This Weekend

I would love to blog more but time is always a problem... 
This was our weekend:
Friday: My husband, Yelena and I had a nice dinner together and watched a movie. I noticed a bracelet that I had never seen before sitiing on the coffee table and asked Yelena where it came from. She said that a friend gave it to her. I asked which friend. She finally said C. So I asked if it was OK if I called C's Mom to check and she said NO. She said she found it on the ground at school and we asked why she had not turned it into the lost and found. Meltdown. Finally got her to bed after an hour of screaming. 
Saturday: We have two exchange students from Mexico living with us. It is my only source of income at the moment and we really enjoy having them but as far as Yelena is concerned it was a big mistake. She is intensely jealous of them and any time we spend with them or attention that we give them. Apparently, Yelena was in the Mexican girls room Saturday morning. They asked her to leave and then they closed their door and she started to knock on the door for awhile and shoot rubber bands at the door. She thought it was funny but eventually stopped. They were freaked out by her behavior. My husband  gave the girls his cell phone and told them to call us if anything like that happens again. 
Yelena went for a playdate with a friend from her old school. When she came home, her friends Mom came up to the door and said that Yelena had said that she didn't want her to come in and that she just wanted to be dropped off. We were curious as to why she didn't want her to talk to us. Her friends Mom said they had a great time and Yelena was well behaved and that she spent the $10.00 she had on Yugioh cards. My husband and I looked at each other - Did you give her $10.00? No. Did you give her $10.00? No.
We asked Yelena where she got the money from. I told her that if she told me the truth quickly there would be less of a consequence than if she didn't tell me for awhile. She was supposed to go out to a movie and I said if she told me what happened she could go (mainly because I felt like we all needed time apart.) She wrote me a note that said: "I took the money from your purse. Are you happy now?" My husband was ready to call the Crisis Team.
Sunday AM: While Yelena was taking a shower and getting ready for Hebrew School, I went into her bedroom and right in the middle of her bed in plain sight was my old wedding ring. She did not seem to have any recollection when she took it or where she took it from. It was also not hidden and placed in such a way that it was screaming: FIND ME.
So, I took her to Hebrew School while my husband called the Crisis Team and they were waiting for us when we got back. I actually went out for the rest of the afternoon so I can't give a first hand report but my husband said she was very volatile.
The plan that she did with the crisis team states as the goal: "Client will display good behavior within the next three days to be able to go to Thanksgiving in NY." I wouldn't have written it like that... Also, My husband said that Yelena said she wan't sure she could do that. 
Today with her therapist, she said she didn't want help that she just wanted us to send her to jail. This is the second weekend in a row that we have had the Crisis Team in our home. Last weekend, she "broke into" the Mexican girls room and stole a huge bag of left over Halloween candy and rifled through one of their purses.  I say broke in because everyone now has combination locks on their doors and somehow she figured out the combination and went into their room. 
The stealing and lying has been escalating to epic proportions in the last few weeks. She doesn't seem to have a lot of remorse or shame about it. She knows the rules about stealing and lying but somewhere there seems to be a disconnect between thought and action. The impulse seems so strong that it is not modified by any mere cognitive idea. We can't leave her alone at all. She had her period recently and it could be hormonal or she needs her meds re-evaluted and tweaked. I don't know. I just know that I am totally spent.


A Snapshot of Yelena

I stopped at the grocery store the other day on the way home and Yelena decided to stay in the car and start on her homework. When I got back to the car, she had the passenger side sun visor in her hand and it was clearly broken. She was visibly distressed and said: "I'm so sorry. It was an accident. I didn't mean to do it. Are you going to be angry with me?" I said "Well, I can't say that it makes me really happy that it is broken." Yelena responded angrily by saying "You blame me for everything! All you want to do is get me in trouble!"


My Life as a Parent of a Traumatized, Attachment‐Disordered Child

I have copied this from The Attachment and Trauma Network (http://www.attachmenttraumanetwork.org/) because it is a really good description of my life. I am sitting here at my computer tonight feeling very frustrated and doing research on "developmental trauma disorder" and alternate therapies such as neuro-reorganization, EMDR, neuromodulation, neurofeedback, etc.

Note: This letter was written by members of the Attachment & Trauma Network (ATN)
as an example of how to talk about your own personal experiences and share your
family’s struggles with people who may want to, but don’t, understand. Feel free to use
any parts of this document as you edit this story to make it your own. Julie Beem,
Executive Director, ATN (http://www.radzebra.org/)

I’m giving you this letter because you have expressed an interest in my experience as a
parent of a traumatized, attachment‐disordered child. It is not a story I relate to you
lightly. My child has some very special needs and because of this, so do I. I need people
to understand what our family faces, not just judge us as incompetent. It isn’t fair what
happened to my child or to me. But it is what we are both facing, and we face it
together everyday.

First, I’d like you to know that this letter was not written just by me. Parents from all
over the country are using it to tell a uniquely tragic story. This letter isn’t the ranting of
one isolated, overwhelmed, and oversensitive adult. I did not "do" this to my child. My
child came to me this way. Chances are he would be struggling with these same
behaviors and emotions in any family. My child's problems are not the result of poor
parenting by me. In fact, parents of traumatized children are some of the most
courageous, committed, resourceful, insightful, misunderstood and stressed‐out
parents around. We are not just bellyachers. We are in fact, front‐line troops in the
battle for civilization itself. If you think that’s somehow overinflated, consider the
statistics that most of today’s prison population was abused and/or neglected and many
have attachment‐related emotional problems.

So here is what happened—when my child was a little baby, at the time he was most
vulnerable, he did not get his basic needs met. Perhaps, he was not picked up when
crying, not fed when hungry, left alone for hours, or left with various strangers for days.
Perhaps he was beaten, shaken, or otherwise physically or sexually abused. Perhaps he
had chronic or unmitigated pain due to medical procedures and had no way of
communicating his distress. I might guess at these details of my child’s trauma, but I will
never likely know the full truth. Because of this neglect and abuse, my child became
traumatized and was convinced that he was going to die. He learned that he could not
trust anyone to meet his needs. And every day since, when my child wakes up in the
morning, this deep‐seated anxiety gets reloaded. In order to survive, he has become
unconsciously committed to never, ever being vulnerable again. He uses all of his basic
survival intelligence to control an outside world he feels he cannot trust. All his
existential energy is focused on keeping people far enough away so he won’t get hurt
again, but close enough that they won’t leave him either. Unfortunately, he is never
really satisfied with either proximity and is therefore constantly in a “push them
away/pull them close” dilemma. As his adoptive (or foster or biological) parent, I live
everyday in this no man’s land of damaged intimacy. I’ve been emotionally wounded
from the many times I’ve tried to break through my child’s formidable defenses. Those
who don’t need to get as close—teachers, relatives, neighbors, etc.—won’t experience
the full intensity of these primal defenses. So if you are lucky enough to see him
withdraw or witness one of his rages, you are probably getting close—so good for you!
But if this does happen, please remember that you are witnessing a child stuck in a
desperate fight for survival—he has become once again that scared, traumatized baby,
absolutely convinced he has to control you and everything in the world in order to be
safe. It can’t get more primal than that.

As his parent, I am dedicated to helping him realize that I am not his enemy. It is that
stark, I’m afraid. But not hopeless. During these very difficult years, I have tried many
approaches to parenting of my special child. The standard, traditional disciplinary
approaches used by my parents were obviously tried first and were an instant failure.
Star charts and behavior‐based rewards came next, and they did not work either. I have
tried using praise rather than criticism, bribery, ignoring destructive behaviors, created
known‐in‐advance consequences listed on print‐outs. I’ve hired numerous specialists;
cleared all possessions out his bedroom; taken away TV and computer privileges.

Nothing has changed his dangerous, self‐destructive behavior. His response is more
primal, more subconscious, and has little to do with a situation or possessions involved.
It has to do with the fear that’s triggered, the trust that was broken, the chaos he feels.
It’s like he is having emotional seizure, as cascading brain chemistry takes him over. He
doesn’t choose this – I don’t choose this—it just happens. So our days are mostly filled
with emotional explosions and uneasy calms between the storms. When it does get
quiet, I’m nervous about when the next bomb will hit. Each day is filled with anxiety,
fear, guilt, and shame for us both. It is like we’re living on an emotional minefield, and
the mines keep regenerating, exploding again and again.

What I face daily is, that despite my best efforts to be a loving caregiver, my child’s early
developmental trauma has created a discord that is a true paradox. For example, I may
try to gently calm my upset child, but this is not experienced as soothing to him. So his
trauma is triggered and he may withdraw, shut down or lash out. This causes me to get
stressed as my child reacts counter to my intention. Now my stressful reaction starts to
feel familiar, even “safe”, to him, so he works (often subconsciously) to expand this, and
we descend into deeper and deeper dysfunction and chaos. To my child’s traumainjured
brain, this dysregulated feeling, which feels painful to healthy people, actually
feels normal to him. And I’m left feeling stressed, angry, and emotionally spent.
Absolute total consistency (at home and at school) does help somewhat. Parenting
traumatized children like this is nothing like parenting emotionally healthy children. The
responses you receive can be very unrewarding and punishing, since moments of
closeness and intimacy are very rare and can trigger a trauma reaction. My beloved
special child is often willing to do for others (even complete strangers) what he is not
willing to do for me (this is another behavior common with attachment disorder).

The damage done due to early childhood trauma and not being able to safely attach to a
trusted caregiver has left my child with the emotional development of a toddler or
infant. But the big difference is that my child is not a toddler. He’s much older and
knows how to swear, punch a hole in the wall, and swing his fists or feet to hurt others.
Imagine the terrible‐twos lasting for years and years, escalating in intensity and effect—
I’m a parent of a 100+ pound, physically coordinated, verbally adept, emotionally
trigger‐happy baby.

Imposing limits isn’t enough. My child must be helped to accept these limits and
internalize the self‐regulation, self‐soothing, and self‐control required to do so.
Rewards and punishments focus on the outside, observable behaviors, not the internal
underlying process that creates these behaviors. At the same time, he does not need us
to lower our expectations for either his behavior or his academic performance. What he
needs is help in accepting and reacting to these expectations with flexibility and selfcontrol.
He needs to restart the developmental process and move beyond an emotional toddler.
He needs to move out of this developmental disarray toward a more civilized, balanced inner process.

Our family needs support, education and understanding. We did not expect that this
would be our daily reality, and it isn’t easy. I may seem stressed, fearful or angry. I am
frequently overwhelmed. I am making significant sacrifices so that my child can rise
above the chaos of his trauma and find true hope and healing. We all have amazing
abilities to adapt, as adversity can deepens us and perhaps this will be so for my child as
they confront deeply sealed wounds and transgressions. But we must go beyond
intellectual definitions of “normal” and “cured” and think of it in another way: Can
someone’s affliction, which has shut off various levels of meaning from their life, be
mitigated enough to possibly reopen some of those channels? Or put another way, if
left alone without special effort, will these kids descend into more and more chaos?
Clearly, the answer to both questions is yes. Therefore, the effort and sacrifice I’m
making in my life for him, and the help you are now hopefully willing to give me, is of
great value. Help me help my child realize the true blessing life can be.

Thank you for reading this.


Thursday Night: April 21

First, I want to thank my wife for documenting in this blog a diary of the special challenges and struggles that we as parents of adopted children face.  These children have been hurt deeply in ways that many times we know nothing about and that happened before we even met them.  I am the only father that Yelena has ever known and very often I feel powerless, inadequate and frustrated when my good intentioned efforts to love, nurture and to teach Yelena the basic skills necessary to function, form healthy relationships and to respect other’s property and feelings prove totally ineffective.  On the contrary, my repertoire of efforts to parent, which come primarily from the ways I was parented, usually result in exacerbating Yelena’s tantrums and do not help her to connect any of her behaviors (including stealing, playing with fire and threatening her mother and I with knives and fists) with any consequences (loss of privileges, chance to earn them back, etc.) that follow. 

It seems that thus far, in the ongoing struggles to love and parent our daughter, any of the consequences that I try to enforce are taken in by Yelena as another justification that I am the “mean daddy”.  All too often I take this in personally, become outraged (I would never talk to my father that way), and argue with my wife about backing down from enforcing consequences such as, “Yelena, when you are punching us or waving a sharp object at us I will call the police and/or crisis team because that is unacceptable.” 

I feel deeply inside myself the frustration that taking Yelena’s behavior personally is not helpful and yet almost all of the time (even though I am a psychotherapist with over 30 years of experience), I have absolutely no idea in the moment what to do. Except to remember that  twelve years ago in a far away land and for the first year and a half of her life Yelena was deeply hurt. Then she was taken away by two strangers in a big flying machine thousands of miles away to another far away land. When I remember this, it helps me to not take anything Yelena does or says too personally.

Late Thursday night, it occurred to me that perhaps the reason that it helps me have compassion for my daughter is that in my life, I have been deeply hurt too.   


Vacation Week

Saturday night Yelena had a sleepover with a friend and came home late Sunday evening. Monday morning she slept until 12 PM! I can see her slipping into the teenage life. I think she was also really tired and had not slept much Saturday night. I didn’t wake her because I had a lot to do for our Passover Seder that night and I was grateful for the extra time.

Yelena’s father had offered to take her out to the farm to see the chickens in the afternoon which she usually loves to do but she said that she would rather stay and help me. I was pleased that she wanted to do that so I suggested we clean up a little before we started cooking, wash dishes, empty the dishwasher, etc. She said she didn’t want to so I suggested she go upstairs and take a shower. I thought she had gone upstairs and about a half and hour later my cell phone rang with a number that I didn’t recognize. It was Yelena saying that she was at our next door neighbor playing with legos. She came home right before our company came, took a shower and put some nice clothes on. A little while later she came into the kitchen with her two friends who live down the street. I greeted them and asked where their Mom was and they said she wasn’t with them and I asked them how they got to our house and they said Yelena came and got them. She had to cross the street to go get them and she did not tell me she was leaving. I’m not sure how to deal with her leaving the house without telling anyone…

We had 13 people at our Seder which included 5 girls around Yelena’s age and of course Elijah which made 14. Yelena didn’t get to bed until after 10 PM that night. Tuesday she went to a vacation program at the local Girl Scout Camp where she goes in the summer and loves. She had a therapist appointment on Tuesday afternoon so I picked her up a little early. When we got home she asked to watch a movie and I told her that she needed to do some homework before she watched any TV. For some reason, I think due to another impending round of MCAS, she got an inordinately large amount of homework over the vacation and they usually don’t get any home work over vacations.

Yelena had done some of the work over the weekend. I had asked her to do a little bit every day before she was allowed to watch TV. She spent about 15 minutes and then came upstairs and said “Can I watch TV now?” I asked to see the homework to make sure it was done and she showed me the pages which were incomplete and very carelessly done. It was obvious in several places that she hadn’t either read or understood the question and just wrote down a hasty answer. I commented on this saying that I would be happy to help her. She got snarly and rude and said “OK, now I have to go all the way downstairs and do some of this stupid homework and then come all the way upstairs again.” Which she did do but with no more of the questions answered than she had the first time. I decided to leave well enough alone and said she could watch TV for an hour.

At the end of an hour, I asked her to turn off the TV and to come have dinner which she did. We had some leftover chicken soup with matzo balls. She sat sideways at the table and held her bowl in her lap. When I suggested that this was not the proper way to eat soup at the table, she got snarly again, drank the rest of the soup right from the bowl and stormed out of the room. It was bath time and she ran upstairs and locked herself in the bathroom. She said, “I am going to take such a long shower that there won’t be any hot water left for you tomorrow morning.”  I had wanted to give her her medications so I tried to open the door (I can do it with a paper clip when she locks herself in). She threw all her weight against the door and refused to let me in. I added a ½ of an Ativan to her meds to try and calm her down and tried again. After I was finally successful in getting her to take the pills, she locked the door again and I decided to lie down on my bed and read rather than to continue with a battle of wills that wasn’t going anywhere.

After awhile, I heard the shower go on and then after about ½ an hour, I knocked on the door and said that it was time to get out of the shower and get her jimmies on. I opened the door and Yelena was standing in the tub covered with bright red nail polish. There was nail polish on the sink, all over the tub, the shower curtain and the walls. My immediate reaction was anger and I turned and went downstairs to get the bottle of nail polish remover and asked her to start cleaning the tub when I returned. After a couple of minutes I realized that I should be concentrating on cleaning her up and getting her into bed rather than cleaning the bathroom.  She had painted designs on her arms. I asked her what had happened and all she could say was that it was an accident and the bottle had spilled. I started to wash her off with acetone and she started screaming. For someone without sensory issues, acetone is a pretty powerful smell and she had it all over her hands and had a few small cuts on her hands that stung really badly. I went and got the other ½ of the Ativan for her. I concentrated on her face and hands and left her legs (that wouldn’t be seen at camp when she had her clothes on) for another day. 

She was sobbing when I put her to bed so I lay down with her for awhile and she started talking about how scared she was about the rest of the MCAS and how her teacher had told her to hurry up and put a lot of pressure on her and then wouldn’t let her go to recess. It’s mostly in our heart-to-heart talks when she is in bed that she is able to tell me a lot of stuff that has been happening to her. She said she couldn’t go back to school on Monday and she was really scared of her teacher and didn’t think she could manage the rest of the year. It was after I said goodnight to her and went to the bathroom that I saw the inside of the toilet which was covered in nail polish. How she managed to do that, I have no idea...

The next day was Wednesday. I had to pick her up a little early from camp as she had an appointment with her psychopharm nurse. After her appointment, we did a few errands and then headed home for dinner. When I suggested homework she started slapping me with a computer cable. She went into the bathroom to take a bath. When I went in to get her after she had been in there for 45 minutes (shades of the teenager to come), I saw hair lying all over the sink and the floor. She had cut her “sideburns” off and she had cut about a one inch square area right in the front center of her forehead down to the scalp. And she had also cut off her eyebrows. I asked her what was going on and she said it was an accident. She started to cry and say that everyone was going to laugh at her and tease her. She sat down stark naked on the floor of my bedroom and said “OK, please just kill me now. Please kill me. Just kill me. I don’t want to live.”  Another Ativan - I didn’t bother to cut it in half.

I said that I could do two things to help her, we could either shave off her whole head or I could cut some bangs to try to cover the bald spot, She said “OK, then shave my head.”
Never suggest something that you are not prepared to do… I cut bangs for her. She wore a baseball cap to camp for the last two days of the week. She has asked me a few times if I like the way it looks and I answered her question with a question: “Do you like it?” I think she kind of does like it. I’m not sure if she thinks it’s cool and very Goth or she likes it because it is different and will get her some attention. I don’t think she has any idea what kind of attention that it might get her in school. I asked her tonight if she wanted me to try to even out her eyebrows (she did a very choppy looking job) and she said no, she likes it the way it is. I modeled head bands and scarves but I don’t think she is going to want to wear any of it to school. The kids are not allowed to wear hats during the day at school and if an exception was made to the rule she would just stand out even more. I did send an email to the school today just so they would be ready for her on Monday:

Yelena has had an extremely difficult vacation week which almost required crisis intervention services on two occasions.  On the advice of members of her outpatient treatment team, who we will be meeting with on Monday morning, it was suggested that we inform you of the following before she returns to school on Monday.

Due to her emotional distress this week, she has been unable to focus on the vacation homework assignment packet despite our many attempts to encourage her with reward contingencies for her to accomplish some piece of it each day.  Each attempt has usually escalated into major tantrums. She is worried that she will be punished for not completing her homework assignments.

She has been engaging in concerning behaviors, such as cutting off her eyebrows and patches of her hair.  We anticipate that it will be again a struggle to get her to return to school on Monday both for fear of being reprimanded by her teacher (which she has already stated) as well as her usual hypersensitivity and anxiety about being teased.

We have tried to remedy the situation by cutting bangs to hide the bald spot in the front of her head and have discussed the wearing of a headband or scarf but we are not sure that she will want to do that on Monday. She has been wearing a baseball cap for the past few days and we know that she cannot wear a hat at school. And you can’t miss the eyebrows…

It will be helpful in getting her to school on Monday if we can tell her that we have already informed the school staff of all of the above and she does not need to worry. We will assure her that the staff at Plympton will be there to support her during this emotionally difficult time.

We also need to find out what the dates are for the upcoming MCAS because Yelena has already become anxious about it and we need to be able to console her by letting her know exactly when they are so she does not worry needlessly. She also reported that for the last MCAS that she was told she was taking too much time and that she missed recess as a consequence. We know she has accommodations for the test and hope that the future MCAS will go more smoothly for her.

Thanks for your concern and help.


The Boy From Baby House 10

This was an amazing eye opening book about children lost in the "child care" system in Russia. They just did a segment on Dateline about it and it is definately worth taking a look at. 
There but for the grace of G-d...
Go to http://www.msnbc.com.  Click on the "Dateline" tab.  The video is in six parts. They just follow one after another. The whole thing is not terribly long.



This has been a very rough week and it’s all a jumble in my mind. I want to try to write things down as they happen so I can keep it all straight in my mind.
Yelena had two days of MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) testing this week and all the children get totally freaked out about it. I told her numerous times that it wasn’t important, the scores don’t matter and she should just try to do her best and relax. She came home and said her teacher said that they did get grades on it and that it was really important.
The school system does teach to the MCAS.  For 2010, Plympton has not made adequate yearly progress in either English Language Arts or Mathematics and their status is Corrective Action due to prior years’ reports.
The absurdity of even making a student like Yelena even take the MCAS (which she will fail) is mind boggling to me and then add the anxiety component on top of it and the situation becomes totally insane.
She had Language Arts this week on Wednesday and Friday. Math is sometime in May. Fortunately, her teacher did not give any homework most of the week.
She had a big meltdown Tuesday night. She didn’t have any homework to do and her instructions from her teacher were to have a good dinner, get a good night’s sleep, have a good breakfast and make sure to take all her medications! Medication is NOT under the jurisdiction of the school system. She was in a great mood and asked to be able to watch a movie because it was a special night and I said that she could watch for an hour before she ate dinner and took a bath and got ready for bed. Needless to say, that was a mistake on my part as she was incapable of turning off the TV after an hour. I ended up getting kicked and punched before I got her into a bath and to bed.
Wednesday was her first day of MCATs. When I picked her up at school, the front of her shirt was all wet. I jokingly asked her if she had dribbled her juice and she told me that she had thrown up in science class after the exam. I asked if she had gone to the nurse and what she had said but Yelena told me that she didn’t go to the nurse’s office which I thought was pretty strange. When we got home I asked her to go change her shirt and brush her teeth before she lay down and I called her teacher to see if I could get more of the story.
Her teacher told me that Yelena hadn’t really vomited; she had just regurgitated and spit up into the sink in the room. She also told me that she wasn’t there when it happened but the aide had been there and told her. She said that she hadn’t gone to the nurse because it was 2:30 pm and almost time to go home. What makes her such an expert on whether someone has “really” vomited or not especially if she wasn’t even there? Yelena continued to complain that her stomach hurt and she felt like throwing up so she wanted to cancel her appointment with her therapist and get in bed. She told me that she threw up again twice that evening and I’m not really sure if she did or not. My husband told me to ask her for “evidence” the next time she vomited. I asked why she hadn’t called me if she was sick and she asked me why she would. I said that it was comforting to have your Mom with you when you threw up and that my mother always held my head for me and her cool hand on my forehead always made me feel better.
The next day, Thursday, was not going to be a testing day and it was also an early release day so I decided to let her stay home. She slept until 10 AM which is very rare for her but I think she needed the rest. She did go to her chorus rehearsal and her social skills group that afternoon.
She had told me the day before that the kids were all spreading rumors about her throwing up in science class. (Is it a rumor if it’s true?) Of course, she ran into a girl from her class at chorus rehearsal and the first thing she asked her was if she had heard that she had thrown up in class. At her social skills group, she reported about throwing up as the low point of her week.
As an aside about social skills: we went to an event on Sunday and Yelena was playing with a bunch of kids. At one point I walked over to them and she told me that the boy she was playing with had gone to the same camp she had gone to and that he had wet his bed when he was there. He didn’t looked very put out by her comment (he must have told her all about it) but the other kids looked surprised. I tried to explain to her that her comment was not appropriate especially in front of a whole bunch of kids.
Friday was another round of MCAS and it seemed to go well. Yelena and I had a pleasant evening together – we had dinner and watched Tangled before she went to bed.
Saturday morning she got up and read and listened to music. The three of us sat down to a breakfast of challah French toast and my husband casually asked her if she had left a folder with music in it in his car. All hell broke loose. Why? I don’t really know but she started a major tantrum based on that seemingly innocuous comment. She said that what was in the folder was personal and he had no right to look at it and she moved her chair away from him and closer to me (which he hates).
Things went from bad to worse. She picked up a fork that was on the table and said she was going to kill him. She said she was going to kill herself and she stormed out of the room and slammed the door. We finished our food and she came back screaming and yelling. I told her that she needed to take some time to herself to calm down and that I didn’t want to be around her when she was behaving this way. I went upstairs to my bedroom and picked up a book and started to read. She followed me up stairs and I asked her to go take a shower and get dressed as she was supposed to go to a friend’s house for a playdate (I hear that I am now supposed to say “hang out” instead of “playdate”.) She repeatedly refused to get in the shower, She took a picture of herself out of the frame that it was in and ripped it up into small pieces that she threw at me. She took a book and thrust it menacingly at my face repeatedly. She took a pointed metal nail file that was on my bureau and threatened me with it. After I had asked her to stop numerous times and repeated warnings of consequences, I finally said that I was not going to her friend’s house. Her behavior immediately changed. She calmed down and began to plead to be allowed to go. My husband came upstairs and said that if she wasn’t going to her friend’s house, maybe she would like to go to the farm with him. I said that I thought that if her behavior wasn’t good enough to go to her friends then it wasn’t good enough to go to the farm. He agreed.
Later, after she had been calmed down for awhile, he did take her to the farm and then out for ice cream. I had gone to a movie with a friend. After they got home, my husband found Yelena at my desk with both of my computers on, which she is not allowed to do. He repeatedly asked her to turn them off which she didn’t do so he pulled the plugs out. She cracked her knuckles, put up her dukes, looked at him menacingly and picked up a computer cord and spun it around in the air almost hitting him in the eye. He grabbed her hand to stop her and it hit her instead by accident. She then started to cry “You hit me, You hit me. I hate you.” She couldn’t let go of the fact that she had been hurt and it was all his fault…
She has been late for school every day this week. It has been very frustrating. We have been getting up earlier and earlier but it does not seem to help. I spent 2 hours cajoling her, tickling her, sweet talking her, threatening her this morning to try and get her to school. I feel like it is a small victory to get her there at all and I stop caring if she is late.
After Yelena’s appointment with her therapist on Wednesday, her therapist asked to speak with me and said that Yelena was not at all herself and she was very concerned about her behavior during the session – very anxious, unable to express what was bothering her, unable to play a game or sit still.

Yelena had a concert Thursday night and was worried for a few days that she wouldn’t be able to get her home work done that night so she asked me to write to her teacher. This is the email I sent:

I wanted to express my concern about Yelena's ability to do any homework Thursday night. She has her social skills group after school and then the all-city concert which starts at 7. Yelena is worried that you will get angry with her if she doesn't do her homework.

Her teacher’s reply:

I wasn’t planning on giving homework to the kids who are participating in the concert.  I am extremely concerned with Yelena being late for school on a daily basis; we can discuss this at the meeting on Monday.  See you then.

My reply to her teacher:

We are also extremely concerned about Yelena’s lateness. She is having a very difficult time right now. We are working with her therapists to figure out what is happening.

The meeting on Monday is for the IEP and I would like to keep it about the IEP. If you want to discuss Yelena's emotional distress, we can schedule another meeting to talk about that on Monday.
We have an IEP meeting on Monday morning. Oh my...


Childhood Trauma

While waiting for Yelena at her therapist's office today I found a really interesting article on international adoption. The article is in the February 2011 issue of Good Housekeeping and it is titled "Love Medicine" by Melissa Fay Greene . It is reprinted here by Theraplay:

In looking on the web for the article, I came across an interesting blog about Guatemalan adoption which had an interesting analysis of the article. It looks like an interesting blog and worth looking at: http://www.mamalitathebook.com/2011/02/melissa-fay-greene-article-in-february-2011-good-housekeeping/

There is also an article titled "The Poverty Clinic" by Paul Tough in the March 21, 2011 issue of The New Yorker.  It is about Nadine Burke, a physician who started a clinic in an inner-city neighborhood in San Francisco who noticed a high correlation between traumatic events in childhood and serious illness later in life.

"The traumatic events that (Nadine Burke's patient) experienced in childhood had likely caused significant and long-lasting chemical changes in both her brain and her body, and these changes could well be making her sick, and also increasing her chances of serious medical problems in adulthood." Tough talks about the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Study which deals with bridging the gap between childhood trauma and negative consequences later in life.   See: http://www.acestudy.org/

He ends the article by quoting Burke as saying,  "It's not that if we poured all of our money into treating ACEs the jails would empty out and we would no longer have any kids in special ed. But this is a huge, huge issue, and as a society I don't think we've even come close to grasping its significance."

It makes so much sense. A damaged child can grow into a damaged adult. We have so many hurt, abused, neglected children in this world.  It's a long hard road...


Wednesday Night

After Yelena and I finished dinner she went to play on her Wii for a few minutes while I did the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen.  I went into her backpack to get her lunch box to empty it out and clean it and I took a casual look through while I was there. I found two dollar bills. Our deal is if Yelena is on time for school she can buy lunch but if she is late she has to take lunch from home then next day. She loves buying lunch at school. It costs $2.00. The other day she told me that she could have lunch for free. I don't really think that's possible or maybe it is possible for children who need financial assistance but I explained that we can afford to pay for her lunch and we needed to do so. She had the money left over so I told her she could use it the next day and didn't give her any money. Obviously she didn't pay the next day either. Today she told me that she could get drinks for free in the lunchroom if she brought her own lunch. Something is going on here and I need to ask her teacher.

In the pocket of her backpack I also found a ring which belongs to one of her brothers. When he was in high school, his football team won the "super bowl" of their league and he got one of those huge clunky  championship rings with his name on it. It cost several hundred dollars as I remember. This is after I put a padlock on door to the boys room to keep her out of their stuff. I took a deep breath and finished cleaning the kitchen. I poured Yelena a glass of seltzer and got her pills out and put it all on the kitchen table and called for her to turn off the TV and come into the kitchen.

We have been trying to reward her for doing things that we ask her to do by giving her a quarter if she (for example) turns off the TV the first time we ask her too. The last few days it hasn't been working at all and I have had to say ten or fifteen times: "Please turn off the TV NOW." When she finally turned off the TV and came into the kitchen she asked if she was in trouble and I said: yes. I asked her what was on the table and she looked at the ring and said she found it in her toy bin (not true). I asked if she knew who it belonged to and she said yes. I asked if she knew that it was important to him and valuable and she said yes. I said (in my very calmest Love and Logic voice) "OK, Yelena, there is going to be a consequence. I don't know what it is going to be yet but try not to worry."

And then, of course, all hell broke loose. She had been drinking out of her silver baby cup that a friend had given her when she first came home and she took the mug and threw it in the trash screaming "I don't care. I don't care." I said (very calmly) "That's OK" and went upstairs. I turned on the bathtub for her and asked her to get undressed and went into my bedroom. She followed me, I sat down at the computer on my desk and Yelena started punching me in the arm over and over again. I asked her if she liked to hurt me. I asked her   if by hurting me she wanted me to hurt her back. No answer (too sophisticated a question). I said "Alright, that's enough please get undressed and get into the tub. If you don't want to take a bath you can just go into your room and go to bed if you prefer." I googled something on the computer and it came back "Your search did not match any documents. Suggestions: Make sure all words are spelled correctly." She started to laugh at me and tell me that I couldn't even spell and that I was so stupid. I turned off the computer and stood up to leave. She grabbed my sweater by the neck and I could hear the stitches rip. She twisted the neck until I couldn't breathe. She twists my necklace until it is choking me as well. I said "Enough. Let go of me." She twisted harder. I said "Yelena I will call the police if you continue."  She said "Send me to a CBAT. I want to go to a CBAT." She sat down at the computer and googled  "seebat" got nothing and then googled "seabat" and still got nothing that made sense. I turned the computer off. She took a magazine off my shelf and tore it up. She took the laundry basket and dumped it on the floor. She took a chain that she wears around her neck with keys on it and started slamming it repeatedly on the wall and then on the chair.

It all gets confused in my mind. How did I get here?  I am scared. I am frightened emotionally and physically. She is very strong and she does hurt me. I try to remain calm and centered. I want to cry. I want to hit her but I don't. I take my cell phone and go downstairs. I have been well trained at this point: don't yell back at her, protect myself, walk away, stay calm, don't say anything I might regret, think before I speak, stay calm, walk away... I go downstairs and use the bathroom. Yelena comes down and knocks on the door. When I open the door, she dissolves in my arms:  "I'm so sorry Mommy. I won't do it again. I'm so sorry." I don't believe it of course. I have heard that so many times before. It's hard not to be angry and something in me doesn't want to soothe her.  I cannot say: "Oh, sweetheart, it's alright. Every thing's okay. I know you didn't mean it" because that's not true. She can't promise me that she will never assault me again because she has promised me that a hundred times...

She says, "I am so stupid. I am so stupid. Aren't I?. Over and over again. I say "No, sweetie, you are not stupid." Over and over again. She says, "You hate me. You hate me. Don't you hate me?" I say, "No, sweetheart I don't hate you. I love you. I will always love you. I don't care for your behavior sometimes but I don't hate you."

Finally she gets in the bath. She is at the point where she is taking forever in the bathroom. I go in over and over again to check on her progress. Taking a bath and drying off and putting her pajamas on can take hours. She asked me the other day if she could shave her legs. I was shocked at the question but I think that I was probably 12 when I first shaved my legs. I tell her to wait for the summer. She cut her pubic hair off with a pair of scissors a few weeks ago. She told me she shaved her legs. Or the part of her legs she could reach and she shaved parts of her arm. I noticed last night when she was in the bath that she had totally shaved her pubic hair. I wishes she had let me help her. I worry that she will cut herself. Maybe we have to lock up the razors?

My husband came home and she was in her pajamas playing with the cat. He asked her how her day was, what happened, did anything upset her? (I had talked to him on the phone while she was in the bath.) I hold up the ring and ask her if she can tell Daddy what happened. We have a very calm but slightly befuddled conversation about it. We try to get the basic points across: You may not hurt us, you may not steal things. She is calm now so she says she understands but I don't know if she really does understand.

Monday Morning...

Yelena got to school at about 9:45 on Monday (it was closer to 9 AM on Tuesday).  I got up at the usual time and no amount of the usual cajoling, tickling and pulling the bedclothes off of her would get Yelena to stir. I finally laid down on the bed with her and started to rub her back. She tolerated it for a few minutes and then told me to get out of her room. I stayed where I was and she started to kick me. It’s hard to hold a child and rub their back and her while you are being kicked. I decided that I had enough of being kicked and I thought it would be better to stay with her rather than leave because in that case  we might never get to school. To occupy myself while waiting, I started to clean her room which really needed it. It is always a revelation to clean her room. Mostly old candy wrappers and an assortment of other peoples things that she has pilfered. I found a real Japanese sword under her bed that belongs to one of her brothers. Sticky Fingers…

We had a hard time last night. I’m not sure why but I certainly remember the feelings that I had on Sunday night when I was a child and I hated having to go back to school on Monday.

On Sunday, we volunteer for Family Table which is a food pantry through our synagogue. We go and pack bags of groceries for needy families and then deliver them. Yelena refused to help me so I packed all the bags myself. Yelena ate snacks  and told me she was organizing the food on the tables. In reality she moved the cans and bottles around for awhile and I didn’t pay too much attention because we would have been there all day. She helped me very briefly. I asked her to carry some of the bags out to the car for me. There was a red wagon that you could use to move bags of groceries and she became very fixated on that. She put 4 bags on the wagon and then went outside with them and refused to carry any more, I packed the car and we were off. She was nasty and snarly. She asked how much longer it as going to take and kept rolling her eyes. The first family we got to, Yelena stayed in the car and I carried the six bags up a flight of stairs and into the woman’s apartment by myself. At the next stop, I told her I needed her help and she had to get out of the car. I reminded her that we were doing a mitzvah and that there are a lot of people in the world less fortunate than we are. I had to remind myself silently that I was doing the right thing by dragging her through this – even if she resented participating, it was important that I show her that it was important to me to be a part of an effort to  help others who have less than we do.



Childhood trauma in particular. It breaks my heart. So many children who have been abused in one way or another and are suffering the effects. And will suffer the effects for a lifetime. It does not matter what kind of abuse, it is all abuse. The Ten Shekel Shirt video Fragile (see Video Bar) breaks my heart especially because of the child from the Russian orphange. That could have been my child. It could have been any one of us. There by the grace of G-d go you or I.

Some interesting websites about trauma:


Big Sisters

For about 2 years, Yelena has had a Big Sister who she has gone to events with, out for a movie or dinner or on a walk with, etc. A few weeks ago, Yelena asked me when she was going to see her again and I sent her an email saying that Yelena was asking about her. Although she is 12, Yelena doesn't really use the phone or email herself to be in contact with others or arrange meetings. Her Big Sister sent an email back saying roughly : A lot going on in my life right now, sorry I haven't been able to spend time with Yelena.

I emailed the social worker who works with us and asked her if she knew what was going on.  Meanwhile, Yelena asked again when she was going to see her Big Sister.

Last week, Yelena had an early release day from school so in an attempt to fill up some of the extra time we had, I took her to do some errands and we ended up spending some time at the Mall. I was trying to get Yelena interested in buying some new clothes.  I think that one of the reasons that she has so many problems with other kids is that she has no sense of how to dress. When she was in private school last year, one of her teachers convinced her to get some jeans and all the kids clapped and told her how good she looked when she walked in wearing them. While we were at the Mall, the social worker called me and told me that Yelena’s Big Sister couldn’t continue with the program due to personal issues. I asked if they could see each other one more time to say goodbye and she told me that she had asked her if she would do that but she had said no.

Yelena and I found a store called “Forever 21” that had some cute clothes and I sat down on the steps because I was tired while Yelena looked around. After about fifteen minutes she hadn’t returned so I went to looking for her and I couldn’t find her anywhere. I looked through the whole store, asked several people if they had seen her and then started calling her name. She finally appeared and I asked her where she had been and she told me she had been upstairs (the store had 2 floors) and I told her that I had been upstairs and had not seen her. I asked her to show me where she had been.  We went upstairs and then she told me that actually she had left the store and was playing with the video game machines in the hallway.

Very calmly, I tried to explain that I didn’t really care if she was playing with the video games but that she had to tell me where she was and it was not acceptable at all for her to lie to me. She got very upset because I was angry at her and while we were in the car driving home she said angrily: “Yeah, and when am I going to see my Big Sister again? I know when: Never!” I think it had been on her mind and I was upset that this woman wouldn’t see her again to say goodbye.

When I got home, I wrote the social worker a note and said:

I need to say again that even a very short meeting with Yelena would be really helpful. I could bring Yelena someplace to meet with her and make it a 15 minute visit. I just feel really strongly that with reactive attachment disorder and being adopted, Yelena is so very sensitive to any issues around feeling abandoned and rejected.  Without her Big Sister explaining to her personally what is happening and having her just drop out of her life, I think it will be very hard for her. Yelena will feel like this is just another instance where she has been rejected yet again. I don't know how to say it more plainly than that.

I am sorry for all of her troubles and I am willing to do anything to make it easier for her. Of course, if she can't manage it, then we will just have to deal somehow or other but I hate to have this happen to Yelena yet again.

A few days later I got a message saying that Yelena’s Big Sister would meet with her for a final cup of cocoa.

Today, when we were in the car going to the Farm to see all the baby animals and the chickens that she loves so much, she asked again when she was going to see her Big Sister. I told her that she was going to see her next Monday after school and then I told her that this would probably be the last time they would get together. Yelena said “But she’s one of my best friends!” She asked why and I told that I wasn't quite sure but that it wasn’t her fault but she would have to discuss it with her Big Sister.  I told her that she could get a new Big Sister and she said that she would have to be as special as her old one. She was really quiet and sad for while and I put my arm around her. There is no way to protect her against people leaving her life who she has grown attached to and I am sure that this will not be the last time something like this happens.


Do you hate yourself?

I dropped Yelena at school at 9:22 this morning. Yesterday I dropped her off at 9:05. School starts at 8:35. All the way there she was moaning in the car "Mrs. Bryce is going to kill me, Mrs. Bryce is going to kill me." In mock horror, I said:  "Is she really going to take a gun out and shoot you?" She said "No, she's just going to yell at me."  Because of her sensory issues, I think that Yelena feels that yelling at her is the same as killing her. I don't think I am able to imagine what it must feel like for her to have someone raise their voice and to speak harshly to her. Because I do not have sensory issues, I have no idea really how she perceives the world but I do know that she perceives it very differently than the way I perceive it. When she was younger, any change in our tone of voice that indicated we might be slightly less than pleased with her behavior, sent her into a crying fit that would last for hours. "Don't yell at me! Don't yell at me!" Any suggestion that her behavior needs to be modified usually results in her feeling like we are rejecting her.

She loves being able to buy lunch at school instead of taking something homemade. So we have a deal that if she is late to school then the next day she can't buy lunch. She took a lunch from home this morning and she will on Monday as well. We have defined being late by whether or not the crossing guard is still on the corner. If he is already gone then she is late.

She has asked me a several times in the last few days if I hate myself. The first time she asked I said that No, I didn't hate myself and I asked if she hated herself? She said no and I probed farther and asked if any other child had said anything to her at school about hating themselves. She said no and I left it at that.

This morning when she asked me if I hated myself I decided to take a different tack with her and said "No, I don't hate myself but there are certainly things that I don't really like about myself that I wish were different.  Do you hate yourself?. And then she said "Yes, I do hate myself." I asked if she could tell me why and she said no, it was private. I asked if there was anyone she could talk to about it and she said that she wanted to talk to the guidance counselor at school about it. So I said, "Well, for example, I wish I was thinner and I wish that I had a job." Yelena has a tremendous amount of compassion for other people and is very sympathetic when any one says things like that to her. She said, "Well, you are losing weight and you could look in the newspaper for a job.

Then I told her that I wish that I didn't get so angry sometimes and she started talking about how I can get  so angry at Daddy for small things that she doesn't think are important and I said "Yes, that's right. I need to work on that. Are there any things that you don't like about yourself?" Then she said that what she didn't like about herself was that Aunt Connie died and that nothing was any fun anymore without her.

My sister-in-law passed away last February after a long and valiant battle with metastasized breast cancer and Yelena loved her very dearly and had always felt as special bond with her. I have talked to her about how Connie is still with her and that she can always talk to her in her heart and that Connie is a spirit some where watching over her and helping her and will always be with her. I also pointed out that now we have Eliza in the family (my nephew got married last September to a wonderful woman who is a teacher and is also developing a special bond with Yelena) and that she made every thing we did with her a lot of fun.

When Yelena is sad or troubled she often brings up (most recently) her Aunt and says that her death is the cause of all her sorrows. Before Connie died, she used to talk about her grandparents death as being the thing that was bothering her. My parents died a long time ago and she never met them but she has seen pictures of them and heard stories about them. Tom's parents were both alive and we took her to visit his family shortly after we brought her home. Tom's mother was blind and bed ridden when Yelena met her and she passed away shortly afterwards. We have pictures of Yelena as a baby sitting with her and we have told her stories about our visit and how Grandma touched her face so that she could "see" her with her hands and how very much she loved her. Tom's Dad passed away when Yelena was 8 so she has more memories of him and photographs.

The next thing that Yelena said that she hated about herself was that Lucky and Toffie had died. We had two wheaten terriers that passed away recently. Lucky was 14-1/2 years old, unable to use his back legs and incontinent when we had to put him down in the late summer of 2009 right before we drove one of the boys to college in Pennsylvania for his first year. Toffie was 6 months younger than Lucky and very sad after he died but seemed to be fine for awhile and then she had what must have been a stroke about four months later and we had to put her to sleep as well.

Yelena has been inconsolable about the dogs. We got her a Siberian cat (hypo-allergenic - more or less) for Christmas last year and the cat immediately bonded with Tom and runs away when she see Yelena or myself. For her birthday this year, we got her two more Siberians and she finally has an animal that tolerates her picking her up and carrying her around. Yelena is gentle with animals but wants them to do what she wants so she can be a bit heavy handed and demanding of them.

Anything that is emotionally troublesome to Yelena will evoke a conversation about what she perceives to be the great losses in her life: the death of Aunt Connie, her grandparents or the dogs. I am sure that all of this has to do with her primary issues around attachment, abandonment and rejection. I think that when she feels strong emotions like hurt, anger, confusion, frustration, fear, it all just goes into the general mix and she reacts as if she is being abandoned and rejected. Maybe at some point I will be able to say that more eloquently but that's where I am with it at the moment.

I asked Yelena again if there was anything else that she hated about herself and she said that when friends come over and they fight that it really bothers her. This has been a problem. When Yelena is at other peoples houses she is usually very well behaved and a pleasure to be around. When another child comes to our house to play, Yelena can get very territorial. She also can be very demanding that everyone does what she wants to do and it frequently can end up in a fight between the children.  I told her that we can work on that and that when other kids come over to play that it is the right thing to do to let them play whatever they want because when they leave the she can do whatever it is she wants to do. When she has friends over to play (which is not that frequent) she should follow their lead and make sure they have fun so they will want to come back and play again. When they are gone and she is alone then she can do what she wants. Usually this is about watching TV. I think that Yelena has a very low frustration level and when things become too overwhelming, she retreats to watching TV because it is easy for her to do. Social situations are hard and take a lot out of her.

I asked if there was anyone she had a fight with recently and she talked about her friends from the Academy. Yelena goes to a social skills group once a week and the girls in that group have become her main friends. She has one friend at her regular school and a few others. She said that she never fights with Mimi but does with her sister. I said that Mimi's sister was older when she was adopted and remembered more about the country she came from so it was a harder adjustment for her and Yelena needed to be more patient with her.


Saturday morning I came downstairs to the smell of smoke. I found my daughter sitting at the kitchen table with two lighters and what was left of her birthday candles and the shabbat candles. There was wax all over the table and she had put a dishcloth down under the candles in a misguided attempt protect the table. I am not sure that she understood why I was angry and these situations become really difficult for me. She knows the rule and can recite it: We do not play with matches or fire. I think she knows what it means but I am not sure that she can connect the rule to what she was doing.

Yelena has a hard time with boundaries. Many different kinds of boundaries. What hers is hers and what belongs to anyone and everyone else is hers as well. Her old therapist used to call it "Sticky Fingers." I think that she just sees something she likes and it ends up in her pocket and she has no Jiminy Cricket to help her figure out what the right choice would be and ask: "Should I be doing this? Is this OK?" In fact, I am not sure that she has what other people would consider to be a conscience.

A few weeks ago I put a padlock on the door to the boys room and also one on the kitchen pantry. So I can lock the lighters and the candles in the pantry now. I thought she would be angry when I put the padlocks on but but I think she actually felt relieved.  I have tried to ask her what goes through her mind when she is about to do something wrong but I she can't articulate it. With the padlocks, the choice is taken away from her and she doesn't have to think about it at all.

Today when I picked her up from school, she told me that she had missed drama (her favorite) and her appointment with the school adjustment counselor because her teacher made her stay in the room and finish a science assignment that she had for homework last night.