Monday, April 10, 2017

Breaking the Cycle

We had our first in-home visit with the adoption agency last week and the ball is now officially rolling! She will be back in May, and between now and then we will complete Car Seat Safety Training, First Aid/CPR Training, and 20 hours of Pre-Adopt Education and Training. We also have a mountain of paperwork that we are working on throughout the whole process. She is still anticipating approval at the beginning of June!  I am praying we are able to match shortly thereafter and bring our kiddos home near the beginning of the summer, so we have as much time as possible to bond with them, and for them to attach to us and their siblings.

We also attended a conference geared toward those who work with "kids from hard places" called Empowered to Connect.  This was an amazing conference that I can't recommend enough, even if you don't interact with kids who have endured trauma! I signed up for it before we began this journey to learn how to connect better to my biological kids!

Here is a brief overview of my takeaways from the conference:

1. Our kiddos brains are capable of amazing things.  The brain is a complex organ with different areas responsible for distinct functions, and all these separate areas need to work together in order to properly function.

2. How the brain functions is affected by a variety of risk factors including time spent in utero, birth, postnatal issues, abuse, trauma, and neglect.

3. The brains of kiddos subject to the risk factors in #2 are different than those of a child who has not experienced these risk factors. Because of this we cannot view all children through the same lens.  Their level of maturity does not directly correspond to their chronological age.

4. The stress and trauma that some at-risk kids endure affects not only their brain, but their beliefs, behaviors, body, and even their biology.

5. Attachment is critical, especially in the first year of life. The attachment style of the parent will affect the child's view of the world and will likely be the attachment style that child defaults to when they become parents.

Those last few lend credence to the phrase  "you are a product of your environment".

-If a child experiences a healthy pregnancy, birth, and has no complications after birth, they have a great start! Their environment thus far has been conducive to good brain development and because the brain hasn't been affected by outside factors or substances, it will begin developing as it should.

-If a child experiences a difficult pregnancy or is subject to outside substances in utero, has a traumatic birth, or has postnatal stressors like extended NICU stays, their brain has already been affected.

-In either case, if this child is then raised in an unhealthy environment, or by a caregiver that doesn't foster healthy attachment; or worse, the child experiences neglect, abuse, or trauma, their brain's development will be greatly affected.

They talked specifically about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) which include the various forms of abuse, neglect, and trauma. Kids who endure ACES grow into adults that suffer the consequences. Unresolved traumas are a breeding ground for mental and somatic health issues, substance abuse, and issues with stress, anger, and sexuality.

A cycle is set into motion in these children's lives without their consent. But the good news is, we can help break that cycle.

We can help them learn to trust and appropriately attach. We can help them begin to believe they are worthy of love. We can help them learn to negotiate their needs, stand up for themselves, and be confident in who they are.

There was so much information shared on how to do this, and as someone who introduced one of the speakers said, "I don't have enough letters before and after my name" to accurately relay all that they shared. But this video, this video, and this book, among many other resources would be a great starting point!

One final takeaway that is valuable to any parent is this:


It is so important to take time to connect with each of your kiddos, one-on-one, for at least 10 minutes every day.  Let your child decide what you are going to do during this time and just focus on following their lead and having fun doing what they want to do! This is not a teachable moment, or a time to ask them excessive questions. It's a time to let them know that you WANT to spend time with them.

And when you say your head down on your pillow at night, you go through your kids one by one and ensure that you have taken this time to invest in them. If you realize you missed out on one, get up and go to that child's room and tell them you missed spending time alone with them today. It will be ten minutes well spent.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Justin's Surprise 30th Weekend

Way back in October, I turned 30 and my hubby threw me a surprise party... after taking me out to eat... after I returned from an overnight hotel stay, by MYSELF... where I went on a shopping spree for new clothes for myself... so yeah he pretty much rocked my 30th birthday celebration.  That same week I laid the plans for his 30th birthday that was 6 months away. This past weekend it finally came to pass!

I woke him up Saturday morning with a cup of coffee and breakfast pizza from the gas station (so romantic, I know) and told him we were leaving in half an hour. He asked "to go where?", I replied "you don't get to know."

I had already packed up almost everything and my bigs ran over to their cousins where they would be staying. We packed up the littles and headed to drop them off at my other sisters in the next town over.

From there, I directed him to another town about an hour away where we stopped to use the bathroom quickly. (He later said he thought we were going to his favorite gun store to buy a new gun. The good wife I am, didn't even remember there was a gun store there, or that it was his favorite!)

We headed back on the road for another couple hours and pulled up to a Great Clips where he was directed to get a haircut. They were booked out so we skipped that and went to a restaurant called Brew. (Just a quick aside to do a shameless plug for this place: it is awesome! Great atmosphere, selection of beer and food was amazing, and everything tasted fantastic!).  He thought this town was our final destination for a minute, but we headed back on the road for another couple hours and eventually pulled into a Sport Clips where he was able to get a haircut.

Then I directed him to our hotel.  We checked into our room and when he went in the bathroom I laid out his dress clothes with a card on top.  He opened the card which contained tickets to Chanhassen Dinner Theater's "Grease". I expounded upon what I had written in the card, explaining how we have always talked about going back to New York to see another Broadway show (we saw Wicked in 2007 and LOVED it) and how we had loved the shows in Vegas, so I thought it would be a fun way to celebrate his 30th birthday. I also mentioned that we were staying for two nights so we could have a little extra time away, and confessed my fib about why he had to take work off on Monday.

We went to the show and it was amazing. Dinner was included with our tickets so we dined first and then the show began. First off, they cast it perfectly - especially Rizzo, Frenchy, and Kenicke - and the play sticks pretty close to the movie plot which I appreciate!  We both enjoyed it thoroughly, and then headed back to the hotel. I wished him a happy birthday again, reiterating how this was his gift and we talked about what we could do the next day to pass the time.

We awoke the next morning and ate breakfast at the hotel... because who books a hotel without breakfast included!? Then we lounged around and eventually went to Target and Home Depot to shop and window shop, ending up at Smash Burger for lunch. Yum! Highly recommend the salted caramel shake! Burgers and sides were tasty, and J liked that you could get a beer with your meal which is not typically the case at these types of places.

We headed back to the hotel with plans to relax and then maybe go to a movie or something later.  Shortly after getting back to our room, I "remembered" his gift that I had "forgotten" was in the trunk. I went and fished it out from its hiding place and brought it back up.  I handed it to him saying "it's just a little something to have as a tangible birthday gift."

He opened the package and found a MN Wild jersey inside. After trying it on and thanking me, we resumed our game of "Oregon Trail", the card game that J had been so excited to purchase. (Sidenote, I don't get this game... probably because I was so distracted by the suspense of J's gift).

As we finished up the game, I was trying to figure out how to get Justin to dig under the tissue paper of the box he had set aside after removing the jersey from it.  I started folding up the top of the box and the tissue paper that he had pulled out and asked him to hand me the tissue paper out of the box so I could fold it as well and save it (yes, I am that big of a loser, so this wasn't an odd request). He pulled the tissue paper out and found the papers hiding underneath that were the tickets to the Wild vs. Avalanche game that evening!

We had great seats, and having never been to an NHL game, we were both caught up in the excitement.  They definitely know how to get a crowd going and it was a fun game to watch! Helps when your team wins 5-2!

We headed back to the hotel for the night and now it is early in the the morning and he is sleeping as I write on here. Why is it that you always wake up early when you have the opportunity to sleep in!?

It was a memorable 30th birthday and it was so fun to be on the giving end of a building surprise like this!  It will certainly make sitting through the 3 1/2 hour Car Seat Training (that is required for our adoption) on his real birthday a little more bearable.

I think I am smelling the free breakfast, better get going!! ;)