What’s up?

November 5, 2019 36 Comments

It has been a tough run. In my last blog post, The Calm Between Storms, at the end of August, I spoke of the storms, the chaos, the anxiety and other HUGE feelings that happen once school starts. These past two months have proven to be everything and more than I anticipated.

My kids are some of the sweetest, kindest, and brightest people around. I might be a bit biased, but I love their curiosity and their creativity. All of them. They are always full of questions and have the best ideas for activities and adventures.

However, as soon as they get into a setting other than home (school, specifically), I start to see some of the sparkle fade. School is full of a lot of different kinds of people and unpredictable days. There are many expectations for behavior, classwork production, and peer relationships. Each of the kids have lived through trauma and loss and the school environment triggers all kinds of old feelings. Change is NOT their friend.

So every fall, we circle the wagons and I try to make our home life as routine, normal and loving as possible. It is an intentional focus of safety with a lot of opportunity to play, goof off and relax and talk so that their neuro-biological systems can relax and have a safe place to work out feelings if needed. The after school times are critical.

Most of my time in the fall, however, is spent with school advocacy. A LOT of school advocacy. This fall, I had to have several meetings and phone calls with follow-up emails (put EVERYTHING in writing) to make sure that the 5-year-old twins were allowed to be in the same classroom. The school folks were DETERMINED to separate them in the interest of letting them “develop as individuals.” I had to pull out all the stops and experts to help them understand trauma-informed education… that with so much trauma and loss in their young lives, starting a new school with a lot of new people and a new setting and not having each other for support was inappropriate. In the end, the girls, themselves, were able to turn the tide when they were actually separated and started refusing to go to school by the end of the first week. They couldn’t name why, but they were very emotional with a lot of melt-downs and screaming and clinging. I knew why… they had been forced to try to handle all this change without the one consistent in their lives – their twin. The school put them back together the second week and all behaviors stopped. They are thriving! They love school and they love kindergarten and their teacher is quite skilled at directing them into separate activities and groups and work tables, which they enjoy — as long as they are sure that sister is nearby.

My 6th grader is an enigma and I have had to have A LOT (2-3 times/week) of contact with the teachers. He had significant neglect when he was very young and has attachment issues. It is very hard for him to understand connections and consequences and having entered a middle school with close to a thousand students is very, very hard for him. He is constantly overloaded and reactive to being touched. He is also very young developmentally, though quite skilled verbally and he doesn’t get the nuances of interpersonal relationships. On top of it, puberty has hit. Gah! We recently did a therapy called Safe and Sound Protocol and it has done a lot to modify behaviors at home, but Henry is SO triggered at school that I am struggling to find strategies for him to feel safe in that environment. The teachers are trying to use behavioral strategies and I am trying to advocate mightily for a much different program. His behaviors are related to brain trauma and not a lack of understanding about appropriate responses. He enters flee/freeze/fight very quickly and is functioning at a basic survival level. It is a huge learning curve for this teaching team. We have had several meetings, at least 2 or 3 phone calls each week and then I take the time to follow up on each with an email (put EVERYTHING in writing)

My 8th grader also has a team of teachers who are not understanding his anxiety. He was very severely physically abused as a youngster and, while he has been growing and healing all along, his body is geared towards very high alert and severe anxiety whenever there is a hint of “trouble.” Trouble always meant sometimes life-threatening abuse. It doesn’t even have to be real trouble, but perceived problems. Because of Gavin’s sensitive alert system, even being corrected during class triggers an anxiety response. It shuts him down, so it looks like he’s “pouting,” but really, he’s freezing up to protect himself. But then, if he is pushed, it turns into a fight response… not physically, but he becomes very angry and he can’t see or hear anything except his own survival response. His teachers are calling it “attitude” and, while one teacher is finally starting to respond differently with him based on my communications, the others are still not understanding trauma-informed education approaches. And, of course, I look like an over-protective parent enabling his attitudes. There have been many phone calls, several meetings and, of course, I then have to take to the time to follow up everything with emails (put EVERYTHING in writing).

My 9th grader is my son who is on the autism spectrum. He grew so much in 7th and 8th grade thanks to a fabulous team at school, but now he is in an entirely new school with a new team who does not know him yet and a lot of different schedules and opportunities. The team has been quite responsive and I am feeling good about his next 4 years, but this first month and a half has sent Freddy backwards in terms of anxiety and his ability to complete an entire week at school. Still, he has not completely reverted to school refusal and screaming as he was in 5th and 6th grade, and he really wants to like school, because he is so eager to learn things, so he is letting us, as a team keep trying strategies until he feels more comfortable and ‘safe’ at school. He, for the first time, completed an entire week of school last week without leaving early or missing days!!!! It took the promise of $10 at the end of any week that he can have perfect attendance. As the time goes by, if he can convince himself to stay at school, he and the teaching team will gradually learn what he can tolerate and how he can use his own voice. But it has been nearly daily phone calls from both the staff and my kiddo, followed up (put EVERYTHING into writing) by emails (almost every day).

With great joy, I can share that my 2nd grader and my 10th grader have both had wonderful starts to the school year. Hooray!

The Juggling Life – Fun and Games

On top of all this advocacy at 3 different schools, we continue to live our regular life with 7 kids and all of their extra, fun, known and safe activities. There are dance classes and swim lessons and walks and bike rides and games and bedtime routines. All of our “normal” life is meant to be consistent, safe, familiar and full of love.

I will continue to focus on advocacy all year long, but our mornings are starting to ease up a bit (consistency!) and our evenings are full of a bit more sparkle again. I LOVE it when my kids laugh with each other. Such a glorious sound!

For now, I know what I need to do at all the schools for and with my children, so I’m finally able to look at everything else on my plate…. like my writing. I have missed it a lot! I have written at least 20 articles in my head to share with everyone, but none of it has seen the light of day (yet). It seems each day as a parent, a trauma mama, an advocate, and a comfort zone has it’s own story, it’s own learnings, and it’s own sweetness that I want to share with everyone in my world.

I would not change this journey, this place I am supposed to be, for anything in the world!

I’d really love to have you along for the journey! Sign up here to get email notes every time I post a new article. There are a lot more stories to come!!!

36 Comments

  1. Reply

    Maria Gustafsson

    November 11, 2019

    I’ve said it before, but I’m saying it again, you are an amazing woman; and your children are so fortunate to have you advocating for them every step of the way.

    • Reply

      Karla

      November 12, 2019

      Thank you, Maria I am nothing but blessed by these souls and being able to advocate for them is gift!

  2. Reply

    Tara

    November 11, 2019

    You have the biggest heart! It’s amazing to see you discuss these situations with such grace. Kuddos to you, mama for taking on so much and loving them through all the stuggles & triumphs!

    • Reply

      Karla

      November 12, 2019

      Thank you, Tara. It is easy to love them through it all… they are such precious souls

  3. Reply

    Lisa

    November 11, 2019

    Thank you for being such a remarkable mama to your kiddos!!

    • Reply

      Karla

      November 12, 2019

      Thank you. I appreciate all the encouragement I can get

  4. Reply

    Cindy

    November 11, 2019

    Although I’m sure they realize it now at some level, in the future your kids will thank you with whole hearts for all that you do for them. You make sure they are being seen, heard and understood and that is priceless!

    • Reply

      Karla

      November 12, 2019

      Yes. And even if they don’t say it, living out lives that are blessings for others is gift enough!

  5. Reply

    judean

    November 10, 2019

    Wow – you are so strong and continue to amaze me. You are an inspiration and your advocacy is amazing@

    • Reply

      Karla

      November 10, 2019

      Thank you very much. Advocacy has been one of the biggest pieces of this journey, but these children are so special and need every chance to be their best.

  6. Reply

    Tracy

    November 10, 2019

    Advocating for each Childs education is so important, these kiddos are so lucky that you are investing the time to make sure they each have the best experience possible! Keep it up!

    • Reply

      Karla

      November 10, 2019

      Thank you, Tracy. It is my life’s work to help each be who they are created to be.

  7. Reply

    Kendra

    November 9, 2019

    So much going on. I hope you’re able to sneak in a few minutes for your own self care too.

    • Reply

      Karla

      November 10, 2019

      Thank you for thinking of me. It has been a rough road and even tiny bits of self care have helped… the best being taking the time for a bath (without my iPhone) every day or two.

  8. Reply

    Jordan

    November 9, 2019

    When I hear of stories like those of your kids, I wish that there were more alternative approaches to school and that experience for kids. It’s great that you are so dedicated to helping them and making sure the schools understand that the basic, one way of doing things isn’t always best.

    • Reply

      Karla

      November 10, 2019

      Oh, yes, Jordan. There needs to be a huge change in how schools approach all kids but especially kids with extra needs. I have spent all these years advocating for kids out of foster care and things have changed very little in all these years. It’s daunting at times.

  9. Reply

    Ellen Mika Zelasko

    November 9, 2019

    Wow, you are busy! And you have such a good understanding of each of your children, and your love for them shines through in your writing. They are all very blessed to have you as their Mom.

    • Reply

      Karla

      November 10, 2019

      Thank you for this. I get so caught up in what needs to be done and, I admit, discouraged. It helps to have support near and far!

  10. Reply

    Suzan

    November 9, 2019

    Your continued support and advocacy for these children are just plain inspiring. The world needs more like you.

    • Reply

      Karla

      November 10, 2019

      Thank you, Suzan… I hope to inspire and I guess I hope my readers will look to those near them that could use your support. It’s a hard journey and feedback like this from you helps!!!!

  11. Reply

    Lisa Manderino

    November 8, 2019

    I just want to say first you are amazing! It is so wonderful that you advocate for these beautiful children. Hopefully you can help the school know exactly how to help these kiddos

    • Reply

      Karla

      November 10, 2019

      Thank you, Lisa. It is not easy. But the kids are SO worth it. 🙂

  12. Reply

    Karen

    November 8, 2019

    I was a foster parent for over 5 years and I was always at the kids school. I felt like the administration would scatter when I walked in. I wanted to scream if you listen to me, the person who see’s their meltdowns at home, life will be easier for everyone.

    • Reply

      Karla

      November 10, 2019

      Amen, sister! I am VERY persistent and I bring muffins! But I do SO wish that they would listen

  13. Reply

    Natalie

    November 8, 2019

    School can be hectic and even though the administration may think they know best your are the expert when it comes to your kids. So glad to read that your insisted the twins to be together!! Love that your realize the importance of a family routine and practice it. Great post!

    • Reply

      Karla

      November 10, 2019

      Thank you for all of this! It is incredibly special when other’s ‘get it.’ It takes so much to stay on top of things.

  14. Reply

    Jill DeMasi

    November 8, 2019

    Blessings to you and your beautiful family. Keep advocating for them and stay strong.

    • Reply

      Karla

      November 10, 2019

      Thank you and thank you. I am blessed with this beautiful family and will do what needs to be done. It is nice to get positive feedback!

  15. Reply

    Tricia Snow

    November 8, 2019

    I love that you are sharing your story! Thank you!

    • Reply

      Karla

      November 10, 2019

      Thanks, Tricia. I am glad that it is a story people want to hear.

  16. Reply

    Lee Anne

    November 8, 2019

    Your plate is full and so is your heart!

    • Reply

      Karla

      November 10, 2019

      Yes, and yes. I am blessed!

  17. Reply

    Amy Irvin

    November 8, 2019

    Your kids are blessed to have a mama who really advocates for them!

    • Reply

      Karla

      November 10, 2019

      They are the blessings in my life and I will do all I can for them!

  18. Reply

    Holly Bird

    November 8, 2019

    WOW! You have had a journey the past few months!! I am so glad the school finally got smart and got the twins back together..All I can say about that is WHat were they thinking..Education 101! I keep up the good work you are an amazing Mom!!

    • Reply

      Karla

      November 10, 2019

      Thanks, Holly. Yeah, that twin thing was SOOOO frustrating. They dug their heels in for I don’t know what reason. Grrr! But they are thriving now, which is all I wanted. Thank you for joining me and for the encouragement.

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