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.