Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Home is Where You Eat and Sleep

Last week I watched a sign language DVD with my daughter.  "Home is where you eat and sleep" the host explained as she demonstrated how to make the sign for "home".  Although I would like to think that one's home is a little more than just a place to eat or lay your head, she was basically right about two of the most fundamental purposes of a home.  Appropriately enough, those two things- eating and sleeping- are the two areas where George is having the hardest adjustment to his new environment.

This little boy eats like a HORSE!  At dinner the first night after we picked him up he ate more than everyone at the table- including my husband.  When the food was gone he immediately started crying for more.  He spotted some bananas on our counter and exclaimed "nanas!" and desperately began pointing in their direction.  "This poor kid must be starving!" I thought.  I figured it wouldn't hurt to give him a banana even though dinner was over.  He quickly gobbled it up and then started whining for another one.  I gave in but I learned my lesson the next day when he threw up.  As I started cleaning up the mess (thankfully most of it was just milk) I started worrying that he had a bug or something.  But then I realized, "DUH!  Of course he threw up- he's been gorging food and his little stomach just isn't big enough to handle it all." 

Although we're feeding him plenty (he could eat bananas and cheese sticks all day long if we let him) we've learned to limit his food intake no matter how long and hard he cries after mealtimes and no matter how many times a day he points to the fridge or pantry.  It's also not uncommon for him to pull out a chair from the kitchen table and announce "eat" even if the last meal we had was half an hour earlier.  

I'm guessing that the only thing that's keeping George from taking and hiding food is that he can't actually open the fridge or pantry door himself.  At least that's what we learned to expect in our training as it was explained to us that hoarding behaviors are very common among children who come from backgounds of poverty or neglect.  I've heard other foster parents share similar stories. 

The night we picked up George from DCFS, his CPS Worker passed on some information to us from his caregivers about his eating habits: they said he was a picky eater and that his favorite foods were french fries and Captain Crunch- the staples in life, right?  I haven't found him to be particularly picky about what he eats, but rather how he eats.  The first time I gave him cereal he ignored the actual cereal and went straight for the milk- picking up his bowl and slurping it down.  He also doesn't quite seem to understand the concept of using utensils either but we're working on it. 

When George discovered our Lazy Susan he immediately started scavenging through the food.  When he got to the cans of soup and tuna fish he set them aside when he realized he couldn't open them.  But when he came across a package of Ramen noodles (another one of life's staples) he looked like he hit the jackpot and started chewing right through the package without seeming to mind the plastic wrapper.  

He did the same thing when I took the kids to my husband's Halloween work party: I dressed them up in their Hallowen costumes for trick-or-treating amongst co-worker's offices.  As soon as George spotted someone's candy he's excitedly said, "Num-Num!" and grabbed for it and then proceeded to chew right through the wrappers.  Fortunately, most of my husband's co-workers seemed very understanding, especially when they learned of his special circumstances.  I was a little worried that some might have an attidute of  "What terrible manners!  Don't these parents know how to control their children?" but that didn't seem to be the case.  If you think it's hard to control your own kids try "controlling" somebody else's child!"

Although George's hoarding tendencies will take some getting used to I hope he eventually realizes that there will always be food in this house and he won't ever have to go hungry.  As one friend said to me, "How do you explain to a toddler that there will always be food in the house?"  Exactly.  He's just acting out of survivial.  I must admit though it's been quite amusing to watch a child get so excited about eating vegetables.  The night I made Stir-Fry George happilly gobbled down green beans and broccoli like they were candy!


Sleep is the other hard adjustment for George.  The CPS Worker also passed on some information to us about his sleeping habits- namely, that George has never slept in his own crib or bed, but has always slept with his caregivers in their bed.  "Great." I thought. 

It's hard enough for me, as an adult, to adjust sleeping in a bed other than my own-even if it's for a seemingly trivial reason.  Take, for example, whenever I go camping or I'm on vacation and I wake up in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning and get that disoriented feeling and look around and think, "Wait a minute- this isn't my bedroom . . . Where am I?"  Even if the confusion only lasts for thirty seconds before I can reorient myself and realize that I'm in a tent or at a hotel it's still a somewhat disturbing feeling.  So when I thought of the prospect of George having to sleep not only in a totally new environment but all by himself when he's used to sharing a bed I felt bad for him.  

Nights and even naptimes have been particularly hard for George.  At times I feel like a prison warden sending him to his "jail cell" when I announce that it's naptime or time for bed because it's such a traumatic experience for him.  The first three or four nights he was so upset and confused that he would look at me between sobs and wails as if to say, "Can I go home now?  Where's my mom and dad?"  All I could do was pat his back and try to comfort him while he cried out for his "mommy" and "da-da."  The worst part was that I couldn't honestly tell him, "It's going to be all right- you'll go back to your mommy and dada soon" because I don't know where he will end up for sure.

It was absolutely HEARTBREAKING and although I was left feeling very sad for him I was also surprised at how upset I was, too- towards the whole sad situation and in particular towards his caregivers.  A lot of angry feelings started creeping up inside me and as I talked it over with my husband the next day he wisely pointed out that his caregivers must be going through torture being separated from him, too (which is not exactly what I was in the mood to hear, but he's absolutely right).

I thought about why I was so angry and here's my explanation:  When I hear about children who become separated from their families or become orphans due to a natural disaster, like a typhoon,for example, I am filled with pity and compassion not only towards the children who are victims of the disaster but to their parents and relatives who have become casualties of the disaster as well.  I think most people feel pretty much the same way because nobody likes to see children suffer- that's a given.  But there is one huge difference between children who are orphaned because of natural disasters or extreme poverty and children who are separated from their families or "orphaned" due to addictions or abuse or neglect and one word that sums up the difference between those two scenarios is PREVENTION.  Natural disasters cannot be prevented- nobody has a choice when it comes to suffering from that kind of tragedy, but people do have a choice in how they treat their children and wether they use drugs or take their first drink when they are aware that alcoholism runs rampant in their family. 

I'm aware, as my husband pointed out, that George's caregivers must be suffering greatly as a result of their choices, but when I'm the one who has to listen to a little boy wail for his parents at night and I'm the one who has to wipe away his tears and change his pillowcase because it's covered with puddles of tears and snot as a result of his heartbreak I do not exactly become a font of overflowing compassion for the very people who could have prevented the whole situation in the first place.  

Back to George's sleeping/separation anxiety:  My biggest dilemna as a foster parent is trying to find the balance between nurturing and discipline.  Do I totally "baby" him and rock him to sleep each night or do I take a tough-love approach?  I usually take a moderate approach but I tend to err on the side of too much nurturing.  For example, the first couple of nights I stayed in his bedroom till he fell asleep and then I would quietly sneak out and go back to my own bedroom . . . until he noticed I wasn't there and then the crying would begin afresh.  I even considered bringing an air mattress into his room and just camping out, but I thought "No, if I do that he'll just expect it every night."  I've already made the mistake before of letting my daughter sleep in our bed "just for one night".  One night inevitably turns into more than one night. 

One thing is for certain: The times I've  rock-a-byed him and held him have been the greatest tools for bonding- not just for him bonding and attaching to me, but me attaching and bonding to him.  


Lynn said...

Some of the things I've read say that children "stop" their emotional development when they "begin" a situation of trauma. Depending on how long this little guy suffered before he came to you, he could very easily be stunted in an infant stage of development.

With our last placement of two girls (ages 8 & 9) bedtimes were AWFUL until we started holding them (like babies) for around 10-15 minutes each night before we left their room.

I can only imagine the fear your little guy must be feeling at bedtime. As soon as he closes his eyes he's reminded of all that isn't quite right in his young life.

Hang in there. I'm sure you'll find the balance between nurture and discipline. But I doubt you can over-nurture at this point in time.

MamaFoster said...

I am no expert but I totally tough love them only giving in when i know they have had a day harder than normal. then all bets are off and they get babied. this is their life and as sad as that is we have to teach them to be strong and endure. That has been the best gift I have been able to give my kids that leave this house.

Also, I am right there with ya in everything you said, I am so glad with all the bad we have to deal with we also get the hugs and sloppy kisses, and eventually we EARN their trust and they love us in a way that is very hard to explain but very needed in their little lives.

you are awesome. i am so glad he has you :)

Mary said...

Great reminder, Lynn!

jendoop said...

Sounds like you are doing very well, even though your tired aching body may claim otherwise. It will slowly get better!

DMN said...

Not trying to tell you how to parent, just something our foster daughter's therapist told us in regards to hoarding food... She told us to Always have food out for her. She suggested that we leave out something like a little bowl of crackers or non-sugary cereals. She said that the 2-year-old would then learn that food would always be available and she didn't have to freak out at the end of meals. Even if she eat so much she threw up, she's eventually learn. After a few days she stopped hoarding food.

Good luck! Hope it gets better soon.

Mary said...

Very helpful info, DMN. As a parent in general, and as a foster parent in particular, it's a blessing and a relief to learn from others who have been in similar situations.