Saturday, June 24, 2017

Dear Sugar: On Summer and Keeping Our Kids Occupied With Diverse, Cooperative Activities

Dear Sugar,

We live just outside St. Louis.  The first few weeks of summer break are tolerable, some days even mild.  But soon, it heats up (to up to 115 heat index), and the kids (and me) grow really restless, irritated, and HOT.   You can only swim so many times.  So what is stay-at-home/work-at-home mom to do?  How do I keep the kids happily occupied when the days are long?   

One of our favorite companies is Peaceable Kingdom.  First, because they create diversity-friendly products for kids.  This is very important to my family: that the things we purchase for our children reflect faces that look like theirs.   

We also love the quality of the products.  With four kids, I refuse to purchase throw-away, junky items (which is a waste of money and not environmentally friendly).  Every product we own from Peaceable Kingdom is sturdy and of incredible quality.  We have friends over multiple times a week, so not only do my children use the products, but so do their friends:  and they hold up really well!

The variety is fantastic!  I love that they have so many products to choose from! Games, activity packs, cards, stationary, art supplies, puzzles, journals, even valentines.  And some of the items:  scratch and sniff, which if you have a sensory seeking child like I do, scratch and sniff is EVERYTHING.   Peaceable Kingdom realizes that kids' interests are diverse, so their products should reflect that!  They offer everything from space, to dinosaurs, to math, to art, to engineering, to princesses, to desserts, and much more!  They even offer "games to go":  yes, items that are made to travel!  

Finally, I love inclusion!  Many of the products fall under the"cooperative play" category, meaning we can use them as a family. Just like most people, my kids hate feeling left out, and cooperative play games include every family member.   Some of the games and puzzles have held the attention of my four-year-old, my six-year-old, and my eight-year-old; it doesn't get better than that!   Cooperative play games promote connection, cooperation, and empathy.  YAY!  

Here are our favorite Peaceable Kingdom products:

1:  Friends and Neighbors:  a cooperative game that teaches children about empathy and problem solving.   Notice the diverse cast of characters?  

2:  Scratch and Sniff Stickers:  We enjoyed the whipped cream-scented multiracial fairy stickers and the cherry scented firefighter and firetruck stickers.  

3:  Lock and key diaries:  My oldest LOVES writing (like her mama!), especially when she can "lock up" her words (and hide them from her little sister, who is quite a good reader!).  

Do you own any Peaceable Kingdom products?  Which are you favorites?  

This post is sponsored by our friends at Peaceable Kingdom, one of my favorite companies!  

Friday, June 23, 2017

Dear Sugar: PTSD and Adoption, Round #3

Dear Sugar,

I'm wrapping up a three-part series on PTSD in parents-by-adoption after an adoption experience. Today, I'm sharing T's story.   T is a 35-year-old mom of two boys, both adopted domestically, transracially, and as infants.   T has been married for fourteen years, and she and her husband have a history of infertility.  

Rachel:  What’s your definition of Adoption PTSD? 

T:  Adoption PTSD wasn’t something I ever considered (or even knew was a real thing) until last year when I found myself standing at an infant clothing rack in a store feeling paralyzed by indecision about whether or not I should buy clothes for a child I might not be allowed to keep…even though our adoption had been finalized for about four months by then.  The fear of loss and the belief that we were still living out an uncertain adoption plan had been an ingrained part of my thought process for about seven months, so those guttural feelings of fear and helplessness overrode my logical thinking about reality for a minute. My gut reaction was a defense mechanism that didn’t need to function anymore, but it took a while for my brain to catch up with reality. 

Rachel:  What was your adoption experience like?

T:  Our situation was quite unique, even within the realm of our agency’s and attorney’s experiences. We wrestled with the ethics of choosing to work for our son’s permanency in our home, which was (and continued to be) the original adoption plan for most of the biological family involved. However, in a turn of events that landed us in court several times, we had to parent a child who had been entrusted to us by one party and was being wrenched away by another. It’s too multifaceted to explain simply, but suffice it to say that we were fighting with and for the rights of the parent who wanted what was best for the child. As a result, we waffled in adoption limbo for months and months while loving and bonding with a baby we may not have been able to keep. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done--to love freely without expectation, to bear the brunt of loss in order to do the right thing. Our long story resolved in the best way possible, but it was not without brokenness and loss. That’s adoption in general, but it was certainly magnified in our situation. This was never a fostering situation, but it did play out like that. We are  now a family forever, but I still struggle with undoing some of the coping mechanisms that I unknowingly developed.  

Rachel:  What makes you think you had/have adoption-related PTSD?

T:  For me it wasn’t anything dramatic. It mostly affected the  way I was thinking about things long term. My son was nearly a year old (and we were 4 months post-finalization) when I found myself unable to decide if I should buy a bigger pair of pajamas for later in the year because he might not be with us at that point. I had to mentally shake myself, had to tell myself out loud that I wasn’t thinking straight. We’d legally been a family for four months, but I couldn’t undo my self-preserving, hedge-my-bets processing. I felt unable to plan for the future for a long time because I’d not been allowed to for quite a while.  I repeatedly had to stop the train of thought that began with, “If we get to keep him…”  I had zero experience in foster care (and no training to that end), so when this adoption plan panned out similarly, I wasn’t prepared to process it. It was only ever supposed to be an adoption plan. I didn’t even decorate a nursery until my son about ten months old. Living in limbo made me afraid to do anything that seemed permanent. I didn’t want to have to unmake all my permanent decisions if we couldn’t keep our son. 

Rachel:  How did you heal?  

T:  I wrote and prayed a lot. I am a Christian, so spending every morning reading the Psalms was the balm my heart desperately needed. I felt shaky, but I knew the Lord was with me and that was the strength I needed to press through my fear. I rocked “my” son every night before putting him in his crib, and I prayed over him while we swayed in the rocking chair together in the dark. When you adopt, your kids are entrusted to you by birth parents. I felt that I was entrusting my son to the Lord every morning and evening. I vowed to love him as long as I was allowed to. He would not experience any more loss while I loved him if I could help it. Nurturing him in uncertainty was difficult mentally,  but it was physically soothing and gave me purpose. I could give him what he needed while he was in my care. It felt like a sacred process--loving without strings. I wrote in my journal most mornings, and putting my emotions into words helped me to move past fear so I could mother my children and be present for them. 

Rachel:  How has Adoption PTSD changed you?  Do you feel your traumatic experience did any “permanent damage”? 

T:   I wouldn’t say I have “permanent damage,” although I am quite leery of the adoption process these days. I would never tell someone not to pursue it because of our situation, but I do give more caution than I used to when someone tells me they’re considering adoption. I encourage them to dig deep into the possibility of risk and loss and to understand that as the hopeful adoptive parents, they do not have any rights until all is said and done. I think people minimize that truth in process because the excitement over growing one’s family overshadows the possibility of loss. It’s understandable--I get it because I’ve been there. But I wish I had been more prepared for the emotional risk. I encourage families to ask a LOT of questions of the professionals in the field and to make sure they do their work thoroughly before becoming engaged in a tricky situation. You may still choose to engage (and I definitely would have engaged in our situation if I could do it again with all the information up front), but it’s helpful to know what you’re getting into if possible.

That said, I am not sure I have the mental fortitude to pursue adoption again at this juncture. It was tough to recover from emotionally, financially, and mentally. Perhaps that says more about any “permanent damage” than anything else I could say.


***My disclaimer:  I'm not a mental health professional.  I'm using my platform to amplify the voices of women who believe that their adoption experiences have resulted in mental health issues.  

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Dear Sugar: PTSD in Adoption, Round #2

Dear Sugar,

This week, we're journeying through PTSD, in relation to adoption, as a parent-by-adoption.  Today, I'd like you to meet B.  

B is in her mid-thirties and is parenting multiple children, all adopted.  She's married and is a SAHM.   

Rachel:  What is your adoption of Adoption PTSD?

B:  Adoption PTSD is when a single or series of traumatic events during an adoption process creates crippling issues such as depression and anxiety.

Rachel:  What was your adoption experience?  

B:  We adopted all of our children, but one of our adoptions was particularly difficult.   It was a really long match, and we were already parenting.  Because of this, not only were we experiencing tremendous stress, but so were our children.  As much as we tried to shield them from the ups and downs, they were always around when we were making phone calls, having pop-up conversations, and cautiously-optimistically preparing for a possible placement.   The stress of trying to control what our kids saw and heard added to the overall stress of the adoption. 

We had an overwhelming and increasing amount of communication with the expectant parents (prior to placement).  They were demanding, made off-the-charts requests of us, and I’m positive that one of them was/is bi-polar.  It was a roller coaster from the day we were matched until months after the placement.   There were a handful of times I was very tempted to walk away.  

I ended up going on anxiety medication because of the daily panic attacks I was having.   The situation was so unpredictable and upsetting.  

I know you're probably thinking, why didn't we just abandon the match?  More than one person advised us to walk away, even one of our adoption professionals, because he felt bad for us and in his experience, he knew this probably wouldn't result in a placement.  

We didn’t hold on out of desperation for a baby (we already have children and were OK with the outcome of any match), but because we felt that God told us to “hang on” and “wait and see.”  It was only by our faith that we stayed. 

Rachel:  What makes you think you experienced Adoption PTSD?  What were your symptoms? 

B:  After the placement happened, I assumed my anxiety would vanish.  It didn’t.   The communication with the birth parents continued to be incredibly difficult for many months after placement.  Bio dad wanted one thing, while bio mom wanted another.  We felt like we (and our child) were in a game of tug-of-war.   I continued to experience breathlessness, fatigue, fear, confusion, anger, and moments of wanting to just give up.  I felt like I was being pecked at ALL THE TIME.  That's the best way to describe it.  Like a chicken was just using its beak to peck, peck, peck, peck, on my soul.  Constantly.  

The worst part?  I wasn’t free to be my baby’s mother.  Instead, I was caught between a “rock and a hard place”:  wanting to enjoy my new baby while trying to appease those who couldn’t be appeased.  

Rachel:  How did you heal/get treated?  What helped you? 

B:  Anti anxiety-medications helped.  But what was most difficult and most necessary, putting up very firm boundaries with the birth parents, was what helped the most.  The truth was, I was being too permissive.   Unfortunately, it was harming myself and my family.  I couldn’t take away all the stress of the situation, but I could prevent SOME of it.   I only wish I would have been firmer earlier on.    

Rachel:  How has Adoption PTSD changed you?  Do you feel your traumatic experience did any “permanent damage”? 

B:  I have more empathy than ever for those who have experienced trauma.  I know that trauma comes in different forms.  Something that’s traumatic for one person may not look traumatic to another.  But there is power in naming your problem.   That’s half the battle.  The second half is treatment. 
Rachel:  Did the experience do “permanent damage”?  

B:  I don’t know.  We’re only a year out from the placement.  I finally feel like myself again.  But the thing with trauma (just like grief) is that it comes back.  It’s a cycle.   We just learn tools to deal with it.

Rachel:  What advice do you have for someone who thinks they’re experiencing Adoption PTSD?   

B:  Get help  See a therapist.   Join an adoption support group.   Openly speak of your struggles, because there’s nothing to be ashamed of.   Keep doing the things you love to do, things that bring you peace and joy.   And even though you don’t think it’s possible in the moment, Adoption PTSD is a teacher.   Because of your experience, you will be stronger and be able to help others.  

Also, it's OK to admit you are having a hard time.  Just because I was chosen to parent my child, just because I am very thankful to be a mom, just because I'm strong, it doesn't mean my PTSD isn't real.  It doesn't mean the gratefulness of being chosen can magically trump PTSD.   They can exist, the PTSD and the joy, simultaneously.   

***My disclaimer:  I'm not a mental health professional.  I'm using my platform to amplify the voices of women who believe that their adoption experiences have resulted in mental health issues.  

Monday, June 19, 2017

Dear Sugar: On PTSD and Adoption (When You're the Parent)

Dear Sugar:

This is a three-part post in which I'm sharing three (adoptive) mom's stories regarding adoption and mental health. It's not something readily recognized or often discussed, but it happens. And we need to talk about it.  

My hope is that their insights and experiences shed light on this subject, encourage you, and educate you.   

My disclaimer:  I'm not a mental health professional.  I'm using my platform to amplify the voices of women who believe that their adoption experiences have resulted in mental health issues.  

Let's get started:  meet T.   She's a 39-year-old mother, married, with a four-year-old daughter, adopted at birth.   Both T and her husband are educators.  

Rachel:  How do you define Adoption PTSD?  

T:  I would define Adoption PTSD as a condition that occurs after a traumatic experience has occurred during the course of an adoption. This could be the result of a failed adoption, a contested adoption, or any other disturbing events that occur before, during, or after the finalization of an adoption.

Rachel:  Tell me about your adoption experience.   

T:  My husband and I waited three years until we were matched with the birth mother. During our wait, we experienced five failed adoptions. After our fifth failed adoption, we were already weary when the birth mother said that she had chosen us. As we were matched, she gave us the name of a man she thought might be the birth father. He was contacted by our attorney, but he never responded to the request for a paternity test. When our daughter was born, the doctor handed her to me, and I shared a room with her in the hospital the entire time. We went through the legally required six month waiting period before the finalization with no concerns regarding her finalization. One month before finalization, we were required to go to the courthouse to complete some legal requirements. At this time, the stated birth father showed up and contested the adoption. The judge gave him three months to legally contest the adoption and produce the evidence needed to prove that he was the biological father. We were to return to court after three months and the judge would review the evidence.

After the three months, we returned to court with the full expectation to finalize the adoption; we were well past the legally required six month wait period. We sat in the courtroom next to the stated birth father. He had not brought forth any evidence that he was the biological father. We truly believed that because he could not prove that he was the biological father, the judge would finalize the adoption. Instead the judge gave him one more month to procure the evidence. We were in complete shock. All I could do was cry. At this time, I honestly believed that the judge was going to grant custody to the stated birth father. We were to return in one month and the judge would make his decision.

After one month, we returned to court, but the stated birth father did not. He did not produce any evidence to prove that he was the biological father. We were finally granted custody of our daughter. However, the experience with the stated birth father and the state of unknowing has left a permanent psychological mark.

Rachel:  What makes you think you experienced Adoption PTSD?  What were your symptoms? 

T:  The best way that I can explain my adoption PTSD is a constant state of anxiety and fear. This constant anxiety and fear is connected to occasional panic attacks that can be triggered by something as simple as hearing a song. When a panic attack associated with the PTSD occurs, it is as if a movie of our traumatic event is replaying itself in my head. I am at that time and place, and I have the very real belief that my daughter is going to be taken from my husband and me. I create scenarios in my head imagining my world without her. It is incredibly terrifying and very real. Along with the psychological response, there is also the physical response of tears and nausea.

Rachel:  How did you heal/get treated?  What helped you? 

T:  Unfortunately, I have not yet healed nor did I seek treatment. The only thing that does help me is talking about it with my friends and family. My husband has been very supportive, and constantly reassures me that our daughter is safe. I have also found it beneficial to talk with people that have a shared experience. I just need to constantly remind myself that the fear is in my head and not real.

Rachel:  How has Adoption PTSD changed you?  Do you feel your traumatic experience did any “permanent damage”? 

T:  I feel that my adoption PTSD is now just a part of me. I do feel that there is some permanence to it. Because we have an open adoption, I jump when I get a text from the birth mother. Is she still in contact with him? Does he know where we live or what our daughter looks like? There are certain places that I cannot go anymore, because that triggers a response. There are certain things from that time that I cannot experience anymore (e.g., a song that I listened to during that time, the outfit I wore to court) because that will trigger a response. Even responding to these questions has triggered an emotional response. 

Although I believe that my adoption PTSD is permanent, I also believe that it will get easier. Even now, the attacks come less often. The memories are no longer at the forefront of my mind. On the other hand, I believe that there will always be triggers.

Rachel:  What advice do you have for someone who thinks they’re experiencing Adoption PTSD?   

T:  I would suggest that they talk about it. I feel that there are many people in the adoption community that have experienced or are experiencing adoption PTSD. The more that we openly talk about it, the more support networks will can develop. I honestly believe that talking with someone that has had a shared experience has been the most beneficial to me.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Dear Sugar: The Most Powerful Letter When Adopting

Dear Sugar:

I'm so excited to bring you my very first free e-book!   I've written six books (#6 due out this summer!), but this is my first ever FREEBIE.  

Why give something to you for free?  Because it's THAT important. I'm dedicated to bettering the adoption community.   This e-book stems from a decade of experience.  A 5-week guide focusing on the most powerful letter; understanding the signficance of the letter E is a total adoption game-changer.

What does E stand for?  Well, you'll have to read the e-book to find out.  It's super easy, just drop your e-mail addy in the form below, and voila!  In 24 hours, you'll be sent your e-book!  As a bonus, you also get a free coloring sheet (oh-so-adorable and therapeutic). Enjoy! 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Dear Sugar: Staying Sane During Summer With One Simple Game

Dear Sugar:

I'm not brand-new to homeschooling, but I am new to homeschooling multiple children at once.  And since it's summer (and our public school is out for three months), I decided to get back to homeschooling with my oldest three kids.  One of my kids is struggling in math, and I wanted to make practicing fun and rewarding.  However with four kids, a writing career, and a house to keep semi-clean and organized, I HAD to streamline.  

That's when it dawned on me:  take our well-loved Candy Land board game (with its wrinkly playing cards and rough edges) and turn it into summer homeschooling glory.  (Mommy win!)  Here's how I did it, and how you can do it too:

Summer Candy-Land Homeschooling Board Game

1:  Find or buy Candy Land.  I've seen Target carry it for under $10 on sale, and my sister found hers at a dollar store for $5.

2:  Get knock-off Velcro at your local dollar store.   Cut one side into pieces small enough to fit over every square of the game, except the special "candy" squares), but not covering the entire space.  You want to be able to see the color of the square (the border) around the Velcro).   Using a hot glue gun, affix the pieces to the game squares. 

3:  On the Candy Land player pieces, affix the other tape onto the bottom so the player will be able to stand on the squares on the board.   Then assign each child a player color.    (Assigning is easier than letting bickering siblings choose).

4:  Put your playing cards in a stack (after shuffling) and secure with a rubber band.

5:  Store your board on a flat surface (where you don't have to fold the board--which will only mess up the Velcro) that is reachable for you, but not always accessible to kids who might be temped to play with the board.   For us, we use the top of the fridge.

6:  With your kids input, generate a list of tasks which will earn them the right to draw a card.  Each task list should be different depending on your child's age, interests, and needs.   

A sampling for us is this:  

  • My oldest must read three book chapters OR read books aloud to her siblings (usually five board books to the baby or two picture books to the middle two children).  The younger siblings also earn a card by listening to their big sister read.    
  • My second child must read two "easy reader" books aloud to her little brother or her big sister. Again, the other sibling also earns a card for respectfully listening.  
  • My son (who is four) can earn a card by doing two puzzles (like putting together a letter puzzle and number puzzle with me, during which we review sounds, colors, shapes, etc.).  
  • Listening to an audio book, doing three pages (I choose) from a workbook, watching an educational film, play a learning game (math, reading, etc.), etc.  

7:  Card drawing.  They must take the card on the top of the deck. If they earn a "candy card," they can only move forward.  I did this because I didn't want them drawing a candy card that sent them backward, which I felt wasn't fair given their hard work.   If they earn a candy card that would send them backward, we put that card back into the bottom of the deck and the child selects a new card.

8:  Prizes:  the best part!  We also generated a list of prizes.  I kept in mind that my kids are motivated by different things (which can also vary day-to-day).   We typed up our prize list and hung it on the pantry door to keep us all motivated.   Once a child reaches the end of the candy road, he or she picks a prize, and then starts over. 

Our prize list is:

  • stay up 20 minutes late
  • use mom's old ipod for 20 minutes
  • one soda (we buy a "healthy" kind)
  • one small gourmet popcorn from our local kitchen store
  • $3
Why does this work so well?
  • It's simple.
  • The kids have say-so.
  • The prizes are very motivating.
  • There's a healthy sense of competition.  
  • We keep up on math and reading skills.  
  • It's inexpensive.   
  • Motivates the kids to pick out gobs of library books. 
A note about discipline:  Prizes, card-drawing, and homeschooling aren't options for us to take away as punishment.  We felt it was unfair and unnecessary.   

Easy?  YES!  Fun?  Absolutely!  

How do you keep your kids learning over the summer?  Do you offer incentives?  Join me on Facebook to discuss!  

Monday, June 12, 2017

Dear Sugar: I Used to Hate My Fine, Thin, Straight Hair, but Not Anymore

Dear Sugar,

Let's take a break from our "regularly scheduled" programming and talk about hair.  

I'm mad-jelly of the ladies on Pinterest and Insta, most of them fellow bloggers, who have mermaid hair.   Wavy, highlighted, and thick.  Gorgeous.    

Then there's me.   I've been "gifted" a few things by genetics that aren't so great.   1-thigh "hail damage."    2-adult acne.    3-thin, fine, straight hair.    (I'm just keeping it real.)  

Today's focus is #3.  

Now, I don't make it a habit of hating on myself.   The truth is, I celebrate myself and my strong body without shame.  Exhibit A.  I took a photo of myself, in a two-piece swimsuit, with all my dia-bad-ass equipment front-and-center and wrote an entire article about it.   

However, I've always struggled with loving my hair.   Finding the perfect products, cut, and color has been an ongoing battle.   That is, until recently. 

For starters, Color Proof Super Plump shampoo and conditioner smells like a mixture of jelly beans and cotton candy.  I always smell products before I buy them.  I don't want anything that smells like a grandma's garden, a man's shaving kit, or a health food store.   I want something light, fruity, and fun. 
Because let's be honest, I (like you) get very, very few minutes to myself, and if I do nab a five minute shower where no one knocks on the glass door and needs a boo-boo kiss or a snack, I call that a win.  But if I get a five minute uninterrupted shower AND get to wash my hair with something that smells like candy?   That's bliss.  

The shampoo and conditioner, which I've been using for well over two months, doesn't leave a residue.  It doesn't weigh my hair down.  And it hasn't stripped or dulled my highlights.  And I need very little product (just a nickel size amount in my palm) to get the job done.    

In fact, I love the products so much, that I had my photographer take my upcoming new book author pics with me wearing my hair down (very rare for me) in those beachy-waves I used to lust over instead of wearing myself. The pics were taken on a crazy-windy, warm, humid-ish day, and my style held without losing shine, curl, or bounce.   

Yes, I still rock my top-knot most days, because I don't have time to curl my hair.  Nor do I need to be all kinds of cute to spend my days changing diapers, making meals, doing laundry, and running errands.  However, even my top knot looks shiny and...well...happy!   

After years and years of struggling with my perception of my hair, of feeling like it didn't live up to everyone else's, I can finally say I've found the right product for my mane!   

-This post is sponsored by Color Proof; review all my own-