Taking changes hard

We’ve entered the Advent season–that time of year when in our family, we try to do a family devotion to help us filter out the noise of the world and remember the real reasons we celebrate Christmas.  We light some candles, sing some songs, do a bit of reading, and, this year, let the kids open a window on their Advent calendars.

J. hates this–all except the calendar bit. Perhaps he dislikes the change.  He certainly takes issue with the singing.  At the beginning of the week, he took to throwing and breaking the candles and such, and responding even more violently when we’ve refused to stop.  To keep things safe, we’ve had to move our little celebration to the parent’s bedroom a couple of times, but we’ve also had a few days when we’ve been able to do it all together, and that makes us hopeful.  Still, the week has felt long and stressful.  We hope that next week will be better, but we know it could be equally bad or even worse–J. is adding a new class at school (learning English will probably eventually help him feel like life is better, but at this point, an extra class is nothing but an unwelcome change.)



It has been a bit tough to be thankful this year because we’re all so stressed out and tense, but when we stop and think about it, there’s lots to be thankful for.  We’re all healthy, at least in body.  We have a warm house in cold weather and good food to eat.  Craig has a steady job doing work he finds meaningful (most of the time).  K. is thankful for ballet, and her performances this weekend have gone quite well.  B. is thankful for the stuffed harp seals that have been a comfort to him in a time of great stress.  J. says he’s thankful for money.  And I–I’m thankful that all of them are part of my life (even J. most days), and that we’ve learned to help J. calm his tempers some, and that God has given us strength and extra love, and that so many of my friends and family have stepped in to help us weather this time of difficulty in our lives.

It’s still hard, and we still need you all–but it’s good to take a minute and remember how very much we have to be thankful for.


Birthday, Big Bumps & Ballet

J. turned fourteen about a week ago.  His anticipation prior to the event was intense.  Together we planned out a big dinner to celebrate him–good friends, good food, fun games, and, of course, presents.  But the unusual attention seemed to also stress him out, and anytime presents or other things weren’t exactly what he had hoped for, his disappointment was intense.  This led to a tense, angry weekend with increasing violence that ended with a call to police Tuesday morning after J. punched me in the lip.

Since then, we’ve been working more intensively with our therapist and counselors to make sure that we are providing J. the love and direction he needs, but also the limits necessary to help him achieve safer, more appropriate behavior.  We think we’re making some progress.  At least I feel like I’m more in control of myself, and more able to be the parent.

The other major thing going on with kids right now is ballet–K. is gearing up for a Nutcracker performance next weekend.  She’s very excited about her three dancing parts (possibly four–she may have to step in for another little girl).  If you’re local and interested in seeing the show, get in touch with me before Tuesday (the 22nd), and I can probably get you set up with tickets.


J. has been looking forward to Halloween for weeks now, and I’m afraid that the reality didn’t quite live up to his expectations, but he did get out and collect about 250 pieces of candy.  He counted.  B. also counted up his stash and made a detailed log of exactly what kinds of candy he’d received.  Not sure why, but he feels it’s important to keep this record.  K. seems content to just eat her candy.

J. got lots of compliments on his police officer outfit, and a few people thought B. and K. also looked pretty good (Sherlock Holmes and an Autumn Pixie).  I’ll get pictures up when I can.

It took a long time to settle from all the excitement, but B. & K. eventually went to bed Monday night.  Despite not getting to bed until very late, J. managed to get to school on time on Tuesday, and the remaining days this week.  I think it was a bit uncomfortable for him at first to go without the translator, but he seems to have settled to it somewhat.

He’s also (usually) expressing his anger in more appropriate (less violent & disrespectful) ways, and he’s continuing to spend time hanging out with the rest of us playing games and fishing.

We’ve had some bad moments.  J. took off from a grocery store last Sunday, scaring us all quite a bit.  And then on Thursday, B. got quite sick, and at one point J. got in his face, and I made J. leave the house with Craig–and J. thought I was kicking him out permanently.  It took quite a while to straighten out that misunderstanding.  But once we apologized for making him think we were getting rid of him, and reassured him that we want him in our house, he seemed to settle down a lot.  And he’s still harassing Ben, but not quite as much.  It may help that they’ve each come up with role-playing games that they’ve convinced the other to try out.  Turns out they have more in common than either of them was willing to admit before.

K. is gearing up for performing in the Nutcracker with her ballet studio over the Thanksgiving weekend, so she’s had lots of rehearsals, and that has added a bit to the overall stress, but I think she’s excited about performing and glad to have something about her life that hasn’t totally changed.

When I look back to where we were a few months ago, I realize that we’ve come a long way, even though many days are still very hard.  I’m hopeful that at some point we’ll reach a new normal that will be less miserable for everybody.


So, with school starting for J, we had a bit of a rough week.  School itself seems to be going well, with J. liking the sports they’re playing, even though football is new to him.  However, at home, the first several days of the week, J. was acting out.  It came to a bit of a crisis on Wednesday with a lot of throwing stuff around, and some attempts to kick down doors to areas J. wasn’t supposed to go in.  However, J. refrained from hitting anybody, and though he made a big mess, most of it was readily fixable.

On Thursday, we got some help from a translator to talk some about expectations, and some of what life in a family looks like, and explain some of the things J. doesn’t understand.   We also started a small reward system for when J. meets these expectations, and we’ve seen him working very hard to do that.  He’s asking for permission before tearing up the yard and talking to us about what’s upsetting him instead of cursing us out.  And that’s all to the good.

Plus,J. has started wanting to be hugged like the other kids.  He jumps up in my arms and wants to be carried around (You can pray my back is up to the task–he’s a pretty big kid.)  Yesterday he wanted to be rocked for a bit.  Occasionally he’s started listening instead of making fun of me when I’m praying for him before bed.  And this morning, before school, he gave me a hug and said goodbye.   Almost like he’ll be glad to see me when I come pick him up from school this morning.  Or maybe not.  We’ll see.

I got lots of hugs from B & K this weekend too, on account of it’s being my birthday.  B. even gave me a new, improved hug pass–good for unlimited hugs and a couple of kisses a day!

We suspect there are still lots of hard times ahead, maybe even this coming week, but it feels a bit like we may have turned a corner.  I have a little hope that’s true anyway.

School Etc.

Pictureimg_20161016_094251 at left by K.  When she first told me this was social studies, I didn’t quite understand it, but then she explained that they were talking about the time in Europe when monarchs were discouraging their subjects from roaming, and one of the methods was the “That way be monsters” signs and pictures on maps.  So this sea monster comes from social studies, folks.

B. had a better than expected time at Outdoor Lab, so that’s good.  He came home very excited to try elk battles at home.  Most of us were very glad to see him.

In other school news, J. went with me to a meeting with a bunch of district folks, and we’ve agreed (J. somewhat reluctantly) to have him start at the local middle school tomorrow bright and early–with one gym class a day.  After a couple of weeks, we’ll reevaluate where we are and see if we can/should add anything.

The gym class is doing flag football this week, and we got a young man from our church who is on the nearest high school’s JV football team to come help us learn some rules and do a little practice.  After only one afternoon, J. is better than the rest of us.  I dare say he’ll do OK tomorrow.  We certainly hope so.

Besides school, this week has been up and down.  We had some more trouble with violence this week, including some that scared B. and K. quite a bit–and has us considering whether we need a better smaller kid safety plan.  But we’ve also had some good times playing board games as a family, and the decent meeting with the school.  Plus, J. put on a button-down shirt, black slacks, and a tie and behaved himself fairly well at a friend’s wedding (even though it started about an hour later than it was scheduled to.)  So, once again, a mixed bag.  Certainly, we’re doing much better than we were a couple of months ago.

October 9

This week was hard on everybody because the dog is going to stay with Grandma Pookie and Papa Buzz for awhile, and they came to pick her up on Thursday.  (Though J. is much gentler with her than he was at first, he is still behaving inappropriately some of the time, and when I intervene to release the dog, he has been slapping or punching me–so the dog is going away until he has stopped slapping and punching for at least a month, and is willing to obey me on things related to other people and animals.)  But the change has made everybody emotional.

In addition, B. is heading out to Outdoor Lab next week, which we hope will be a good experience for him, but he doesn’t want to go, so he’s upset about all the preparations.  Plus, the rest of us will miss him, so that also makes people here a bit emotional.  Plus when we need to buy things for B., J. gets jealous.  I think he figures any love or money we spend on B. or K. leaves less for him.  That may be true for money, but not so much for love–but he doesn’t believe we’ll save any for him, I think.  Of course, B. and K. see that we’re spending lots of time and attention with J., and even getting him foods and things that we don’t usually get them–and though we explain that it’s because he is lacking so much and having such a hard time finding food that feels at all familiar, they also feel we’re showing extreme favoritism.  Everything is shifting for all of them, and they’re all pushing for more time with parents and more resources.

Which leaves the parents pretty exhausted.  And that reminds me, that we do need to get J. in school, and the school seems in no hurry to help us with that, so I need to get back on it.  (They say they want to help, but they’re being very, very slow about it.)

Still, when we look at where we are today compared to where we were two months ago, or even one month ago, we’re doing way, way better.

Good stuff:  J. asked for a hug yesterday.  We’ve been playing card games or hide and seek or foosball every day this week.  We started fishing.  (Haven’t caught any fish yet, which is very frustrating for the children.  Plus I’ve spent all my time untangling lines, which is less fun than actually fishing.)  There have been 2-3 times this week when J. has gotten very angry, but still managed that anger without resorting to violence.

Another Week

2016-10-02-13-35-50Things are getting better–mostly.  I know this because we’ve had reasonably pleasant family dinners every day this week.  I know this because all the children in the house have been in bed and asleep by midnight every night–without too much of a fight from any of them.  I know this because I’ve been able to spend a bit of time with each kid this week that wasn’t direct crisis management.

On the other hand, J. has punched me a couple more times (not as hard as before, and not in the head, but we’re still taking it seriously), and I’ve said I will not teach him any more school.  Trouble is, the local school doesn’t really want him there either, so we’re in a kind of limbo, trying to figure out what to do next.  There’s supposed to be a meeting soon with some district people to figure out what’s best for J.  Maybe next week we’ll have more news.

B. and K. are both finding our household situation stressful, but they’re hanging in there.  We’re finding outside adults they can talk to.  They’re doing well in school (last week’s conferences showed that).  B’s teachers surprised us by telling us about how kind and empathetic he was.  We always get the “brilliant student” comments, but this was new, and very nice.

Progress and a Setback

2016-09-17-14-39-06We managed to have school four of the five days this week, and actually learned a bit of English and Math and cooking and about our community (post office! changing money!)

J. has started to use some English around the house, including polite words, like “Excuse me,” “thank you,” and “you’re welcome.”  He’s even copying terms of endearment “sweetie;” “love” and some of the language we use in phone calls–“sorry” and “I love you too.”  He’s mostly using them with the dog, but he seems to like them.

He makes gagging noises when Craig and I hug goodbye in the morning, but he sometimes wants a hug of his own.

So all that’s major progress.

But then, when he got angry about school and an art project not working out on Thursday, he got physically violent with me–at one point getting in a few good kicks, and hard punches to both my head and shoulder.

I didn’t even realize how angry I was until yesterday.  I snapped at him for a (for him) relatively minor bit of disrespect, and that led to an uncomfortable evening for all of us.  Tried to explain that my anger with him was not really about the disrespect (though I’m not thrilled with that), but about the earlier incident, but that didn’t help much.

Not sure how we’re doing now, but hopefully we can work through our anger issues and get back to making progress on being a family.


It has been eight weeks since we brought J. home.

It feels like much longer.

Though things are much better than they were at first, we are exhausted, the other kids are regularly melting down, and adults feel overworked and overwhelmed.  We are still struggling to do our regular paying jobs and get any time alone together.  Time just to have fun alone seems like a crazy dream.

Every weekday is a massive struggle about school.

Evenings are often a massive struggle about dinner and going to bed.

Mornings are a struggle to get people off to school and work with decent attitudes and all the stuff they need.

Weekends can be a struggle in that they break from routine, and put all of us into this small space, getting on each other’s nerves.

So there’s a lot of struggle.

And we don’t totally know how we’re going to get through the next few weeks and months.

But we’ve had some good times too.  We’ve had a number of good evening meals where people talked and joked together.  We’ve played board games and hide-and-seek.  We’ve spent time reading together.  We’ve done some yard work and some shopping and some bike-riding.  And though meltdowns are still frequent, they involve less shouting and much less violence than previously, so we feel like we’re making progress.  At least a little.