Thursday, July 3, 2008

Robbie's Journey

Robbie is Fiona and Faith's youngest brother. There was an older brother Dee who had all ready been adopted by a family member when we came on the scene. Robbie's smile was part of what captivated us the day we saw the clip of he and his sisters on local TV. He was 5 when we met him and quiet and very very cute. He liked to do art projects and play outside when he came to our house. We had been warned of property destruction, school problems bed wetting and food stealing. For a long time we only really saw problems around bedtime.

It was clear that Robbie did not like going to bed. My guess is bedtime wasn't a safe time at some key point in his life. He needed a night light and had a hard time learning to stay in bed. He would come down to our bed many times during the first months he lived with us. I would cuddle him and then take him back to his room. He wanted to sleep with us. In 20/20 hindsight, I wish I had done that. But DSS is sort of a scary entity when one is an alternative family trying to adopt. We had all ready had to change the adoption plan, with Fiona leaving our home, and Faith opting to not place with us. We were genuinely afraid that if Rob innocently mentioned cuddling in bed with us that his social worker would be upset. So I kept carrying him back to his bed, lying with him there for a while and then creeping downstairs.

We did nothing about the bedwetting for over a year. First of all, I read that many children just develop night time bladder control more slowly than otherse. Secondly, I felt that it was likely that his PTSD had something to do with this and that as he became more secure, things might take care of themselves. Our family physician agreed and we just bought pullups. Also Robbie's foster family had frightened him in an effort to make him stop the bedwetting (as if kids 'decide' to wet the bed.) They had sent him with his bedding down to the cellar to do the wash. Alone. At 5. When he had indicated he was afraid of the cellar. It made no sense to me. It was punitive, controlling and mean.

Scholastically we had no problem with him in kindergarten. He was a bit behind other kids in reading but that was easily resolved with a Title 1 reading program that he participated in. I think the fact that kindergarten was only 1/2 a day helped a lot. It gave extra time for him to bond with us and we with him. It also minimized the expectations of school type behavior. In his previous placement the school was full day and I do think this was a big part of the problem.

Robbie made friends easily and there were soon neighborhood kids visiting our house regularly. We found that we had to work hard at helping him to understand that he couldn't just leave our yard and go to someone elses. He needed to check with us first. We found that his table manners were weak, though he had a great appetite. We had minimal issues around food hoarding or stealing, perhaps because we made a concious decision to have lots of snacks both healthy and otherwise always available. My theory was that after seeing that it would always be there, that he would lose the fear that caused the food stealing and hoarding.

Overall, things went pretty smoothly. They were not without problems. Robbie was very shy around adults. Shy to the point of fear and this meant he was not comfortable in gatherings where adults would want to talk with him. It was obvious that in his past, the children counted on each other because they couldn't count on adults. He also recounted punishments that happened in foster care placements. Experiences such as having to stand for the whole day with his hands on his head in front of the fridge because he had stolen brownies. If this hadn't been actually going on one of the times we arrived for a visit, I wouldn't have believed it. It was just bizarre to me that people who chose to foster parent would be so intentionally cruel to a child all ready damaged by life.

Sleep got better, though there were occasional nightmares where he would waken screaming. He occasionally did sleep walk but only when he was very stressed or overtired. First and second grade went by reasonably well. There began to be some behavioral issues in school. It was clear that academics were not his favorite activity. By third grade a pattern of not really causing trouble in class but flying under the radar had clearly developed. Rob didn't want to have to interact with adults so he did not draw their attention to himself. This also meant he didn't ask for help if he didn't understand something. Academically gaps were developing. I met with his teacher and she said that she was concerned for him in the coming year. That she thought he was a lovely little boy who needed a chance to slowly mature and that she feared he would be labelled and stressed the next year. I asked what she thought about homeschooling and she was very positive about it. So we decided that at the end of grade 3 we would remove him from public school and begin homeschooling.

He is still a reluctant student. But he is also more capable, primarily because he can't hide his deficits. We work constantly on language skills, both written and verbal and they are improving. It is slow but it is very noticable. Particularly as he can now have conversations with trusted adults in his life (friends at church, godparents, neighbors) and write pretty decently. He will always i think be quiet by nature. He is a deep thinker and has still a reluctance to share those thoughts. In part, I think he wants to be perfect and I am working on trying to show him that no one is perfect, and that we all share our imperfections all the time.

We took care of the bed wetting by the time he was 7. It didn't really go away on is own as I hoped, but it wasn't horrible either. What I did was to set my own alarm and waken him at gradually later and later times each night and take him to the bathroom. He is still an incredibly sound sleeper and my guess is that this is a big part of what made staying dry hard for him. We tried those alarms kids wear that go off when they start to wet and the only person it woke was me. Me, downstairs while he was sleeping upstairs! It was easier to waken more gently to my own musical alarm, go upstairs and take him to the bathroom and go back to bed. In about 4 months we had gotten to the point where he was dry all night and with rare exceptions that has continued from that point forward.

He is a great brother. He puts up with the quirks of his big brother Chet. He indulges the younger 2 kids and is mostly very kind about the little kid play that they want to do. In some ways, having them allows him an opportunity to experience little kid things he probably never did before. When KC went through his play dough phase, Rob got as much joy from it as he did. Ditto on sidewalk chalk and blowing bubbles, etc.

Rob loves sports and was on a baseball team this year. KC and I went to every game and sometimes Lissa came too. We cheered the Dodgers to victory 15 times and commiserated over 2 losses. In the past year I have really seen positive changes. He has been a lot more able to communicate and he spent a week away at camp and had a wonderful time. The counselors all spoke of what a great kid he was and best of all, he had huge hugs for us when we picked him up. He is 12 now and on the cusp of the teen years.

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