Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Snapshots of Healing

You know that instruction book you wish had come with your newborn . . . well, let me just tell you, when you're parenting kids from hard places and healing is the goal, you'd be happy with a Sharpie map drawn on a napkin! And you would probably frame it so as not to lose it!

At their hearts, traditional parenting and therapeutic parenting aren't all that different. Even though the methods vary from child to child, the goal is the same - physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy individuals who can function as independent adults. Both have milestones, they just look different . . .  way different.

I want to share 5 of our milestones; every single one almost two years in the making. These snapshots of healing are akin to a baby's first tooth. It may seem trivial to some, but they were hard won with lots of pain and agony that Baby Oragel could not touch. As parents, we are so stinking proud and know there's more to come!

Number 5 - Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire!

How Could You Say No by Kenny Louie
Kids lie, kids from hard places really lie, and kids with RAD take it to a professional level that is exhausting. Add to that just how dad gum smart kids are, and you could spend every waking moment trying to get to the truth of the matter, which wasn't even a big deal, but has now become the mountain we will all surely die on today because the kid can't/won't quit lying.

Lying comes in many forms: 
  • flat out big whopper
  • little white lie
  • half truth
  • lying with actions
  • withholding information
And a kid's absolute favorite because how on earth could mom prove otherwise:
  • shoulders shrug with a mumbled "I don't know"
Aw Lord have mercy. One kid cycles through all of these. All. Day. Every. Day. 

Until last week when the following happened:

Me: Bud, I asked you to pick up those Legos.
Kid: I'll do it now.
Me: Why didn't you do it the first time I asked?
Kid: I don't know.

Now let me interrupt myself here to paint the picture . . . said kid is hustling through the kitchen so he can get back to the movie his siblings are watching. 

As those words left his lips, his shoulders went up into his signature shrug, but his feet slowed to a stop and something amazing happened!

Kid: Wait. That's not the truth. I do know. I didn't want to do it.

And we just stared at each other. He shocked himself as much as he shocked me! And then the party ensued - high fives, big hugs, and accolades all around! Heart bursting moment with the kid who still had to pick up his Legos, but is learning the earth will not collapse if he's honest!

Number 4 - Put Yourself in My Shoes

Mommy, You're Going to Be My Wife, Right? by Lotus Carrol
There's a scary word for people who lack empathy - psychopath. Just being real here because the experts, the books, and the RAD therapists all agree that RADlings are at risk of becoming psychopaths if they never develop the ability to understand others' feelings. Scary right? 

So we become Empathy Trackers. We are looking for moments when they hurt with someone, are scared for someone, share joy, etc. But after 6 years in foster care, they've become good little actors giving you the socially appropriate response at the right time because it endears them to you. Therefore, we don't always believe what we see. With two years together under our belts, we can tell authentic vs performance pretty quick. 

Kid: Mom, why are you trying to lose weight?
Me: Seriously. You and I both know I'm extra fluffy.
Kid: I think you look fine. I don't get it.
Me: It's not just about looks; it's about being healthy and feeling better.
Kid: You're healthy enough.
Me: Let's think about that. Mom is overweight, has heart problems and arthritis. Those kinda things get worse as you get older, and I've got to make some changes. Now. Before it does gets worse. I don't want to hurt all the time, and I want to be around for your kids too.

Tears welled up in her eyes. 

Kid: I hate when you hurt and have a hard time walking. 

She blinked them back.

Kid: But I can already tell you feel better because you're not hanging on to the wall when you climb the stairs anymore, and it doesn't take you as long.
Me: That doesn't sound like it looks pretty.
Kid: Oh its not!

We laughed and she went about her business.

Six months ago that would have looked completely different. A huge melodramatic over-reaction with wailing and gnashing of teeth on my behalf because that's what she thought it was supposed to look like to put yourself in someone else's shoes. On this day, she hurt for me and experienced authentic empathy. For real.

Number 3 - He's looking at me! She's touching me!

Sibling Rivalry by Dawn Huczek
All 6 of our kids get along amazingly well most of the time. Shocker, I know. It is for us, too! But we do have the occasional moments of typical sibling yuckiness, and its usually directed at their roommate. Shocker again, I know. The Bigs are old enough they don't terrorize the Littles, and since the Littles hero worship the Bigs and want their approval/attention, they're not willing to jeopardize it by acting like a turkey. Most of the time. 

There came a day though, just last week in fact, where a Little was harassing/teasing Noah so much that he left the room because he was so angry. Backstory, Noah has some developmental delays and therefore, in certain situations, responds in a way closer to the Littles age than his own. 

Me: Noah, why are you hanging out in the doorway?
Noah: (shrugs shoulders and shakes head)
Me: What happened?
Noah: I got angry so I left. I didn't want to smash anything, but I left. (hulk reference FYI)
Me: What happened?
Noah: I don't know... they were all laughing at me so I left.

Me: Hey guys, can somebody tell me what happened? Why's Noah upset?
Kid: I didn't know he was upset. We were joking around and all of a sudden he disappeared.
Me: Joking how?
Kid: He wiggled his eyebrows and it was funny! I was trying to do it and kept laughing and teasing him about it so we were all laughing .... oh wait . . . he probably felt like I was making fun of him. 
Me: Bingo.
Kid: (chokes up and pulls it together) Noah, I'm sorry for picking so hard. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. Kids do that to me at school sometimes, and I don't want to do that to you. Ever.

A lot just happened there.
  1. Kid felt confident enough in his relationship with Noah to tease him.
  2. Kid connected the dots between his actions and someone else's feelings.
  3. Kid expressed sincere apology and empathy. (see #4 above)
  4. Happy dance and hi-five the world!

Number 2 - Better a Broken Bone than a Broken Spirit

Will's actual broke toe

Remember the scary word from Number 4 . . .  I'm gonna talk about it again. Another red flag of a RADling's potential of becoming a psychopath is lack of remorse or an absence of a conscience. I fully confess to scrutinizing their apologies/remorsefulness/contrition to see if its legit. At times it is. At times it is not. 

The other day a child sped down the hallway straight into William's foot, and all he got was a "Sorry Dad!" The end. And yes, I know that's a typical kid response, but these are not your typical kids.

Fast forward to the next morning when his toe is sporting a fabulous purple ombre in all its broken glory. Of course, we simply could not pass up that object lesson.

Will: Remember when you ran into me yesterday?
Kid: Huh? I ran into you?
Will: When you were running down the hall . . . when you weren't supposed to be running . . .
Kid: Oh yea! Sorry about that.
Will: You broke my toe.
Kid: (giggles) What? Broke your toe? Naaaahh
Will: (displays the aforementioned toe)

The child's gasp said it all. Her hands flew to her face and covered her eyes. She swallowed hard and wiped away the few tears that escaped.

Kid: Dad I am so so sorry. I didn't know I did that.
Will: It's ok. That's why we tell ya'll not to run. Not to be mean, but because there's not room inside, and we don't want anyone to get hurt.

He gave her a hug and turned to leave, and I saw that deep breath.

Me: You ok?
Kid: (the dam breaks) 
Kid: (wailing for real, falls in my arms) 
Kid: I can't believe I did that. (sob) I am so sorry.
Me: It will be alright. Dad forgives you, and his toe will heal.
Kid: It looks like it hurts so much. I feel so bad Mom.
Me: I know, and I'm glad because that means you hurt for Dad. And that's good.

Did you see it all?
  • No excuses
  • Remorse
  • Empathy (see #4 above, again)
So good.

Number 1 - Distance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder....

Or stirs up abandonment issues. 

Sunset in Kenya by eirasi
Obviously, the Littles have abandonment issues. Some more than others, but NINE placements in FIVE years will do that to a kid. To anybody. 

Therefore, every time William or Gabe have gone on mission trips, it has thrown them into a tailspin that we could not prevent, interrupt, or stop. We just had to wait for it to play out. Sometimes it was just for a day. Sometimes it was the entire trip. Sometimes it was just one kid. Sometimes it was all.

Gabe, whom we call the ManChild, is in Kenya Africa at this very moment serving in the village of Singuaya, near Malindi. Because of their angst over his graduation in May, we battened down the hatches for the storm, which would surely descend once they realized not only would he be gone for 16 days, but would fly across an ocean twice, and rub elbows with weapon-toting Maasai warriors. Ok . . . so maybe mama was a little worried too.

I know you're waiting for the story. But there isn't one. Because they prayed over him, hugged him, watched him drive away, and then nothing. Six days later and still nothing. The end.

Now make no mistake, they have each voiced missing him, enjoyed seeing pictures and videos, and even tried to mimic the insane jumping dance of the aforementioned Maasai warriors. But there have been zero meltdowns, no acting out, no reverting to previous manipulative behaviors. 

And that, my friend, has shown more healing than almost all the other snapshots combined because what they are displaying is a secure confidence that this love, this family, is forever.

And that, as Visa used to say, is priceless.

Photo Credit: Alicia Widner Photography


  1. Just beautiful and wonderful! I loved seeing all the details that are going on in the journey! God is doing beautiful redemption in your home!

    1. Thank you friend!! I know you get it!!