Friday, 18 July 2014

Bedtime!

Bedtime is becoming a bit of a swear word in our house at the moment.  Trying to a) get Katie to bed and b) keeping her in bed once she is there. As bedtime approaches every evening I start to dread it.

This is an issue we've certainly traversed before, many times. With every change in Katie's life (except when she moved in with us interestingly) bedtime is effected.  This is the worst period we've ever had though because it's not just the getting out of bed that is the issue.  There is an underlying hyper-activeness and aggression at not getting her own way that is making the issue harder to manage this time around. The house move and the hot weather is exacerbating the situation as she struggles to settle and gets hotter and hotter.  She just seems to be buzzing. Totally unable to settle herself at all.  Trying to physically tire her out doesn't seem to make any difference neither does limiting sugary products.  It's like she's decided she is staying awake.  She's up and down like a yo-yo which then prevents her from settling and getting to sleep.  She regularly holds out until 10pm and it was nearly 11pm a few nights ago because I was out. In fact she is noticeabley worse on the evenings that I am out. As I'm typing this she is banging about upstairs, thumping up and down her cabin bed and has just appeared downstairs again and I'm starting to feel my stomach knot up in sheer frustration. 

When we go up to her room we are met with aggression and rudeness. She is experimenting with verbally threatening me with violence i.e. "if you don't give me my light back I'm going to pull your eyes out". My response was a simple stare. No words required. Eye to eye contact Iearned from many years of dealing with aggressive teens. It says "I'm not afraid of you".  Inside though I'm worrying if this means my child is heading towards becoming one of those teens and that terrifies me. I'm hoping that she's just testing. Her response to my stare was to say she didn't mean it. I hope she didn't.

I discussed this with my counsellor and she congratulated me for not doing the obvious thing that many parents would do and not go out.  To be honest at the moment, with how things are for me personally, I need that time out.  I need to be able to laugh and relax a bit.  I need a little time (without becoming a Beautiful South song) to try and rekindle the person that I used to be because the "me" inside feels tired and heavy.  It feels like I'm having to force internal calmness on a moment by moment basis so that I don't constantly blow my top  in sheer frustration at everything with Katie being a battle. I said in my last post "Moving House" that I feel shell-shocked.  I'm naturally a very peace-loving and positive person.  I generally see the good in most things and love to help and support other people.  At the moment I just want to disappear inside myself and seem to have nothing to give myself, let alone anyone else.  I'm burnt out, not depressed.

I'm not a sit back and let it happen sort of person so as well as continuing to go to my Reiki healing share I often attend talks at our local Holistic group.  We have been blessed with some incredibly inspirational speakers over the past few weeks and I was particularly inspired this week by a man called Ian Tucker.  His message is very simple and the same as many other spiritual authors.  He suggests approaching life from a place of love and the positive impact on the self that this will have.  I hear that message and really, really, really want to embrace it.  In fact I floated home and managed to maintain it, for nearly 24 hours, until I couldn't handle the relentlessness of my daughter for another moment.  I could feel that anger and frustration rising and feel like Phil Berquist in City Slickers.  Now, I don't personally hate anyone but the outburst that Phil has in the film feels like the turmoil going on inside me and I will honestly say I find it hard to like my daughter and hold onto a loving feeling when she is behaving this way because it feels like a personal attack. 

I think I understand why Katie is behaving the way that she is.  There is so much in her life that is out of her control so she has regressed to an emotional time in her life when she moved in with us.  Maybe there is healing from that time that needs to happen so that she can move forward again.  Maybe Pip joining us has rekindled all those feelings again.  Maybe moving house has exacerbated all of that. Maybe my current emotional distance as I manage my illness and Katie's behaviour is making Katie feel unsafe and has become a Catch 22 situation? It it also the summer term at school which is well known for being a time of general horrendousness.  The nights are light and warm so children aren't sleeping well. Katie has said she wants to come down and watch the programmes that TCM and I watch (Banshee? No way on this earth missy!).  So if she can't watch them then neither can we because we are spending all our evening putting her back to bed or are terrified she'll walk in on an unacceptable programme for her so we're not getting our wind-down time.  

There is a big change coming up as the children head into a new school year.  What will be expected of them? Why do they yet again have to leave what is familiar and safe?  Emotional rugs are being pulled from under children all over the country so much of Katie's behaviour might also be related to that. The difficulty as a parent is that you never really know.  I'm hoping that the summer holidays might bring some healing for us all.  I am going to hold on to the message that Ian Tucker gave and I do believe he's right.  I can see how overloaded I have become whilst dealing with a lot of emotional things.  I don't like feeling negative or seeing only problems. It's tiring and it's a waste of time.  I don't want to feel this way and I have nothing to gain from it.  Katie and I may well be on the same page with how we are feeling perhaps?

On so many levels I feel like I'm in a holding pattern, waiting.  Waiting for an essence of myself to return so that I can engage with life and my family in the way I want to.  Waiting for this phase with Katie to pass.  I know we will sort out the bedtime issue, we always have in the past.  I hope the summer holidays will help.  It's been a long term and we're all exhausted.  For Katie, being tired brings hyperactiveness not sleep. She's always been the same.  Thankfully she's sleeping in until about 7am so she's at least getting some sleep but she's emotionally on a knife edge, melting down in the manner of a two year old.  I'm waiting for my Vitamin D levels to rise so that hopefully I no longer feel so tired and in pain and I can be the parent and person that I know I am.  I look back to this time last year and feel that we have been emotionally up in the air since then.  I'm not dreading the summer holidays this year though so I can see that there are some shifts. Katie is often much better with Pip now and I can see moments of real love between them.  Pip utterly adores Katie and there are times when you can see she feels the same but there are also times when she looks at him with a look that contains enormous anger and I worry she wants to hurt him.  Now that Pip is more mobile I think the holidays will be easier.  Although it's taking it's toll currently I am coping/ticking over with Katie's behaviour and I think that she needs more time with me.  There's a part of me that feels like I don't want more time in a war zone but the therapeutic parent part of me suspects that we need to pull everything back to basics for a while and the holidays are a great opportunity to do just that.

From a parenting perspective we are trying to be consistent.  TCM and I have acknowledged that we are often not quite on the same page.  TCM definitely wears the "Good Cop" badge more than I do and we've agreed our boundaries over bedtime so as not to give a mixed message to Katie.  The routine of bathtime then bedtime is agreed and clear.  Coming down for a bit of TV is something that Katie cannot cope with because she gets too upset when it's bedtime.  We're both keeping tight boundaries over unacceptable behaviour and trying very, very, very, very hard to ignore a lot of the rude behaviour (I find this part incredibly difficult and is probably my biggest anger trigger!). We're letting her read until she's sleepy with her nightlight on because she'll just turn her bedroom light on or sit in the hallway. Short of locking her in her bedroom, which we will obviously not do, I'm at a loss to know what else to do. She used to go to bed and sleep beautifully after a story and kiss and cuddle and her musical dog. Now she is constantly looking for an argument. I just don't know what to do. Reward systems aren't working nor are penalties. I try to just ignore all the banging about and not give it any attention but that's often easier said than done.  I internally worry about Pip being disturbed but rarely let on to Katie that I am concerned so as not to give her more ammunition. She doesn't care about anything and that's even more sad to see. I can't imagine what is going on in her head.

I'm sure I'm not alone in these experiences. Please come and share your stories with me. How did/do you cope? What strategies do you use? 

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Moving House!

I'm currently feeling a little shell shocked.  I'm struggling to articulate the feelings I have if I'm honest. Blasted is a good word.  Dazed is another one I could use.  The reason for this is the fact that we have moved house.

I'm quite a settled person, as is TCM.  We don't move house very often.  In fact we have only owned 2 houses in our 20 years of marriage.  Moving is quite a trauma for us - mostly because we have way too much stuff and partly because we like our home and have no plans to leave there.  But move we have because we are treating our home to a massive refurb and extension.  When it's finished it will be amazing. As with all building work, it's just the interim bit that is the problem.

Our rented house is very small compared to our home so it's all a bit of a squash and a squeeze which I am finding quite claustrophobic.  TCM commented it was a bit like being in a holiday home which, with the intense heat we are experiencing here in the south and the fact that this house is very hot, I am tempted to agree with.  I am really missing the coolness of our bungalow which, even in the hottest weather, stays very cool downstairs.

I was very worried about moving the children, with good cause it would appear because Katie is really unsettled.  To try and help them we visited the new house several times before we actually moved in so it felt familiar to the..  I tried to approach it a bit like our adoption introductions.  Pip appears to be coping very well with the move. He took about a week to settle but now seems quite happy and back to his usual cheerful self, if a little more hectic.  In fact he loves his new garden because the owners have kindly left the children with a play house and some garden toys.  Pip spends as much time as he can down there, tinkering with his toys and playing with his toy kitchen.  I've nervously let the cats, Willow and Leo, out and have already had to retrieve Leo from our neighbours house at 10pm when he got over the fence but couldn't get back due to being an enormous Maine Coon and only having one hip.  We then had to retrieve him again the following morning so I suspect it won't be the last we see of our neighbours garden! Thankfully they have been lovely about it all and I'll be baking my famous brownies as a thank you to them tomorrow.

My main concern is Katie.  She regressed quite significantly when Pip arrived last year and we were still working through all those feelings and I'm wondering if the move has also triggered a memory of the emotions she felt when she first moved to us as a toddler.  It seems likely.  She noted that the house doesn't smell like us and she's right.  It will take some time for our smell to embed in the house and that must feel very unsettling for her, I know it does for me.  She seems to be quite an angry little girl at the moment; argumentative and rude and prone to very baby-like tantrums and tears and lots of baby talk yet it's clear she really wants me around.  In fact she has started to reject TCM again, just as she did when she first arrived which is really tough on him because he just wants to help.  She had started to challenge bedtime again prior to our move but over the past 10 days this has worsened and she is taking several hours to settle and go to sleep.  This is putting extra pressure on me because Katie currently doesn't want TCM to put her to bed.  Being so over-tired is impacting on her ability to regulate her emotions.  On the day of the house move she kicked one of her best friends at school in what appears a totally unprovoked manner.  Thankfully her teacher is fully aware of the move and of the fact that she is adopted and handled the situation well.  I wasn't sure it warranted the Head Teacher phoning the parent of the other child though which made the situation more serious than it really was.  I was able to do damage control with the other child and her mum and all seems to be fine again now. We moved on the Friday so I gave her the Monday off school to spend with me and Pip. I was a bit worried she was just too stressed to go back into school and I'm glad I kept her home. She enjoyed ransacking my makeup bag and found a whole new use for my sultry grey eyeshadow!  It seemed to help her feel more settled and she's certainly been fine at school. Yesterday however Katie had a full blown panic attack at school after another child was violently sick in class. Katie has a bit of an anxiety around being sick at the best of times and I'm starting to feel concerned that this is becoming a real phobia. Her teacher calmed her down and managed her well it seems (it also gave her an excuse not to clean up the sick which, she confided in me, she really struggles with) but Katie was very pale and low yesterday afternoon and bedtime was even more of a challenge last night.  I suspect all the other emotions she is experiencing made the anxiety around the child being sick all the more intense.  A trip to Costa helped perk her up a little but she's definitely not herself.  She has said to me that she wants to go back to our other house to live. I agreed with her and said that I felt the same and I feel really guilty for putting this build on her.  The additional space will benefit us all though and Katie will have an amazing new bedroom that will meet her growing needs.  To be honest I think we need the summer holidays to begin so we can keep Katie's stress stimuli to a minimum and let her be with me as much as possible.  I'm hoping that will be healing for us both.

To try and help her with everything we are visiting our home after school everyday to see what has been happening there (or not as the current case is).  I park at the house and walk to school along our usual route so that Pip still gets the familiarity of seeing his favourite stream and the cat we say hello to every day and Katie is able to scoot back with her best friend as we have done for the past 2 years. We have been slowly bringing extra bits with us but we made sure we brought nearly everything that belonged to the children so that we could create as familiar a surrounding as possible in the new house. We've taken our neighbour's dog for a walk to spend a little time together.  One of the things that really helped her was the new series of Topsy and Tim returning on the Monday after we moved house. The first episode was all about the fact that Topsy and Tim had moved house. Seeing how excited they were about it all was useful for Katie, in fact she watched the episode three times in quite succession.  We've been talking about the adventure we are having and have been finding new ways to walk to our new house from school and the local park.  We have been pleased to meet other friends from school on the new walk to school and I am forcing myself to enjoy enjoying the longer walk to school.

We are also trying to remain as calm as possible, which isn't always easy and I feel like I fail at this on a daily basis.  Katie isn't a small girl, she is tall for her age and, although she is as skinny as a rake, she is strong.  When she lashes out it is a difficult experience for all involved and I find it hard to not react. I am trying very hard to ignore as much of the rudeness as possible but I will admit I find it difficult to accept being spoken to in the way that she often speaks to me.  I've bought her an Hello Kitty light to clip onto the side of her cabin bed so she can read in bed (and hopefully stay in bed). This has helped things a bit but she wants to come down and watch the TV programmes that TCM and I are watching so gets up constantly which obviously prevents her from sleeping.  I find it hard though to feel loving with someone who is constantly lashing out at me or being rude and feel like I have to pretend those feelings and act in a loving way in the hope that Katie will start to calm down and then it will feel more natural.  Internally I feel like a bomb about to explode though and am stress eating chocolate again. Luckily our wonderful SW has organised for some counselling for me with a specialist adoption counsellor so the timing is perfect to discuss all this with her.   The counsellor noted that Katie's regression has taken her back to the age she was when we adopted her.  Interestingly, when I mentioned that a 1, 2, 3 parenting approach was now working with her, my counsellor noted that she had probably moved forward to being about aged 3.  So some progress is being made and I can only hope that maintaining tight boundaries and helping her with her emotions will help her continue to move forward in age.

I have ordered Katie and Pip a butterfly garden so we can watch the changes that the caterpillars go through before becoming butterflies.  My aim is highlight that changes can be good but that sometimes you have to wait a while before you see how good it is.  I'm hoping this will also help with the transition to Year 2.  Thankfully, aside from the kick, Katie is doing well at school and meeting all her targets. She passed her Year 1 Phonics Tests very easily and is reading and writing ahead of her age. Her maths is about where she should be but needs some additional work.  This is mostly being hindered by something that has always been a difficulty for Katie.  As long as I have known Katie I have noticed that if she finds something difficult she will get very anxious and upset.  Her self-esteem is quite low and she will decide that she can't do it.  We have been helping with this over the past few years by introducing swimming and gymnastics so she can see her progress and start to learn that she can overcome difficulties and challenges.  I have also been trying to encourage her to think about how to solve small problems i.e. when Katie says to me "I don't have a pen" I ask her to think about the solution she needs and then rephrase her statement to ask me to help her solve the problem i.e. "Mummy do you know where I can find a pen?"  Her teacher has noted in her school report that this is an issue at school and that she needs to ask for help more.  Katie is more likely to head off to a friend for a chat than let the teacher know she is struggling so this is something we are trying to help her with via her homework.  This hasn't been helped by said teacher introducing work that I think is too difficult for the children, particularly when they arrive in the mornings.  Recently I took Katie into class in the morning to discover they were expected to complete a maths sheet about arrays.  It took us a few moments to sort out what she needed to do (whilst I was worried that I'd left Pip outside the classroom door and he would start getting fretful).  It then transpired that Katie really didn't know how to do the sheet and I could see she was getting anxious and I felt awful because I then had to leave because it was 9am.  I walked home feeling like the worst parent in the world.  I will be making an appointment to see her new teacher as soon as the new term starts to go over some of these issues.

Of course all of the above is not helped by the fact that I'm still struggling with my energy levels.  My body hurts in the joints and I struggle to walk to and from school.  I'm plugging away at it but I feel mentally distracted quite often because of the ongoing fatigue.  I had a chance conversation with another mum at swimming on Saturday and it transpired she had also had low Vitamin D levels and felt exactly the same as me.  We noted to each other, with our eyes swimming with tears, how much of a failure as a parent we felt because we didn't have the energy to be the parents we wanted to be.  That shared moment helped us both tremendously I think.

I will keep plugging away as I always do. I am so pleased that I have the opportunity to engage with the lovely counsellor.  I felt very strongly after my first session that she will help us all enormously.  I felt lighter and calmer after my first session after I unloaded a whole heap of emotions that had built up over the course of two adoptions.  I am looking forward to unpicking them all and emerging as my own personal butterfly from the cocoon that is currently restricting me.

So our building adventure has begun.  I am writing about that separately on a new blog called "Bricking It! The story of how 5,000 bricks made a home."  I am sure that this project will being all sorts of challenges both at the building site and at our temporary home.  I'm hoping that things will start to improve here.  It's early days yet and I know I'm not feeling settled yet so how can I expect Katie and Pip to feel settled.  I hope that it's not going to cause irreparable damage to Katie and hope that it will provide an opportunity for her to work through some of the emotions from her move to us and enable her to shed her cocoon as well.