Tuesday, August 30, 2011

SO MANY WAYS TO GET IT WRONG

The trick of using Dan Hughes' SPACE therapy and parenting model is - well, to do it right The post before last gave an example of how magical it is when you  finesse it.  Wowie.  But I'm discovering, there are oh-so-many ways of doing it wrong

Playfulness - Playfulness can sometimes totally knock an oncoming dysregulation fit out of the ballpark.  You see it coming and - wham!  A bit of fun, and the storm passes (to mix a few metaphors).  When we were at the conference one evening we came back from dinner and something or other had Miss Anastasia approaching a problem-zone.  She ran ahead of us to the hotel door and claimed she was not going to let us in, and silly as that sounds she was serious and I could feel Craig, next to me, gearing up to strong-arm her.  I tried a bit of playfulness - in this case grabbing Craig and suggesting we go take a nice long walk (we had the key) - and after a few backings and forthings, Anastasia was in a good humor and we all entered the hotel room in peace.  Later Craig said he was in awe.  "How did you do that?"  (Well, hate to say, even doing it I was keeping my fingers crossed.  I wonder if even the professionals can get to the point where they feel sure of themselves.....)

But then there was the trip home.  We'd driven twenty minutes or so, and I asked Anastasia if I could have the pillow.  She wasn't using it, but had it on her lap.  I was playful, pretending to grab it, etc..  But, she didn't respond and she wouldn't hand over the pillow.  I was playful some more and she slapped my hand (without humor)....more playfulness, increased resistance.  To make a long story short,  if playful doesn't get a playful response in fairly short order, abandon that ship!  I was still being playful when she was seriously slapping my hand and speaking disrespectfully.  The thing was - I couldn't see how handing over the pillow would ever rise to anything that "playfulness" couldn't master.  But I missed a piece!  I missed the ever-critical empathetic piece.  I was not really connecting with her; rather I was pretending to connect with the "her" I thought ought to be there.  I didn't notice that she was on her phone, texting her fingers off, and certainly didn't know that she'd just had someone tell her that a certain boy had called her a sl*t.  I wouldn't have been playful either.  Why was I too stupid to actually pay attention to her?  I was really ashamed of myself that I'd driven her to behaving badly simply by not being observant and empathetic.

About an hour later at a rest stop when Craig was getting gas, I turned to her, apologized and said, "I realized too late that you were upset.  I am sorry I was so annoying when you were obviously feeling bad about something.  Want to tell me what's wrong?"  And then she revealed to me what the text had been about.  I didn't say anything about the pillow, but as Craig got back in the car, she gave it to me.

Gosh, I hate the mis-steps.


Monday, August 29, 2011

THE STATE OF THINGS

About half of the contents of my office
The timing of the DDP Conference wasn't perfect.  Or, rather the timing of the re-structuring at the school wasn't perfect.  THIS is the contents of my working life (about half of it could fit in the frame).  Except in this photo (believe it or not) it is somewhat in order.  The idea was, I would come back from the conference, and in an orderly fashion move things into my new office.  (It isn't really "new" - in fact it is a substandard space to the left of the stage, where they have always put the teachers that "don't matter" much - the itenerant Spanish teacher, the part-time PE teacher, etc.  They needed me to move, as no one else would, or could, and the art teacher needed a space big enough for her to have another desk for an intern.  So, I offered my office and agreed to take the "spare office"....but, you know, I like it.  I am not sure why (and I know that I won't like it during band practice) but it is cozy in some way, and perhaps I like it because long ago, when the church was the gym, it was the sacristy...so it has a certain "sacred" air. Plus (big, big plus) it has its own restroom!! 

This is no small thing. 

However, back to the point.  While I was away, apparently they had the "gift" of some high school volunteers, who they had "help" by putting all of this stuff IN my new office.....that is they threw it in there, willy-nilly, stacking it every which way, completely blocking with stacks of heavy boxes, the very cabinets in which the things need to be stored.  I could have wept.  They even chose to move a closet full of things, and two shelves of books and papers which I had carefully labeled "Please do not move these items."   So, all of the kids' vital records (which  I need for school), infomation about when to call a psychiatrist for Anastasia (including phone number), and the sheet upon which I made notes about people who volunteered to teach for me this year - all of those time sensitive, and oh-so-important things ended up just tossed on top of this box and that, which then got into the above-described mess in the new space.  I don't know when I've felt so overwhelmed. 

I've been slogging through it for a week and look for more of it today......  One of these days, surely,  I'll see he floor. 

Friday, August 26, 2011

TWO SAD THINGS

I controlled myself.  I just planted this last year, so was really enjoying the blooms.  Was appalled to find that Miss Anastasia had plucked every single daisy off. 

But, by the grace of God, rather than rail at her, I remembered  that "all behavior is communication" and I even remembered some of the therapeutic parenting model.  I was accepting, empathetic and curious.

"Wow.....I saw you plucked all of the flowers off the plant.  You must have really felt angry to do that." [I could see how surprised she was that I wasn't angry, and as a result she relaxed and was curious herself, at what I'd say.]  "I was wondering....I was thinking, 'maybe Anastasia feels like that plant, maybe she feels like some things that were beautiful about her were destroyed.'"

I was stunned, absolutely stunned when in a few minutes she revealed some further incidents of sexual "abuse" that she'd remembered from her far-distant past.  Things a bit too vulgar and disturbing to write here, and things that clearly upset her.  And I thought, no wonder she feels like she had her pretty blossoms plucked and thrown in the dirt.  My poor dear.


Last week Anastasia and I were at a store and some music was playing.  She said, quite openly, "For some reason, whenever I hear this song, I can't help but cry.  Tears just come into my eyes."  I listened a moment and asked - "What is the song called?"  She responded, "I Love You Just the Way You Are." 

I turned away so she couldn't see how tears came into my eyes then.

Later, of course, I told her that I loved her just the way she is.  But I could tell she couldn't hear me.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

POINT OF VIEW - More Dan Hughes Regurge

We so often tend to presume that people experience things more or less the way we do.  That rules the way we communicate with them.  I'm sure we've all been in a situation where we found ourselves talking at cross purposes with someone, because either they - or we - knew something the other didn't.

We also presume that we are communicating clearly with our radishes when, actually, we might be missing out on something huge - their whole point of view. 

This was illustrated so powerfully at the conference - just one of those things I know I'll never forget.  Dan played a scene on DVD twice....the scene was of a walk down a hillside to the beach, and then looking out onto some rocks jutting from the water.  In the first trip through, the background music was Pachabel's canon - peaceful, serene, beautiful.  In the second version, the music was the ominous music from Jaws..  To begin with, the Jaws music almost requires the listener to tense up.  And amusingly, it literally impacted my thinking.  Though the visual looked the same initially, I fully expected that a different version of the scene would unfold....someone would appar from behind the trees....there would be a dead body on the beach...that sort of thing.  This, simply because the music was different.  The music gave us our cue about what to expect.  Our expectations changed the experience.  I would also have been willing to bet money on the trees in the second version being darker and the rocks at the end taller and more jutting.  Really.  So much so that if I had the DVD, I'd be compelled to actually compare them to see maybe if there wasn't a bit of hanky-panky with the footage. (There wasn't, obviously, but it is hard to believe.) My expectations colored what I saw with my eyes

What this illustrated so perfectly is how a situation can seem perfectly safe and charming from our point of view, and yet appear full of peril from our child's point of view.  We have to remember, that while for us Pachabel's Canon may be playing - they are expecting evil behind every tree, they are tensed for trouble, ready to protect themselves.  That can apply to individual sitatuations, of course, but also their entire situation.  For us adopting them is a dream come true - a lovely, sweet pastoral.  For them, it might well be the next chapter in their personal horror story.

Boy, it is hard to remember that!  If ever there has been a person who didn't expect trouble, or anything bad to happen it is me.  I never met a person I didn't like, I never suspect anyone's motives, I trust what I'm told, etc.  So, I do have trouble understanding the person who is wary, hesitant, suspicious. 

Getting this stuff right is SO difficult!  But, one thing I have noticed, is that if I get a certain situation off on th wrong foot, if I "get a grip", I can usually change my approach and pull it out somehow.  Not always.  And sometimes I don't even remember to try - I'm all in the moment.  For example, last night, when Anastasia was out on the street in a crappy part of town, at 9:30 at night - I didn't think of therapeutic parenting for one second.  Totally forgot about it.  Instead I tried the typical stuff (well, darn it!  I was in the car on the street!).  The typical stuff didn't work. 

At least she is open enough with me, to have called me as she was walking and told me that someone had texted her and told her she was "annoying" and a "slut", and she revealed that if guys started liking her she couldn't keep herself from hitting them.  (Well, yes; that does sound annoying!)

Oh, boy.  Got me some work to do.  I wonder what music is playing behind her scene, while I listen to "The Good Ship Lollypop"?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE FEEDBACK

Reading Fioleta's comment on my post about the SPACE training, made me think a little more about "feedback" and "criticism".  Funny how both the words "critique" and "evaluation" which, in themselves simply refer to judging or commenting, are immediately taken to mean negative judgement or comment. 

What grabbed my attention in Fioleta's post was this: "And I think for many people the fear of the negative evaluation is more prevalent than the anticipation of positive approval"  What struck me is that this is true for me not just in prospect but also in actuality.  Is that true for everyone?

As I've mentioned I was in professional theatre for seven years or so, in addition to college and post-college years when I did both university and local productions and the somewhat famed Colorado Shakespeare Festival.  I got scores of positive reviews in those years.  Most shows were reviewed by a number of different papers.  The Oregon Shakespeare Fesitval was reviewed by every newspaper up and down the west coast.  But, do you know - thirty years later, I can give you a list of the not-so-complimentary things said about me, because I somehow learned them by heart.

"As for the rest, the less said the better...." (That was my first review outside of High School, mind you, for my portrayal of Alais in The Lion in Winter, and though the observation obviously included most of the cast, I took it absolutely to heart.)  "Anya Springer is lovely to look at but doesn't seem to have grasped the character...."  "Anya Springer was adequate in her portrayal of Phoebe."  "_______ ________ as Helena and Anya Springer as Hermia didn't damage the production, but didn't add to it much either." 

I only remember one positive one from my entire theatre career, and I think I probably remember that one because I didn't find it until years later. *  Only one out of untold good reviews! 

The curious nature of this "who cares about the good comments?" attitude came to me one afternoon in the greenroom at OSF, where I'd finally gotten up the nerve to look through the enormous, many-inches-thick book on the coffee table containing reviews of the season's offerings.  I'd glance at the title of the review, then scan for my name.  If the comments were positive, I'd flip to the next review, barely taking it in.  I do recall feeling a huge sense of relief that I was flipping through that book rather quickly.  "Thank God, I'm not a failure."  In retrospect, I know that my Hermia was wonderful and my Phoebe was fine (that's a darned difficult part to make much of, honestly); my "weird sister" (in the Scottish play*) was pretty darned good, but we were costumed in such a way that no reviewer could distinguish one of us from another.  But, as I went through the review book, if the review was negative, my heart would sink, and I'd read the words over and over again - the less-than-thrilled review of my Phoebe was from that afternoon.  That review certainly taught me the meaning of  "damned with faint praise".  Reading that made me want to throw up. And that's the way I felt!  Sick - even though I'd just read one after another positive reviews!  I could even see then how absurd this was, but the knowing meant nothing.  I felt bad because one person didn't like my performance - didn't like it so much they wrote about it and published it in a newspaper! If I let myself, I could get worked up now, I think.

So, why are we like this?  I guess I'm glad that I didn't feel compelled to obtain a copy of all of my good reviews and keep them in some scrapbook (as many of my fellow players did).  I actually, felt very confident about my abilities.  So why take negative comments so much to heart?  I really don't understand it.

But, I suppose as a result I try to carefully watch what I say to students.  I wish I could say I was that careful with my children.  What I have learned in education classes, and practiced more diligently reading Harold Glasser's book (which I recommend) is that you need to follow every proper Victorian purveyor of etiquette and simply do not make personal comments.  "You are a good girl." makes your radish panic; she is filled with shame, she believes to her depth that she is a bad girl....so she is not even concentrating on what you are trying to get across because she is so triggered by that personal comment.  Rather, "This room is spotless!  It makes me feel great to be in here!"  Not:  You are a wonderful cook.".  but "These cookies are amazing!"  Those comments go into the hopper, and get weighed in.....balanced against all of the unmet needs, unanswered cries and lack of affection that make her see herself as worthless, they don't seem too powerful, but they do something (unlike the generalized judgment that only calls out for contradiction.)

["Anya Springer's portrayal of Viola outshown Vanessa Redgrave's which I saw earlier this year." James Sandoe in The Shakespeare Quarterly.  Sorry.  Had to share.  Finding this while doing some sort of research on the play, itself, really put a belated but pleasant conclusion to that era of my life.]

Friday, August 19, 2011

COLLECTED WEIRD BITS

I learned a little something from one of my Korean students.  In Korea (in the Eastern hemisphere, I think) they call hurricanes typhoons.  Beats me.  But, the interesting bit?  They name them, too.... And they name them, in rotation, by Korean, Japanese and Chinese names.  I didn't think to ask about male/female.  But, now I think of it - I hear both, but do they carefully alternate Hispanic and Anglo names when they name our hurricanes?  I'll have to find out. 

I have long thought that the word "community" is overused.  For example, "Black Community" - I sincerely doubt that all black folk feel community with one another....or, at the very least, there wouldn't be any gangs.  And, isn't it a bit patronizing and belittling to suggest that they do?  Is there a "white community"?   I heard the weirdest one this week on our local NPR station - speaking of our local "Medical Marijuana Community".  I've really missed out!  I didn't realize that I could have been enjoying the social life and support of the "Sinus-Ibuprofen Community". 

Sometimes you hear a word used in the news that really seems "perfect" in context.  It is just slightly underused, and has a meaning that is apt in a certain situation.  I've noticed that you'll hear it once, and think "good use of language".  But, in short order, you'll hear that unique word again, and then again, and then again...  It is no longer unique, in fact it is overused.  A good word - down the drain.  I think this was done years ago with "empower" and "enable",   More recently "robust" lost its gusto through overuse.  In the last few months I've noticed the same thing happening with "compelling".  Dang it!  Loved that word.

While I'm on this kick, just let me mention that the phrase "on the ground" is getting a bit old, too.  It must have arisen when we first had reporters embedded with the troops.  I expect "on the ground" has military origins - at least it sounds that way.  And in that context it often makes sense, pointing out, as it seems to, the bit of disconnect between those planning an operation from afar and those actively involved. But, recently I've heard it used when "on site" or even "there" would sound a lot less self-conscious. 

One entertaining things about teaching the Koreans is that I will learn something while I'm explaining something.  For example, yesterday I was trying to explain the word "apt"and in doing so realize that it must have really originated as a short version of "appropriate".

Now, off my obsession with language for two more random bits:

Query to self:  Why, Annie, do you persist in creeping around in the dark, fearful of opening doors or making a sound at 4 a.m., when at 9 or even 10 a.m. you need to shoot off a canon to wake anyone up?  (I am pretty sure I could turn on the lights and talk to myself and it wouldn't bother a soul.)

I heard someone the other day excited about school about to start.  They can't wait for the kids to be "back in school." I LOVE summer, and having the children out of school....the confession is how much I hate the school year, which brings with it the  burden of homework and the stress of having to go somewhere first thing in the morning.  I am just now beginning to push myself back into a more rigorous schedule at work.  It makes me want to cry.  I'm already feeling like someone is running behind me with a bayonet forcing me on.....and I haven't even begun to face: lunches, homework, clean and appropriate clothing for everyone, a real, non-flexible start time.  I'm not sure I'm up to it.  And, add to that the feeling that I am saying "good-bye" to my kids for nine months.  Henceforward I will have to spend our few minutes together each day harassing them about their schoolwork, or urging them to move faster.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

EMERGENCY INSTRUCTIONS

Photo borrowed from his website; I might have even taken a better one!
You know those dramas - or horrifyingly, sometimes a real-life story:  when the pilot passes out and someone in the flight tower guides the hapless passenger in landing the plane.....or the emergency surgery, performed in the wild with a rusty knife, by someone getting instructions from a doctor over a phone that cuts in and out....

That's been my last week.  I've strained and sweated to learn, to remember, to commit to heart the life-saving skills that I must use to save my Anastasia.  Grueling work. 

I spent last week - 30 hours of it, anyway, with Dan Hughes in Pennsylvania, at his "Beginning Training" for therapists using the Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy model.  That phrase sounds difficult, but perhaps the "for dummies" version suggests that kids who missed proper parenting in their early months and years, missed out on learning how to process the things that happen to them in their lives. (Waaaaay simplified.)  As therapists, (and parents) our job is to, in a sense, replicate that mother/child interaction both to help the child process whatever loss and trauma they have experienced, and also to prepare them to make these connections on their own. 

Dan is knwn for his SPACE acronym, which helps you remember the key attitudes and approaches necessary: P - playfulness; A - Acceptance; C - curiosity; E - Empathy.  There are a whole bunch of  "S" - the most important, to my mind, being Safety. 
As a teacher the model also makes sense.  Not all children NEED it, but I think all kids can benefit from it.  Beginning with Safety.  Research has shown that people need a sense of safety in order to learn.  One of the things shown to decrease a sense of safety is evaluation.  (Kind of contrary to the atmostphere in a lot of classrooms - you think?)  In relation to my little Nastia, it means to not do the thing that might come most naturally to all of us who have been marinated in behaviorist theories, and desire to cement good behavior: don't say, "Good girl!"  "You were very sweet to clean your room."  etc. because any good evaluation, suggests that a bad evaluation might be right around the corner.  
Safety is also key to the parent/child relationship.  If your child does not feel you are keeping him/her safe, how can you be trusted?  And for children whose original parents failed to provide safety, it is even more important (and more difficult) to provide in the proper doses.  I think that for parents, and teachers, a part of providing safety, is keeping the stimulation at managable doses.  That's a challenge, for sure!

There were 23 therapists at the training - me, and two other moms. But we moms all slunk in under other auspices.  One mom is a therapeutic foster parent; the other, like me, has a ministry to parents in her pastor-husband's congregation.

Being around that many therapists was like being a child in a candy store. Initially, I had to work really hard to prevent myself from buttonholing them and asking "freebie" questions.  It wasn't long, however, before - watching that many therapists ask questions and do the activites - I realized there were only a limited number that I'd want to ask questions of! (And, consider - these are the therapists who sought out Dan Hughes!)  Odd.  Just goes to show what a crapshoot it is calling up someone whose name you find in the phone book, and paying big bucks for their "expertise". 

So, why did I "eliminate" them from my affordable-therapist-nearby imaginings?  Ignorant questions.  Weird affect.  Lack of affect. Clearly not "getting it".   Poor ability to perform in the role-plays.  etc.  But there were several who I very much wish lived in Lansing!  They don't, though. [insert sad face here]

I also just think that there are people who are gifted in this way, and those who are not.  I am not.  I'm NOT! [another sad face] I want to be, I strive....but this stuff doesn't come easy for me.  I see other moms, like Christine, who clearly received a touch of pixie dust.  Brilliant!  She would have stood out among all the therapists there (and not just because of her dreads, because she is gifted) even though she is "only" a mom.  Meanwhile there were quite a few therapists at this training who might have been trying mightily but could not escape their behavioral training and practice.

The most notable event in the training was my opportunity to "be" Anastasia in a role play with the master himself.  The role play was long - seemed like an entire therapy session, and in retrospect, because I was being Anastasia, and in her present really scary place, I offered an almost-too-challenging client.  However, a lot of the people thought that the mock session was helpful for them.  It certainly was for me.  For the first time, I really did begin to understand some of the convoluted, knotted-up, confused ideas crammed into that child's head, all held together by lack of trust and fear.  (Actually, the experience made me think there might be something to be said for drama-therapy....which probably exists, though I think I just made it up).

And, I got another example of the power of "the Method" (and in the hands of a non-professional).  One of the other moms, Kim, and I hit it off.  She came back to the hotel one night to wait for her husband to pick her up (which he only did at 11 p.m.), so we had quite a lot of time together.  She'd seen the mock session with "Anastasia" so she had some background.  As my faithful readers will recall, Anastasia had a very hard time with staying home when Craig and I went to Chicago in April, and an even harder time staying home when Sergei, Zhenya and I went to Virginia in June, so this time, like it or not, she had to come. (I'd foolishly promised that the next time I went someplace.....) So Craig had to come along as well, and he and Nastya were back at the hotel. 

Nastya took to Kim immediately and opened up from the first moment they began talking.  Kim has a challenging daughter Anastasia's age, so appreciated the practice (though in her non-professional judgement Anastasia is "really messed up")  This is a diagnosis Craig is hanging his hat on.  And no matter how many times I exclaim "Kim is a MOTHER, like me! NOT a therapist." he doesn't seem to believe it.  Perhaps that is because she is good.  She used the strategies we were being taught like a master (better than many of the professionals I role-played with, for sure.)  And they worked like a charm.  They worked so well, that Anastasia came back from their walk together, went to bed and a little later called me over to sleep with her!

There are a few other things worthy of mention, but I've noticed that my posts are a bit on the long side, so I'm signing off for now....




Friday, August 5, 2011

OLEG

For some reason, I've had trouble lately editing in Blogger.  It won't let me see my post!  So the last one is incomplete.  Here is the photo of Oleg, and the description I wrote:

Wake up to sunshine every morning! Oleg is a cheerful, cooperative, boy with a positive attitude. He is courteous, helpful and considerate. Oleg is "all boy". While he is tiny for his age (12), he is muscular and strong. He is a confident swimmer and picked up skateboarding within twenty minutes of practice. Jumping on the trampoline, playing catch with the football, a game of soccer in the yard - he excelled at them all with a healthy competitive spirit. He also has great fine motor skills and deftly turned out a number of crisp and clever origami creations. Oleg is friendly and seems to get along with everyone, both girls and boys. He played beautifully with a five year old boy and has a blast with our teenaged sons. He handled some "bad attitude" from our thirteen year old daughter with good humor, giving as good as he got. He is spunky and funny. Educationally, he would do beautifully as a homeschooler, or in a school willing to be flexible. He speaks and reads Ukrainian and understands Russian. Our impression is that Oleg is quite bright but has not had much educational opportunity. We would adopt him in a minute if we weren't just over the allowed age. He is a jewel and would make a joyful addition to any family.

WE HAD SOME FUN


Me, with bad hair, and Rachael

Last week we had an invitation to meet some mostly e-friends for an IRL experience.  And it was so much fun! 

For a couple of days we had had the blessing of a visit from (respite, in a sense) for a darling boy from Ukraine, being hosted by a family in our parish.  Oleg's host family was finding the language issues exhausting, so I offered my Russian-speaking household for a couple of days to give them a break.  And, happily, on one of those days Rachael invited us to join two of her sisters, Natalie and Lori for some tubing fun at Natalie's house.  Rachael is hosting a 14 year old boy from Ukraine, and Lori is hosting a 15year old girl.  Add them to Rachael's vim-full Russian daughter and three bio-children and Lori's and Natalie's adorable little ones....  In addition to Oleg, I brought Sergei, Zhen and Maxim - it was quite a bunch!

I had honestly forgotten that I'd been tubing before.  But, watching the kids brought it all back. I remember why I didn't like it!  I hate having my body slammed about like that - it is the same thing I don't like about riding a roller coaster.  But, the kids had no such qualms.  Every one of them was in seventh heaven, and couldn't get enough.  Natalie was beyond generous as she piloted the boat for hours....as she couldn't even watch the kids, that was a real act of love. 
Sergei had his own style
It was so much fun to meet the Ukrainian kids and see how they were falling in love with their families.  Rachael is so clearly giving her mama's heart to her Sergey, and there is lovely bond which you can see between the adorable Anya and Lori.  Meanwhile, yes - I had to fight falling in love with Oleg, even in the two days we had him visiting us, especially knowing his host family, with their highly structured home, and one much younger child, were not a fit and won't try to adopt him.  But, I also knew that Ukraine's laws are more restrictive in terms of parents' age and we are just a bit too old for him.  So, I tried to keep that guard up around my heart (not all that successfully, frankly.) As Rachael pointed out, it was also surprising to see how the host kids stuck with their host families rather than gravitating to the other Ukrainian kids.  Seeing Oleg do that with us, only made things harder, I must say. He would be a super brother for Zhen.


Zhenya and Oleg (Zhen only looks mad; the downside of candid photos.)

Here is the photo of Oleg from the available children's site on the New Horizons website, along with what I wrote about him:

Thanks to Lori for the use of a couple of her photos!