Family Road Trips

Summer time is here, which means family road trips.  I love going on road trips and taking in all of the scenery that our beautiful province has to offer.  Also it makes for some great memories.  We’ve been on 2 road trips so far this summer and have another one coming up in the near future.  Road trips have changed a lot since having children and has given me a whole different experience.

Since we have a van that’s on it’s last leg, our enjoyment of these road trips have been enhanced by having all 5 of us being squished in a truck.  This is not bad, it’s fun, you know close time together!  The set up is: 1 child in the front with mom and dad and 2 children in the back separated by a cooler.  I have no idea how, but they still manage to get into each other’s space.  Maybe a leg creeps over or one is leaning too much on the cooler making it move a quarter of an inch, who knows.  What would a road trip be without these moments?  I for sure won’t know, plus it adds to the stories for later in life.

Now I’m sure most of us use some kind of GPS on a trip, we do.  The best part is that at some point it messes up.  We have no service or it tells us that we have arrived at our destination in the middle of a highway.  The back seat drivers try to help the front seat drivers with directions and the one child continues to mimic the voice and copy every instruction as it’s being said by the gps navigator.  I think maybe we should look into actually getting a paper map.  We can use this for a homeschooling credit, right??  Something to think about.

Then there’s the bathroom stops.  We take frequent stops at gas stations and rest stops and usually have these planned out.  That all sounds great, but someone ALWAYS doesn’t have to go when we plan it and eventually we will need to make that emergency side of the road stop.  Maybe it’s just the novelty of having to use the bathroom when there isn’t one available? Rough it like the old days?  “Mom, remember that time I had to pee on the side of the road?” will be a conversation piece for the next few months.

We will each have a meltdown.  Literally…. each of us has a moment, whether it be frustration, tiredness, hangry, needing to stretch our legs and walk around or stress because the music has messed up, no matter the reason, it always creeps up.  Eventually these moments are in the distance and we spend time laughing about them.

We always arrive at our destination, thankful to be there and for the most part enjoying our time. As I look at the process of getting there, it’s the good things that shine and the rough patches that often bring laughter in our hearts or make us appreciate what went well. It’s the memories that we make together that are important.

I read somewhere that every time you find humour in a difficult situation, you win! I’m all for the win!!!

Now to plan our next road trip, Staples has map books still, right??

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Anniversary

I’d like to wish my husband a Happy Anniversary.  16 years!! Who knew where we’d be and what life would have looked like when we first got together.

I can’t even remember what my expectations were when I first got married.  Life has taken so many twists and turns, ups and downs.  We have had hard, sad, frustrating, happy, exciting and emotional times.  We both have changed.

I am so thankful to have my husband as my partner, doing this life and parenting thing together.  Raising children that have been affected by alcohol, drugs, trauma etc. is not always an easy task.  Heck, raising neurotypical children can be a challenge.

We have done so much learning individually and together.  We aren’t always on the same page at the same time, we have moments when our own thoughts and ideas clash.  We have differing thoughts on why things are happening and we each process our own “stuff” in different ways.

Even though we have quite a few difference, as I’m sure most people do, we also have a lot in common.  We both want the very best for our children and family.  We are committed to each other and to working through things.  No matter how frustrated each of us gets, at the end of the day, we come together.  We still laugh at each other’s jokes and like the same things.  I have my moments and he’s still here.

There is comfort in knowing that no matter what, your partner has got your back.  Bad moments are just that and nothing more.  Part of supporting each other is accepting that we too are individuals and humans.  We are doing our best and we both are learning, continually learning.  We are learning from each other, our community of support and our little people.

Raising a family that has children with challenges can really put your marriage to the test.  It is so important to make yourself and each other a priority, even when things are chaotic.

We still have date nights, maybe not as much as we’d like but they exist.  We take the time, when the kids are in bed, to spend it with each other.  We talk, or maybe I talk, all the time.  I try to listen and most importantly – we still laugh!

I am so thankful that he chose to be on this journey with me.
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Puzzles

As I sit here writing, I reflect what it’s like to raise a child that has experienced trauma and other disabilities combined. Often I think of it as a big jigsaw puzzle, one that you’re working on but never get to see the picture first. So really, you don’t know what the end result will look like.

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The more you get to working on the puzzle, the more you realize this is something that will never be done.

Some days you’ll put a few pieces together and think to yourself, “wow look at at that, it all fits together, I’m on a roll”. Only to find the next day, that actually, that piece doesn’t really go there and so you begin again.

Many people will contribute to the puzzle and put lots of time and energy to help put the pieces together or at least make it a bit more clear. But the reality is, everyday is new, the puzzle is new. How things fit together has changed.

Each day is different from the one before. We have times where we think we are making headway and things are becoming settled and then they get triggered, so we start again. Sometimes strategies work like a charm and other times they don’t work at all.

As a parent, seeing your child go through challenges, is hard. I would love to have the solution to helping our child alleviate some of the stresses, confusion and pressure that they feel. I do my best at being their external brain and help them process through their own lives. The experiences they have had are unknown to me, consciously they may not know either. But, the PTSD and trauma are real.

We have many fabulous people in our lives from family, friends and supportive professionals. Even with all of this support, I’ll admit, it’s hard. It’s hard to keep yourself level and not to take things personally. It’s difficult to be above the turmoil and to see past it. It’s hard to see others get drawn into it.

I’m a problem solver and like to fix things. So if there’s a challenge, I’m up for it. I’ll work at things for a long time to try to figure them out. Trauma is not something that can be figured out. It comes out in so many different ways in actions and behaviour. There are days where I feel frustrated, sad, anxious and lonely all in one go. I talk to as many people as I feel can help or have some insight with what’s going on in that moment.

It’s hard for me to give in to the reality of the situation. Realistically, this is going to be their life. It’s going to be an up and down road, a puzzle that’s ever changing.

This is my child.

As a mom, I want to be able to stop the chaos they are going through. I want to be able to erase the experiences that have caused this little person so much stress. I want to stop them from hurting and from hurting others.

Acceptance that this is out of my control is one of my true challenges. I have accepted it as in I realize this is going to be their reality. Some days are better than others. Even though I’ve accepted this, it doesn’t make it easy.

In the meantime, we celebrate. Celebrate the successes as small as they are. I try to keep a record of our little successes as it’s always hard to see these when we are in the middle of turmoil.

When I think of that puzzle and take a look at it, it is put together a bit more than it was last year. I’m working on keeping these successes in the forefront and when times are hard to go back to these. I will admit, it’s a lot easier said than done.

Celebrations

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Celebrations, holidays and traditions have always been important to me.  I love having friends and family around sharing in these moments together.  I enjoy the business and surprisingly feel calm in all the chaos.  These times for our children, however,  aren’t always viewed as the happy times and they don’t always have the same fuzzy feelings as we do.

We just celebrated our youngest’s “Happy Adoption Day”!  We celebrate the day that they were born and we celebrate the day that they official became ours. In community programs, when the kids have been asked about their birthdays, they often announce they have 2 and are quite proud of that.  From my youngest, I often hear, “Do you know what Mama? I am the only one at, whatever activity he was in, that has 2 birthdays and the other kids think that’s pretty lucky!”

Our family started this tradition because we adopted one of our children at an older age. She had gone through many transitions and moves before coming home.  The anniversary around the time of her adoption is not as exciting for her as it is for us.  It can be a time of unsettled feelings, being nervous about another move or bringing that looming question overhead about whether or not this is permanent.  Permanency?  What is permanency?  When in reality this little one has never had an opportunity to experience anything on a permanent level.

So to help shape this time from a stressful situation, which we really can’t erase those feelings or memories, we have paired it with a happier celebration.  During our celebration we focus on how happy we are to have the opportunity to be their parents.  We talk about how we felt and the excitement we went through when we were bringing them home.

Many of my friends children ask about their birth and the story of how they were born and we pretty much do the same thing.  We talk about their life journey and share in their story.  We also share ours.  The journey that we went on to have them come home.  The long wait…..The excitement when we met them, what our visits were like.  We share the funny little things they did in the beginning and we go through pictures.  The older siblings share their experiences and excitement of having their sibling join our crazy house.  Side note: That excitement has since dissipated, they are truly siblings!

Let’s not forget the party!

We keep our “Happy Adoption Day” party more intimate than their birthday.  They get to choose where they would like to eat (and can bring one friend), have cake and a special present from Mom and Dad.  This day is usually shared with a few family members.

Although we can’t erase what they have gone through or the sad memories that they have, we can share in their stories.  We can create new moments, that will hopefully turn into new cherished memories.

We would like to wish our little guy a BIG “Happy 8th Adoption Day”.

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Choices

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Sometimes I feel overwhelmed thinking about the challenges that my children face due to their birth histories.  They all have had some kind of exposure, whether it be, drugs, alcohol, trauma or a combination of these.  They have all had a harder start to life.

Many of these things have had a neurological impact on the brain.  We can not see where the damage is and visually these guys look pretty typical, but their brains do not function in a typical way.

Many times, I explain expectations to other people with the analogy, “You wouldn’t expect a person in a wheelchair to run down the street.”  But, what if that person was sitting on the couch?  What if you couldn’t see that they weren’t able to walk?  We would have the expectation that this person had the capability to do that.  This is exactly what happens with my guys, even I have moments where I forget and put an expectation on them that would be a challenge for them to fulfill.

Many of the “behaviours” that we see are side effects of their condition, uncontrollable and not a CHOICE.  Their brains get stuck, overloaded, unable to process etc.

Currently, we are going through a tough time with the end of school and summer transition.  At the moment, things need to be very simple and we are needing to help  a lot more, even with the regular day to day tasks like hanging up a coat or putting their shoes away.  Let’s not even go to what it looks like to try to get those  year end assignments complete.

At the moment, we focus on one thing at a time. If we add on an extra task or expectation it’s just too much.  This comes out in various ways.  They may shut down, become argumentative, cry, get confused, scream and become angry.  Many of these behaviours happen so quickly and at times seem unprovoked, which goes back to the brain and what it can handle in that moment.

We, as parents, can get caught up in the behaviour aspect of what this looks like.  I have had moments when I’ve lost sight of this and took things personally, which ends up making no sense to the other person and prolongs or escalates the behaviour.

My little guy has asked me in the past, “Why are you giving me trouble for this, if I didn’t even WANT to do it?”  and in all honesty, he’s right.  If our children had the flu and were physically sick, but missed the toilet, we wouldn’t give them a consequence for that.  We would help them and the clean things up and maybe even become more patient.  When our children have been overwhelmed, it comes out in a negative way.  They often say things very rudely, kick things, yell and slam doors.  Once they are settled and are feeling more calm, most often they feel remorse and are very sorry for the way that they behaved.  Giving a consequence to this behaviour doesn’t actually teach them anything, except what they already are feeling –  which is not good enough.

That’s where we come in, and how we behave really impacts the situation (and this is REALLY hard, for me at least).  I find that I have to practice coping strategies myself, little tricks to keep my mind from getting triggered.  I keep a note that my little guy wrote to me in my purse, when these behaviours come up, I will often pull it out and read it.  It helps me to keep things in perspective and remind myself that they are not CHOOSING this.

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Summer Excitement

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So many families get excited to have the school year end and summer begin.  I love a bit of a change in pace too.  I’m sure many of us welcome a bit of sleeping in, not being rushed out the door and not having to come up with one.more.lunch., but we’re not quite  there yet.  This time is usually busy for everyone and once we are over this “transitional” time, I’ll be happy!

There’s the mad rush to get everything done, all assignments in, all games played, appointments wrapped up, oh yah I still need to hand in that textbook (ugh).

Change in routine means new beginnings.  New beginnings tend to bring on feelings of anxiety, stress and confusion for my guys.  So we start to plan now, well more like a few weeks ago.

In these times, I try to keep life, language and expectations very simple.    I have to limit the “load” they get from everyday life and try to keep the days as stress free as possible.  Changes are kind of a part of life and out of our control and it’s important to help them to learn to navigate them.

Usually, at this point in the year, I have let some simple things slip.  I am quickly reminded, through the behaviours I see, that these times are really important to have everyday be as predictable as possible.

So off to work I go, writing social stories, putting together visual routines, updating the family calendar and having those visual toolboxes for emotional regulation out in the open.  I also become a master laminator, got to keep those treasures encased in plastic.  Many of these items become a part of our home decor and really help with the anxiety of the unknown.  Actually, I think they help our guests too!

Summer activities are the preferred ones for my gang.  We all love exploring beaches, messy art, park picnics, hiking, spending time with friends and summer camp.  I LOVE summer camp and once we get over the change of routines and some behaviour that goes along with it, it’ll be a welcomed season.

Frustration on Friday

I had my day all planned out.  It was a busy one, but that was ok.  I knew where I had to be and what time, I even made sure I scheduled time to eat lunch.  The plan was get up, eat breakfast, chill a bit, open bank accounts, eat lunch, go to vision therapy, go to dance lessons, stop at the grocery store and then home in time to get dinner on the table.  No problem, did I mention I had the 2 younger ones in tow?

Well needless to say, this is not how it went.  The visions of this running smoothly and being lovely was turning into a bit of a train wreck.

Firstly, the bank appointment ran late. I mean we were just opening some junior savings accounts, how long could that take? It went from a 45 minute appointment to an hour and a half.  Really, an hour and a half to open 2 bank accounts????  Now we only had 10 minutes to get to our vision therapy appointments. Well, there went lunch.  Sorry boys, we’ll have to do that on the flip side.

No problem, I’ll call dance and move that over by 20 minutes, they’ll understand. So vision therapy and lunch went well. Whew back on track, only 20 minutes behind at this point and it was all fine.

Driving to the studio and we get caught in traffic, lots of traffic.  It’s 1:30 in the afternoon, why is there so much traffic? Of course, construction, so only one lane was getting through with about 2 cars at a time.  Forget this, I’ll take another route. That was even worse.  An accident on the bridge and everyone at a dead stop.  Geez, can I catch a break?

Well at this point my frustration level was not good.  I was now snappy, grumpy and impatient.  My boys were doing incredible during the whole day.  Unbelievable actually, it was me that was disregulated!!

They were using strategies that I use, but on me. “It’s ok Mom, we’ll get there.” And other verbal encouragement. The feelings inside me were irritated and my response was “Well it’s going to take us this long to get to dance and that’s going to make shopping late which means dinner will be late. If dinner’s late, were not going to be at the tournament on time tonight. Ahhh”. Plus, there’s the cost of that dance lesson that we are going to be incredibly late for or miss altogether, but that comment stayed in my head. They both stayed incredibly compassionate and “level” in the car, even though I wasn’t.

My brain was stuck, at that moment, it seemed like the rest of the afternoon and evening was shot. I had to get out of this. I knew I was having a “bad moment” and having a hard time getting past it.

So what did I do?

I made a phone call, told someone I was grumpy, frustrated etc. The other person, lucky for me, was grumpy too and shared some grumpy stories. Between the boys and the phone call this is where there was a turning point. The boys gave me perspective of where my attitude was at and that lead to me taking control of my emotions.

I made it to dance for my son to get his last 7 minutes in. The instructor was understanding and didn’t charge us for this lesson and drew us a map of an alternate route to take home. The route was great, which gave me an opportunity to talk the boys in the car about feeling frustrated and adults get “stuck” too. It was a great conversation. We made it to the grocery store and dinner was on the table early.

The timing of this day was perfect. It’s good for the kids to see us, as adults, have these moments and come out of them. It reminded me of what it’s like to be mentally “stuck” and a bit over overwhelmed.

We have many moments where our children’s brains just can’t handle one more thing. They’re overwhelmed and “stuck”. Sometimes I’ll try the strategies that I feel are best, but realize it may not be what they need. Actually, it may be an irritant.

What this made me realize is, during their times of frustration, I need to respond with compassion, offer them a helping hand and ask “What do you need?”.

All About Dad

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Since Father’s Day is just around the corner, I thought it fitting to write a blog all about Dad.  Dad, as in the father to our children, my partner in this crazy life, the yin to my yang.

My husband has his dull moments, we have up and downs and “discussions” like any other couple, but I thought I’d highlight the positives and outline how important he is to our family.

Many people in our lives often say to me:  “You’re so lucky!”, “You’re husband’s such a great guy” “I LOVE your husband” “Oh, you’re married to Cou, I just adore him” and often my response is (with a joking tone, of course) “Well you don’t live with him”, “Come spend a week in our house”, “You know, he snores?”

He has snagged the title of “Mr. Awesome from a few of our friends” and I do believe a few of my family members have mentioned he should have a trophy for putting up with me (True story)!

In all honesty, he truly is one amazing man.  My husband is a person who puts his family first, always.  He works hard, volunteers with our children’s activities and has given me the opportunity to stay home from work to focus on our family.

As we raise our children together, we aren’t always on the same page at the same time.  We react differently to situations, have different perspectives and we go through our own emotional processes at varying times. At the end of the day, we’re are able to come together debrief the situation and move forward.  Most importantly, move forward united.

There are many things I love watching my husband do, other than the housework.

I watch him research, trying to find the best ways to support our children.  He’s continually trying to find new supports, strategies and information to best support our kids with what they are going through.

I watch him be emotionally available to our kids and accepting of who they are.  He’s a great advocate for what they need and has often surprised me out in the world with how he handles others who don’t quite understand.

I watch him teach our children everyday life stuff – how to barbecue, play games, solve problems and to do their chores.  He is consistent, at times maybe too consistent, but the children have a very easy time predicting the outcome with dad!

In turn, I have watched our children grow and further develop from having these experiences with their dad.  They love him and love to share with him.  I see so many qualities in our children that have been nurtured and are developed because of who he is and what he does.

For me, he is my biggest support.  I crab to him, laugh with him, get frustrated with him and love him.  When I think of our 3 little people, I am so thankful to have my husband to be on this journey with.  We have been through some hard times and each of us have wondered if we’ll get through, but always do.

I truly believe that the people in our lives, are not there by accident, we are all connected and meant to be together.  There is an ancient Chinese proverb that says, “An invisible thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, and circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle. But it will never break.” 84defaeb4af93b8ad95771775746815c

 

Where it all began

So, here it is, my beautiful chaotic life.  The cause of my madness and the maker of my happiness, all in one.

My Name is Heidi and I’m a mother to 3 beautiful children and a wife to a wonderful man (who is capable of putting up with me).

Growing up, I’ve always wanted children and I knew that I wanted to take the path of adoption.  Since I was five, I was going to adopt and I never wavered from that. Luckily for me, my husband felt the same way and so our journey began.  What a journey it has been, well maybe closer to an off road experience.  We’ve had ups and downs, tears and excitement, worries and celebrations, (as raising a family naturally brings).

I have always been in the “helping” role.  I baby-sat when I was young and in my teens, I’ve always loved being around people (big and littles), I gravitated more towards people who were needing extra support. My career has always revolved around education, daycares, group homes with adults, teens and children.  When my husband and I were first married, we provided respite care for families and opened our home to international students.

So, when we were ready start building our own family, it was an easy decision in our minds.  We would adopt children that had a bit of a harder start to life.  Why wouldn’t we? We’ve got skills, we can do this, this is going to be easy!!!

Here’s what we knew for sure, we would provide, consistency, routine, support and love and lots of it.  What we didn’t know was the journey that we would go on, the challenges that we would face and how the barriers of our own thinking would be changed.

We adopted 3 children, one girl and 2 boys, each at separate times.  Our daughter, Charlie, came home to us when she was 5 years old, our first son, Jimmy, joined our family 1.5 years later at 11 months old and our youngest son, MJ, came home 2.5 years after that at 11 months old.

Each of our little people have brought their own set of challenges and uniqueness of joy into our home.  Each have disabilities that are invisible and varying levels, which brings a different level of parenting out in the world. We have been touched by Trauma, FASD and ADHD.  We have many wonderful people in our lives that support us in all different ways.

As I write this blog as an outlet for me, I’m hoping it will also be a support for you.  As I go through my own journey, I will be sharing past and present experiences through writing.  This is a new endeavour for me,  anyone who knows me, knows I have the “gift of the gab”,  so I’ve decided to put that to writing.

Moments is what I keep in the forefront of my mind.

Each day is made up of many moments.  Some moments we want to cherish and some we want to forget, but each is a small snippet in time.  We can’t do anything about the moments that pass, but we can mold the new ones that follow.