- just a slight case. I think it was during my big plant of last Friday, but I've shied away from garden work this whole week -- poison ivy and the rain. Today is beautiful -- sweat shirt weather and good for garden work but I can't make myself.

I am shopping like a retiree or a New Yorker -- buying by the day instead of the week. We used to live like that -- nothing in the frig but a bottle of wine, jelly, three eggs and a few half empty take out containers. The cliche personified. Then all these years of suburban family life -- a weekly shopping and making do with what was there and always a freezer stocked full of last minutes soups, stews and sauces.

Now, it is changed. Again.

Slowly, I've been emptying the freezer. Eating from it and not restocking, not cooking in big pots. We eat the last chili tonight -- not David's last chili. That was months and months ago. Mine. I think there was some red sauce that I used a few weeks ago that might have been his. I miss David making sauce. I miss his chili although it always was hard on my stomach.

So, why? Part is because I am hot to renovate, even my very much watered down renovation and I don't want that pack up to be difficult or to waste too much food. Part is wanting to live lighter -- less stuff. Yesterday, just about done with all the memorial cards -- stragglers left and a few returned wrong addresses -- I've started in again with boxes and content of file cabinets. I don't think that David would have ever let me do what I am doing, but is there really a reason to save receipts from 2005? I have not yet tackled boxes of stuff-- memorabilia, multiple desk contents, junk. Treasures to be sure -- Do you think I can deliver bags of office supplies to St. Vinnie's? I'll sort clips and elastic bands and staples. I am seeing the end of the paper tunnel -- for the first round -- and i am more ruthless, not less as I see what I have left too organize.

Finally, part of the change of food shopping habits is disinterest. Organizing a week's worth of food is sometimes very much beyond me. Is this is peep into Julia's world of the present? A present that does not have to account for the hard feelings of past and future? I have passed on from the intensity of those feelings, now, it is just disinterest. As I begin to lie fallow and live each day for what it is, I must make the intentional decision each day to do something, to go somewhere, to cook. I do not yet wear my dearth of plans lightly.

Julia and I sat on the front steps after school, waiting for her therapist of the day and going over the school day. She likes to recite what she can remember of her schedule including putting chairs up on the desks and "get on the bus and come home to you." Conversation is not smooth. I told her today that I wanted her to ask about my day, and she obligingly did. She was interested in my acupuncture appointment although because she remembered that it had to do with needs, she told me that she never wanted an acupuncture appointment. I should have been telling her about my day long before this, but it is time to work on it now. I need to remind her to ask me until she remembers it herself.

The dog is barking at two black crows who sit on the electric wires teasing.

I spoke to Julia's sub-special ed teacher about what Julia was doing in math and ideas for the summer. She is not the expert that the regular special ed teacher is but she has worked with Julia each day for 45 minutes or so at math. Still, it is numbers, easy addition, a bit of subtraction, counting, before and after, first, second, third. All of it is still done with manipulatives or pictures of things. The abstract number ideas are still not there. Ideas I want to work with this summer are:

1. morning story problems. To start, four dinosaurs who stand in a line. A description of the line and the dinosaurs to put in that line. I bought some little notebooks and I thought I could write a story problem for her to do first thing in the morning, with the reward of the first money of the day.

2. counting up to 100. Julia can almost count up to 50 now. We have been doing it at the beginning of strong sitting which we do 2-3 times a day. In the relatively short time that counting has been a part of strong sitting, she has gotten better at 50. As soon as she is near perfect, we'll go up 10.

3. counting by 2's, 5's, 10's using the snap together montessori blocks that I have and in other ways. Money! While leads to . . .

4. money. Everything that I and our therapists can teach her! Identification, counting, saving, changing for larger amounts, and buying something. She has definite ideas about the buying part. I bought a change purse today and a way for her to keep it around her neck if she wants. We are going to assign monetary value to lots of the things Julia's does or is suppose to do.

5. learning our phone number -- wrot memory on that one.

6. Writing each day -- Maybe at the end. A sentence or two or three about what she did during the day. Maybe this is the start of journal writing in a sense.

At the suggestion of the librarian, we will sign up for the public library program this summer -- numbers of books and prizes. Julia should be in just the right place for that.

Yes, ambitious, but most of it will fold into our days. I don't intend to sit down for lessons. I have no idea when numbers will click for Julia but watching reading take off this year gives me more hope for numbers.

Next week, I am going to redo the toy room for the summer. It has had a dinosaur theme for a year now -- Julia's pictures of dinosaurs hung all over on a brown wall. The wall will still have dinos on it, but I need a number theme, need some ideas. The therapists are working on calendars for the entire summer instead of a month at a time. They are going to count days as part of their math work.

And I will be putting away some toys as well. Julia tells me she doesn't want to but there are things she never touches. And we need the room. I'd like to move my desk work from a crate in the dining room back to the toy room where my desk is located.

Order out of the chaos!

23 May 2011

Hard days now come with a bounce back for which I am very grateful. Late start today after waking up last night at 2 and not going back to sleep until almost 5. Anxiousness without reason. I worried about everything and none of it worth the worry.

But big reminder to self -- don't watch movies with hopeless message! Just doesn't help in the least. LOL!

Today, life does look better.

22 May 2011

Working through the memorial cards and although I do it with a willing heart and soul, it is not easy. I add notes to some cards and realize that I am not in touch with friends I want to keep close. I keep to the task and dip back into the grief of that first week, then the first month, after David died. The finality of the exercise overwhelms. There is nothing to be done but to go through, diving in head first without caution. I know what is in the tunnel by now. The color and texture of grief changes -- it is not sharp every day, it is not in neon colors, but it ebbs at my spirit like a persistent tide. I am crumbling stone, an eroding beach. Sometimes I long for escape, sometimes for rescue, but I know I have a long road ahead and I cannot duck a single tear.

Julia and I went to a dear friend's baby shower yesterday afternoon into the evening. It was very sweet. I went overboard on our gift, but this friend and her family have been dear and there was no reason not to indulge my indulgence. Silly, shower games yielded me a bottle of champagne as a prize. For a moment, I wanted to refuse it -- What? Drink it alone? I have not had wine at home, maybe one beer since last year. I have a full larder of spirits these days. I should have a party -- but not today. But it would have been ungracious to refuse to take the bottle home. It would have pointed out sorrow where there is so much joy, and I could not bear to do that.

And I went home, with Julia -- thank god for Julia -- to a house alone and empty. And god, did it feel empty. Julia, Latkah, Didi Chi, and still I hear echos.

I work hard at happiness these days. I work hard to keep those balls in the air. Most of the time I can do it. Sometimes . . .

21 May 2011

The description of the loving kindness practice used for children includes these statements/affirmations:

May you be safe

May you be happy

May you be healthy

May you live with care

When I heard this for the first time, I teared up. Even writing it, emotion wells. Safety first. What a traumatized child needs first and foremost. Safety. What a possible way to begin our day this summer.

The why for this summer. For me, happiness and living with care are such questions these days. And now that Julia is feeling more and more safe, we may just be able to start looking for her happiness.

What would it be like to start the day mindfully.

“Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.” ~~Henry David Thoreau.

Morning with the experts at the Waisman Center reporting on mindfulness and education as part of the Center for the Investigating Healthy Minds. How fortunate I am to be here. It is good for me to realize that and say it every once in a while. Working and living in the present is not always easy. I want to be back at a time when I was with David, when I had a strong, vital partner, when everything did seem possible. I want to spring ahead to the time when home will again be the place where I have a heart hold and deep roots, when I will working, and when I am fit in body, spirit, and mind. But I have now, and it is here where I must/want to be full. And, so . . .

Yesterday, I planted after a buying spree -- planting for hours. A neighborhood plant sale plus a visit to a new garden center -- much like pasta in a rich sauce followed by terimi su. It was heavenly. As I wrote the last time, I am feeling at home in my Madison garden for the first time. And truly, as I bought and planted new bushes and perennials each one blended into the existing plantings as if the new plants were there from some beginning. Yes, it is a communication between the garden and the gardener, the garden asks and comments, and the gardener does the same.

And today, this conference. The same awe producing experience. Mindfulness and caring practice. Preliminary results so promising in children and adolescents. Someone, not at Waisman, is doing this with kids who experience trauma. No results yet. I wonder where. Such a leap of faith to believe that these practices might help. Something feels, very gut, that this is a path to explore.

18 May 2011

So, Monday I wrote about hearing from David and today I am going to write about garden divas. I am sure that I sound nuts, but don't worry, clothes are clean and folded, the house is relatively clean and dinner is on the table each night for Julia and I. So, a bit crazy sounding should be just right.

I had the feeling last week that I could "hear" the garden speaking to me, and yesterday again I felt that connection with my little plot of ground that I so cherished with my larger garden in Indy. It was this connection -- practical and pragmatic as well as spiritual -- that sent me searching for others who experienced the same depth of feeling and introduced me to the Findhorn Foundation and the email group from around the world that I have been in touch with since the early 90's. It is the grounding of spirit that I've relied upon for many years for spiritual sustenance and for a long time did not question. And it is a connection that I feared I had lost in Madison -- this small, very much surrounded by neighbors and traffic patch of garden. It was during my second summer in Madison, working on the garden that I realized the silence of it. Now, really I don't hear, in the conventional sense of hearing, the garden talking to me. (Didn't prince Charles have that "problem"?) But I became aware that I did not have any gut feelings for where plants belongs or what needed to be done. One of the real joys of gardening for me was always to come home from working at the court in Indy and to go into the back garden and putter -- allowing myself to roam from task to task -- cleaning the pond, deadheading, weeding a bit, stirring the compost. Allowing the garden to inform my choice of what to do, what needed to be done. It might sound a bit wonky to those without a connection to gardens or the earth, but the plants would let me know when it was time to dig up and divide, they would let me know where it was that they would like to be moved to. And it wasn't that one of them would tap me on the shoulder, it wasn't anything silly or spooky at all, just a natural flow.

And it was such peace.

And that was missing here in Madison. Yes, it was probably due to change, to moving, to trying so hard to be in tune with Julia and her needs, to David's growing health problems, and my own confusion over work life and vocation. And maybe finding it again, now, for the first time here, is the first fruit of my intention to lie fallow for a year. Maybe I am getting to the place of being open and able to listen. Vulnerable but with feet very much planted in the present.

The garden divas are dancing in my Madison garden and for that I am so grateful.

16 May 2011

I dreamed of David for the first time today. It was during a short morning nap -- that nap that I've allowed myself to take just after ten in the morning after Julia gets off to school and I've done household chores and checked email and such.

I dozed off on the couch and dreamed that the phone rang and I picked it up. David was on the other end and said hello and asked how I was. I told him I was fine, and he said he wanted to tell me something. Before he told me what he wanted to, I interrupted and told him that it was so good to hear his voice and that I missed him so much since he had died. There was silence on the other end of the phone. I knew that David had not expected that I would know that I was dreaming. I knew I had scared him. Knowing you are dreaming in a dream is lucid dreaming and I have done it since I was a kid. I know I told him about it and I know he never believed that I really did it.

And then I woke up. I remembered that the connection was not good. David's voice was a bit fuzzy. I hope it is better next time.

Can I say that I believe that it was him? Just simple belief.

And I carried around the thought all day that it would be so hard to have a good conversation with David today. I wanted to tell him I wished that he had not died, and then how Julia and Cheshire were. And how I could make it on my own. And how I wished I didn't have to. And then I thought about all the mundane things we were accustomed to talking about -- daily doings -- and although those things were the fabric of our lives together, I was very much aware that he would no longer care about mowing the lawn or the theater's new season or my work plans. It made me overwhelming sad but also gave me a glimpse into eternity. I have written this before, but if it was not for such devastating loss, this journey after David's death has been full of such exciting discoveries and such awe.

And then, I went outside and worked in the garden for the rest of the day.

15 May 2011

Sunday at 5. The weather is nicer than it has been all day. I've finished cooking baked chicken in tomato sauce that we should be able to eat for a few days. I kept out some of the pasta that lines the bottom of the dish just in case tomato sauce is not in favor today. Julia is downstairs with her therapist of the day making a May calendar. She is patiently drawing, cutting, decorating, and taping multi-layer flowers onto the top. She was able to write all the days of the week on the calendar (with help of course, but in a short amount of time) and numbers the squares correctly. The difference between this piece and a calendar she made last year at this time is astounding. She would not have written the days of the week -- getting her to write the Month was never easy. The numbers would have been backwards and done with much frustration and stalling -- as if by drawing out the time, the task would disappear.

Yesterday, Julia asked Ellen if she (Julia) would ever grow breasts. Today, I hear her asking if Bethany (another therapists) comes on Monday to play with her. These questions are small miracles. This child is thinking of a future.

On Thursday last, at our attachment therapist's, Julia's rescue play took on some new character. This is what I wrote about it for another purpose.

When Julia first learned to play, she gravitated to dinosaurs and not dolls. Her first pretend games were of dinosaurs fighting. She, of course, was the mighty T-rex who won every fight and scared other monstrous lizards away. After a few years, the dinosaurs made nests and laid eggs and took care of their babies. This was followed by dinosaurs falling in love and getting married. After dinosaurs got married and had babies, the babies were taken by mean female dinosaurs and complicated rescue scenarios developed. Julia played these rescue games for more than a year, and they slowly evolved from the babies being lost forever, to the babies being rescued quickly by mommas and daddies who chased the evil dinos.

Julia moved on from these games and the rescue scenario has not surfaced for more than a year. But yesterday, in AT it resurfaced.

Although 10, Julia is somewhere around 4-6 years old in emotional and responsive age. She has begun to answer questions over the last year although "why" is still elusive. She lived very much in the present for a very long time, and
refused to or could not remember anything -- not yesterday, not last year, and certainly not anything in China. But after 3+ years of AT and lots of other therapy, she can tell you what she did yesterday and she looks forward to major holidays. Over the past few months, she has been able to work through a book called Me and My Volcano (This is a workbook for helping children to deal with their feelings of hurt and anger, using the volcano to draw a parallel.). This is the first cognitive type work on attachment or trauma that she was able to do and it has been exciting.

Yesterday, our AT brought out cards from another book. Julia started reading the cards and our AT asked her to react to them. What Julia found and focused on was a card depicting a little rabbit running into his mother's arms, and away from two older rabbit who might have been grandparents. The card said something like, "I can be safe with someone I trust." The picture was not threatening in the least, but Julia made up a story about the little rabbit being taken away by the older rabbits and needing to run to his mother and be rescued. She talked about this for a long time and was very concerned about it. So much so that our AT, who never jumps to conclusions, wondered aloud if this was a real experience for Julia. Julia did not answer.

I may never know any more than I related here. I never thought that there was any chance that Julia could have been subject to abduction or trafficking which has been in the Chinese news a good deal lately --she was 5.5 when she came home and she was clearly disabled. But who knows. Is she allowing herself to remember something that happened when she was 2 or 3? Were all those dinosaur rescue stories grounded in actual fact and not in metaphor? Julia has never been subtle. I can make no guess. I have always assumed that her coming to our family was assuredly the best thing for her, but could it have been the market for cute little girls was the root cause of the trauma she would eventually face. And although her file was flawed in so many ways, I always took for granted the basic story of infant abandonment which is the mainstay of so many Chinese adoption stories.

There are so many questions.
As part of a discussion on a yahoo group, someone noted that special needs kids in China are not treated well and are regarded as "unlucky", a somewhat ambivalent term in English, but one that suggests that these children do not "deserve" the care and regard afforded to "normal" children in China. Another poster, who appears to have some experience working in China, wrote"

All I can say is that from 30+ years of experience with China and surrounding countries I have found that the 'unlucky' label is more likely to be applied in less urban areas. Truly, I have not encountered this attitude to this kind of wide extent. Just my experience.


PS In the US, school children can be very, very cruel to other kids among them who are different in any way, be it race, a scar, a missing limb, etc. So, by no means would a child be exempt from others' negative opinions solely by leaving China and coming to the US.

A few other moms commented about the treatment that their children experienced in orphanages or foster care situations, and I wrote:

I'd like to believe that my daughter was treated no less cruelly than a bunch of mean elementary school kids might offer up. I'd like to believe that the treatment she received was not wide spread or that it stopped after my daughter came home, but the fact remains that the adults who should have been providing care neglected my child so completely that she was wounded emotionally and cognitively, possibly beyond repair. This child who is bright, artistically talented, and very loving never grieved for a moment after we met her when she was 5 and a half. As she heals from the trauma she experienced, she tells me that her caretakers told her she was ugly, stupid, did not deserve to go to school, and had bad blood. This is a child who does not lie.

My daughter comes from an orphanage different from Janis and Cathy's daughters. Three orphanages might not show that maltreatment is wide-spread, but to believe that only those children housed in very rural orphanages experience maltreatment which changes their lives is foolish. You have been very lucky indeed to experience only orphanages where children are valued.


I don't know how to say/write to prospective adopted parents that their child might have experienced profound maltreatment, and it causes me great pain to see an adoption advocate compare the depth and scope of orphanage maltreatment to the experience that a child could encounter from a bunch mean schoolchildren. Such comparisons diminishes Julia's experience and the experiences of so many other children who suffered at the hands of institutional caregivers. I believe that healing is possible, hard and long, but possible, but the hurt and damage is real and should not be ignored or made less of.

12 May 2011

The work of the week -- getting the memorial thank you cards readied and out -- is proceeding. I told two friends about this work -- one, who had lost her husband at an ungodly young age, told me that she never sent thank yous. This simple statement did an amazing amount to take all pressure off me. If this caring, wonderful person could not get it together to make/send those cards, then (1) it's not just me who turns to emotional jelly each time the work comes onto a front burner, and (2) it's not really necessary and no one will strike me off their list of friends for such an omission.

And then my other friend, said that, after I explained my long process of starts and stops and emotional outbursts and what my first friend said, this other friend said something about restoring some sort of balance. And I liked that. Not that I feel that the entire universe is out of whack until I thank my good friends for their kindness to my family during the last year, but that there are great circle of kindness and gratitude, like giant Tibetan prayer wheels that are kept moving by each of us taking a turn to push it along.

And so, I do, am doing, pushing the prayer wheel -- the card is finally sent to print, I gather addresses, and print labels. Next, is getting stamps -- so many cards I will want to write something on, but so many can be just sent as well.

I will close another chapter when I finish this task. Bitter sweet again, for sure. I look forward to and dread the last envelop in the mail box. But I will do it all the same. Do it and know I must move on.

11 May 2011

Ah! Thanks for all the comments on the last post. Yes, hitting a ball is glorious! And who would have believed that I would write that. I have lived completely anti-sport, and Cheshire did not belong to any team of tossers, hitters, catchers, or kickers. I had been to a few kid games before Cheshire was ready for them, and the scene just didn't jell with me. And Cheshire didn't care. She didn't seem particularly enamored with balls herself.

But now . . .

Thanks for the suggestion of the Challenge League or Special Olympics. One of my neighbors printed out some information about our local Challenge League. I will check it out. And to carry on with the ball theme -- this evening, Julia and I took her soccer ball outside and kicked it around a bit. We were very close and on the sidewalk since the grass was soaking after heavy rain storms today, but we very carefully passed the ball back and forth. I have hopes for a physical summer -- being outside and having fun. And now, maybe putting balls into the mix.

Yes, Traci, those pants! Those are the pants that Julia agreed to buy and wear about a month ago. We took them to Disney and she wore them there. She has worn them at least once a week since then. Not jeans yet, but summer kackies don't feel too bad.

Wednesday is our day without therapists, and although I was thinking of going out to buy a bat and some balls, it was stormy and Julia doesn't like storms. We made our play plan -- she wrote it out -- and followed it.

When we got to math, Julia wanted to do the math coloring book, but I overrode her choice (which she allowed) and wanted to try some straight addition. I wanted to see what she was understanding these days. Most of the time, in fact, all of the time, when Julia does math, she is fully supported. Everything is done with manipulatives or pictures, preferably dinosaurs, and there are many clues to help her along. But what about straight math facts.

Well, she can't do them. Not even the 1's. Then, I tried doing counting with numbers missing. She can sort of do them up to 10, although she wants help to make sure her "guesses" are correct before writing them down. She can look at a number and say what comes next up to 20, but not what comes before. She is counting correctly up to at least 30, but she can't say what comes after 22.

Although I was patient with her, Julia knew that she was not pleasing me. When we finished math, she climbed into my arms and we hugged for a long time. She told me that the work was hard. I told her that I knew how hard it was but that I believed that she had a good brain that that one day, she would be able to do her numbers.

Julia did not ask why she couldn't do numbers. I don't know if she realizes yet that there are things that other kids in her class do that she cannot, or that she acts in ways that are different from her age peers. She does not seem to recognize her differences, and I wonder when and if she will. This lack of awareness is one of her more autistic-like characteristics, along with her lack of social ability. I know kids of her age and younger who are on the spectrum and who have that awareness. And I worry that she will never mature to that point.

Even though, Julia did not ask, I talked to her a bit about how she was not taken care of when she was in China. She, who watched so carefully the way that Noah was taken care of this past weekend -- Noah being 1 and doted on by parents, grandparents, and assorted aunts, uncles, and cousins. She loved the way the people took care of Noah and loved the way the Noah responded. This she sees and this she can talk a bit about. So, I told her that when she was Noah's age she did not have a mother taking care of her. And I told her that because no one took care of her, she did not do the playing and the working that Noah was doing now. And because she did not play or work, her brain needed to do a lot of work now that she was a grown up girl (Julia's term for herself). I don't know how much, if anything, that Julia understood, but I felt the need to say it to her today. She was not shocked by what I said, and did not react badly. I don't know if it is imagining too much understanding to say that she seemed to take it in.

We have come so far, and it is not like I see an end to Julia's progress. She moves along. But I wonder, I wonder all the time how far she will go. Will she just remain 5 years or so behind her age peers? But will she be like a 10 year old when she is 15 and like a 15 year old when she is 20. I would take that. How many people mature much beyond 20? I can wait for maturity. But what if, what if she just stops one day? What if she never realizes that she is different? or that other people do things she cannot? No real blessing to discover those things, but what of that curse of ignorance?

There is more to say, but enough for tonight.

08 May 2011

soft balls

Julia and I went to Indiana to celebrate my first grand nephew Noah's first birthday. It was a very nice party and we had a very nice time visiting, but the most marvelous occurrence happened after the party. My nephew's father-in-law, Dave, was throwing balls for his 5 year old grandson to hit -- the little boy being quite good at soft ball. Julia asked to join, and Dave encouraged her to look at him and to look at the ball. And right there and then, Julia started hitting the ball. She hit one into a tree top! How incredible!

She played again this morning before we headed off to home. She was able to take a bit of coaching about her stance and her grip. She hit many more balls.

And after she was finished, it was time to relax. And relax she did, swinging with such a big smile on her face.

05 May 2011

Nine months.

04 May 2011

An email from Julia's special ed teacher. She is a sub until the end of the year, taking the place of a much beloved teacher who has been with Julia all year.

Hi, Suzanne.
I just talked to Mr. B (Joradan) and also Shannon how things are going for Julia. Sounds like she isn't having the best afternoon... Shannon noticed Julia kept scratching/picking, so she told Julia "no picking." And Julia was upset. Also when her class was leaving for classroom from the computer lab, Julia wasn't lining up but blocking her peers. So, Mr. B told Julia to line up. In stead of lining up, she grabbed Mr. B's wrist and squeezed really hard. And she told him that she was going to kill him. I don't know what happened after I saw her, but she is not having a good afternoon... :(

Anyway, if you can give me some advice when she starts scratching or picking, let me know. Or any sign she might be going to do. That will also help.

I know it is not a good news to tell you, but if you know what might cause her picking or her making upset, let me know.

Now, as concerning as this is, and I am concerned. Of course. I have had very, very few of these communications this year. Last year, it was almost every day something like this (or worse) would happen. So, I am both concerned and jubilant!!

My response:

Hi Tomo,

Don't worry about not giving me good news all the time. Julia has her ups and downs. Actually, what you describe as "bad" behavior would have been considered really okay last year. Julia has gotten so much better about controlling her behavior this year. I think that all of Franklin know how loud and how disruptive Julia could be. So, a bit of advice:

scratching/picking: What causes it? I think anxiousness and boredom. When she does it she recedes into her own world -- not exactly stimming but close in purpose. It replaces another behavior which took her much further away from us. What works best is to get on her side and correct from there. I tell her how much I love and care about her head/ears/lips -- whatever she is picking on. And tell her that I want to keep her healthy and beautiful. Then, I ask her not to pick. Right now, in her backpack, there is gum and also a squishy ball for her to chew or play when she needs something to do. She also wears a silly band that she can "pluck" when she wants to pick (I wear a silly band as well and tell her that I pluck it during the day to think of her and to help keep her healthy.) My aim is to keep her present. Julia used to spend a lot of time hiding in her own world and probably when she was very young, this was a very healthy survival tool. Life was awful. So, I believe that we have to respect what she used to survive and use love and persuasion to move her out of these habits.

aggressive words and deeds: To put this in perspective, at least Julia is not screaming on the floor, trying to hit, bite, scratch, etc. But . . . I think some of these behaviors are due to Mrs. Rumpf's leaving. I know it is a week and a half later, but Julia attaches hard and has a hard time giving up people. She also is now faced with the fact that she has to replace Mrs. Rumpf with you and Mr. B. She has to let you in, and risk losing you as well. For a child who had many caregivers as a youngster, her behavior is pretty typical.

How to handle aggressive words or deeds: First, get through the incident. Julia is usually angry or upset about something. It is still hard for her to say why she is upset but she is getting better about knowing that she is angry. We "get her angries out" with a hug (with some pressure on her back), punching something soft, doing something physical (finger pulls, wall pushes), taking big deep breaths. This does take a bit of time, but less all the time. It used to be hours!

Second, we talk about how to handle getting angry and upset (Again, this all takes time, ruins transitions, messes up plans, but again, less so all the time).
Julia is sensitive to how others feel, and so, I usually tell her that squeezing my hand hurts me and makes me feel very badly. As do her words. We have a rule in our house that we try very hard not to hurt anyone with words or our bodies -- there is a Franklin peacemaker rule that is about the same. Sometime I ask her how she would feel if I did what she did. Sometimes I ask her what she might do next time she feels that way. She needs to understand that you and Mr. B have feelings just like she does, that you care about her, and that you want her to grow, learn, and be healthy.

I believe that much of the behavior that is disturbing and disruptive is caused by early trauma, what is called complex trauma or developmental trauma disorder. Complex trauma describes multiple traumatic events that begin at a very young age, and are caused by adults who should have been caring for and protecting the child. I use principles of trauma informed parenting with Julia and it has worked very well. The last principle is to reframe and integrate traumatic experiences. Complex trauma cannot be erased from memory; but a child can learn to how to manage her reactions, enhance coping skills, and cultivate present-oriented responses to stress. (Think PTSD and ex-soldiers - in a sense, Julia is no different) What we are all doing right now is to teach Julia to manage reactions, use coping skills, and work on her responses to stress.

I've probably told you more than you wanted to know, but if you have further questions, don't hesitate to ask. I am not an educator or a therapist but I know my girl.

All the best,

Does it sound like I just gave the trauma presentation? LOL! And this really feeds right into my revelation today -- What I want to do is be a Parent Partner at an International Adoption Clinic and help with evaluations/treatments of adopted kids. This position is used in Developmental Delay clinics. I have no idea if IA clinics would consider such a thing, but I believe that there is a need for it. There is no career path for this one, no course list to check off, but what a great job.

03 May 2011

This was NOT taken today -- no blue skies on this Tuesday. These are such pretty, reliable spring friends -- Ice Follies, they are called -- up every year, and a bit of multiplying going on as well. Maybe this fall I will plant another 100. The earliest ones are fading now and they will all be gone in another week or so, but how they herald the joy of spring! I celebrate these beauties every year. Gratitude! Gratitude! For such companions in the spring.
Along the way.

Today has not been as especially productive day. I attended a luncheon for the Foundation for Madison Public Schools which raises private funds for our public schools, and I puttered around. I stared at the three more forms to finish before my last class of Friday, finished making an address list for my thank you cards, and edited content for the card. I also poked around the UW website, looking for a class for next fall, wondering how to edge my way into some Waiseman-like world, wondering and wandering. And it is gray and colder than it should be for a May day, and I am sleepy.

Julia was giving one of her therapists a bit of trouble about playing Uno, instead of coloring or playing on the Wii. I went down and joined them and helped her finish the game. So many positives there -- Julia finished the game, she can play almost by herself, she has no trouble with those numbers one through eight, she can be calmed down even when she rather be doing something else, and she talks about being angry without acting on the anger.

More good developments. On Sunday, our therapist had a late emergency and cancelled just minutes before she was due to start a session. Julia and I had planned to be home and in therapy, so we made our own play plan and went down our list. I took the opportunity to play with Julia on her Leapster exploring the first grade program that she has had for a few months. I have noticed that she has been using that cartridge more than the Kindergarten one but I had not gone through the games with her. She was doing the first two levels (out of 3) on all of the games except for the bumper car addition game which expects that she know addition math facts. Still, she could play the basic game and I wondered, for the first time, whether some math fact flash cards would work with her. There is a sentence word order game that she is challenged by but she can do the second level with some help and/or guessing. I am very impressed that she plays these games, wants to play them, and is persistent.

Sometimes I would like to hurry Julia along. I'd like to somehow usher her up to grade level, coax her into maturity, so I would have the peace of mind of knowing that she can get there. There is still that piece of her, that not knowing if development will stop one day, that unnerves me. I can live with a 10 year old who acts like a 6 year old but I am impatient to find out whether she will continue. Will she become self aware? Will she be able to ask about her abilities one day? Each time she takes a step, she fuels my curiosity.

And back to my wanderings. House renovations -- thinking of it as tidying up -- are falling into place. Fixing the doors, refinishing the floors, doing a kitchen that will be a combination of what I have plus some new cabinet pieces, and painting the outside are all things that will make living here more comfortable and will help with sale. No miracles expected, just hoping not to lose money.

Still, so many questions and my aim is to grow comfortable with these questions because they are going to be sticking around for awhile.