Operation Barrett

Operation Barrett is working.

For the first time ever, at least since we got him at age 2-almost-3, Barrett has gone five days without a screaming baby fit – in which he usually screams obscenities and threatens our lives and beats on at least one of us or the walls or furniture, often quoting domestic violence things he heard screamed between his parents when he was a preverbal infant smaller than Kyrie.  It takes so long to heal!  

But we are seeing progress!  There is hope!

This is huge.

No tantrums.  No threats.  No screaming.

For five whole days.  Go Barrett!

I know it will happen again, but I can’t tell you the miracle it is to us to have our first days in two years with no screaming.

We are so proud of him!

He has come so far.  We thought he would be starting Kindergarten with Anber, and even delivered his school supplies on Meet the Teacher night.  But the next morning was one of the worst episodes in a long time, and we decided to pull him instead of setting him up to fail – or to be labeled as that kid.

Instead, we have kept him home for another year of homeschool.  That gives us more time to work on attachment, and daily opportunities for one on one time and positive reinforcement of positive interactions.  It has already been so good for him.

In context, fetal alcohol syndrome makes it really hard to regulate emotions besides any trauma he experienced or witnessed.  That, plus multiple foster placements before we ever got him, makes it hard to develop simple skills like self-soothing, much less more complex ones like self-expression.  It has challenged us in parenting, as the screaming fits are so exhausting, and because the consistency of limit setting is sometimes painful.  He has missed activities, sat through parties, and missed meals – not because we wouldn’t let him eat, but because he literally wouldn’t stop screaming long enough to eat the meal prepared for him.

But in doing all those things the therapist promises will provide structure strong enough to prove to him that he is safe, we are finally to a new phase of nurturing.

With attachment issues, the normal things you would do to nurture a child often have the opposite effect.  The intuitive, gentle, and affectionate things you would normally do may actually be perceived as threatening or dangerous to these children. It has taken him two years just to realize he is safe, and that we really are going to keep him.

It took Anber two years, too.

It probably took all of them two years, but starting that two years with toddlers is rough.

Really rough.

And, what made it even worse for Barrett, is that right after he was placed with us…. Kyrie was born… and lifeflighted with me to Cincinnati… and left with Nathan, the two of them strangers and the both of them overwhelmed and me as the disappearing mom right when our attachment was most important.

So while we take attachment very seriously with all the children, Barrett had some unique struggles that have needed immediate attention as our hospital crises days are fewer (until next week again, anyway).

And he was finally responding enough by Spring that we spent the whole summer swaddling him.  

For realz.

Every time that little mouth opened to scream threats and nastiness, and every time those feet kicked us or walls or the other children, and every time he threw things instead of doing what we asked, we stayed calm and scooped him up and swaddled him like an infant.  We carried him to the rocking chair, rocked him like a little one, and sang him lullabyes until he calmed down.

Sometimes that took hours.

He spent some of the summer on a cot right by our bed, so that we could tuck him at night and scoop him up in the morning just like we would if he were an infant (which is where his behaviors showed he was stuck developmentally).

We slowly grew him up this summer, so that he made it back to his bunk bed but we still swaddled him, and then him swaddling himself in his own bed, and now he just sleeps with the blanket like a baby blanket.

He feels pretty special about it.  I told him the blanket was my mother’s.  He is awfully proud of that, and recognizes the gift that it is.

During the day, we put him all the way back to Kyrie’s schedule, until he knew (like an infant) that his needs for food and sleep and playtime and baths and toileting would be met.  As behaviors diminished over the summer, and so told us he felt safer in one particular area, we grew that up to more developmentally appropriate-ness all the way to even being done with afternoon naps but able to maintain his behavior.  Now we are swimming in these positive interactions, and are in a better place – him and us – to better deal with those more challenging moments.

We have worked so hard, just with Barrett on these attachment pieces, and he has come so far!  He uses feeling words now, and communicates what he wants to express without just talking incessantly or giving up and screaming.   He takes turns, and asks for what he wants or needs, and is the most gentle and protective brother of Kyrie.  I’m so proud of him!

We have loved him for so long, and it is lovely to also enjoy him more now.

We have even been able to process with him more directly about what it has been like for him to be “the other brother” while his sisters and brothers have all these medical crises and special needs.  He wants to write a book about it, and I think that’s a great idea.  He’s not the only sibling out there of special kids!  He has always been very smart and very verbal, and so it is delightful to watch him express himself successfully and be so much happier as he navigates relationships with those around him.

I am grateful for so many who have loved him well, both before he came to our family and those who have helped welcome him home.  He is amazing, and having people care for him and the other children is such a huge blessing to all of us.  I am especially grateful to therapists and teachers who support him so much individually!

We all need therapists, really.

That’s what my friends at work were reminding them.  I don’t know if I was extra crazy at work, or if my blogs have been too depressing, or if the vicarious trauma of knowing our family is just still that acute.  But they did an intervention, all of them cornering me to “encourage” me to see someone because of all we have been through.

That’s when I knew they had read the book, or part of it, anyway.

I assured them I have the best counselors, and that I am a fan of therapy, and that writing is part of my coping skill.  

Hence the book and the blog.

Additional support for our family is another good thing about palliative care for Kyrie: we get extra support from counselors and chaplains, plus all the good doctors and parent groups and sibling groups.  I am so grateful!

And good support for my marriage, which is not in crisis, and I know our relationship is strong because we serve each other and pray and read our scriptures and keep our covenants.

I can’t imagine enduring the last five years with anyone other than Nathan, and I am so glad it is him that I married.

Anyway, Nathan and I were talking about all these things when I got home from work at midnight last night.  I got ready for bed and was thinking of all the therapists I had: the ones that were terrible, the times I was forced to go, and the ones that were dangerous and destructive.  I thought about the amazing ones, the ones that helped, and how much better a girl feels after doing that kind of intense work.

Also, ladies, I did CPE, which was totally therapeutic, as any chaplain will tell you.  It’s super intense group therapy for a year, eight hours a day for five days a week, with serious and in-depth individual work daily.  I specifically did that after my parents died because I knew that I needed help.  It was amazing, and I am grateful for my church calling me to that program so that I had such an opportunity just when I needed it.  That was so good for me!

I also thought of Israel, going the first time after my father died, and then after my mother was killed, and throwing stones into the Sea of Galilee.

I will do it again, when Kyrie dies.

Someday.

Not today.

That’s not today, and nothing I am worried about today – not because I am evading such discussion or avoiding the topic, but because it is not this season. If anything, Kyrie has taught us how to be present in the moment.  I don’t want to miss out on anything, and these days are for singing and giggling and chattering and wearing mismatched shoes.  They are for celebrating the healing hearts of big brothers, waiting everyday like Ruby Bridges until big sister gets to go to school, and playing in the cooling autumn wind after homework is done.

Tears are always a river that take you somewhere, but I promise I am not drowning.

Except in sticky faces and muddy handprints, which is good and right and as it should be.

So when I laid down last night thinking about all the therapy I have done, and all the things we are enduring now, and how it will all someday mean something… I slipped into a sleep filled with dreams about therapy.

Therapy with Jesus.

I mean to say, the real deal, with angels and the Savior, and all kinds of dirt being dug out of me.  I was stripped raw, and talked for weeks of time in one night, and all my stories threaded into stars, and all the pieces of me were reunited in public for a sweet blissful moment.  Such peace flooded me, poured into me and around me, the way it feels when you slip down into warm water on a late night.  I imagine it’s how fish feel.

I slept unusually late this morning, which makes sense after two weeks without a day off and getting home at midnight-thirty and having to be up at six in the morning everyday for as many appointments as we had this week.

But when I woke, I was refreshed and healed and strengthened and nourished as if I had been in vacation for years.

Therapy vacation, like a cruise line for the weak and exhausted and worn out.

And like Barrett, I was okay for another day.

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; 

they shall mount up with wings as eagles; 

they shall run, and not be weary; 

and they shall walk, and not faint.

          ~ Isaiah 40:31

About Emily

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 2009. I serve as a Chaplain, and work as a counselor. I got bilateral cochlear implants in 2010, but will always love sign language. I choose books over television, and organics over processed. Nothing is as close to flying as ballroom dancing - except maybe running, when in the solo mood. I would rather be outside than anywhere else, especially at the river riding my bike or kayaking. PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy, and currently doing a post-doc in Jewish Studies and an MDiv in Pastoral Counseling. The best thing about Emily World is that it's always an adventure, even if (not so) grammatically precise. The only thing better than writing is being married to a writer. Nathan Christensen and I were married in the Oklahoma City temple on 13 October 2012, and have since fostered more than eighty-five children. We have adopted the six who stayed, and are totally and completely and helplessly in love with our family. Nathan writes musical theater, including "Broadcast" (a musical history of the radio) and an adaption of Lois Lowry's "The Giver". He served his mission in South Korea, has taught song-writing in New York City public schools, and worked as a theater critic for a Tucson newspaper. This is not an official Web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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