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Posts Tagged ‘exercise’

We went to the playground the other day.  Blitzen was doing her thing, running around, enjoying various items and groups of kids.  She happened upon a group playing on this modern version of the merry go round (I guess that is what it is) and announced, “Ok, I’m playing now.” to the group at large.  One kind of punky kid said, “No, no, you’re not.”  Blitzen just smiled and said, “Oh yes, I am.”  And jumped right on.  Before you knew it, she had the entire group trying to walk in circle along the edge without falling off.  Damn, that kid is all kinds of brave.

Blitzen playing

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Blitzen is happiest, most focused and able to learn when she is doing something physical.  She is an active, athletic, kinetic kid — I wouldn’t say that she is a superb athlete but I would say that she is a very determined one.  She will practice and focus and do it and do it and do it until she has mastered the challenge – the kid is kind of a walking Nike commercial. That is how she learned to bike (on a bike that was way too big and heavy for her) in a single day and how she learned to ice skate and swim.

On our NC beach vacation, Blitzen spent hours boogie boarding.  She would venture out to sea as far as the adult accompanying her felt safe to go and wait for the biggest wave, riding it all the way back to shore.  She got tossed, tumbled, dunked and swept across the sandy beach but she really loved it.

She has attended several weeks of gymnastics camp this summer and is constantly practicing and showing off her moves.  Her willingness to ask for assistance during these times, the ease with which she accepts her triumphs and defeats when it comes to acts of physical prowess (or not so much prowess) is pretty astonishing given how much she dislikes her own imperfections and struggles in other areas.  Makes me wish we could practice reading while doing cartwheels.

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Got a loving, snuggling girl – happy to have me back and not angry that I went (at least not yet!).

And Andrew introduced an exercise ball to the tv room –  he is fricking genius, my spouse.  Blitzen sits on the ball bouncing like mad, directly in front of the tv while Andrew and Blitzen watch their daily 15 minutes of The Voice.  They both love the show.  We dvr it so they can get a daily dose before bedtime stories and most importantly, they can skip the boring parts.

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Ok, we have one and it is really helpful except when we forget to populate it and then we double book ourselves.  What this family really needs is a personal assistant/scheduler.

Job listing for personal assistant:

1) Read Carrie and Andrew’s work calendars, Blitzen’s school and activity calendars, do complicated calculus and scheduling manuevers to assure Blitzen coverage at all times communicating routinely with stellar babysitter as well as ensuring transportation to and from various medical and mental health appointments.

2) Read Carrie and Andrew’s minds, do more of the above.

3) Pick up the dry cleaning.

4) Take Blitzen shopping for fall clothes, convince her that long pants are a good thing.

5) Hire a mousing cat (hypo-allerginc since B and A are allergic) to catch the @#$%-ing mouse that is occasionally breaking into the pantry, pooping behind the trash can and just generally making Carrie insane, the mouse that Blitzen keeps referring to as a rat which makes Carrie even more insane — IT IS NOT  A RAT!!!!

5) Come over at night and put Carrie to sleep.  Stay around overnight, on alert, to lull, hypnotize, drug – whatever it takes – to get her back to sleep when she wakes up at 2am to worry about Blitzen or work or not paying enough attention to Andrew and family and friends or all of the above.

6) Exercise and meditate for Carrie and magically send all of those happy, healthy, good vibes to Carrie’s body and soul.

Position will be compensated in good karma points.

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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 good days and bad days.  Sometimes the sadness is just overwhelming for little old Blitzen and she loses it.  4 months into this thing, we’ve learned a few tricks.  Occassionally, Blitzen can be calmed by gentle physical contact.  She wants me to hold her in my arms and rock her like a baby (she weighs 80 lbs, I don’t need to go to the gym any more) or she wants her feet rubbed with lotion.  I have a special peppermint foot lotion that Andrew sometimes rubs on my feet after a long day and I must say, it is quite heavenly.  So, sometimes, if I can get Blitzen to be still, I can rub her feet with lotion and she will chill out.

On a recent occassion, we had a fairly rough go of it.  She was in bed but barely contained, full of venom, trying to pick yet another fight. Eventually, I calmed her by asking her if she wanted lotion rubbed on her feet.  She said yes so I slathered on the special peppermint foot cream.  She said that it reminded her of how her mother used to rub her feet when she was a baby so she would fall asleep.  I said that it made me happy to hear about nice memories and times that she has shared with mom.  I was thinking, judgementally, that bio mom probably rubbed Blitzen’s feet with cream to calm her about as often as I have trained lions for the circus – like NEVER.  But I smiled and squashed the negativity and hoped it was true.

I’ve written about Blitzen’s memories before.  They are a hazy mix of reality, wishful thinking and longing to connect / belong. They are a twisty, turning road, completely unpredictable.  And the timeline is a jumble of nowhere near linear thought.  Kind of like I envision her agency file, actually.  You just open it up and say ‘wow, what a mess’.

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Ice Skating

Since the day we met her, Blitzen has been talking about ice skating.  She had never skated before, but was fascinated by it.  Perhaps she’s a big fan of the Winter Olympics, and hopes to luge someday as well.

We planned to go skating for the first time on Sunday.  On Saturday night she was telling us that she would, “Skate like a beautiful ballerina.”   We were at the rink when it opened the next morning, and Blitzen was shaking with excitement.  My mom said it felt like we were the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

After getting our skates, it occurred to me that there were some flaws in our plan.  Neither Carrie nor I know how to ice skate.  A beautiful, coordinated, athletic eight year olds with no teacher, no skating experience, limited patience and low tolerance for frustration might not skate like a ballerina her first time out.  The possibility for disaster was high.

It took Blitzen and me 30 minutes to make it around the ice twice.  She rarely let go of the wall; when she did she reached for my arm and nearly knocked us both down.  Spirits were still high, but frustration was close when we paused for water and pistachios.  Mom made the brilliant suggestion that I take the inside lane, allowing Blitzen to stay farther from the wall.  Then we met a terrific young  woman named Arianna who worked at the rink and gave Blitzen helpful suggestions.  (“Put your hands on your knees.  Take baby steps.  Push your skate out and glide.”)  Turns out that Arianna grew up in the neighborhood and learned to skate at this very rink.  Blitzen was smitten.

Twice more around, and we were getting somewhere.  Blitzen was really skating, more or less.

I’m not proud of my next decision.  As only an NYC parent with more money than common sense could, I decided that Blitzen should have a $50 private skating lesson.  I rationalized it as follows: 1) Wouldn’t it be better to learn to skate from someone who knows how to skate?  2) Wouldn’t it be nice for Blitzen to spend time with a strong, positive young woman of color?  3) If I keep trying to teach, Blitzen is sure to end up really mad at me.

Blitzen couldn’t believe it.  “I’m can’t believe I’m going to have an instructor,” she whispered breathlessly.

Stunningly, it went well.  Blitzen was determined and focused like a laser for the 30-minute lesson.  The instructor was terrific.  Blitzen skating skills increased enormously.  Skating is great for her, combining beauty, strength and lots of gross motor.  We’ll be back.

(Conveniently stopping this post when we left the skating rink allows me to avoid writing about the tantrums on the walk home, the folks on the street alternately praying for us or yelling at us not to abuse Blitzen, and the kind stranger who helped us calm Blitzen down.)

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Exercise

So I have always known this but now I really, really know it.  Exercise is a miraculous thing.  Motion is liberating.  Movement is joyful and invigorating.  If Blitzen could swing 24 hours a day,  I think she would.  All she would need are brief breaks for games of tag and climbing on jungle gyms with the occassional power bar pitstop for energy.  The child is rarely grumpy at the playground even when things don’t go her way.  She is bold and friendly and cheerful.  She engages the other children, she is empathetic and caring, she is creative and full of laughter and life.   When she is unhappy, she briefly isolates herself until she is clam and ready to play again.

If only we could figure out how to do this at home…

But winter is coming and I fear it.  I will take any ideas for how to exercise an energetic young thing like Blitzen inside.  Balance ball, getting one.  Other ideas?  Keep in mind we’re talking NYC apartment living and we already owe our neighbors ginormous holiday gifts to compensate for all the 8 year old hollering, foot-stomping and occassional door slamming so a mini-trampoline is probably not going to work.

I also will take advice on kid-friendly, not bulky warm winter wear.  The child hates coats which is ok when it is 60, she can run around in a sweatshirt but when it is 40 and we just have to, have to go outside, we’ll need something lightweight and thermal, I think.

Thank you in advance, internet friends and child-rearing gurus.

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