Monday, November 13, 2017

Almost A Year

I can't believe it has been almost a year since I last posted! SO MUCH HAS HAPPENED.

I'll do an update, covering major events, and the latest about each kiddo.

The biggest event of our year was a major change in the structure of our family. Y'all, DON'T DRINK ALCOHOL DURING PREGNANCY! Not one sip. And, DON'T USE DRUGS DURING PREGNANCY. Better not to use either, ever, but especially not during pregnancy. The impact on the child can be staggering and devastating, as is the case for our Sunny, who is now 9 1/2 years old.

Little Sunny's brain was irreversibly damaged by her mother's substance abuse, and the trauma she experienced during the first three years of her life. She has the inability to process sensory input. This means that living as one of six children--in a large, bright, echo-y house, surrounded by constant noise, motion, and chaos, created too much sensory input for her brain to process. This left her in a constant state of fear, constantly triggered, unable to snap out of flight-or-fight mode. Her m.o. was fight, and fight she did. All day. Every day. At the same time, Sunny craves constant, undivided attention of a mom and a dad. No matter what Matt and I did, it wasn't enough to meet Sunny's needs. We worked for years with counselors, doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, attachment specialists, occupational therapists, trauma therapists, etc. You name it, we did it. After five very intense years, Sunny was rapidly declining, and was taking our whole family down with her. We started looking into residential treatment programs as a last resort to help our girl. And then a miracle happened.

Matt's sister Diana and her husband, Chris, called us and offered to help. They offered to take Sunny for a weekend so the rest of us could have a break. The weekend went well and turned into a week. Sunny came home and instantly fell back into the pattern of rage-destroy-attack. After another week, Diana and Chris called us again. They offered to take Sunny for 6 months to allow the rest of us a longer time to rest and swim to shore. Three months later, Sunny was changing dramatically. Her rages had almost stopped. She was sleeping and eating normally. She had stopped hallucinating. She hadn't tried once to physically harm Diana or Chris. She began to learn at school, stopped getting in trouble at school, and started to smile. Real smiles. The angry little beastie melted away and began to reveal a happy little girl. Four months after Sunny moved in with Diana and Chris, Matt and I signed over guardianship to them. It has now been 9 months and Sunny is not the same person. She has weaned off all her meds but one. She hasn't had a rage in months. Her behavior IEP is no longer necessary...she's making As and Bs and has no behavior issues at school. She hasn't had a rage in months. She is the star of her soccer team and has learned how to be a team player. She has grown 8 inches in 8 months! She has friends. She's relaxed, happy, and affectionate. She has graduated all but one of her therapies. No more screaming, destroying, hurting, threatening, or hallucinations. We no longer fear for her life. The best part...she lives 10 minutes way from us and is still part of our extended family. Piper and Bubbles regularly have play dates and sleepovers at Sunny's house. Their relationship has deepened and grown in a way I never thought would be possible. She has transitioned to calling Diana and Chris Mommy and Daddy. Matt and I have become Uncle Matt and Auntie Emily. When we are all together for family events, she loves to come hug us, snuggle us, and tell us all about what she is doing and learning. She radiates joy and peace.

Making the decision to let her go was hard because it meant admitting that no matter how hard we tried, we could never give her what she needed. But watching her blossom makes it worth it. All we ever wanted for Sunny, Piper, and Bubbles was for them to be healthy, happy, and loved. For Sunny, it didn't turn out the way we hoped and dreamed it would. But thanks to Diana and Chris, our ultimate desire for her is being fulfilled. I couldn't be more thankful!

The rest of us have had a harder year. Sunny's many complex issues left the rest of us suffering from various degrees of PTSD. It has been the hardest on Snapper, Pepper, Matt, and me. The other two girls weren't as bothered by Sunny's chaos because they had never known any different. Pepper and I spent extensive time in trauma therapy. He has moved on pretty well, but I continue to be easily triggered. We're all working toward healing, but it isn't a fast process. The relative peace in our home, however, has created many wonderful changes, especially for the kids.

Sweet Pea is now 3 1/2. She's a vibrant, bubbly, outgoing little girl. She is no longer clingy or afraid during the day. Her favorite place to be is at church, where she knows more people than I do. She is loved by everyone, and everyone knows her. She's smart as a whip. She already knows most of what she'd learn in a K-4 class, even though she's only 3. She is pure joy! At night she struggles with horrible nightmares. Sunny shows up in many of them. Even though Sweet Pea has lost her memory of Sunny living with us, the damage was done. She sleeps in our room for now, and for as long as it takes for her to feel safe as she sleeps.

Piper is almost 12, which I can't believe. Her school year last year was so disrupted by all the trauma with Sunny that she failed 5th grade. We moved her from the charter school to our district school this year to give her a fresh start. Our amazing principal found the perfect solution for Piper. She is in a small 5/6 combo class where she is able to work at her own level and her own pace. She worked on 5th grade material for the first month of school. With the love and support of her incredible teacher and the resource teacher, Piper rapidly gained confidence. The other three 6th grade girls in the class are all in the same boat, and the four girls quickly bonded. They have the sweetest friendship and are totally inseparable. They've all encouraged each other and have made forward progress together. At Piper's conference last week, I learned that Piper is now working on 6th grade material and is easily passing all of it! She is the happiest and most outgoing she has ever been in school. At home she's making great strides, too. In the last few months she has had a growth spurt: both physical and emotional. She has grown almost 3 inches in 3 months. She is taking care of her bedroom and clothing with excellence. She is noticing when little things need doing around the house, and does them on her own. This week alone she cleaned out the fridge and deep cleaned Sweet Pea's room...all without being asked and without any need of recognition or praise. We're so delighted for our sweet girl! (I'm going to show you a photo because for various reasons, I'm no longer concerned about being found by bio parents).

Pepper is 11. As awful as Piper's school year was, Pepper's was amazing. He took shelter and comfort from studying, and excelled beyond my wildest imagination for him. He skipped 6th grade and is officially a 7th grader. Homeschooling him allows him the freedom to work at his own pace and to pursue what is of interest to him. He attends our district's homeschool academy two full days per week, where he takes fun classes--such as Robotics, Cooking, Web Design, and Yoga--that supplement what we're doing at home the other three days each week. At home he is taking World History, Earth Science, 8th grade English, and Algebra 1 (he's halfway through). He also does a research project each month. This month he's studying what lead to the fall of Ancient Rome. Last month he studied Greek Mythology and its impact on Ancient Greek Culture. Pepper experienced some extreme hardship this spring. On April 3rd, he had a grand mal seizure during Sunday School. He had two more seizures at the hospital that day. In the next 6 weeks, he went on to have 26 major seizures (that we saw), and likely had several smaller ones at night. He was diagnosed with Epilepsy in May. Since then he has been on medication with decent success. He's had two breakthrough seizures and increased his med dose twice. Right now he's at 7 weeks without a seizure, and is starting to relax back into life. He has been such a trouper through it all, never ceasing to praise and trust God in the midst of it. His trauma therapist was a great stabilizing force as he learned to adjust to life with Epilepsy. He graduated from therapy in August and is blowing us away with his courage and determination.

Bubbles is newly 13. After a very rough first semester at the charter school (including major sexual harassment that resulted in us filing a report with the district and the state), Bubbles moved to our district school. The new school evaluated her special needs and put in place for her a super-charged IEP that gave her services that I didn't even know were an option for her! With the help of supportive classroom teachers and the faithful work of her resource teacher (3 hours per day), Bubbles--for the first time in her life--passed state testing! She was scared to death to move to junior high in September, but she settled in quickly and easily. She has made some wonderful friends and seems to be making great choices at school. Friday was her last day in special ed math because...drum roll please...she no longer qualifies for math special ed services! She spent the last month going to both resource math and gen ed math, and she had no trouble whatsoever! She currently has a B in regular 7th grade math. This kid has always struggled with math, so this is a huge victory for her. She will always be in resource English. Her dyslexia and dysgraphia make it impossible for her to keep up with a regular class. But she has a great teacher and is making forward progress. This girl is also the boss of P.E. She has a messed up knee that is preventing her from doing sports right now, but she was thrilled to be offered a spot on the girls wrestling team at school, and a starting spot on the football team next fall! Bubbles is struggling right now with some character issues, and it's a hard parenting road. But she's a good kid at heart, and I'm confident she'll emerge on the other side, a stronger and better person.

Snapper is 15 going on 20. She's a sophomore this year, and is pretty much rocking at life in general. She has outgrown all the issues that used to trouble us when she was younger. She's a beautiful, confident young woman. She's mature, sweet, thoughtful, compassionate, responsible, and full of fun. Snapper loves the Lord passionately and is serious about using her gifts to honor Him. She leads a weekly Bible study at school, and she is encouraged to see the growth in the other girls who are participating. She also sings on the youth worship team at church. Snapper is having a great school year! She's taking World History, Honors English 10, Algebra 2/Trig, Honors Chemistry, Spanish 2, Chamber Choir (advanced choir), and AP Jazz Choir (a zero period class). She's also in theatre after school. She's currently halfway through a great run of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," in which she is playing Hippolyta. She's looking forward to the spring musical, mainly because she is pretty much guaranteed a major part. See, Snapper has been gifted with an INCREDIBLE voice. She's the first chair first soprano, and she just found out she was chosen for All-State Choir! She's humble about her gifts, though, and hasn't let it go to her head at all. Snapper has always struggled to find friends who are willing to accept her out-of-the-box personality. In fact, friends have been few and far between for her. She went all through middle school without having a single real friend. Not the case anymore! The sophomore class at our church is a really unique, amazing group of kids. Snapper fits like a glove! I've never met such an awesome group of high schoolers. They have so much fun together, whatever they do, and they encourage each other. After so many difficult years for Snapper (no friends, the upheaval in our family, and major anxiety and PTSD), it is such a joy to see her thriving. She also has a  precious young man in her life whom we currently refer to as her "Bestie." Yes, Bestie is her best friend. But there's a tender sweetness toward each other that I believe will blossom as they both gain a few more years. For now, we're encouraging and supporting their friendship within the protection of his family and ours, and their group of wonderful friends. They are 100% on board with us, and are doing a great job of honoring each other and the moms and dads. Since I don't have a great recent photo of her, I'll give you one of the two of them last week. His jazz band competed at the jazz festival, and her jazz choir competed, too. After it was done, his mom (who is my best friend) and I took them out for ice cream to celebrate.

As for me, I'm blessed. Despite all the complications of PTSD and some other still undiagnosed health concerns, I'm doing better than I have in years. I've lost much of the stress weight I gained during Sunny's really awful years. I love homeschooling Pepper and spending my days with Sweet Pea. I have the two best friends in the entire world. Our church is strong, supportive, and safe, and I'm growing leaps and bounds in my faith, and in my understanding of God's Word. My life is back to being manageable again. I have enough time and energy to maintain my home, care for my husband and kids, spend plenty of time with my friends, and pursue the things I love to do. My knee surgery in January 100% solved my pain and mobility issues, and I can walk and run without pain for the first time in 10 years. My relationship is super healthy with all my kids but Bubbles (and I know that will heal as we work through the junk she's going through right now). And there has been a drawing back together for Matt and me as we're able to breathe and have time for each other again.

Blessed. Life isn't easy. In fact, the last few years have been downright hard...even awful. But through it all, I can see how incredibly blessed I am. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

2-Year-Old Delight

Sweet Pea is in the throes of toddlerhood. She's 2 1/2, and full of feisty, spicy, zesty spunk. She gets into mischief every single day.

Yesterday she didn't get seated right on the potty and made a mess. She spilled a bottle of lavender essential oil trying to cover up the smell. And she dunked a washcloth in the toilet to get it wet so she could clean up the mess. And she sat on our bed when she was done...but she had forgotten to wipe.

Oh mercy!

This afternoon I noticed that she was too quiet. I went in to check on her and found her sound asleep in her bed. Naked as a jaybird. When she came out after her nap, I sent her to bring me her clothes. She came back in wearing a nothing but a tiara and Princess Sofia high heels, and carrying a glittery gold purse and a baby doll.

Too much cuteness!

Right now she's tearing around the house wearing Sofia the First undies and a big sister's training bra. Someone brushed out her curls this evening and she looks like a dandelion gone to seed. Her whole body is decorated with green marker artwork, and she has black sharpie "lipstick" on her lips. Every minute or so, she'll stop in her tracks, wildly wiggle her hips, throw up her arms and yell, "Waggle Waggle Dab! I dancin' like a rock star!" And then she's off again, giggling like crazy.

She tears me up! I can hardly stand it!

At night she climbs into bed with me for our bedtime cuddle ritual.
"'Nuggle me, Momma? Pretty please you 'nuggle me?"
I could send her to her bed because I take evening meds that make me super sleepy and I just want to sleep. But I don't send her away. I pull her close, stroke her face, and feel her melting into me. She strokes my arm with her little fingers and sings me little love songs that she makes up on the spot. They are her own, free, imaginative tunes. They usually speak of what we did that day, how much she loves me, and how 'nuggles are her favorite things. She bats her eyes at me and asks very politely for a "sleepy snack." This is our routine and I am prepared. I produce the string cheese that I had waiting on my nightstand. She eats her cheese, sharing nibbles with me. I hold her for a few minutes more. Then she rolls over, squeezes me tight, kisses each cheek, my forehead, and my lips. I kiss her back. We whisper "I love you forever" and she climbs into her own bed in the corner of my room.

So much love. So much joy. So much delight!

Is she a stinker? Heck yes! But oh, my heart! How I love my little Sweet Pea!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Unearthing Treasure

Sometimes I feel like raising a child is like unearthing buried treasure. It's such a long process to watch your child grow and develop, and there's not much in parenting that's more fun than when you child discovers his/her talents, gifts, and passions.

Snapper tried a lot of different things over the years. She did Scottish Country Folk Dance, ballet, swim team, karate, musical theater, volleyball, choir, and piano. She stunk at dance, was fair at volleyball, and has been outstanding at everything else. Now she's a freshman in high school, and is honing in on what she loves.

Snapper loves performing.

In 4th and 5th grade she sang in her school chorus. She lit up the stage with her animated face and whole-hearted singing.

In 6th grade she totally wowed us by winning her school's public speaking competition, and then going on to take 2nd place out of all the 6th graders in the entire county!

In 7th grade she recited Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" and got top honors. She also landed--and totally owned--the part of Sally Brown in "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown."

In 8th grade she sang in chorus again and sang a solo in a Christmas special. She also was in "Annie Get Your Gun" at school. In April she sang in the state vocal festival and earned a Superior for her solo.

This year she started piano lessons. She is singing in concert choir at the high school and was a soloist in the fall concert. She recited a poem in the mandatory school-wide poetry recitation competition, won for her class, and earned a spot in the final. She went up against the other 19 finalists (five from each grade) and took third place in the high school! That achievement earned her an invitation to join the JV Debate team in the fall, and an invitation to audition for the spring play. She auditioned and landed one of the female leads. With the encouragement of her choir director, Snapper entered in a vocal competition.

The competition was today. Snapper is only 14 years old, and she has some pretty amazing pipes. She did a great job on her song, "Songs My Mother Taught Me" by Dvorak. The judge started to give her critique, and then she changed her mind. She said, "You have so much potential. I'm going to give you a voice lesson here and now. I want to see what you can do." So she did. She spent seven minutes with Snapper, giving pointers and having her do a few vocal exercises. Then she had her sing part of her song again.

Y'all, it completely took my breath away. I'll let you watch the video so you can see what I mean. I think today would make it onto my list of Top Proud Mommy Moments.

The video is a brief clip of Snapper's initial performance, followed by a couple of vocal exercises, followed by a clip of her second try at the song after the little voice lesson. The judge was so pleased! She was beaming and delighted with the change. She never did critique Snapper or tell her what rating she got. She'll get her score sheets back at school on Monday. the way...she doesn't get her vocal talent from me! LOL!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

New Year, New Habits

I love the start of a new year. I know it isn't really any different than any other day, but symbolically it is. The first few weeks of the year always feel so fresh to me, and I've found it to be the best time for me to make any changes that I need to make. I don't do New Year's Resolutions, but I do evaluate myself and work on establishing new habits. On the list for this year:

1. Tighten up the boundaries in our home. If there's one thing I've become more and more aware of on this mothering journey, it's that kids feel safer and function better if they live within the healthy limits of secure boundaries. Honestly, I find that I am more secure within healthy boundaries, too.

So what do those tighter boundaries look like?

Holding to Routines

I have morning routine charts posted in the kitchen and in the kids' bathrooms. The charts are very simple...a picture and a few words for each task. The kids must do their tasks in order. I'm back to being firm about these routines.
1. Up and dressed
2. Make bed
3. Hair and deodorant
4. Care for animals
5. Breakfast
6. Brush teeth
7. Clean up your trail (in other words, do a quick pass through the house and put away your stuff)

After school routine
1. Shoes put away
2. Bring mom your school folder
3. Clean and put away lunchbox
4. Snack
If it is your laundry day, start your load
5. Throw away trash
6. Homework
Cleaning chore (MWF only)

Evening routine
1. Care for animals
2. Dinner
3. Kitchen chore
4. Tidy your room
5. Shower and brush teeth

On weekends we have a routine, too. After the regular morning routine is done, the kids each do their cleaning chore. All week long I collect items that have been left out and put them in a box. The kids must do extra cleaning chores to redeem their boxed items. One chore gets three items out of the box. One Saturday per month we go out and do a barn and coop cleaning. After that, everyone is free to play.

Sticking like glue to these routines makes more successful kids. And less stressed Momma. Having the routines posted makes it easier, too, because when I see someone out of line, I just send them to look at the chart. No nagging.

Healthy Eating

We always are pretty healthy eaters, but we tend to get sloppy over the Christmas season. January is always a great time to get things cleaned up and back onto a healthy track. For us, this means severl things.
1. I am back to gluten free for me. I'm gluten intolerant, and my doctor suspects I have celiac disease. I opted to forego testing and just assume I have celiac. I was gluten free for three years and it transformed my health. When I was pregnant with Sweet Pea, all I could keep down was dry sourdough toast. My intent was to go back to gluten free eating after Sweet Pea was born, but I never did. Today is Day 3 of no gluten, and I already notice a difference in my skin. Awesome sauce!
2. For the rest of the family, it's back to only one sweet per day. Maybe it's a piece of candy after school, or syrup on pancakes with breakfast, or a soda if we go out.
3. It's also increasing our veggie load at dinner. It's so easy to boost the veggies, often by doing something as simple as adding grated carrots or zucchini to a meatloaf, putting pureed spinach in spaghetti sauce, or requiring three extra bites of broccoli. If a kid eats three extra bites of veggies at every dinner, that's 21 bites more of veggies per week!
4. For me, it's getting off my lazy butt and fixing a better snack for the kids after school rather than stocking a basket with Cheez-It pouches. It's very easy to spread peanut butter on five pieces of whole grain toast, or to throw yogurt, banana, and frozen strawberries into the blender.
5. Consistent meal planning is key. I'm always good at this, and I'm right back to it after two weeks of flying by the seat of my pants. Having a crock pot and an Instant Pot help tremendously in following through with cooking at home.

Cutting Back on Electronics

We're not an electronic-friendly home. We have a TV (Netflix only, no cable), a Blu-Ray player, computers, Kindles, and a Wii. But I like for those things to be turned on as infrequently as possible. Here are our electronics rules, back to being enforced after a month of laziness.
1. No TV on school days
2. Paper homework done before electronic homework can be started
3. Weekend Wii time must be earned by reading during the week. For 4th grade and up, they earn 30 minutes of Wii for every hour they read. For the younger kids, it's 30 minutes of Wii for every 30 minutes they read.
4. Computers are for schoolwork only.
5. Kindles may be used only after routines are completed and inspected.
6. All Kindles and computers must be plugged into the charging station in the office at 8:00. The only exception is for Snapper, who is in high school, and often needs to be online later.
7. On weekends, no TV or Wii until weekend chores are completed, and not before 3:00 p.m.

Mommy and Daddy have new rules, too.
1. No social media until the kids are at school.
2. Electronics are shut down during homework time.
3. No phones at the table or in bed.

What are some of your New Year habits or hacks that work for your family? Please comment! I love to learn from others.