Posts for trauma

What I Learned Adopting an Older Child From Foster Care

Forever Family - Allison Kenny - October 11, 2017

 

What I learned is that the hard stuff

Was so much harder than I thought hard stuff could be

What I learned is that I made it worse

Because I really couldn’t see

That it would it get better

I was so very afraid

A lot of the time

But I did remember to enjoy

The good stuff

I learned that when peace and ease visit

It’s crucial

That I enjoy them

I learned that attachment takes

So much longer than I wanted it to

Two and a half years in our case

I learned that she had no reason

To trust us

And it was unfair of me to expect her to

I learned that the things she’d remember

Are mostly good

Like feeding the ducks

Outside the courthouse

On Adoption Day

And being lifted up by her new Mamas to

Put the star on the Christmas tree

I learned that under all her defenses and

Survival skills

She is so sensitive

So sweet

Curious

And generous beyond belief

She is funny

And courageous

It took so much time for her to come into herself

I had to be patient

I had to take good care of myself

I had to learn to just wait

Or I’d miss the good stuff

Altogether

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25 Things I Learned as a Special Needs Mom

Forever Family, Go Girl! - Allison Kenny - April 12, 2017

  1. Every milestone is worth celebrating. It doesn’t matter how small.
  2. Perfect is not real.
  3. Sometimes, my self-care is THE most important thing.
  4. Take the long view. Big picture is everything.
  5. This, too, shall pass. It always does.
  6. Humor goes a long way.
  7. Be responsible for the energy I bring into a room.
  8. Be gentle.
  9. Notice what my face is doing.
  10. I get to be human. I get to be human. I get to be human.
  11. Forgive myself.
  12. Forgive my kid.
  13. Other kids and families might do things differently not better, not “normal” just different.
  14. Advocate for my kid with persistence, patience, and love.
  15. Saying no is really important.
  16. Saying yes is really important.
  17. Get on the floor and play.
  18. I’m not in control of, well…barely anything.
  19. People act out when they are afraid.
  20. I act out when I am afraid.
  21. People stare. Smile back.
  22. I am a superhero.
  23. My kid is working as hard as I am.
  24. Hold onto joy every time it shows up.
  25. Get help.
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Special Therapy for a Special Kiddo

Self-care - Allison Kenny - February 8, 2017

My family has angels looking out for us. Last year, we were knee deep in a trauma cycle that made day to day life unbearable. My daughter had just been diagnosed with PTSD, which was a helpful label in that it gave context for the kinds of fits were seeing each day. I could relate to my daughter’s high levels of fear, looping thoughts and terrorizing moments of re-experiencing scary events. I have PTSD, too. My mental health was starting to suffer as I struggled to support my daughter to feel safe. With my nervous system on such high alert, I would resort to yelling or leave to take a walk when she needed me most. This was truly the best I could do. After months of this, though, I wasn’t sleeping well. Our family was exhausted and feeling at a total loss.

This is when the angels appeared. The thing about going through big challenges is that it forces us to be vulnerable. If you’re willing, this is a good time to accept help. Lots and lots of help. Our help came from a generous, loving friend who wanted to do something for us…something big. First, she recommended a wonderful, experienced therapist who had helped her family a lot. Once we were sure he was a good fit for us,  she insisted on paying for treatments. We took days to respond to her offer because it just seemed like more than we could accept. But we were in no place to refuse help. We allowed her to support our family in the way she could. We said yes to her gift and in return, we got Dr. Carl as an on-going part of our daughter’s therapeutic team.

My daughter loves going to see Dr. Carl. His office is in Berkeley, CA. The waiting room is full of toys that she can’t wait to play with. She loves his gentle spirit, his sense of humor, his love of animals. Each week, my daughter and Dr. Carl talk a little and laugh together. He helps her pick out a movie and adjusts the pillows in her chair so they are just right. In the winter, he even sets up a little space heater at her feet. She loves the royal treatment! She knows that she’s there to help her brain become more flexible and her heart to feel more calm.

After 40 years as a therapist, Dr. Carl Shames narrowed his specialty to neurofeedback. In this gentle, alternative therapy, kiddos or the grown-ups who love them wear sensors on their head while watching a movie. Meanwhile, their brainwave patterns are displayed on a computer screen and the therapist makes modifications to balance and stabilize brain activity. My daughter watches her favorite shows while these sensors do their thing and her whole body relaxes at the same time. It’s all about helping her brain regulate differently. Once in a while, she gets sleepy afterward. But she always feels better.

In the days that follow the neurofeedback treatment, our little “Squirrel” is more able to use her words. She sleeps better at night. Her tantrums are shorter and less intense. Dr. Carl has helped her with night terrors, with bedwetting, and now he’s working on the parts of the brain that will help her in school, improve her focus and allow her to better understand math. She looks forward to going every single time. She even asks to schedule an appointment if we haven’t gone in a while.

I know first hand how positive neurofeedback can be because I started seeing Dr. Carl myself. I so badly wanted to undo the cycle of my daughter’s PTSD triggering my own. I wanted to have more moments of joy together and less stress as a family. I knew how far we’d come when I was able to travel for a week alone with my daughter last summer. We went fishing, rode horses, practiced swimming, navigated airports, road trips, a cabin in the woods and visiting with extended family. We kept our loving connection the whole time. As an adoptive family, this is no small miracle. All of that excitement holds the potential for triggered, out of control behavior- from either of us! Instead, we made memories we can always keep.

I couldn’t be more grateful for these two angels in my life, Dr. Carl Shames and the friend who introduced me to him. Whether you are a Bay Area adoptive family or friends to one that you want to give a healing gift to, I can’t recommend Dr. Carl enough.

Carl Shames, Ph.D. received his doctorate in psychology in 1975. He has extensive experience as a psychologist in a variety of settings, including community clinics, hospitals, criminal justice agencies. He became interested in neurofeedback while searching for an alternative, holistic treatment for ADHD, depression and other mental health issues. His passion for this form of treatment lies in the transformation clients experience. He sees people relate to their friends & family in a more centered, genuine way and become themselves in a way they couldn’t before. 

“By the time they find me, most parents are at wits’ end having run around for years to various doctors and neuropsychologists and not really getting anywhere. I’m passionate about bringing neurofeedback to adoptive families in the Bay Area. In all my years as a therapist, I haven’t come across anything that works as well.”

 

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How I Told My Daughter That She Has Special Needs

Forever Family, Go Girl! - Allison Kenny - January 25, 2017

We are sitting at the dining room table for yet another teary session of math homework. She has used up all her focusing tools- chewing gum, lighting a peppermint candle, choosing which problem to start with…nothing is helping. Then I see the light in her eyes change. They grow dark and serious in that intense way I know so well. She is fighting for truth.

“Mom, why can the kids around me do math but I can’t? I learn it but I can’t remember it. The other kids remember. Why, mom? It doesn’t make any sense.” There is shame in these words. And desperation.

I’m not planning to have this conversation today. I didn’t wake up knowing that I would be called on to deliver this news in a way she can digest it. My wife and I are still digesting it ourselves.

We go through periods of intense grief and even anger about her special needs. Spending time with other people’s kids can trigger it. After a morning babysitting my dear friend’s toddler, I spend the afternoon sobbing. This three-year-old has social skills that are more advanced than my eight-year-old. We travel to Texas to visit cousins and breathe through frustration as my daughter’s anxiety and hypervigilance exhaust everyone in the house. We go to IEP meeting after meeting and are overwhelmed by how many professionals are engaged each week in supporting my kiddo’s learning. After weeks of her violent PTSD fits, we refocus on caring for ourselves so that my daughter’s needs don’t take over our entire lives.

More like this: Even though My Wife & I Get Away, Our Daughter Makes Us Pay

But here she is, asking for the truth. So, I share with her what gets me through my moments of fear and grief and doubt and anger. I share with her the truth about her resilience.

“I’m telling you the truth. Are you listening? Do you remember how you were born very tiny and that you came out early? One thing that happens when babies are born early is that their brains don’t get enough time to develop. This is not the baby’s fault! This is nobody’s fault. It happens to many babies who are born early. It means your brain has worked extra hard to develop and grow ever since you were born. And guess what? Your brain is doing very well. Very very well. That’s because you have a powerful quality in you. You are FIERCE. That means you are somebody who doesn’t give up. Even as a teeny little baby, you were so fierce that you fought to live. You fought to grow. And now, you are fighting to learn math. It is harder for you. You are right about that. But working hard and not giving up are wonderful qualities to have. You also have mama’s who love you and teachers to help when things feel hard. You are not alone.”

I hadn’t researched what to say. I hadn’t prepared for this question. I just opened my heart up and felt around for what she needed to hear. Of course what really happened is that I said the words I needed to hear.

I think healing the dissonance between our fantasy of parenting and the truth of it will be a long road for my wife and I. But moments to ignite our empathy and focus on our daughter’s amazing gifts help. They help a lot.

More Like This: Dear Kids At School

I’m different and that’s awesome

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25 Ways I’ve Been Healing Since November 8th

Go Girl! - Allison Kenny - December 20, 2016

So many of us were traumatized by the election. For me, it started during the debates and culminated on election night. That’s when I noticed that I left my body completely. It’s taken me weeks to come on back. Remember that my body is home. And that if I’m not present, I can’t show up in the world the way I want to. So, for what feels like the millionth time, I’m pressing the re-set button. I’m taking good care and putting my own healing at the forefront so I can be the kind of mother I want to be. So I can show up as an artist, a writer, a participant in my life. For me, the slow and sometimes painful path back to myself looks like this…

1. Noticing my impulse to check out and numb with food and tv. “Wow, I must be really scared. It’s feeling super hard to stay in the moment.”
2. Allowing myself to check out a little bit with food and tv.
3. Setting up weekly hikes with a friend to feel my feet on the ground and remember how big the Universe is.
4. Scheduling regular bodywork to help me stay in my body.
5. Buying new sneakers to “train for the Revolution.” I’m quoting my friend Ed here.
6. Setting my alarm 45 minutes earlier so I can have quiet space to myself before my daughter wakes up. Doing whatever the hell I want in those 45 minutes.
7. Holding my dogs. A lot. And putting sweaters on them. ‘Cause cute heals.
8. Singing Christmas Carols at the top of my lungs.
9. Dancing with my daughter. In the kitchen. In our pajamas.
10. Letting myself cry. Or feel rage. Hopelessness. Confusion. Fear.
11. Limiting my media intake. Remembering I can “stay safe in my imagination” and manage triggers.
12. Making art. Like scribbly, messy, kid art.
13. Putting my hand on my heart in the shower. Being gentle with myself.
14. Interrupting my critical voice and talking sweetly instead. Calling myself “love.”
15. Using sweet orange essential oil.
16. Watching 13th – 15 minutes at a time.
17. Reading spiritual, feminist literature that inspires me.
18. Deep cleaning my house.
19. Praying. Meditating. Breathing.
20. Kissing my daughter more.
21. Kissing my wife more.
22. Making sure the people in my life know how grateful I am for them.
23. Making food that feels good.
24. Staying present for my wife and listen to her story, her grief, her rage as a woman of color without trying to fix.
25. Channeling my anger and fear about the state of the world into being a girl advocate.

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Curbside

Forever Family, Self-care - Allison Kenny - October 3, 2016

This morning was

Expected.

The refusal to get dressed

The screaming

The loud NO!

The “I don’t want to go to school”

Even the need to pack up her toothbrush, her glasses, her breakfast

The curbside drop-off

As she kicked and hollered

Puffy-eyed

Wild-hair

Snot everywhere

Shoes in a bag

Because she refused my help for an hour

My wife’s frustration

Totally expected

As she sat in the back seat

Bra-less

Her own feet bare

As she secured the seat belt again and again

For our angry daughter

PTSD fits

Are expected

After we get-a-way

for 2 days of

Self Care

Blue Waves

Crashing against the headland cliffs

11 hours of sleep

A night

Champagne picnic as the sun sets

So, it was expected

That today would be hard

The Homecoming

Turbulent.

It was Unexpected, though

When our daughter

Who had refused

Empathy

Support

Kindness

for an hour

Choosing to derail

and come undone instead

When this wild-animal-powerful-girl

Was lifted, kissed and placed

Gently on the grass

In front of her school

Curbside

It was Unexpected

To see the

4th grade Safety Monitor

Taking his duties

Very seriously.

He did not bat an eye

As we drove off

And she screamed.

We paused, of course

On the corner

To watch her put on her shoes

And go into school

Whether she wanted to or not

The 4th grade safety monitor

Held his post

Reliable

And helped my little girl

Find her glasses

Which she had thrown

In the Grass

 

 

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Parenting While Human, OR Things I Tell Myself When My Kid Throws a Fit in Public

Self-care - Allison Kenny - September 14, 2016

You know the moment. When your child’s eyes glaze over and they gear themselves up to throw an epic fit in Target…in the grocery store…at a friend’s house…on an airplane…and there you are: heat rising up the back of your neck, cheeks flushed and mind racing as all eyes turn on you. What’s she going to do? The adults nearby want to know. What’s Mommy gonna do? Your kid wants to know. What am I going to do? You want to know too.

These moments are the stuff mothering is made of. What happens next? For me, my thoughts turn quickly into action, so I’ve learned to pay attention to what I tell myself during tense parenting moments, especially when I’m in public.

Wanna know the things I say to myself when I’m embarrassed about my mothering in public? Check out the post I wrote for Rookie Moms  this week! So honored I got to be a guest writer on this awesome site and give an adoptive mama’s perspective.

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Dear Kids at School

Forever Family, Go Girl! - Allison Kenny - August 30, 2016

Dear Kids at School,

I know that when you see my little girl, you notice all the ways she is different from you. You see her glasses and her funny walk. You notice that she talks fast and loud, that she grabs the stuff from your hands without asking, how she sometimes tells everybody what to do. You see that it doesn’t take much to make her cry or make her mad or make her break the rules.  You notice that she is different than you. A different race. Has a different kind of family. Gets pulled from class for special ed. Why is she so weird…right? That’s what you want to know. Why is she so different?

Well, these aren’t the only things that make her unique. If you look closely, she has other qualities that might be harder to see. When you say hi, she’ll never ever ignore you. She’ll never leave you outside her house and say you can’t come in to play. She’d never ever want you to feel forgotten. In fact, my girl goes out of her way to make everyone feel special all the time. It’s her superpower. At home, she likes to put the toothpaste on the toothbrush for me and leave it out. A little surprise for me to find at bedtime. She leaves me notes and treasures and drawings of hearts that I find all over the house.  When our dogs were scared of the doggy door, she invented a contraption to hold it open for them. The first time she rode a horse, she petted it and kissed it and thanked it for the ride. You see, my girl’s heart is bigger than the heart of most people. That’s what actually makes her different. She’s sweeter than most. We could all learn something from her.

Another superpower she has is courage. She’s braver than most. Did you know the school you all go to is her 5th school in 4 years? She had to be brave and start over with new classrooms, new teachers and new kids every time. She did the same thing with families. Can you imagine walking into the house of brand new parents when you were 6 years old? Seeing your new room for the first time and wondering what this life would be like? Learning to trust brand new mommies and let them take care of you? That’s what my girl did. She had the courage to start a whole new life in a brand new town.  She had to say good-bye to everyone and everything she knew before. These are big good-byes. She had to have the courage to feel all those sad feelings and let her heart break so it could start to heal.

I can’t end this letter without talking about how hard my daughter works. You know that math packet you just got for 2nd grade homework? The same page of problems that takes you 15 minutes, takes her an hour. Oh no…it’s not because she is dumb. It’s because she was born 4 months early. Totally not her fault! But when kids are born early, their brains don’t get enough time to grow so they learn differently. Can you believe she never gives up? She doesn’t get to. She just has to work harder and harder- yes, harder than you so that she can learn the same things. She also works hard at making friends. She didn’t get to see people being good to each other when she was little, so she didn’t learn about things like sharing or taking turns like you did. She works very hard at this. She has a coach who comes every week and helps her learn to play well. She’s getting better and better at it. She has to work harder than most kids to do things like chew her food, tie her shoes, or even understand directions the teacher gives her. Pretty much all day, she’s working super hard to do things that most of you can do with no problem.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could cheer her on? What would it be like if she knew you were rooting for her instead of teasing her or leaving her out? What if you could see her sweetness, her courage, how hard she works?  What if you could help her along instead of push her down? I bet you’d feel good about yourself then. You could be so proud to know you were a good friend and accepted someone who is different than you. It would mean the world to her and  you…well, you would get a lot out of it, too. When we open our hearts and act kindly, we get to be happy. We get to be connected. We get to have more fun. How does that sound? You with me?

I can’t wait to see what you decide to do.

All the best,

Allison
Go Girls! Co-Founder
Kidpower Instructor
Mama

P.S. Speaking of having more fun,  join me in Berkeley on Sept 25th and see me perform live on stage. I’ll be celebrating magic and power we all have to be ourselves. Go Girls!  New to my blog? Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

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An Adoptive Parents’ Guide to Finding Dory

Go Girl! - Allison Kenny - July 5, 2016


Finding Dory was aDORable, am I right? Who doesn’t love Ellen and remember Finding Nemo like it was yesterday? Nothing better than packing up your family, getting your popcorn buttered and settling in for a sweet afternoon at the movies. Unless you are an adoptive parent. If you adopted your child, you do your research before going to any movie. You know that for some reason, every other kids movie out there includes protagonists who are orphans, in foster care, have dead parents, mean parents, tragic separation from siblings they love or in the case of Finding Dory, spend the entire movie in a desperate search for their birth parents. Sigh.

I get it. The worst nightmare in the psyche of any child is to be deeply alone in the world and abandoned by their parents. I’m not a therapist, but I imagine that for kids who are securely attached, seeing their worst fears play out on the big screen feels good because it externalizes the nightmares and ties them up with a happy ending. Then, the typical kids get to hug the parents who birthed them and feel safe, secure and aware of how loved they are.

But what if the nightmare of losing your family, being abandoned or mistreated actually happened to you? Seeing it played out would not feel good. It would be scary, retraumatizing or humiliating. They would be anxious on the way to any movie and have trouble sleeping after, even though they begged to go see it.

As a parent, I have to weigh the pros and cons before seeing any flick. I heard that Finding Dory could kick up lots of grief but that it wasn’t too scary. I also knew that all my daughter’s friends at camp were seeing it and talking about it. Having things to connect with peers about is a definite pro when it comes to my quirky girl. Plus, her big cousin was in town from Texas and wanted to go. We didn’t want to deny them the sweet memory of seeing this movie together. So…we went.

We ate a big dinner before and didn’t get candy. Instead, we brought tiny treasures wrapped in tissue paper. When our daughter got anxious during the movie, she turned her eyes to her lap where she could unwrap a little something to focus on instead. While Dori was having flashbacks about the major loss in her childhood, my daughter opened and found a tiny shell. While Dori was longing for her Mommy & Daddy, my little girl found a tiny square of clay to squish into shapes. When she got bored with a treasure, she’d put it in Mama Lynn’s purse and watch the movie awhile. Then, she opened another. Bringing sensory tools to the movies was not something we’d tried before. After Inside Out, we spent 20 extra minutes in the theater holding her while she sobbed. The Good Dinosaur sent her into so many tears, I had to bring her home and rock her like a baby until she calmed down.

But I’m glad we tried Finding Dory before giving up on going to movies all together. With tools to manage her triggers, our daughter got to see a girl lead character take center stage in her own life. Dory and lots of the animals in this film have a vulnerability that makes them different. Dory’s “short term memory loss” and distractibility were a wonderful mirror of my daughter’s special needs. Dory is loveable and adored. Just like my little girl. Dory is a leader. She has courage. She overcomes her biggest challenges. I want my daughter to get to see examples like these of girls in media.

After the movie, my daughter’s review was “ I liked it Mommy. But some parts were sad.” OMG she used a feeling word! Success.

Go see Dory. Pack treasures and tissues. Let me know how it goes.

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6 Ways to Welcome an Adopted Child into Your Extended Family

Forever Family, Foster/Adoption, Parenting - Allison Kenny - June 7, 2016

So, last week we packed up our little Squirrel and hit the road. By now, we were old pro’s at traveling together and navigating the potential stress of hectic airports. She had her stuffy. Lollypop in her mouth. Mama Lynn’s hand. Special snacks in tow. We were ready. What I was not ready for was how beautifully, generously, and authentically my AZ family would embrace her when we arrived. Here are 6 things they did to make my girl feel like their girl…even if they aren’t related by blood. Continue Reading

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