Posts Tagged ‘skill set’

This Sunday, following our brunch with family, Blitzen wanted to go to Brooklyn to visit Rebecca and the baby ladies.  Rebecca sweetly accommodated our last minute visit request  – then she took a nap and we took the babies on a walk.  This is Blitzen’s favorite activity, caring for babies.  As usual, she was in charge of the stroller, bottle assembly, feeding and walking/bouncing fussy babies.

At one point in the visit, Blitzen suggested that we create a baby sling.  So using a baby blanket and her sweater, we fashioned a sling.  It was not quite sturdy enough for walking around but it worked well when we were sitting on the bench. As we sat in the sun, shoes off, the littlest of us relaxing in the homemade baby sling, Blitzen said, “I am good at taking care of babies because I’ve been practicing with my dolls.”  That is so true but Blitzen is also good at taking care of babies because she is Blitzen — kind, caring, empathetic and patient.  It is a wonderful thing to watch.

Notice how I artfully colored Sandy's face to hide her identity

Notice how I artfully colored Sandy’s face to hide her identity

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So, Blitzen got irritated with me and Andrew on Sunday. Yeah, I know, you are really shocked. She was angry because she has to do all the work around our house and we don’t have to do anything that we don’t want to do. In a way, she is right. I don’t have to cook dinner, keep the house clean, pay the bills and entertain and love the child, but I do it anyway so clearly I want to. Same goes for Andrew.

Blitzen was mad that she had to change her sheets and make her bed. Andrew was thinking out loud, something we do sometimes when we are trying to reason with Blitzen and he said, “Maybe everyone in our family should just take care of themselves – clean up, cook their own breakfast, all of that.” Well, that did not sit well. And Andrew and I, not in the mood to be yelled at, went about our business. I went into the yard to plant flowers and Andrew went upstairs to fold the laundry. Pretty soon, Blitzen announces through the back door that she will be making something to eat since Andrew said that she had to cook for herself from now on. I replied, ‘Ok, but if you are cooking, it is my preference that you are supervised.’ A little while passes and I hear pots rattling and fridge door slamming. Of course she is going to cook.

My first instinct was to go inside and say stop. Then I remembered that I made many a hearty meal of hamburger helper at the ripe old age of ten with minimal supervision and guidance. Blitzen has helped me plenty in the kitchen so I was pretty sure that she wouldn’t burn the house down or hurt herself, so I did nothing. Soon after, another call through the back door. ‘I’m cooking, Carrie, who is supervising? Huh? Who is supervising me?’ I didn’t reply. 7 minutes later, Blitzen emerges with a bowl of mushrooms and cherry tomatoes that had been sautéed in olive oil. She proudly produced it and said, ‘Look, I made this for you.’ No longer angry, just excited to have cooked some vegetables. I took several bites and then my snack was whisked away so that Andrew could enjoy it as well. Apparently Blitzen presented her bounty to Andrew and said, ‘See, I did this independently.’

And eventually, she even changed her sheets.

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Blitzen is teaching a special course at school to the other kids called Oceania. It is all about the ocean and how to make mermaid tails. Yesterday was the first day and she told me, with much surprise in her voice, that only girls signed up. I am not sure why the 3rd grade boys don’t want to make their very own mermaid tail but it is a little shocking that they didn’t join the course in droves. Anyway, I am sure that Blitzen will enjoy the experience of designing a class about her favorite thing and sharing the joys with her friends. And as an added bonus, her two favorite grownup teachers are working with her.

When I think back to a year ago, when poor Blitzen was melting down and running out of the classroom every day after hours of frustrating test prep, I just shudder. What a difference.

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We’ve been trying to bust out of the routine, just a little.  And not always with success.  Blitzen so craves rhythm and ritual.

We have an evening routine.  I’ve written about it before.  Babysitter retrieves Blitzen from school.  This is free time and they do whatever.  Blitzen can roll with it mostly because she is usually driving the bus here AND because it is a routine to play it by ear – park, home to play, playdate with friends.  Then Andrew and I get home.  While we make dinner, she is allowed choice time (which she has intrepeted as ipad time), then we eat as a family.  Blitzen and I feed the guinea pigs while Andrew starts the dishes, Blitzen and Andrew do homework together while I finish the dishes.  Then, after homework, it is bath time – I am in charge of shower.  Followed by choosing the next day’s outfit (me), teeth and meds (Andrew) and what we like to call BTPT.  Andrew and Blitzen play something for 15 minutes or so.  I read a story while Blitzen has her bedtime snack and then Andrew will put her to bed but I have to give her the last kiss and hug.  Andrew stays with her until she falls asleep – she can’t go to sleep alone.

You will note a several of things:

1) We’re probably crazy.

2) All parts of the routine require attention from and interaction with an adult.  And the adult is assigned a role – woe to the man or woman who wants to mix it up and feed the guinea pigs for a change or read the story to spice it up!

3) This all takes a really, really, really long time because Blitzen is Blitzen.

Blitzen gets hella mad if we mix up the routine.  If we go to a play at school, say, or out to dinner (and she likes these things), when we get home, we must begin the routine and work our way through it almost precisely.  Now, I am sure many of you out there think – that child is holding you hostage, she can’t always have her way.

But we’ve really come to believe that it is not about her way.  When we deviate from the routine, her anxiety level skyrockets and we have meltdown town.  She can even articulate it now.  She wants it all to flow precisely the same every night.  She recently demanded to know, in a fit of anger, ‘Are you trying to change things?  You’ve moved choice twice in a row — choice is before dinner, it is always then, I don’t like it later.’

Within her routine, there is safety and predictability, there is control and comfort.  But life doesn’t always work this way.  Now we’ve come to the point, more than a year in, where we need to begin to occassionally deviate from the routine — for everyone’s good. Andrew and I need just a little more flexibility and personal free time at home.  Blitzen needs to learn, at some point, how to roll with it just a bit more. So, we’ll continue to gently mix it up, I guess and see how it goes.

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Blitzen hosted her first, non-relative sleep-over this weekend.  The event itself went really well.  I think both girls had fun.  There was a little playtime and then everyone got dressed up to go to the Nutcracker.  One of Blitzen’s classmates was in the show and the girls were adorably indignant that her 15 minutes of fame was more like 15 seconds — apparently the angels have very small parts.

While the slumber party itself went of without a hitch, Blitzen was a hot mess leading up to it.  Andrew and I really struggled about whether or not to go through with it at all. It was so bad that we almost called the whole thing off 2 hours before we were supposed to pick up Blitzen’s friend.  This is a place where we really struggle.  When dealing with Blitzen, ‘firsts’ suck  – every single time.  Doesn’t matter what it is, she will work herself up into such a state of anxiety and anticipation that she becomes a whirling dervish of whiny demands and inappropriate behavior.   Once the ‘first’ starts, she usually chills right out and acts like her usual (mostly) delightful self.

So what is the consequence for being rude and demanding and mean?  There should be one, right? Of course there should be.  But what to do when we know the root cause is anxiety — how do you convince Blitzen that it will be all just fine?  How do you get her to move through a ‘firsts’ day without acting out terribly when your initial natural response to her behavior is to threaten to do what she is most afraid you will do – cancel, bail, change your mind, ruin everything?

In this case, we just kept moving through the day, dragging Blitzen (almost literally) kicking and screaming through our usual routine and errands, taking advantage of a few fun things that popped up along the way.  I am not sure we did the right thing, I am still dissecting it.  Maybe I will do it differently next time or maybe just the same, I still don’t know.  Perhaps we’ll never try anything new again — yeah, that is probably not gonna work.

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We went to one of those child-centered resorts to mark the occasion of our 1st anniversary as a family. There was an indoor water park, horses, a few exotic animals, all kinds of kid-oriented fun including a game show and a dj dance party with a dance off.

Blitzen really loved the party and she won a dance prize, of course. The kid loves the spotlight. I wish I could post the pictures and video of Blitzen sitting on the edge of the stage, raising her hand so high in the air – pick me for the dance, pick me, pick me, pick me!!!! Most of the kids at the dance party were older, middle-school age, including a group of girls celebrating what was probably a 13th birthday.  They would have intimidated the hell out of me but not Blitzen.  She was right there, dancing with them the whole night.

After several rounds of dance off action, Blitzen still hadn’t been picked. Time to problem-solve, she must have thought to herself as marched over to the dj booth, introduced herself and made fast friends with the young man in charge, talking him into a final showdown.  And there you go – Blitzen, please take the stage.

There is very little in life that is more fun than watching a determined Blitzen working to make something happen. She is so brave and open and out there.  It is kind of miraculous.

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Ok, I admit it.  I was tired.

Foster moms, like all other moms, sometimes just get tired and want to be done with bath, teeth,outfit, meds so we can move onto BTPT (that would be bedtime playtime - Andrew’s favorite time of day) and story time – my favorite time of day.

And so Blitzen was deep in her aforementioned bedtime routine right before the good stuff, bossing me around a bit, as she likes to do, but not really acting out, just constantly chattering at me through the closed door because she needs me to be near but not too near.

There was a pause in the chatter, perhaps a question was asked, I don’t recall.  And I said, ‘Mmmm-hmmm.’  Blitzen flung open the door and shouted, ‘That’s rude!’  We’ve really been working on how to converse without being rude.  And I said, ‘What? I just said, mmm-hmmm.’

Blitzen is a quick study and she has me pegged.  She is quite in tune to me – I am certain her hyper-vigilance is a well developed survival skill.  She has serious mood radar when it comes to the adults in her environment.

She looked at me and said, ‘That mmm-hmmm didn’t mean – go on, please tell me more. No, it didn’t.’

So, ok, yeah, she caught me.  It didn’t.  It was probably was a bored, come on already, let’s go, your pokiness is kinda irritating, mmm-hmmm. I know every parent reading this blog has used that mmm-hmmm.

Deconstructing this all later with Andrew, we were both pretty blown away by it.  Blitzen has been with us almost a year and her growing ability to identify her own emotions and those of others with vocabulary instead uncontrolled physical reaction is really astonishing. A year ago, this most likely would touched off a meltdown that would go on for hours, completely depleting the entire household.  But, this time, Blitzen called me on my behavior and then she dismissed me.  You could argue that after pointing out that I had been rude, she was not exactly the most gracious 9 year old one has ever encountered.  But after suggesting that I take my leave, she went about her business, finished her evening routine and came downstairs to fetch Andrew for BTPT and was completely recovered by story time.  It was truly one of those concrete moments for us, illustrating Blitzen’s remarkable growth not to mention to her total adorableness.  What 9 year old says, ‘go on, tell me more’ anyway?

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Blitzen said to me and Andrew during a recent rather rowdy dinner hour,  “I had a donut and hot chocolate after school.  I ate too much sugar – I am jumping off the walls.”  And indeed she was.

Blitzen is, how shall I say, energetic and lively.  She is a very kinetic kid and needs to be moving all of the time.  Some of her more anxiety driven physicality has toned down a bit over the course of this year but she still needs to expend a tremendous amount energy in order to focus enough to think and function.  A perfect example of this is that Blitzen couldn’t sit during dinner for the first 6 months or so that we knew her.  She would stand for almost the entire meal, eating and using some semblance of table manners but she would be up.  Now, she can sit and converse (as long as we’re talking about mermaids or another topic of interest to her).  She still fidgets and wiggles which is ok by me and frankly, I am used to it - Andrew is a fidgeter too!  But it wasn’t until her self-confessed ‘jumping’ that I really noticed how far she has progressed in this area.

I do think her new school has a lot to do with it.  The children are just not expected to be still and stationary all day.  A lot of planned physicality is included in the curriculum but they also move as a group from class to class, they do not need to sit quietly in their seats for the entire day – they can find the place and position that is comfortable for them.  Standing is ok. Kids can move like kids need to move. And I can really see the positive impact on Blitzen.  She is not using all of her mental energy every day trying to remember to sit in her place and squashing her impulse to wiggle.  She is not bottling up all that energy.  Therefore the liveliness is less likely to leak out all over the place.

Whenever I have one of these ‘ah-ha’ moments, I am reminded of how far we’ve come in what is soon to be a full year.  It is stunning to me what a controlled but not controlling environment can do for children especially those exposed to extreme trauma and chaos.


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During my absence, Blitzen was much more independent in the morning.  It has been tricky for me to reinsert myself into the routine without backtracking to the morning struggles that we had before I left.  She is capable of managing much of her self-care (bathing, dressing, etc) by herself.  But it is quite clear that she really wants me to participate in those things.  It feels to me like a need for nurturing and caring.  Consequently, I am stuck somewhere between providing that tender loving care and teaching her how to be an independent, grown-up girl.  The truth is that she may not stay with us forever and not everyone will have the time/patience/nutty inclination to baby her in this way and frankly, I don’t want to be picking her outfit when she is 13.  So at some point, she has got to start managing this on her own.  On the other hand, she is in so many ways a 4 or 5 year old kid in a 9 year old’s body.  Hard to know what is best developmentally, when to push and when to let some of these things just play themselves out.

I know that I’ve discussed mornings a lot.  It clearly is my own personal button.  I am used to, in my adult life, have a quiet morning routine.  I do not commute – I walk to work so that I can spend time planning my day and getting myself together and so that I don’t have to deal with other humans (in traffic, on the bus or the subway).  I used to shuffle around the house (Andrew was always the first out the door) in my robe, having breakfast, tidying up, reading the paper, puttering around — it was time to myself.  Now, while Blitzen leaves before I do and I could putter around the house because she is out the door an hour before I am required to be at work, I leave right after her because I leave work HOURS before I used to.  I leave at 5:30pm which is when many sane people and those with kids leave work but there is still work to do, lots of it. I come in early to get a jump on the day .  So you know, no quiet shuffling.  This makes mornings a little stressful for me which is probably why I’ve written about the morning routine like 5 times already.  I think that I probably over-manage Blitzen so that I can keep things moving, quietly and quickly.  It might be time, though, to push Blitzen to take a little more responsibility, brace myself for a couple of rough weeks and work through it.  Seems like a lot before my first cup of coffee!

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I have mentioned that Blitzen is a very creative and imaginative kid.  In addition to loving visual art activities and imaginary play, she writes songs.  And then sings and sings and sings.  The songs tend to be sad or mad – someone is always leaving, lying or both – but they are such great vehicles of expression for her.  As we explore more ways for Blitzen to recognize her own emotions and then release them, singing and songwriting seem to have a tremendous amount of potential.  She loves it.  She has a beautiful singing voice and is very brave about performing.

We have a great friend and back up who is working with Blitzen on her music – a little recorder playing, a little singing and a little learning to read and understand musical notation.  It is one of her favorite activities of the week.  As reported last night at bedtime by Blitzen, “I had the most fun of my life singing today with P.”

What a great way for us to begin to move forward and away from our not so fun weekend.  It is so encouraging to see her begin to embrace what she loves to do and what I hope she truly begins to love about herself – this wonderful talent that belongs only to her.

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