Attachment 101 – Part 2

My last post, Attachment 101, was designed to introduce and explain the theory of attachment. As a short recap:

1. Bonding and attachment occurs as an infant’s needs are expressed and met, over and over and over again.

2. When children do not receive consistent, predictable nurturing the internal message becomes “I am responsible to keep myself safe.”

3. Children with interruptions or gaps in their attachment development are essentially brain-damaged. If you could see a picture of the child’s brain that has been nurtured and cared for consistently versus neglected, abused or moved frequently there would be a physical, noticeable difference in the number of connections formed. This is more than just an emotional problem!

4. The good news is that these missing connections CAN be formed later in life! However, it is much more difficult than beginning with an empty slate. There are deeply ingrained survival skills that need to be destroyed before new concepts can be established firmly.

So…

With all that behind us, let’s keep moving forward.  I’d like to talk about the rewiring process and what that can look like for kids and parents hoping to create a secure, loving environment where a child can thrive. There are many different things parents need to remember when parenting a child who has been hurt physically or emotionally.

I won’t be able to cover everything I’d like to share in one post, so I’ve broken it down into several categories to keep it clear and simple. For today, I’d like to focus on the control issue.

Most children who have experienced a past of abuse, neglect or bouncing through the foster care system will enter their adoptive families with their guards set high. They have been let down by many adults in the past and they have learned to rely only on themselves to survive. In the past, this was an essential survival skill for them. Learning how to keep a distance from people, read adult behaviour and predict major changes on the horizon helped them to cope with the incredible amount of losses they’ve had to endure. It made the inevitable goodbyes bearable, kept the fear at bay and taught their brains how to function under major stress.

Now that your child has entered a forever family, it is imperative that they learn how to let go of that control and hand it over to you. The very skill that made it possible for them to survive will now be their greatest obstacle. They cannot bond and attach to you until they are willing to rely on you as their parent and caregiver. Children cannot go through life depending only on themselves. No matter what they may have convinced themselves of, they are not invincible. They are children. They need adults to guide them, lead them, protect them and nurture them. As adoptive parents we desperately want to play that role in our children’s lives and help them overcome the paralyzing fears they grapple with but often times they will not allow us to get that close.

They are afraid of abandonment.

They are afraid of abuse.

They are afraid of feeling weak or powerless or vulnerable.

They are afraid of opening their hearts and then having them broken.

Unfortunately, there is no easy switch to flip. There are brain connections that have never been formed and deeply rooted instincts that will not be easy to change. Basically, it is up to you at this point to take control of your child’s world unapologetically and be the parent!

This will be the beginning of a war.

They will fight you ferociously on this.

They do not realize you are on their team. All they know is that they are in danger of losing the defences that have always kept them safe. They are terrified of losing control but they are even more fearful of someone else taking control.

Interestingly, we all know this feeling. As adults, control becomes a word that raises red flags in everyone’s minds. We do not feel comfortable submitting to authorities we do not trust. We want to remain in charge because we’ve seen or experienced abusive control in relationships around us. However, if we are to form deep, soul level relationships we will have to let down our guard at some point and allow someone to get close enough to potentially break our hearts.

Infants are dependent on their parents for everything. The only way they will feel loved, nurtured, safe; is if someone has complete control over their life. In this environment, they attach and they trust as their needs are consistently met.

This is what needs to be replicated in your adopted child’s life.

It might take months, years or decades but this process cannot begin until you as a parent take control from your child. They will not hand it to you on a silver platter. They do not know what they need. You do.

Hurting children desperately need to be shown that parents are more powerful than they are. They have terrorizing trauma, deep grief, and overwhelming challenges looming before them, and they need to know there is someone strong enough to handle all that. They need to know that they are not too much for you. They need to know that you are big enough to protect them and help them heal. They need to know that with you in control of their lives they will be safe. You will not lead them into chaos and danger as others have.

This does not mean that we march into our children’s lives and take over every little choice they have. This does not mean we abuse our authority over them or become someone they fear. This is what many of them have experienced in the past.

Instead, our primary goal should be to look for every opportunity possible to lovingly send the message,

You do not have to decide that.”

I will take care of you.”

“I will keep you safe.”

You do not have to fight so hard to survive, baby.”

At the beginning, you will need to move into the parent role before you really feel like your child’s parent. Realistically, you are strangers, but this should not stop you from acting like you are in charge.

Set boundaries.

Be active in your child’s life. Know what is going on and show you will handle the big stuff.

Don’t allow another adult to step into the role that is only yours as a parent.

Give choices, but make sure your child is choosing between a few good choices that you have come up with.

Help them with every little thing you possibly can.

Do things for them that they can do themselves.

Make your expectations as clear and simple as possible, with consequences that are logical and simple.

When they cross a line, be matter of fact about consequences but not harsh or angry.

Don’t pick battles you can’t win.

Every time you act or speak in a way that tells your child you are comfortably in charge, you are cementing a feeling of safety in them. This authority establishment is not up for grabs. You are not asking for their permission to be the parent. Instead, you are lifting a huge load off their small shoulders and placing it on your own without a flinch. As they fight to take it back, be firm but gentle. Never forget their fight is really fear.

Many children go through this same stage of testing authority, and much of this will sound familiar. Children who have been hurt, however, have much more at stake in their minds. This is not just testing, this is tearing down the structure by which they have survived so far. Their future depends on you getting this message across to them. It’s not really about eating peas, it’s about being in charge of their life.

The best way for parents to go about taking charge of their children’s lives and sending these safe messages is to parent in a way that is focused on plenty of nurture and plenty of structure.

While children are adjusting to their forever families and attempting to attach, they are under a lot of stress. As most children, they will do best in a home where their days are predictable and structured. This does not mean you need to run your home like a boot camp, but you will need to be prepared to change your lifestyle to accommodate your children’s needs. While they are trying to attach and bond with their new family, children are not going to be able to cope with the flexibility of most children their age. Plan to spend lots of time at home, get lots of sleep and say no to some events or social engagements. As parents, you need to set a pace and rhythm to your home that both you and your children can thrive on. Put up a big calendar that your child can see and let them know what to expect as much as possible. Though you are stepping in to take control of your child’s life, you are not entitled to run it with only yourself in mind. Don’t let your children decide what and how much you do, but make sure you are making the best decision for them. It will take some trial and error at the beginning, but soon you will know how much your child can truly handle.

Making sure your child knows what to expect, is getting enough sleep and is supported by you through each day sets him up for success! It also sets him up to count on you to create an atmosphere he can thrive in. Structure does not mean less fun or less loving. Instead, a structured life for your children will help them to be able to have more fun and it will help your fearful child realize you know what is best for him and will do it!

Explaining decisions you make to your child can be a great way to show them you are dedicated to being a great parent. Let them know that they need to go to bed at the usual time because you know they need sleep to feel good and enjoy the day tomorrow. Let them know that you require them to eat nutritious food because you want them to have healthy bodies and feed good. Let them know they are not allowed to play near the road because it is not safe and you need them to be safe. Let them know that they cannot be left with a babysitter yet because they are still learning how to be a family and they are not ready for that step yet. Though most children tend to roll their eyes or sigh at these parental ‘lectures’, you may be surprised at your adopted child’s reactions. Even though they may not like your decision, they are hearing an important message from you.

I love you. I am taking care of you. I will do what is best for you even if you don’t like it.”

Often children who are starting to feel a shift in their control will try very hard to control all kinds of little details in life. They might ask questions or chatter incessantly. They might follow-up all your decisions for them with comments like, “Yes, that’s what I was going to do.” They will often try to control decision-making, play the parent to a sibling or come up with an idea just a tad different from yours. Though this can be frustrating, try to remember they are feeling nervous and anxious about the feelings of love growing inside of them. I often say things like,

That’s ok, you don’t need to be in charge of that.”

I’ll let you know if you need to know.”

I’ll think about it.”

With a smile and a gentle tone, this clearly conveys the message that you are in control and you will take care of things. It doesn’t have to be a reprimand or lecture, which will most likely throw you onto the battlefield, but your child will get the clear message they do not get to decide or be in charge.

My daughters will often later quote back to me the reasons I have given them for decisions that they didn’t necessarily appreciate in the moment. There is a measure of awe and joy in their voices as they say,

You want us to be safe, right?”

You tell us to eat healthy food ’cause you don’t want us to be sick, right?”

You’re afraid we’ll get hurt if we do that!”

Unfortunately, for an older child parenting in a highly structured manner may cause misunderstanding in other parents. Don’t let this stop you from doing what you know your child needs. While another child may be ready to walk to school on their own, tuck themselves in each night, get a drink or use the bathroom on their own, comb their hair or have a play date at a friend’s house…you need to realize that your child has not come through a chaotic life unscathed. Be sensitive to your child’s feelings, but don’t let what other people are thinking stop you from giving your child the structure they depend on to cope or the boundaries they need to attach to you securely.

While you are pouring in all this structure, however, you need to be spending just as much time giving your child nurturing…but that is a whole new, exciting topic that I will cover next time 🙂

For today, remember:

*Be the parent!

*Hurting children desperately need to be shown that parents are more powerful than they are.

*Take charge of your child’s life confidently and gently.

As I was writing this, I couldn’t help thinking of the many times I struggle and writhe in my Heavenly Father’s loving care. I can look back and see times in my life where I fought against His control, terrified that if I lost control of my life it would result in devastation. But when I finally give up and surrender to those big hands, that strong voice, that enduring love…I feel so safe. To know that He is in control of my life, orchestrating my every move, is such an incredible feeling. There is nowhere I could be safer than in the centre of His will for me.

When I see the especially bright eyes, the relieved tones and the purely joyful words of my daughter after an especially tough battle…I know that it is the same for her. In my love, she will be safe. And someday, she will experience a perfect love that is so much greater than mine. A love that is truly powerful beyond all measure and wider than imagination.

This song by Westlife reaches my soul and makes me weep. To know that this is my Father’s heart cry alongside my own small Mommy desire is breathtaking.

“Safe”

Hard to find a way to get through
It’s a tragedy
Pulling at me like the stars do
You’re like gravity
Even if the wind blows
It makes it hard to believe

How you gonna love?
How you gonna feel?
How you gonna live your life like the dream you have is real?
And if you lost your way
I will keep you safe
We’ll open up all the world inside
I see it come alive tonight
I will keep you safe

Doesn’t even matter to you
To see what I can see
I’m crawling on the floor to reach you
I’m a wreck you see
When you’re far from home now
Makes it hard to believe

So how you gonna love?
How you gonna feel?
How you gonna live your life like the dream you have is real?
And if you’ve lost your way
I will keep you safe
We’ll open up all your world inside
Till you come alive tonight
I will keep you safe

We all fall down
We all feel down
Cause rainy days and summer highs
The more we pray the more we feel alive

How you gonna love?
How you gonna feel?
How you gonna live your life like the dream you have is real?
How you gonna love?
How you gonna feel?
How you gonna live your life like the dream you have is real?

And if you’ve lost your way
I will keep you safe
We’ll open up all your world inside
So you come alive tonight
I will keep you safe

I will keep you safe
I will keep you safe

Attachment 101 – part 1

One of the big themes discussed in adoption today is ATTACHMENT.

At the core, this is the biggest issue facing adoptive parents and kids.  It is at the heart of all our desires for ourselves and our children.  It is the biggest difference setting us apart from biologically created families.  So what is this thing called attachment?

Let me paint a picture for you.

Think about that sweet little baby you know who is less than six months old, living in a loving, functional family.  He has entered this big wide world and yet he is so dependent on another’s care.  That voice he heard while in his mother’s womb murmurs in his ear, soothing him when his tiny face scrunches, red and screaming.  When he cries, he is quickly picked up and held close to that warm body that feels so familiar.  Mother has an intuitive sense of baby’s needs, even when she’s exhausted from lack of sleep.  When he’s hungry, he is held close in her arms and fed warm milk from a bottle or breast, often gazing up into his mother’s face as he drinks.  Rarely do her hands feel rough, hurried or anxious as she handles his fragile body.  He is gently bathed regularly in soothing warm water.  Mother is right there beside him washing his little body with a soft cloth and talking to him.  She may even set up a tiny heater in the room for when he comes out of the water, wet and cold.  He gets wrapped in a warm towel and massaged with lotion from head to toe.  Sometimes he is held while he sleeps, his mother simply enjoying the weight of his body, the smell of his skin and his tiny features relaxed in sleep.  Everyone delights in cuddling him, examining every little expression and watching his body grow.  His first cooing noises are rewarded with smiles and delighted attention from the adults who adore him.

I don’t mean to put a rosy glow on all this.  I know there are long days, short nights, hours of screaming and aching breasts for some.  But that mother you know, even when she feels overwhelmed and exhausted, will probably be making sure her baby’s needs are met.  He will still get all that tender care, protection and physical presence he needs to assure him someone in this big, wide world is taking care of him and thinks he’s the most important little person on the planet.

The very first thing baby will learn is that he can trust his mother to meet his needs; that his cries will be met with response.

When he is hungry, she will rush to get him food.  When his bottom is red and sore she will soothe it with cream.  If he cries for hours, she will worry, wondering what is wrong.  Above all else she will protect him with her very life.  She will go to extra measures to make sure the infant seat is properly installed and latched.  She will think twice when she gets behind the wheel those first few times.  She will always know where he is and what he’s doing, and will take care to be sure he’s safe.  As he grows, sits, rolls over, crawls and stands she will make sure his environment is safe.  She will feel a flutter of panic in her chest when he bumps his head, falls down the stairs or face plants into the ceramic tile floor.  Baby quickly becomes attached to his mother because he knows she is the one he can rely on.  Hers are the arms that will soothe in that familiar way.  Hers is the face that gazes at him, smiles at him, talks to him and kisses his chubby cheeks.  Through that first year of life, mother and baby are almost one.  They spend almost every waking minute together or in very near proximity.

This is the way God intended families to be built.

He knew we would need that assurance that the world can be a safe, happy place and that we are precious in someone’s eyes.  On that foundation we grow into children that are ready to learn, explore and create.  Our need for love and security has been met, and continues to be met.  Every event following those first basic patterns of care as an infant develop in us an ability to trust another human.  We will need this to survive.  We will need this for our brains to function properly.

Do you think it would make a difference if one day baby cried and cried for hours, but nobody ever came?  No warm bottle to ease the ache in his empty tummy.  No gentle arms to soothe his distressed cries.  No gentle voice murmuring words of comfort in reassuring tones.  No gentle bath times…instead his skin turns crusty and dry.  His bottom soon gets red and sore to the point of blisters that rub open and bleed, while his urine and stool stain his clothing for hours.  Maybe someone comes…sometimes…but the arms may or may not be gentle.  They may rock and soothe one day but hit and jostle roughly the next.  Faces come and go, but no consistent caregiver seems to feel responsible for baby.  For days, baby may cry until his throat is sore and his voice raspy…but eventually he will stop.  He has learned crying does not get him anything.  He will lie silently staring, listening to the sounds of his unpredictable environment.  Maybe yelling, maybe the thumping beat of music much too loud for baby’s ears, maybe the drone of the television or radio…and sometimes simply nothing.

Or maybe baby is cared for tenderly for the first 6 months, year or even 2 years…and then one day that person is gone.  In a new, strange environment he is alone and fearful.  The faces are unfamiliar, the smells and routines are all wrong.  Instead of stories and soft blankets at bedtime in his familiar room, with the night light glowing in the corner, it is dark and cool and just so different.  The blanket is scratchy instead of soft.  The room is large and open instead of small and cozy.  There are no stories, only a quick kiss and the door closing while unfamiliar lullabies play.  He has fun in the large back yard with the swing set and pool, but he misses the familiarity of that one person who held his world together.  This person doesn’t know when he’s hungry, tired or overwhelmed and he has no idea what she is going to do next.

She is a stranger.

Over the next few months, things slowly start to fall into place.  He learns new routines, new habits, new ways of getting attention and affection.  Just as he’s starting to trust that this person can fill the void…she disappears.  Suddenly he is in a new place again.  How could she leave him?  Once again, he must get used to something different.  Everyone seems happy and excited, but he is scared.  Who will take care of him now?

Will they leave too?

When?

Where?

How?

Is this what life is like?

After 3 or 4 moves, he will learn that there is only one person he can really depend on, and that is himself.  He is responsible to meet his own needs.  Relying on other people is simply too painful.  Eventually, they will leave and he must be able to cope on his own.  Though he may not be aware of this thought, his brain is establishing these patterns and they come with a great cost.

We know in our hearts that this does make a difference.  God never intended children to fend for themselves.  They are vulnerable.  They are needy.  Parents are commanded in scripture to love, teach and provide for their children’s needs as best they can.  God illustrates himself as a loving Father to us, giving us the image of a caring, gentle, strong protector.  We struggle as mothers, as fathers, to parent our children the way we know God desires.  We talk about unconditional love, sacrifice, wisdom and joy.  We desire the best, and we struggle to reach the ultimate.

Yet so many children are growing up without these fundamental needs being met.  They do not know who they can trust, and they are constantly on high alert.  Their brains operate in panic mode a majority of the time, constantly looking for signals that will warn them of pain, danger or loss.  Because they are so busy trying to survive, there is little brain power left to learn, explore or create like normally developing children.  There is tons of scientific research that supports this theory.

A child who has not formed healthy attachments is essentially brain damaged.

This is a fact.  Look it up.

The more I learn the more I am in awe of the Creator God I love.  He did not create us to function as individuals.  We are designed to need each other.  In our families, in our churches, in our communities…we thrive on healthy, loving relationships with others.  All these relationships are built on trust.

The good news is that these missing connections CAN be formed later in life!

Our brains can learn to make those new connections…but it is so much harder than the original plan.  Instead of an infant starting with an empty slate, you are now trying to rewire or reteach the brain to ignore the survival skills it’s relied on for 3, 5, 10 or even 20 years.  It takes time, patience and unconditional love.  Trial and error.  And every child is different.

Does every child who has been adopted struggle with attachment issues?

No, though most do to some degree.

What does this look like?

The struggle, the rewiring and the success?

I’d like to explore this a little bit in the next few posts.  I am by no means an expert, but we’ve learned an incredible amount through seminars, workshops, friends, adoption professionals and most of all some very precious little kiddos in the past three years.  It’s been an intriguing journey, and has helped us be so much better prepared for the challenges we face today with our two daughters.  I am passionate about sharing with others the issues adoptive families face daily because I believe that awareness is the key to success.  The more people understand the root of the issues we face and develop skills and empathy, the better the outcome for my children and every other adoptive family.

There are millions of children waiting for families who will dare to love them despite their challenges.  Their are also millions of families who feel they are not equipped to care for these children.  I firmly believe that education about adoption and adoption issues could change the lives of many of these children and families.

Jesus did not turn away from the messiness of life.

The hurt,

the terror,

the overwhelming rage,

the grief as deep and dark as ink,

the injustice that leaves us broken.

In the middle of it all, He was there.

I pray for the courage to love even when the cost is unimaginably high.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Phillipians 4:13

Right now my daughters and I are memorizing a child-friendly version of the 23rd Psalm.  You cannot imagine what it does to my heart when I hear them during their play time reciting these lines of incredible comfort and love about their Heavenly Father.  This is taken from the Jesus Storybook Bible.

God is my Shepherd

And I am his little lamb.

He feeds me

He guides me

He looks after me.

I have everything I need.

Inside, my heart is very quiet.

As quiet as lying still in soft green grass

In a meadow

By a little stream.

Even when I walk through

the dark scary, lonely places

I won’t be afraid

Because me Shepherd knows where I am.

He is here with me

He keeps me safe

He rescues me

He makes me strong

And brave.

He is getting wonderful things ready for me

Especially for me

Everything I ever dreamed of!

He fills my heart of full of happiness

I can’t hold it all inside.

Wherever I go I know

God’s Never Stopping

Never Giving Up

Unbreaking

Always and Forever Love

Will go, too!”

AF

 

Easing Transitions

         Hey there 🙂

I thought I would reappear for a second here and share a few little charts with you that we’ve been using around here. I’m assuming that we are not the only ones who struggle to keep transition times positive. When there’s a list of things you want your kids to do and you’re racing against a clock only you seem to be aware of, it’s hard to keep things cheerful and stress free. Whether it’s lost shoes, forgotten homework, library books, messy faces or backwards tights all it can take in those stressful moments is one little straw to bring the whole thing crashing to the floor! Let’s face it…it doesn’t exactly make you feel like Supermom when you show up for school 5-10 minutes late five days in a row. (I should know!) If your kids are already struggling emotionally, all it can take is a grumpy Mama breathing down their necks to shove them onto the fast track to a very bad day for all of the above!

So…how do you somehow get all those things accomplished without nagging at them and at the same time teach responsibility?

My answer is VISUALS.

After living with a child diagnosed with Autism for almost 10 months, I fell in love with all things PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System.) During that time I bought myself a cheap little laminator at Walmart ($60 will get you a laminator, pouches and little velcro stickers). I have been using that thing for everything I can get my hands on ever since! I LOVE to laminate things. It makes them durable, clean and it’s just so much fun! 🙂

Anyway, while we were fostering this child, I made hundreds and hundreds of little pictures for us to be able to communicate and understand each other. We had pictures of foods for mealtime and grocery shopping. We had pictures of jobs that needed to be done, down to specific steps for things like going to the bathroom and getting dressed. We had pictures of emotions to communicate how we were feeling. We had pictures of social rules, consequences and even a little square for hugs, kisses and I LOVE YOU. For little R, it meant for the first time he had a voice to be able to communicate what was going through his mind, even if his physical voice would not cooperate in the way he wanted.

There are thousands of websites that can give you ideas for creating visuals for your child. For R it was a way to communicate in every part of his life but even if your child has a perfectly functional voice (like both of mine do), visuals are still a great way to reinforce expectations and teach new skills!

For my girls, being able to see pictures of the jobs that need to be done have made our morning routine so much smoother. Now I don’t need to keep track of every move they’re making in that hour before leaving the house. They each have a list of what needs to be done and know that until their boxes are all checked off, they are not allowed to move on to playtime. If they do happen to skip one, they know that Mommy will catch it as she breezes through the house making that final sweep and they will not be able to blame anyone else for not doing it because it was on their list! It makes them feel great when they do all their jobs and don’t have to be reminded ten times to hurry up, go back and get socks or stop playing and get ready! The other great thing about visuals is that you can easily tailor it to match your child’s ability and comprehension. My daughters’ charts don’t look the same. At first I just made them each a checklist like this:

DSC05467

However, my littlest A did not do so well with this method. It was too big of a stretch for her to see words and pictures and try to comprehend what she needed to do on her own. So I made this one for her instead:

DSC05466

Now she has a list of only pictures, and instead of running around armed with an erasable marker (which is an accident waiting to happen) all she has to do is move her picture from the TO DO column on the left to the ALL DONE column on the right. The physical motion of having to move each sticker helps her keep track of what she’s done and makes it harder for her to accidentally check off a task she has not actually completed.

Are our mornings perfect?

No.

Kids will always be kids. They still fool around, get their tights on backwards, brush their teeth in 5 seconds and miss the peanut butter around their mouths when washing faces. They move at the speed of a snail some days and we are still late for school sometimes.  I have to call them back to remake sloppy beds, wash properly or focus on their tasks.

But…

It helps us stay on track and makes the morning much less stressful for me when I can make the list be the boss instead of a harried Mom being the boss. Now, instead of it being Mom vs. Kids it feels a bit more like we’re a team all working toward the same goal.

A few other visuals we use sometimes are:

Dressing Prompts for all those tricky winter layers like snow pants and boots

DSC05496

and an after school jobs list to get the lunch bag and agenda up to Mommy’s counter to be signed.

There are a thousand more visual projects I’d love to do and a few more we enjoy that I don’t have pictures of. One of my favourites is making grocery lists for kids when you’re going to the store so they can help shop too! For little ones, you can use pictures. For older kids you can make them their own list and even send them to another area of the store to get a few items if they’re responsible enough. Teaching little ones to dress is always a challenge and visuals are great for that too. Posting step by step instructions you can help them refer to makes them feel like they’ve done it all on their own. We had a step by step guide for using the bathroom posted for months to help make sure hands were washed, toilet was flushed, etc. Organizing your child’s toys and clothes is another great way to use visuals so they can start taking responsibility for where their things belong.  If you have children that struggle to understand social situations or are anxious in new environments, social stories can be a great visual tool to help them understand and  prepare for situations they’ll be facing.  You can use visuals as a teaching tool for those precocious toddlers who need more to keep their brains busy, too! 🙂  McDonald’s ordering booklets are fun and easy.  Let  your child choose what he/she would like next time and use her voice and pictures to tell the person at the cashier.  I’m guessing when you do a quick search online you’ll soon have lots of ideas too! So buy that laminator! 🙂

As for the actual pictures, you can use a variety of tools.

  1. Your camera. Real pictures taken of individual items.

  2. Free clipart online

  3. Websites that offer clipart, PECS or ready made charts.

    Once you have the pictures, all you do is load them onto your computer, paste them into a program like Microsoft Word or Office, shrink them down to the dimensions you’d like (1 or 2 inches usually), print them off, cut them out and then zip them through your laminator. Once they’ve been laminated you cut them out and stick a little square of velcro on the back.

    Voila!

    Have fun 🙂

    AF

Let it Snow

It’s snowing outside! 🙂

First snowfall of the season on October 31.

This girl is happy.

In fact…this morning has been just about perfect.  My husband didn’t have to leave for work until 9:00, so we slept in.

Woke up to big, beautiful flakes of snow falling outside the window,

the girls happily playing downstairs by the fire,

and a warm kiss beside me.

Ah.

Fluffy slippers,

all of us meandering through breakfast and morning routines together

and then rushing the girls out the door at the last minute because…surprise…we’re late!

Checked out the Christmas sales starting in the flyers,

lit some candles,

and turned on the Christmas songs

all as the flurries continued to fall.

My daughters prayed for snow, so they were delighted to bundle up in their winter coats, mittens and hats this morning and go out into the cold.

What about you?

Are you ready for the Christmas season creeping up on us?  What do you love about the next two months?  Don’t tell me what you hate, because those are all listed off thousands of times every year and we really don’t need to review those! 🙂

Some side notes…

We’re heading out tonight on our “alternative to Halloween” activity…collecting food for the local food bank.

We’ll walk the streets with all the ghosts, princesses, zombies and fairies until we’re too cold,

our wagon is full of canned soup

or Daddy shuts us down,

and then we’ll go warm up with some pizza!

It’s an early to bed night here since tomorrow is a BIG day.  We’re going to go visit the girls’ foster families for the very first time since placement four months ago.  I’m excited, but nervous and trying to prepare for the emotional disruptions next week is likely to bring.  It’s 2 steps forward and 1.9 steps backward as we stumble through this maze called attachment together.

To be honest, I’ve been having a rough few weeks.  It’s just such hard work some days, and the stakes are so high.  So much depends on me and half the time I don’t have a clue what’s really going on.  Our mornings are shaky at best, and one wrong move on my part can send us all spiralling into anxiety, fear, anger and power struggles.  I try to do it on my own too often.  I let myself fall into the easy, muddy ruts that bring us all down.

Too tired.

Too grumpy.

Too overwhelmed.

Too busy.

But good friends and God reminded me this week that I am called to so much more than this.  There is a power available for me if I will only submit my heart to the path it takes to get there.  I must be willing to let go of my irritation, my pride, my fear and my frown.  One step in front of the other, I can choose to be the kind of woman He longs for me to be.  Not perfect, but eager to serve.  Not superwoman, but flexible and cheerful even when mittens are lost and the night was too short.  Three quarters of the battle is won when I kick that big stubborn will of mine into gear!  I know better than to let myself off the hook too easily because I know just how much I can really change with a positive attitude and a heart ready to bow to the Spirit’s gentle nudges.  That decision on Wednesday made the last half of this week so much better than the first!

It’s still snowing! 🙂  Better pull out those layers for tonight.

Cheers!

AF

 

 

I want to be ALONE!

Ok.

So this is me being honest and letting you all know that even though we’re pretty excited about our new family of 4…we’re normal.  Not every day is rainbows and shimmer.

Right now I am hiding downstairs in my jammies while my husband builds a tree house with the girls and let me tell you I am just drinking in the quietness here!  Some days I am full of energy and happiness and amazement…and other days I’m just plain old tired.  Also…my personal bubble is nonexistent these days which sometimes makes this Mama Queen of the Grumps!  Wiry little arms hugging, pulling, yanking and poking at me all day long.  Affectionate?  Yes…but Mommy is not always in the mood for affection.  Mommy is not always in the mood for silly, nonsensical chatter and stinky morning breath in my face.  Mommy is not always in the mood for bony little bodies jumping on me.  Mommy is not always in the mood for whiny little voices following me all over the kitchen as I try to get everything done that needs to be done between 5 and 6pm.  Mommy is not always in the mood for markers all over the floor, glue on the table and macaroni bracelets in the bathroom sink.  Mommy is not always in the mood for little bodies climbing up on the countertops and sending a zillion cups crashing to the floor while clumsy hands search for that perfectly pink favourite.  Mommy is not always in the mood for an out of control garden hose spraying my basket of dry laundry.  Mommy is not always in the mood for little voices calling “Watch me!”

Sigh.

Yup.

Pretty normal.

My husband is awesome about this.  He helps chase away the “Mom guilties” that want to come in and just bash me to pieces when I just need to be ALONE!  The other night after the girls were in bed I went out for like 5 minutes to pick something up and I could’ve just laughed out loud!  I felt like a FREE WOMAN!  Of course when I got back 5 minutes later two little faces were peering out the window at me calling…”Mommy!  Where did you go?!”  Like it was the most insane thing ever that I would go somewhere without them!  After all, we are pretty much inseparable…and to bring some balance to this post…I am SO thankful that I am in the position where I am able to be a stay-at-home Mom to my daughters.  I truly am grateful for that, and would not change it for the world.

However…that doesn’t mean my patience level is any higher than yours and I just wanted you to know that it’s real life around here, too!  Bedtime is usually one of my favourite times of the day.  I love to be able to tuck them in, read stories, hear them pray and just feel connected at the end of the day.  But there are some days all I want is to give a quick kiss and then BE ALONE!  Days like this one can make me feel incredibly guilty, because I know there is a Mom somewhere who would love to be able to have just one more exasperating, annoying Monday!  Some days I am that Mom…there are two little faces etched forever on my memory that make me ache with loneliness some days.  I love my girls…but I’ve learned that nobody can be replaced.  Each new little person finds their own place in my heart…a place I didn’t even know existed until they came.  The one left empty will always be just that…empty…except for the memories.  So I understand we need to treasure every second.  Just writing that made me cry.  There is a little buzz cut that used to come lay softly on my cheek every single morning and make all kinds of happy, endearing noises…and every single morning I miss that little buzz cut.  There is a pair of vivid, joyful brown eyes that used to make me smile every single day as they danced to the sound of belly giggles…even on the worst days…and I miss those brown eyes every day.  I did not think it would hurt this bad for so long.  But I’m getting off topic.  The annoyance is already starting to fade!  Lol.  Count your blessings, right?

But I’m not supermom.

And some days I am just plain old selfish…or didn’t get enough sleep…or it’s that time of the month.  Some days I am overwhelmed by the intensity of life with two little girls who need to be loved so well.

Being a mother means you get to see the worst and best of yourself almost daily.  It’s really quite the rollercoaster.  I never knew how selfish I was until I got married.  Then I knew.  Two years later, I became a ‘mom’ for the first time and I learned my selfishness ran much deeper than I’d realized.  These little people in our lives teach us so much more than we could ever imagine we didn’t know!  I like to think, though, that with so much opportunity for messiness and absolute failure there is so much potential for growth!  Every moment I choose to force a smile instead of a scowl, every time I choose to soften my tone…I get a zillion opportunities every day to be like Jesus!  And if I fail…well…at least there are still many more chances to make it right.  And the little people we learn from?  They are so quick to bounce back with a smile and a hug.  They will forgive every time.  They will love you no matter what.  After the worst day, they will still want goodnight hugs and kisses.  After the fiercest tantrum they will smile and say I’m sorry before you’ve even sorted through your own mass of feelings.  That is beautiful.

I’d like to think it’s ok to fail sometimes.

I like to remind myself we all get grumpy every now and then.

This is where abundant grace comes in…for my children and for ME.

Akeisha and Alexa love to hear us say we will love them no matter what.  Always and forever.  Some days I need to hear that from my heavenly Father, too.  He will love me no matter what.  Always and forever.  It isn’t my acts of service or my moments of graciousness or my stunning successes that earn me His love.  He loves me simply because that is who He is.

Thank you, Father

Ps. On a lighter note, the girls have been playing pirates the past few days!  LOL  It’s hilarious!  “Arty AR AR” is apparently pirate lingo.  Outfits are complete with paper eye patches, stick swords in a fabric sheath and paper hats.  So adorable 🙂

 

Happy, Tired & a Little Sunburnt

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So I promised to tell you about our first camping trip with the girls, so here it is! 🙂

We, being the greedy locals that we are, took advantage of our rights as the hometown crowd by setting up our tent on our chosen site a night early.  We found an amazing spot on Huckleberry Island that friends had told us had a great little sandy beach.  It was absolutely fabulous!  Definitely our new favourite spot.  It was perfect for the kids to play in and out of the water and there was plenty of space to set up our tent on sandy soil covered with soft pine needles…which around here is like discovering gold!  Most places, especially on Georgian Bay crown land, you are literally pitching your tent on a rock.  So this was a bonus! 🙂

Since this is a popular spot for people to go camping it includes a fire pit, rack for cooking, ‘toilet’ in the bushes, table/shelf built between two trees and rope to hang your food in trees overnight.  For those of you who are not campers, this is so that the wildlife does not get into your food.  Bears and raccoons are not welcome midnight guests!

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Finding this spot on Thursday evening was just such a special gift from God.  The girls loved it and seeing it beforehand helped them be even more excited!

Friday I scurried around all day crazily trying to get everything packed and Kirby was able to get off work by 4 o’clock, so we loaded everything up into the work boat. I will add in here that we’ve been abundantly blessed by Kirby’s employers at Rockscape Design. Their generosity is a challenge and huge blessing to us! We are so grateful for them and the many ways they have blessed us in the past few years.

The girls were so excited to get there and explore our ‘home’ for the weekend. They went into the water briefly Friday evening already, but didn’t last long since it was pretty chilly. Kirby ended up having to run back home for a few things I forgot…the camera battery and memory card and his swim trunks! Sigh. One of those moments where you go…really?!

Once we had everything we wanted and needed there, we settled in for some FAMILY TIME. Was awesome having all the time in the world to just be together and enjoy the outdoors. I forgot how exciting things like camping are for kids. It was so much fun watching the girls set up their beds in the tent (complete with ONE stuffy Mommy allowed them to bring), run around exploring, searching for caterpillars, finding a perfect spot to build a fort with Daddy and pretending to drive the boat.  They love campfires at home, but cooking all our meals over the fire was so fun for them.  Alexa thought that was her favourite part of camping 🙂  We got to stay up late eating s’mores, have story time beside the campfire, have chips and PB&J at random times, go for bear hunts in the bushes and swim in the beautiful, pure waters of Georgian Bay.  The girls slept great in the tent, bundled up in their fuzzy onesies and sleeping bags.  Our tent was on a bit of a hill and Alexa ended up at Daddy’s feet by morning, curled up in a little ball somewhere in the fluffy depths of her sleeping bag.  We all had fun doing dishes in the lake, though an awful lot of dishsoap seemed to disappear over the weekend with two small pairs of hands squirting!  Akeisha got to help Daddy drive the boat and practise her lefts and rights 🙂  Both girls hate porta-potties, so this makeshift toilet in the bushes with spider webs just under the rim and an awful stench was not the best experience!  Every time we had to take a trip there we’d talk about being brave all the way there and then sing songs to distract us while we got the job done…this is something I started awhile ago at a park where we needed to use the portable toilet.  It works! 🙂

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Mommy and Daddy?  Well…we just relaxed in the sun and water, enjoying our beautiful daughters ❤

The girls are already anxious to go again…and so am I.  It’s the best thing in the world for a family trying to spend lots of time together and shut out the rest of the world.  I’m not hard core enough to be able to head out tenting for a week, but a weekend is perfect.  Easy, fun and FREE vacation 🙂

AF

 

This Little Life of Mine…

This week has been so good 🙂

I am just so enjoying each day I have with my girls and it feels like we’re hitting a nice little groove…which I will try not to expect to last too long!  Last week felt a bit bumpy and I just felt the Grumpy Mama Syndrome setting in, which is the last thing any of us need these days.  So this week I was determined to be positive, say yes when I can, keep things light and just enjoy my daughters.  The pay off has been awesome! 🙂

Monday we just enjoyed being together after a busy weekend.  Hung out at home, cleaned up the house a bit so we felt sane again and ran a few errands.

Tuesday we went strawberry picking with some great friends of ours.  It rained a bit on us, but that was ok.  It was wonderful to spend time with friends again, and since these particular friends include kids ages 4 and 6, the girls had a great time.  By the time we made it home it was pouring rain and the house felt cool and damp, so we all ended up in jammies making strawberry pie for dinner.  On my way home from our friends I had noticed Pizza Hut’s sign…Tuesdays kids eat free…and we couldn’t quite pass that up on a rainy day 🙂  So we ate pizza for dinner and even managed to squeeze in biking up and down the street with Alexis from across the street.  Akeisha and Alexa love to bike, especially with Alexis, and I am so proud of how well they’re doing!  Akeisha loves to zoom up and down the street, showing off her tricks to us.  Alexa is gaining confidence each day and making lots of progress, despite the hard work it is for her little legs to pump those pedals.  She’s so proud that she can now bike down our big hill!  The girls also had fun watching Alexis try out her four wheeler-turned-two wheeler on Tuesday night.  She had been saying for about a week to Kirby, me and her Mommy and Daddy that she was ready for her training wheels to come off!  So Tuesday night ended up being the big night, and off she went!  The first few rides were rough, but in no time she got the hang of it and by today she’s a pro 🙂  This is what I love about our neighbourhood…the whole street felt like it was lit up as the kids zoomed up and down shouting out “Look at me!” and parents and neighbours waved and smiled and clapped.

Wednesday was the day for grocery shopping, making strawberry jam, and some laundry since it was nice and my dryer is broken 😦  I just have to insert here that I LOVE strawberry jam!  I love it on toast, muffins and icecream 🙂  My girls now love it, too, and even though it is super unhealthy because it’s loaded with sugar we eat it almost every day.  Alexa loves PB+J…on toast or a wrap, especially with this jam!  It is the recipe off the Certo package, which my Mom used when I was a kid.  I just can’t quite imagine anything better!  Yesterday I realized there is also a recipe on their for Strawberry-Banana Jam, and since I had bananas I tried a bit of that too.  Thinking that is going to be super yummy as well, though I haven’t actually tried it yet.  Anyway, back to Wednesday.

Early afternoon Alexis wandered over, as she does most days, and she and Akeisha got creative making a fort in the bushes!  Copying Franklin’s Secret Clubhouse, I agreed to sacrifice an old sheet and they strung it up over their little house.  All afternoon they blazed trails, collected treasures and cared for their worms and caterpillars in their little fort.  I love seeing kids use their imaginations to play this way, so I was delighted 🙂  They had hot chocolate…yes, in July…made signs and got covered in mud and sand.  Alexa joined in the fun a bit, but was a little less enthralled with tromping through the bushes.  Akeisha was so excited, it was all she could talk about all evening.

Today we are enjoying the beautiful sunshine and scheming about our camping trip this weekend.  As long as the weather cooperates we plan to spend the weekend roughing it on one of the many crown land islands on beautiful Georgian Bay.  If it rains…well…I guess we can always head out early, since it’s so close.  FREE, FUN and CLOSE BY!  Love living here in the summertime 🙂  We’ll see how tenting treats us and what kind of adventures we can come home with on Sunday.  This morning Akeisha woke up early and went straight out to her fort, bundled up in her housecoat and two coats over top of her pajamas!  LOL.  So far she has eaten breakfast (her toast, milk and banana) and lunch (KD) out there.  Alexa cautiously joined the fun a bit later, but was a little worried there would be bears!  She came in sniffling to tell me that Akeisha was out bear hunting with her water gun but she was afraid she would get “attackled!”  I reassured her that, though there are bears around here, they would stay far away from noisy children 🙂  She still has not ventured back there much, however.  I guess the mud, sticks and mosquitoes don’t draw her quite as much.

It is all the wonderfully ordinary moments that I am just loving this week.  Dirty feet, sticky hands and messy faces.  My bathroom floor covered in bubbles from a little girl’s messy bath; what feels like thousands of ketchup stained purple and pink shirts in my laundry; tousled auburn hair against my cheek every morning on top of a sleepy smile.  I guess it’s because that’s what motherhood looks like.  KD on the floor, caterpillars on the deck, little arms and legs covered with scabs and bruises, shoes inside the door and markers and stickers everywhere.  Right now there’s a little girl sitting in my lap with hair that smells like mosquito repellent.  There’s another little girl dashing in the door giggling about something.  It’s time for me to go and give them some attention, but I hope this gives you a peek into our lives these days 🙂

The other night the girls were dancing around the living room and snuggling with Daddy while I played the piano.  Since we’d just been biking I thought of the song “You Can Let Go.”  I started singing it, but even though I’d sung it a thousand times before I only got a few phrases in and felt my throat closing up.  For the first time I thought about these two little girls someday growing up and walking down the isle beside my husband.  Because of that, I want to treasure every moment.  Too soon they won’t be little girls anymore tugging at my hands and holding up their treasures for me to see.  There is so much to do, and so little time…so one day, one moment at a time we will treasure this little life we have.

YOU CAN LET GO

By Crystal Shawanda

Wind blowing on my face
Sidewalk flying beneath my bike
A five year old’s first taste
Of what freedom’s really like

He was running right beside me
His hand holding on the seat
I took a deep breath and hollered
As I headed for the street

You can let go now, Daddy, you can let go
Oh I think I’m ready to do this on my own
It’s still a little bit scary but I want you to know
I’ll be okay now, Daddy, you can let go

I was standing at the altar
Between the two loves of my life
To one, I’ve been a daughter
To one, I soon would be a wife

When the preacher asked
“Who gives this woman?”
Daddy’s eyes filled up with tears
He kept holding tightly to my arm
‘Til I whispered in his ear

You can let go now, Daddy, you can let go
Oh I think I’m ready to do this on my own
It’s still feels a little bit scary but I want you to know
I’ll be okay now, Daddy, you can let go

It was killing me to see the strongest man I ever knew
Wasting away to nothing in that hospital room
You know he’s only hanging on for you

That’s what the night nurse said
My voice and heart were breaking
As I crawled up in his bed and said

You can let go now, Daddy, you can let go
Your little girl is ready to do this on my own
It’s gonna be a little bit scary but I want you to know
I’ll be okay now, Daddy, you can let go

Hope you all have a super weekend!  I’ll let you know how the camping goes 🙂

AF