A year ago, M and I felt as though we were being terrorized by P and his running away or threats to run away. December 2008 was when he was running away from us nearly every day when we picked him and B up from daycare. M and I had to switch our schedules completely around to run back-up for each other everyday so that one of us could cover B if the other of us had to run after a bolting P. It was cold and dark outside, and we were constantly worried and on edge, and it felt like poor B spent the month feeling terrified. And when we weren't dealing with the running away, life at home was terribly terribly difficult, with rages and chronic defiance and P's complete inability to regulate his energy or exercise any form of self-control.
So far, this December is going so much better. Not perfect; I don't know that we'd ever expect perfect anyway. But way better than tolerable. P has mostly been a delight to be around. He has mostly been cooperative, loving (and the right kind of genuine loving), polite, respectful, helpful, and calm. He has kept his act together with his classroom behaviour. (And I have confirmed with the teacher that he is not forging the behaviour reports (which he has done often in previous years); her words, when I asked, were "he's been doing a great job." Music to my ears.)
We have delayed the doing of any real Christmas preparations. Our tree and decorations won't go up until this Sunday. The delay has been announced on the grounds that the two new cats may need a lot of supervision around the Christmas tree. (In addition to little kitten Lucy three weeks ago, Oso February, a 20-pound 1-year old very active cat, joined our household in September (because we are crazy) and has wrought havoc on all our plants. He is gradually succumbing to water gun behaviour-modification...) But M and I are happy to delay the preparations in hopes that it helps P stay settled down. Of course, there are a lot of Christmas goings-on at school and all around us in the world. But our house is not showing the excitement too much yet. We did do advent calendars (el cheapo cardboard with a chocolate everyday), and both boys have handled them fine. And I did do a lot of Christmas baking this week.
We also seriously upped some of the elements that we think have helped P since we started them. Some of them we started nearly two years ago now, and some of them were met with varying degrees of resistance when they were introduced, while others were enthusiastically embraced from the start.
We have stuck religiously to our morning routine which is an attempt to get everyone regulated right from the start. Our routine is:
- 6:30 - P/B up, get dressed, make beds
- 6:45/50 - P/B do their respective cat jobs (litter box, food, water)
- 7:00 - 7:15 - each boy 5 mins of hard jumping/antics on minitramp; tapping; karate chops; pack backpacks
- 7:15/20 - strong sitting (P/B go simultaneously and parent does it too); we are up to 10 minutes as of this week from a start of 30 seconds in Feb '09
- 7:30 - rocking time, with swaddling if desired (P always wants swaddling; B increasingly turns it down) and a candy from our fingers straight to their mouth; practicing eye contact and quiet comfortable conversation or silence
- 7:50 - breakfast
- 8:15 - brush teeth, quiet play activities
- 8:40 - leave for school
- We try to get at least 10 hugs in with each boy throughout this routine
B increasingly asks for a day off from the routine. His request is seldom granted, mostly because we want him to continue to practice the strong sitting and get his morning energy burst out, but he has shown that he can go without the routine and be just fine in terms of moderating his own behaviour and energy. P mostly appreciates the routine, and rarely complains explicitly about having to do it. He does occasionally engage in mild passive-aggressive resistance to doing elements of it. He has improved tremendously at his strong sitting and rarely does even minor, water-torture-type defiance during it any more. On the walk to school, we try to have fun while also playing little math and spelling/word games, and often trying to get a little more energy out with some brisk walking. We have tried to remain really regular with bedtime routine and sticking to consistent bedtime.
We had gotten to the point where P could be unsupervised in the house during the morning routine whenever he wasn't needed for a task. He often usually choose to be on the couch reading or in the toy area playing. Smack dab on December 1st, however, I came upon him in the kitchen during a maybe 3-minute unsupervised stretch to find him crouched in front of the refrigerator shelves using his hand to scoop tuna salad from the storage container to his mouth. So during December, we have chosen to keep him near us between his tasks. So he is pretty much constantly within 3-5 feet of one of us throughout the entire morning before school. This has seemed to really achieve a calmness in him. He has not complained about this a single time. We are trying to keep him physically closer to us in the afternoons/evenings as well.
Additionally, P himself requested the return of what we call bottle time. Maybe every other day, we feed him a bottle just like he's a baby. We put milk with some chocolate syrup or a little sugar and vanilla in the bottle. He lies cuddled across our lap with his head propped on the arm of the couch. Usually he opts to be tightly swaddled. We practice eye contact. He frequently pauses in his drinking to just smile peacefully. I have to say these are not my favourite times. I find it awkward-feeling to be bottle feeding such a big/old kid. But I fake it pretty well. It seems to be what P needs. I try to remember that he must not have gotten anywhere near enough of this at the appropriate stage. And it only lasts about 10 minutes and then he's ready to get up and go do something else, so my awkwardness is only short-lived.
I took Monday through Thursday off work this week and was able to be home doing my baking. I LOVED my days home. Among other things, I loved being able to do the mornings and afternoons with P and B all this week, except today when I'm enjoying being back for a quiet day at my office. Normally, Mondays and Fridays are my days, and I go work out on Tuesday through Thursday mornings (I'm lucky to have M), so I see P and B but am not actively in charge and doing the routine with them those mornings and then I am stuck at work through a lot of the afternoons those days. This week I felt like I got so much more weekday time with P and B than usual, and it all went really well.
So then yesterday P's teacher reported that during lunch P had been caught sticking an unfolded paperclip into an electrical socket. (His classroom conduct was good -- he got all 16 check marks.) It turned out he was trying to get a lightbulb he had "taken" from the custodian's office to light up, and when the bulb didn't light from being stuck directly in the socket he tried using the link of the paperclip. As with so many of P's choices, this one was colossally wrong in many respects. So we had a lot to talk about! And he was not the most cooperative about talking about it at first. But eventually we got there. However, the thing about this that I want to describe here is: When we asked why he'd done this (after initially saying he was bored, which just didn't ring true), he said that he wanted to get back at me. Why? Because he was angry at me. When we asked why and why he hadn't used any of his strategies for coping with his anger appropriately, he said he wanted to get at me because our relationship this week -- even this month -- had been terrible. When I stated that that was factually incorrect, he interrupted and spoke disrespectfully to tell me how wrong I was, that Monday had been fine but ever since things between us had just been awful. I started rattling off all the fun and togetherness and enjoyable times we have enjoyed during this week and month. M chimed in with moments that had struck him. P's chin began to quiver and his eyes filled with tears. He did not argue any further. I asked him did he know what had happened. He said "RAD is lying to me again." He had been refusing to sit next to me throughout this, instead standing as far from me as he could get within the same room. Once we got the idea of RAD lying to him out in the open, he practically jumped over to where I was when I asked him if he wanted to come sit next to me. I thought this whole episode was interestingly timed in light of the heightened togetherness we'd gotten this week.
Last night, P's last words were "tomorrow's a new day," which is what we always say to him. This morning he was cheerful and cooperative. I came in to my office on an early bus, and he called me after he'd had his breakfast and played one of his piano pieces over the phone. He knows how much I love to hear him play (he has gotten quite good; his practices are now like our own private concerts!). I was flooded with the question of how this one boy could generate such a wide range of very extreme emotions in me. Before adopting him, I never imagined how angry, frustrated, resentful, tired, overwhelmed, sad, sympathetic, mystified, amazed, euphoric, energized, joyful, loving, and loved this one kid could make me feel. (And then pile B on top, and how did I get so incredibly lucky?)
Speaking of B, he's got a serious buzz of holiday excitement going. But, because he handles it so normally, it feels completely manageable. Also, B figured out the whole Santa hoax recently. For about a week, he would ask whether we were Santa, and I would say "do you really want to know the truth?" And he would say "no, it's more fun wondering!" Then about a week ago, he said he wanted the truth, and I said "are you sure?" and he said he was, so now he knows. And he victoriously said "I knew it!"And he is fine and I am relieved.
One final thing I wanted to mention: Sunday night, our family watched Christine's video of Mar. (After I described it to him, P indicated that he didn't mind us all watching it as a family.) We were riveted. So much of it is so familiar at our house -- to M, B, and me, at least. I think P was surprised. When we asked him about it, he said Mar looked silly. We left it at that. Then on Monday morning, I asked P to tap "even though I'm nervous [about his upcoming school choir concert], I know I'm safe and loved." It is not unusual for P to "forget" his tapping phrase or otherwise exercise mild defiance during tapping when he is feeling something difficult inside and we give him a tapping phrase like this one. He routinely struggles with phrases like "I have beauty on my inside" and "I deserve fun and love and happiness." Jiggles start, brow furrows as he tries and tries unsuccessfully to "remember" the phrase, or how to pronounce a certain word such as "love." Well, this time I was armed with having watched Mar the night before. I stopped the tapping process and told P to think back to the video of Mar. More brow furrowing and starting to do that dazed RAD dead-eyes look past my ear. I said that he had a choice right at that moment, to do the tapping as he knows how, or to continue with his pretend forgetting. He took a very slow breath, came back to genuine eye contact, and said he was ready to tap. It went perfect from there.
Lastly, in reading news, I recently finished Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake and am now rationing my way through The Year of the Flood. They are both so good that I don't want them to have to end. If you haven't read them, start with Oryx and Crake because the books are related and will be most enjoyable read in order.