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Archive for April, 2012

On Thursday evening, Blitzen decided that we should throw Andrew a surprise party.  We chose to do it on Sunday afternoon since weekdays are pretty busy for us.  Andrew’s birthday is today.  Happy birthday, my love.

Our good friend P and my dear Aunt B, both responded to my very late Friday afternoon invitation.  In my book, 2 guests plus Blitzen makes a party so we were on.  I really wanted to keep it contained so that Blitzen could have complete ownership of it and I wouldn’t have to buy food or clean the house! Blitzen planned the menu – strawberry cake, strawberries, whipped cream.  There were also  a few last minute additions to the menu – doritos, hummus and cashews.  We made the cake ourselves with the help of good old Bette Crocker.

On Sunday morning, we got up early and went to buy a gift.  Blitzen has been talking for a months about buying Andrew a ring for his birthday.  I was trying heartily to dissuade her.  Andrew is not a jewelry guy and he certainly would never wear anything within our $25 budget and Blitzen is kind of obsessed with our wedding rings so I knew that she would totally notice if he ever took it off.  Luckily, when we got to the store, she immediately saw the men’s swimsuits and who wouldn’t want an extra swimsuit as a gift so that is what she got Andrew.  She still had some money left over so she also picked out a beautiful tie.

At the party, there was much mermaid talk and mermaid fashion because what 42 year old doesn’t want that kind of fun on their birthday?  We had bubbles (thank you, Aunt B) and a yo-yo.  Fun was had by all until Blitzen decided that she wasn’t getting enough attention and started to cry.  She took some time to cool off in her room but made up with everyone before they went home.  I had deliberately scheduled the party for just 1 hour because I’ve learned that it is entirely possible to have too much a good thing if you are Blitzen.

All and all, it was quite a success.  I love giving Blitzen the opportunity to create these traditions and build community and bonds with our family and friends in this way.  She truly enjoys doing nice things for people and was so delighted that Andrew was happy and surprised by his gifts and the party.

After Andrew blew out the candles, Blitzen asked me to relight them so that she could make her wish.  Like I said, we’re building new traditions and creating bonds – why shouldn’t everyone get a wish?  She blew out the candles and then demanded that we ask her what her wish was.  We did and she said that she wishes that nothing ever changes.  Sweet but tricky because things most certainly will.   Hard to know exactly what will happen next for little Blitzen but we committed to being there for her for years to come.

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Blitzen came home the other day with her little composition notebook  filled with the signatures of her friends — everyone had, apparently, signed up for a part in Blitzen’s mermaid play.  What mermaid play, you might ask?  By the time I got home, Andrew and Blitzen were sitting at the kitchen table, assigning each child a part, creating just the right character for everyone and then rehearsing the dialogue.  There was drama and intrigue and excitement but also lots of praise and words of love for the main character, Aqua (Bltizen stole this name from a teenybopper mermaid film that she has been obsessed with), who will be played by Blitzen.

Blitzen would to like perform the play at school and everyone can invite their family and friends.  Blitzen named the people that she wanted to come, me and Andrew, Dasher and Dancer, Nana, our friend P, and ‘my mom, you know my real mom, S’.  That last piece is interesting even though it has nothing to do with the play. I think Blitzen is having a lot of inner dialogue about moms and what it means to be a mom and the role that I play in her life right now and maybe in the future and the role of S.  She is reluctant to talk about it but I can see the wheels turning as she attempts to fit everyone in this not-so-conventional situation into their ‘proper’ place.

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Now that Andrew and I have decided that we need to spend more time together (we’re always together but we need a wee bit time together not with Blitzen), we’ve been bringing the backups and friends and babysitters more aggressively into the routine.  Here is a sample of the absurdly long email that I have sent to a few people in preparation for their alone time with Blitzen. I customize the first paragraph because I care.

Dear Village Member,

Customized greeting and confirmation of upcoming babysitting assigment.

I think that Blitzen struggles most with a few items that are linked to one another:

1)            Transition

2)            Surprise or unexpected outcomes

3)            Criticism (real or perceived)

4)            Feeling that she is not being heard/understood/listened to

On all of this, it is so important to remember that Blitzen has been conditioned over the past nine years to be on perpetual offense.  She very much operates in a world where it is better to get mad and create the chaos then to risk being surprised and hurt by the anger and chaos of others.  And much of this is about neurological response – her brain is very actively triggering the fight or flight response many times every day.  The tricky thing about that nifty evolutionary adaptation, is that once the brain triggers it, it kind of shuts down and stops thinking.  You see the lion, the brain says – oh no, lion, grab that stick to hit the lion and then RUN like hell.  Then the brain goes offline so you won’t stand there debating with yourself – maybe it is a nice lion, perhaps it wants to be friends or would prefer to chase that zebra.  By the time you think all that, you are lion dinner.  So sometimes (not always) Blitzen gets a little ‘outside herself’ in these moments and is just moving through the paces of fight / flight and it takes some time for her to come back down.

There are several tricks that we use to help Blitzen move through the day.  One, we plan carefully and reiterate what will come next several times over the course of the day.  This is why we have a schedule.  If Blitzen doesn’t want to do something (go to the library or the park or whatever) we simply reiterate that it is on the schedule so we must follow through but welcome her input on how to make it more fun and/or interesting.  An example would be if we have library and park on the schedule back to back, we could flip them – do park first, say we will be at the park for exactly 30 minutes and then we must go to the library.

Transitions are hard and we allow lots of time for them to occur.  I might ask Blitzen to clear her plate and it could take several minutes for it to happen.  I make myself wait at least 1 full minute before asking her again.  I often observe that she is doing something else, comment on it and then ask her to return to the task at hand “I see you are looking at that cool catalogue, you can look at the next page, then we’ll both look at it together during activity time.  Would you please come remove your dinner plate?”

She is also often slow to leave the house or move on to the next thing – if she wants to comb her hair or change her outfit or whatever before we go to the park, that is ok with us.  We let those things just play out – time has an all new and much more fluid meaning since we met Blitzen.  There are very few things that need to happen right this very minute.

Criticism / no – we try not to say ‘no’ the word very often.  So instead of  – no, you may not look at the book now.  We try to say ‘let’s look at the book at this time’  or ‘we have homework on the schedule right now but I am excited to do that with you at playtime’.  Bltizen also sees criticism where there is none.  We never bother nagging her to comb her hair or button up her coat or tie her shoes – we might observe ‘it is chilly, do you need help buttoning your coat?’ she can say yes or no or not button it all.

Blitzen is not always clear when expressing herself verbally.  We have a few tricks – we ask her to sit with us or we kneel down in front of her so that we can see her face and eyes.  We ask her to look at us directly.  If we don’t understand,  we just admit it. ‘I need a little more help, I am trying but I don’t understand exactly what you mean’.  Lastly, we try to resist the urge to argue with Blitzen when she is being irrational.  She’ll say ‘you hate me, you always hated me. You only love Andrew.’  And I might respond ‘I hear you and I am sorry you feel that way.  What would you like me to do differently?’  She will also say things like ‘get away from me’ or ‘leave me alone’ — she never means this literally but is having difficulty expressing what she really means to say like ‘I am confused, I can’t talk right now, I need to recover and I need a little bit of space to do it’ or ‘I am hungry and need to eat an orange’.  We have started making her clarify and ask her – do you really want me to leave the room or are you trying to say something else right now?

If she gets mad, she may yell, that is ok.  She may throw stuff, also ok as long it won’t hurt anyone or damage anything (her favorite item to toss around  is the mail).  She may stomp off to her room and slam the door.  She may storm out of the apartment – this is not our favorite but if we can still see her, we let it play itself out.  She generally recovers herself within 5 or 10 minutes if we don’t push her.  So we don’t chase her or argue with her crazy claims that we got a foster kid just so we could have guinea pigs or that everyone on the planet hates her because deep down she is a mermaid – we just actively listen and try really really hard not to react.

Physical activity is good – when in doubt, try expending some amount of physical energy.

All that said, self-preservation is key.  If you need to separate yourself or leave the room, then that is what you need to do.

We are really actively working with Blitzen on responsibility, respect and problem-solving.  We are trying to teach her that actions and words have serious consequences even when you are angry or upset.  We are trying to slowly and methodically unwind and rewire 9 years worth of development of pretty faulty neurological pathways.

And you thought that you were just coming over to play checkers.  Thanks for helping us out.

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We have to move in July. It is a bummer of epic proportion, because surprise, surprise, Blitzen doesn’t like change and neither does Carrie, really, plus I love our home now.  And we’re pretty certain that Blitzen has never moved and not had it associated with major drama and loss.

So we’ve begun gently laying the groundwork for the move with Blitzen.  We will most likely stay in roughly the same neighborhood so we can still be close to Nana and the girls as well as all of our favorite neighborhood spots.  In response to the discussions about where we might live in the future, Blitzen asked the following questions this weekend:

1) If we were going to move, could we please move to North Carolina to be near Andrew’s family — answer = no, sadly it is too long a commute

2) If we move to a new house, could we have a backyard — answer = probably not because we live in Manhattan and are not millionaires but we can look for outdoor space

3) If we move, could we choose a house with a purple room for her — answer = it probably will not purple when we get it but we can paint it purple when we move in

4) Lastly, who will take care of Blitzen if we move –answer = Carrie and Andrew will continue to take care of Blitzen.

As usual, she buried the lede.

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Blitzen started swimming lessons at the end of February and she loves it.  She has come such a long way, we think from her first time in a pool to graduating from the beginning swim class to the next level.  She can swim, with the help of flippers but no floaty device, from one end of the YMCA pool  to the other.  It is a long swim, from shallow water straight to the deep end.  She is determined and happy, fast and confident.

I am still a little nervous about those deep end moments which means I spend a lot time treading water beside her as she swims along.  Occassionally, she’ll forget that she can do it, turn to me and say help.  So I have to be there, within an arm’s reach.  The entire experience seems, in many ways, like the perfect metaphor for our whole experience, our life with Blitzen so far.  In the beginning, there was lots of fear and panic and desperate clinging to the side of the pool.  And I think I mean me as much as Blitzen.  But everyone is getting stronger now, learning as we go, taking deep breaths and kicking our feet, moving along from polliwog to guppy, enjoying most moments.

Once in a while, someone still goes under but so far everyone has popped right back up none the worse for it.

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At the dinner table, Blitzen shared that a friend at school lost a tooth.  Apparently it was a very exciting moment for the entire 3rd grade.

Then she says, ‘My friends say that parents give you the money, not the tooth fairie.’  She has a funny look on her face, eyebrows arched, curious and skeptical all at the same time.

Andrew says, ‘What you do think?’

Blitzen thinks for several moments, ‘Well, fairies are mad little.  How would they lift my head and put money under the pillow?  Plus, when I was sleeping, I am pretty sure that I saw someone’s hand.’

I nod and say, ‘Do you think parents might help out by distributing the money?’

Blitzen considers this as well, ‘Yes, that must be it. No fairie could do that.’

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Ah, the irony.  This was part of a long series of crabby remarks this morning. I’ve established on the blog that Andrew is first contact in the morning – “Good morning, Blitzen. Good morning, guineas.”  I come in a little later to move it all along and help with dressing, if Blitzen so desires and she almost always does.

Blitzen doesn’t like Andrew to wake her up in the morning.  You may wonder why we insist on it if it makes her crabby (some days, not all days).  Because I can’t do everything.  Blitzen would like me to stay by her side 24 hours a day, but I can’t.  Even though I understand, I really get why she wants it, I can’t do it, obviously.

So this morning, Blitzen asks Andrew to leave her room.  She does this nicely and we praise her.  Andrew quickly exits in response to her wishes.  Then she thinks better of ‘nicely’ and comes storming out with what I do believe is the line of the week.

‘You never control your own life, you only want to control mine.’  I ask ‘A little more information, please, I need help understanding what you mean, Blitzen.’

Blitzen replies angrily, ‘You make Andrew wake me up, I don’t want him to wake me up.’

I smile, in a friendly, I am so happy way, and reply, ‘That is so wonderful to hear, honey.  I will buy you an alarm clock today and you can wake up independently.’  Independently is a BIG word in our house.  I know where is this going but unlike 5 months and 9 days ago, I am no longer afraid of Blitzen, even in the morning, so I am ready to push it.

Expected reaction, yelling, nashing of teeth, woes us!  Blitzen, ‘No, an alarm clock is loud, I hate it, I hate you and dumb Andrew and you try to control me all the time with your stupid alarm clocks. Control your own life.  You have to wake me up.’  (I do want to interject that I fully expect to be nominated for an oscar next year because I keep a totally straight face through this kind of stuff ALL THE TIME!)

I remain calm, thinking how I will enjoy sharing this story with Blitzen someday when she has her own children and would really just like 5 quiet minutes in the morning to brush her teeth and I say, ‘I am not going to wake you up, honey, that is not an option.  You may have an alarm clock or Andrew wake you.  We could even get an alarm clock that plays music.’

Blitzen shouts, ‘Alarm clocks don’t play music.  And I am going to get dressed, don’t help me, I don’t care.’

I went in my room and brushed my teeth.

 

 

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