National Quilting Day

I thought it was today, but I just realized it is actually next Saturday. Bummer! The last couple years I forgot about it until it was too late; this year I was too early. How very funny.

At least I was finally able to participate in a small way! A few years ago, someone sent me a box with quilt blocks, batting, and enough fabric for backing. I just needed to assemble the top and then quilt and baste it. Still a lot of work, but at least the blocks were already complete. The box has been sitting in my closet for awhile but I’ve been pulling it out recently. For this season in my life, a quilt kit is exactly what I need.

Today I sewed the second row of blocks together. It’s finally starting to look like a quilt top!

Maybe next week I can sew these two rows together. If I remember National Quilting Day…

Random thoughts

I still want to write more regular blog posts, sharing life in the house of a family with two adopted teens with trauma. I want to share in hopes that other parents will feel more prepared for what life could be like. Neither of our girls have had an easy transition and everyone is struggling. My eldest has been home for 18 months and my youngest home for four.

But it’s hard to find the emotional energy to share. We are no longer living in complete chaos. But life is never easy. Every day holds some type of challenge, some days more stressful than others, but we rarely have a day that I could actually label as “good.”

Recently I started finding solace in my neighborhood coffee shop on Sunday mornings. The first two weeks were really difficult for me. I couldn’t relax. I felt I should be productive but couldn’t find the strength to plan even three days of our menu and consequent shopping list. One Sunday morning, I needed my best friend to talk me off the ledge because I was inches from a panic attack and could not convince myself to go back home.

The last couple Sundays have been better. The coffee house has free Wifi and very comfortable seating. I’ve curled up with tea or a mocha and have actually started to relax just a little. I plan part of a menu, as I still cannot plan more than three or four days at a time. I do something fun on my computer and touch base with a couple of friends. And then I stop by the grocery store on the way home so that I don’t have to leave my house on Monday, other than taking the girls to school and then picking them up.

So far it’s turning into a nice routine. I still have a long way to go. Menu planning is very hard due to budget constraints, the picky-ness of my girls, and my husband’s and my desire to avoid dairy. I want to cook healthy, wholesome meals, but have very little energy when it’s approaching dinner time. Grocery shopping is extremely stressful and I want to look into grocery delivery service but, like everything else, it’s a learning curve and will take time to set up correctly. As a perfectionist, it’s hard for me to haphazardly jump into something without tons of research and triple checking to make sure I’m doing things correctly the first time.

This week my main non-parenting priority is to find my car title. I haven’t seen it in a long time but we need it. Our 2002 Honda died a couple of months ago and we had to buy a new-to-us car. The Honda is still sitting in our driveway as I need the title in order to sell it. So far I’ve gone through an entire foot (no exaggeration!) of paperwork and still have not located it. This week, I have to find that title or order a replacement. Once that is complete, I’ll pick another goal to work on. Getting rid of the car might earn us a couple hundred dollars. If not, at least it’ll remove one car from my insurance policy and lower my monthly premium. Money is tight and every little bit helps.

This is a very random post but just a few thoughts that have been swirling around recently. Life is still rough. We are hanging in there but it’s discouraging to think this may be our new normal. It’s not a fun life, not a good life, and not one I wish to live for years and years. I’ll keep pushing forward in hopes to create and find some moments of joy.

Real vs. fake me

Even though I want to, I don’t blog much these days. There just isn’t time and emotional energy enough to sit down and write. When I do sit down and stare at my screen, I have so many thoughts swirling around that I can’t pinpoint just one. Tonight I’m going to at least try. Hopefully this post will make at least a little bit of sense.

I’m now seeing a personal therapist, as well as the family therapist we’ve been seeing for the past year. My personal therapist is helping me to find my identity again, as well as my confidence and my ability to handle life. Right now I feel like I’m one disaster away from falling apart.

Last week I talked to her about how I feel like I’m two separate people. When I’m at home with my husband (he works from home) and the kids are at school, I feel like myself. My husband is my best friend and we understand each other. We have fun together. I feel like I can be myself and be accepted, something I was looking for until I met him.

When the kids are at home, I feel like a complete fake. My eldest daughter now has a few coping skills at her disposal but she still has a relatively low stress tolerance level. If anything goes wrong, or if she feels like something is wrong (even when everything is fine!), she falls apart. This means she might retreat into herself, or stomp around the house, or start screaming at me, or any other other behaviors that shout “I’m not ok!” For over a year now, I’ve been doing my best to prop her up, to be her frontal lobe for her, to keep her from falling apart. This means that I’ve put on a false personality, as she is an extrovert and loud and a sensory seeker. I am an introvert, fairly quiet (unless I feel comfortable with you and then I can talk your ear off), and a sensory avoider. But to keep my daughter happy and regulated, I’ve been pretending to be an outgoing and cheerful person. I’m not. I’m a relatively serious, quiet, sometimes brooding individual. My daughter can’t handle the real me. If I’m not smiling and laughing, she thinks something is wrong. If she thinks something is wrong, her behavior spirals out of control.

Over the past few months, I’ve been letting myself not be the smiling, laughing person that my eldest thinks I am. My younger daughter has seen more of the real me, since I went to China by myself and refused to fake it for over a week while parenting by myself. My youngest doesn’t like it when I’m serious. She very insistently tells me, “mama, smile!!” But if I continue to be serious around her, she can handle it. My eldest can’t.

What’s the answer? I don’t know. I am trying to allow myself to be me all of the time but it is so hard. When my eldest starts losing control of her emotions or behavior, I have to be silly and playful to get her to laugh. If I can get her to laugh, I can bond with her enough that we can reestablish her regulation. But a silly and playful person I am not. This is so hard for me and feels so fake. But that’s what she responds to.

How do I balance my needs (being myself) with her need for regulation (which requires a personality that I don’t have)? Can she learn to regulate while I maintain my own personality? I don’t know. Do I always have to feel like a fake around my daughters? I don’t know. It doesn’t feel sustainable. It doesn’t feel fair to me or to them. They think their mother is one person but neither of them know the real me.

2017 reading challenges

One of my absolute favorite things about New Years is the opportunity to brainstorm a reading list for the upcoming year. I’ve always had a lot of fun with this. The past few years, I’ve picked a couple series of books to read, as well as standalone titles from my to-read list. This year I’m doing the same, except I decided to read a few specific titles along with my best friend.

Here’s my list for 2017.

Standalone titles
Anna Karenina by Tolstoy
Mornings on Horseback by David McCullough
Count of Monte Cristo by Dumas
Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin
All of Jane Austen’s books
A book by Agatha Christie, title undecided

Series
Narnia by C.S. Lewis
Lord of the Rings by Tolkien

Reading challenge
7 Keys TJEd reading list

The TJEd list isn’t a reading challenge, per se. It’s actually a self-education outline, reading a lot of the great classics in a specific order. I have no plans to finish this list in 2017, as it is quite long and involved. But I would like to get started and make a dent in the list.

I also set a Goodreads goal of reading 100 books. I far exceeded that last year. My total is unknown, as I’m still entering a few books from December. Some of those were readalouds I did with my daughter, but I read a lot for myself. If you want to be friends on Goodreads, please add me! I love meeting new readers.

Here’s to a wonderful year of reading!

New Years

I have very little time to write tonight. I spent most of my alone time taking a bath and then journaling. But I did want to take a moment to just acknowledge that it is a new year. A new start. 2016 was the worst year of my life. I hope and pray that 2017 will be better. I know that I’m willing to work hard to ensure it will be.

Happy New Year!!

Deep cleaning and self-care

I have always wanted to have a spotless house on New Year’s Eve. That way I can usher in the new year with a perfectly clean home. For various reasons, this has never happened. This year, I shrunk my goal down to manageable size – a perfectly clean bedroom.

Two weeks ago, I was talking to my husband about self-care and how important it is. We talked about how, due to my eldest daughter’s rages, no single place in our home feels safe. Every inch of our home has memories associated with various meltdowns and rages. A few months ago, we made our bedroom off limits during rages. She is no longer allowed in our bedroom if she’s raging. We need a safe space to retreat to if necessary and we also need a place that isn’t full of the negative emotions surrounding the raging.

So we decided that it was time to deep clean our bedroom and then focus on decorating it so that it feels cozy. Our room feels very sterile right now, due to the bright white walls, Pergo flooring, complete lack of bedroom furniture, and no decorations on the walls. When I mentioned this idea to the therapist, she heartily agreed that it was a good idea to focus on our bedroom. This is especially important because I use the bedroom during my quiet time each day. I need a place that feels relaxing.

I’ve spent most of my alone time the past two weeks deep cleaning the bedroom. It is spotless! I completely stripped the bed and washed everything from mattress cover to blankets. I pulled everything off the bookcases and sorted through it all, pulling out what we didn’t want and organizing the rest. I mopped the floor, scrubbed off the heater vents, and finally cleaned the glass patio doors (yuck!).

Our room still doesn’t feel cozy. We still have no bedroom furniture, other than the two cheap bookcases, our bed on rails, and a rickety folding table that I use as a desk. We still have nothing on the walls. But it’s clean! And that makes me feel so much better. Now that everything is clean, I can start focusing on ways to make the room feel more cozy. I have ideas but can’t implement many of them just yet. We’re still trying to pay off credit card debt that was accrued for our adoption trip to China. Until that is paid off, we can’t invest in bedroom furniture. But maybe I can find some small touches to help the room feel better.

Deep cleaning, for me, equals self-care. And just in time for New Years.

Surviving Christmas

We survived!! Woohoo!!

We have officially survived Christmas. No rages. No real meltdowns. Just two whiny, extremely clingy children. I’ll take it.

Personally, I experienced very little joy in the holiday. I wish I had found some joy in it but I didn’t. Survival is good, but I feel empty.

I want to write a blog post soon about what I’ve recently discovered to be my biggest challenge in life – my complete lack of self-confidence. I used to have some, though I’ve never been a confident person by nature. Right now I have absolutely none. I feel like a shell of a person. Everything is a projection of confidence, a facade. I haven’t had the emotional energy to write the post just yet, but I am exploring the idea. After all, knowing is half the battle, right?

Christmas Eve

It’s Christmas Eve. It’s been an interesting day. We made it to church this morning, for which I am very grateful! The day has been a bit tense but no major issues, another thing I am very grateful for. I know to take one day at a time, even one hour at a time, because the mood in our home can change so quickly. But right now, things are peaceful.

My husband and two daughters are upstairs watching Star Trek. I’m downstairs on my computer, putzing around with reading lists and dreaming about the possibilities for next year. I find it encouraging that I can dream just a little bit. Realistically, I know that I’ll accomplish very little of my dream list as life is just too traumatic right now. But I’m an ambitious and motivated person. Over the next week I’ll put together my new year’s resolutions and my year’s reading lists and hope for the best.

Christmas with trauma

I used to love Christmas. It was my favorite holiday of the year. When it was just the two of us, my husband and I watched It’s a Wonderful Life on Christmas day for several years in a row. I love Christmas music. I love watching cheesy Christmas movies.

My love language is gifts. I have such fun picking out the perfect gifts for people, paying close attention to things they mention in conversation, gathering clues as to what they would love to receive. Then I hunt for the perfect gift (and finding a good deal is always a plus!). I get such fulfillment out of the entire process. And then receiving a great gift from someone, that they took the time to figure out what I would really like, makes me feel loved.

So Christmas time plus the opportunity to give and receive gifts with my loved ones has long been my favorite time of year. That has all changed.

My birthday in 2015 was terrible. Christmas in 2015 was terrible. My daughter’s birthday in 2016 was terrible. My birthday in 2016 was terrible. This is very obviously a trend! Holidays are triggers for children with trauma. Gifts are triggers.

“What if my sister gets more than me?”
“What if my mom gets more than me?”
“You only bought me five gifts. That means you don’t love me.”
“This is my mom’s birthday, so the attention is not on me. I will rage because I can’t handle it.”
“Is that all??”

My daughter has no filter. If she doesn’t like something, she’ll blurt it out. To someone who spent hours looking for what I thought would be a great gift, this is devastating. I know it’s not personal but it feels that way.

This year I ordered a fake Christmas tree. That way, if the girls can’t handle it, we can take it down and store it until Christmas day or even until next year. The news we weren’t going to the live Christmas tree lot to pick out a tree was met with much resistance.

Buying gifts was incredibly stressful. I know that the gifts will be carefully evaluated by both girls. “Who does mama love more?” Gifts had to be picked out with a lot of forethought. “Can this be easily destroyed in a rage? Do I care if it can be destroyed? Can it be turned into a weapon?” Again, for a person whose love language is gifts, the whole gift buying process was extremely stressful this year. Four mornings in a row, until all the shopping was complete, I woke up and instantly felt panic. This morning, now that all gifts have been purchased, I didn’t wake up in a panic. Instead, I woke up with my normal ball of anxiety in my stomach. I guess that’s an improvement.

Because our family dynamic is so skewed, we have the additional challenge of “what happens if mama buys more gifts for baba than she bought for me? Does that mean she doesn’t love me?” Any perceived preference for my husband means my daughter feels rejection. Rejection = meltdown or rage.

Can this change? I don’t know. I can’t force my daughters to heal. I cannot fix all of the trauma they’ve gone through. All I can do is figure out how to stand strong in the midst of the storm. Right now, I’m very far from strong. I feel like curling up in my closet and only coming out after the girls turn 18 and leave home.

Therapy

I’m putting this out there as a reminder to myself that there is no shame in admitting that you need more help. We’ve been seeing a family therapist for a year now. We saw one therapist for a few months but didn’t feel she was a good fit. We absolutely love the therapist we are seeing now. She’s helping us with parenting issues, adoption issues, and a few other things.

However, my childhood trauma is triggered by my eldest’s extreme behavior. We don’t have time in family therapy to delve into my childhood so it’s not really getting addressed. My husband and I decided it was time for me to ask about a personal therapist as well. Our family therapist agreed it would be a great idea for me to see someone to help with the childhood issues, the anxiety, the depression, and whatever else I’m going through. I reached out to that therapist today. Hopefully she has room in her schedule to see me.

When I was a child, my parents briefly took my brother and I to family therapy. I resented the therapist prodding into our personal lives. I didn’t have a connection with the therapist and saw no reason to spill my feelings to him. As an adult, I didn’t really expect to be at this point in my life, needing both a family therapist and a personal therapist, in addition to medical support from my doctor. But that’s the season of life I’m in. I’m parenting two children with trauma histories and it’s triggering my own trauma. We need help. There’s no shame in seeking help.