Thursday, May 20, 2010

Progress measured in years

It's been 3 years now, since Genea came to live with us. Three years since the day we brought her home from McDonald's, put her down for her nap, and found the raging ping pong ball with hair who took over for the polite, withdrawn child we had "visited" with the preceding 3 months.

I haven't been writing much about Genea lately because she has been doing okay and I did not want to curse her progress. My restraint is no longer necessary, ahem. She had hit a streak of progress that started around the holidays late last year. With the massive dive she took in mid- January, she recovered after about a month and went back in for another round of progress. Now I am guessing with all the unavoidable changes that the world is so rudely foisting on her with the end of school, she is coming apart for it. But we'll get back. 

I think a lot of kids from traumatic backgrounds have a problem with play. Genea has never been able to pretend. She could not pick up a doll and do anything with it other than maybe use it as a pillow, or to knock something over. She will pace back and forth and pretend she is doing something. She will sprint off without warning into the next room as if she just remembered something crucial, but there is nothing. She cannot, cannot occupy herself. In three years we have found exactly one thing that she can do, do it by herself, do it without wrecking it or asking a hundred questions about it, or dropping it to the side after 5 minutes, and that is her Leapster game. She will ask for things to do that she knows she can't have, then starts a fit then a tantrum then a visit with the Wango Tango. So this has been a tough area for her.

She has started trying to pretend. I hear her, with a few stuffed animals, making them talk in a high, sing song voice. Mostly they say "hello" a lot, and introduce themselves. Sometimes she will make a stuffed animal talk to me and it will say hi, and introduce itself. I look directly at the critter (oh how those things multiply in the night) and say hi back, while introducing my own self. Sometimes the animal will inquire as to my health  and say, " how are you today". More often than not though, Genea will have started to get nervous. She lets the animal flop over to the side, sits herself straight up and leans in closer to me piercing me with her eye contact. "Mama", she whispers with spit and voice "Mama, it's just really me, Genea talking. I was pretending". Oh, I always say. Phew, I'm so glad you told me!

I took what happened recently as a sign, a real sign that we were finally getting somewhere. I have not cried once in the past three years, but I came darn close that day. I have choked on it, I have cut off my own oxygen supply. I have done everything possible other than cauterize my own tear ducts. Because if I cried I would have to acknowledge how really really bad things were. If I did that, I would have to do something about it. And there are not too many choices in the "doing something about it" category. So no matter what has happened, however frustrated, angry, depressed, guilty, furious, whatever feeling whisked through I have forced it to keep going on. Totally unhealthy. Really bad. I know.

I came as close as I think I have gotten to letting the flood roll when I found Genea's beloved Henrietta. This is a pale blue web kin thing, that looks like a porcupine to me but is evidently a hippo. You'd have to ask it to be sure. Anyway, of all the toys that she doesn't play with, she has hung on to this hippo on and off. One day a few months ago I found it on her bed with a blanket on it. Purposefully placed, delicately draped over the body and head of the hippo so it could still see.

She had done this with deliberation. With caring. It was obvious she had taken a few moments out of her hurried morning to set Henrietta down and be sure she would be happy and comfortable for the day while Genea was at school. It sounds so small, like such a little thing and I suppose it is. But I felt it so strongly, a wave and a rush, that Genea can make it. It is in there. I always thought, intellectually thought, she could make it but an awfully long time really has gone by without a lot of confirmation. So, like I said, I took it as a sign that she will make it. It's been years, we are taking our progress in years.

27 comments:

  1. I can not think of a better present for your 3 year anniversary with Genea than a well-wrapped hippo. It is hope...

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  2. Holy cow, Woman: NEVER cried in 3yrs?! With all you have going on?! Very bad indeed...get thee to the video store and rent Terms of Endearment or a Nicholas Sparks something ASAP. (I took my daughter and her friend to see that Miley Cyrus movie and I sobbed so hard I was sucking snot. I didn't know what it was about ahead of time! Greg Kinnear - who I forgot to add to my List - DIES, and it's all very dad and sappy and the kids were so embarrassed at me crying...lol.). I don't cry much in real life, only over stupid stuff like movies and commercials...

    Very sweet about the stuffed animal. Also, she never plays?! It's that bad? That is heartbreaking, really. But hopeful heartbreaking!

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  3. Oh, do I hear you. It's absolutely heartbreaking for me to watch the Cuddle Bear play, because she develops beautiful, intricate scenerios and the dragons have artful conversations and it goes on for hours and Princess can do none of this. She plays "going to the doctor" which involve going to the doctor but never actually getting there. She plays "Sweetie" (house) which involves fighting about who gets to be the mommy (her) and then bossing everyone until they quit. Otherwise, she follows me from room to room saying things like, "I really like that because I like it because it's pink and I like it and I like pink because I like it and I really like it." Painful. Really really Painful.

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  4. GB needed to be taught to play. And, still, for the most part, her imaginary play is a random piece of things she has been taught. OT thinks it is the FASD and goes along with the lack of ability to generalize.

    Genea Tucking her stuffie carefully in IS progress and hope. Crying is good. Be as nice to yourself as you are to everyone. {{{Hugs}}}

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  5. It's soooo much harder when they go through a sustained good streak and then backslide. How heartwarming to hear about the snuggly hippo! Such a simple thing... parents of "normal" kids would simply be perplexed by our excitement... But it IS huge! And in a situation where progress is often measured in minutes, progress in years is amazing. You ARE going to make it. Thanks for giving the rest of us hope (and laughs along the way)!

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  6. Some people measure their kids with academic scores and sports prowess. We measure ours with little things. Congrats on noticing and appreciating those little things.

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  7. That is so sweet she made a little bed for her hippo. Progress.I'm with your friend, Rachael - you really need a good snot-sucking, blubbering cry to clean out the old emotional pipes. Really. A good cry is better than sex. Seriously. Just think of the blogging material you'd have.

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  8. How is she with fantasy in other areas, like being told a story and asked to complete it? Does she like to dress up? Does she re-enact scenes from a movie? Imagination is huge for children. It's an important part of what makes us human.
    A girl of her exacting nature might like to make crafts or fill in the colors in one of those big mosaic-pattern coloring books. Having just one activity -- the Leapster -- seems very limiting. I know you've done your darndest to get her interested in play; it's not your fault but your post surprised me. Pretending is what kids DO. She must be very, very tense and very bored, poor thing.

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  9. YEAH for Genea!!!! As for no crying, seriously? I've cried. A.Lot. Many times in the shower, I've sobbed and sobbed, but I figure the water cleanses it all away and gives me a fresh start.

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  10. Girl. Now I know I have to come visit. I can make ANYBODY cry. I am like a crying MACHINE. And somehow when I start crying, everyone starts crying.

    Speaking of, I might be coming to Your Town in August. Seriously. Buy tissues. I like Puffs Plus with Lotion.

    xoxo

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  11. I don't cry either. I don't like to cry. I don't believe that whole "good cry" thing. Crying...just...no thank you.

    My heart-cockles are all warm now. This post made me just mush a little bit. I have a picture on my photo blog of a stuffed rabbit I found in a little bed. I can SO feel your hope.

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  12. i was not a crier either, parenting has made me into one though, usually out of exhaustion. That being said, I was pretty close to the edge before I read your post and frankly it totally put me over but in a really good way. You are right it is measured in years but it comes and the journey to get there is the most difficult thing we will ever do for our children but it is worth every tear, exhausted sigh and moment of panic because she she is learning to be a regular kid.

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  13. Well. Three years. And you've all made it this far. Good job, and may the next three be way better, with many many more tangible signs of progress.

    Tucking her hippo in...sounds to me like she's been lovingly tucked in for the past three years. Good job, mama. Now let those tears flow freely.

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  14. Oh how I love the care she showed for Henrietta! J was never able to pretend (until this year) either. I see it as she was fighting for her life and didn't have time to pretend. Love the progress. Sometimes it does need to be measured in years.

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  15. Kinderboy#1 never pretends either -- (now they are going to 1st grade, I'll have to think of new nicknames) Kinderboy pretends all the time (while drawing, doing homework, coloring, watching TV)and lately while singing along to YouTube Videos and playing air guitar (talk about H-i-larious!)-- as a rock star, he interviews himself, the audience. My other little guy sooo, sooo wants to play along, and he will for about a minute, then begin to struggle and wander off.

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  16. I'm not entirely sure I buy the thing about pretending. I recall a good friend I had as a child who couldn't pretend and I'm pretty confident that she didn't have any trauma background - and certainly a happy person at the time - she just thought it was "Dumb! Let's roller skate!" ....but then my son Aidan didn't pretend either, and he is a really nice, normal person. I'm sure he might have been ABLE to pretend, if forced, but he just didn't see any point to it.

    What I wonder is when/why we stop being able to pretend with abandon. I used to; now I can't.

    Kate, Essie - a good cry is wonderful! I throw myself on the bed, or to feel REALLY pathetic, on the floor of the laundry room among the dirty clothes. If left alone, to shriek and sob, then, moan and weep, then stop and snuffle and think...I can then get up, take a bath, happily go make cookies, and feel completely rejuvenated!

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  17. This really is huge!! What a wonderful sign that she's internalizing your love...and feeling secure enough to relax and play. It took one of my kids a long, long time to do that...she took the whole hypervigilance thing to new heights in my household; I guess you can't take the time to lose yourself in play when you're constantly monitoring your environment and trying to control those around you.

    FYI, what Corey says is true...I've been a victim of her contagious cry. Caused me to lapse into the big ugly cry...not pretty.

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  18. You so described Miss M. She too just with in the past 6 months has shown signs of play. It is hope and it is progress and your girl is going to make it and so is mine! Go ahead and cry for goodness sake! We will all cry with you! Hugs!

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  19. Genea has things to play with and things to do, but she cannot do them independantly. She will play with her sister, and I let Teena lead the way with the imaginary and pretend play. There are only a few times a day that she is asked to find something for herself to do, and maybe does 90 minutes a week on the Leapster. It's not the only thing she does, it's the only thing she will do for a long stretch by herself.
    "Play" deficits are common in children with Autism, so it is not unheard of. With Genea I think her brain is stuck in fight or flight and there really is no room for 'lets pretend this stick is a dollhouse and these leaves are the bathtub'.
    Corey are you having another Mom Fest here in Green Bay? Puffs Plus with lotion are great for a cold, but with a cry (my kids!) I find the mixture of snot and lotion turns into a vile oatmeal- like paste. YMMV though, LOL!
    Annie I was talking about kids from traumatic backgrounds. I'm sure plenty of people in the general public are not heavy pretenders. What I meant is there seems to be an increased tendency to be concrete and absolute when a child has experienced trauma, more than in the general population. I was never big into pretend play as a kid either. It happens!
    Erika- Teena does the rock star bit too, and gives Genea her parts. It's so cute!
    Thanks for the helpful and supportive comments! We're getting there, I swear it, we're getting there.
    The thing about the hippo- she took the time to make sure the blanket was smooth and fully laid out. It wasn't just tossed over, it was lovingly made up into a special place.

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  20. There is crying that is the angry or poor me and makes you feel quite helpless when you do it.

    And then there is crying that is mourning. And you absolutly have something to grieve about. After I've done that kind of crying, I feel like I've moved to a new place. I'm "over" at least some small part of whatever it was I needed to grieve about.

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  21. Good point about different kinds of crying. The crying I do is simply release of tension - and boy, it feels good.

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  22. As I was reading this again, and your description, the thing that strikes me is that it was more than simply pretend play - it was pretend compassion and thoughtfulness. Better yet.

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  23. It is HUGE!!! On so many levels. My 11 year old STILL can't do it unless it involves punching and fighting. Corazon was with us OVER 3 years before she could do "real" pretend play. (In therapy she would "play" with the doll house and puppets as a "performance" for the therapist using all the trigger words that would get her out of continuing that play." In some ways our 2 1/2 year old "taught" her how to do pretend play. As for caring for a "bed buddy" she used to tear their tails, whiskers, eyes, etc off as part of her normal play when she wasn't swinging them and flinging them. For the past year or so she actually seems to care for them and lines them up with baby blankets, etc. Amazing how long it takes but how tangible progress can be in the "small things."

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