Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Big Brother Visited, Part 2

Previously on The Big Brother Visits:  Emily learned lots of stuff.  She learned that 12 year olds know everything, enjoy nothing that you enjoy, and enjoy getting a reaction. And, 12-year old with issues do it even more...

---If you want to know what the heck I'm talking about in this blog, check out part 1. :)
Part 1:

We were hanging in there.  As much as it hurt my heart, I knew it wasn't meshing like it was supposed to.  (Or, at least, like I thought it was supposed to.)  Brian and I talked about it every night, every morning, and everytime that we hid in the bedroom for a few minutes.  It just wasn't a good match. And, as upsetting as that was, you really can't force it. That's not good for anyone. 

So, that's how I started to see things.  They would spend time together and even if they didn't appreciate it now, they would appreciate it later.  And he'd be welcome to come for future (maybe shorter) visits.  At that point, I couldn't imagine what would change my mind.  I w
as becoming painfully aware that I didn't have the ability to give all four of them the attention that they needed.  In fact, I felt like I was barely talking to my own kids because I was always talking to him,   

It took the pressure off.  But, it still made me sad. 

Then, there was the day in Winn Dixie. We stopped for hair cuts for William and Antwan. They were not good hair cuts. They really weren't. But, the stylist was new and I didn't bother to make a fuss about it,  but Patrick was beside himself.   He was angry and a little too loud about his disgust.   So, attitude in hand, we left Great Clips and headed to Winn Dixie.  Shopping with the kids when they are on their best behavior is not easy. Shopping when Patrick is cranky, Antwan is squirmy, and Lizzie really wants the popsicles that you didn't buy her (because we have some at home) is extra hard.  (William, however, is always good at the store.)   So, this was the scene.  We were walking through the store.   Lizzie was crying because she wanted popsicles.  Apparently, she chose this summer to test out the tantrum in the grocery store angle.  Antwan was demonstrating his cool moves as he bounced up and down the aisles.  William, thankfully, was sitting in the cart playing his 3ds.  And, Patrick was engaging in a running commentary of the event.  It just plain sucked.   He wanted me to buy Lizzie the popsicles so she'd stop crying. He said that they were ungrateful children who never say thank you (not true), and he disagreed with everything that I did to deal with them.  Finally, I snapped.

I did something that I've never done. I yelled at my child (my temporary one, anyway) in the middle of the grocery store. I told him that I couldn't take him criticizing everything that I do all the time and that I didn't want him criticizing the kids. I said that they are good kids and I was doing the best I could.   I pointed out that he hadn't said "thank you" for one thing since he had been with us. (He would say please when asking for something, but never thank you.)   I told him that he needed to back off.

Not my best moment. I was not even a little proud of myself for this.  Although, I don't really think anyone could really blame me...  But, I was ashamed of myself.   I'm not going to bother denying that it felt good, though.  ;)  So, I felt a little better. But, he definitely didn't.   At the beginning, he kept interrupting to argue my points, but then he just stopped talking.  We shopped in silence. We drove home in silence. He went to his room in silence.  Quite frankly, it was a nice break.  But, I didn't know what was going to happen next.

Before the visit, his case worker told us that he secludes himself when upset, so I wasn't surprised and knew to give him space.   It gave me time to plan my conversation with him when he was willing to talk.  It would be so well-delivered.   I would apologize for losing my cool and calmly explain how I feel. He would understand, hear me out, and then everything would be wonderful.   Yep, had it all figured out.

So, a little before dinner time, Brian and William were doing what they do.  Trying on costumes. :)  You may or may not know that we are a little nerdy.  And, once a year, at least, we put on elaborate costumes and parade around a sci-fi fantasy convention in Atlanta (Dragoncon).  Why?  Because it's fun.  The kids get to put on costumes, we get to put on costumes.  We meet our favorite celebrities and lots of cool people.  Now you know. :)  We hadn't talked about Dragoncon much because I could only imagine what a grumpy 12 year old would think about that.  ;)  But, since he was avoiding us, Brian thought it would be a good time to geek out with William a little.  So, they dressed up as Nick Fury and Agent Coulson which, if you've seen The Avengers or any of the pre-Avengers movies, you know that's pretty cool.  Yep, just an average night at the Parkers....

I don't know if it intrigued him or if it was an easy way to slip out, but Patrick came wandering out and started talking to them about the costumes.  I came out of the room where I was admittedly enjoying my own space and headed to the kitchen to make dinner.  Next thing I know, he has joined me and is casually talking to me about the dinner that I was making.   I was so confused.   He acted like nothing happened, so I did the same.   The rest of the night, I could tell that he was making concerted efforts to be nice and polite.  He started saying thank you.and made a point of brushing his teeth.  The night before, he told Brian that he only brushes in the morning.  Gross, but evidently another fun way to have control of something.  So, it was kind of significant.  So, I never had the conversation.  But, in a weird way, I felt like we understood each other.

My frazzled mom routine at the grocery store turned out to be the first step to actually bonding with him.  And, for a couple of days, he made an extra effort to say thank you more and let me do the parenting.  And, I made an extra effort to thank him for saying thank you, etc.  We were being crazy grateful over here.  But, he still wasn't being particularly nice to William.  He was bonding to me, but not him.

After a day that seemed to be reserved for William bashing, I experimented with direct, calm communication.  Crazy, huh?  I talked about the fact that I knew that William is a lot to take sometimes. Despite, his excellent behavior in grocery stores, he is actually pretty high-maintenance. But, I told Patrick that I needed him to try to be more patient. I told him that William is very sensitive and more than anything he just wants to spend time with his big brother. I acknowledged that this was not easy for him and it was a different situation than he was used to. I said all the wonderful and well-thought out things that I could think of.

Over the next few days, I saw more efforts.  He was being more patient with all the kids and being more polite to them. He even started playing with them a little. I don't know if he was trying super hard or if he was finally bonding with them. Or maybe a combination?   But, things were getting better. For the first time, I didn't end the day feeling totally defeated and wondering how I would make it through. I was able to start worrying less about my children's emotional state.

This is when the game changed. He started letting me in a little more.  And I was kind of enjoying being in.  And, I was officially starting to love him.

I couldn't help but wonder if maybe it could all work out. 

Next time!  Patrick tells me about his past,  consistently dislikes every fun activity that I plan, and actually asks me to buy him a Batman cup...

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Big Brother Visited, Part 1.

It has taken me a long time to write a blog about our adventure with my kiddos' brother.  This isn't because of a lack of interesting material.  It was definitely interesting.  But, I was so darn exhausted at the end of each night.  I couldn't really figure out what I wanted to say.  Let alone, stay awake to type it.  So, I decided that I would sum it up when it was all over.  And, then there was the extra bonus (used with extreme sarcasm) of finding out, the day after Patrick left, that our dog had Lymphoma and there was nothing that could be done.  I'll spare you my weepy explanations about how losing my dog tore me apart because that's not what this blog is about.  But, yeah, it sucked.  

So, anyway, three weeks later, I'm down to 3 kids again and no dog.  But, I do have the will to blog.

So, I guess I'm going to do a fancy retrospective blog. Well, probably a few blogs because there's no way that I could fit it into one without losing everyone half-way through. :)

So, this will be "The Big Brother Visited: the mini-series!"

And here we go...

I spent 2 weeks and 3 days of my summer with my children's brother.  And I learned why I got the reactions that I got from smarter people than me when I told them that he is 12. 

He is a troubled 12 year old who has been through too much.  He is also a boy that wants to love and be loved, but really, really has no clue how.  At times, I wanted to wrap my arms around him and show him how to love and, at times, I wanted to throw him off a roof.  I experienced every emotion that I can think of.  From excitement to frustration to loving to seriously pissed off to pride to...ok, I'll stop, but the point is it was very emotionally eventful. 

On the day of his arrival, we spent the day frantically preparing.  So, of course, when he got here, we were exhausted.  So, the case worker pulled into our driveway and here comes Patrick, casually wandering in with a suitcase.  I was so nervous.  Every time that we had seen him in the past, he had been fairly quiet; so I was expecting some challenges in trying to get him to talk to us.  That turned out to be an unrealistic expectation. 

After visiting for awhile, his case worker pulled out of the driveway.  We walked into the house and he started talking.  And, he didn't stop.  And we were totally thrown.  He talked to us about the boys' skin and hair (and what we should be doing differently), wrestling (not my favorite moments), and anything else that popped into his head.  Ok, what is going on?  Then at the end of the night, he casually told us that William asked if he wanted to stay permanently and he said that he could do that.  We ended the night, feeling pretty good about things, totally thrown that this kid had basically just asked us to adopt him, and wondering if we should.

The next day, we took him to one of our favorite restaurants.  He was mightily unimpressed.  He laid down for most of the meal and had no patience for his brothers.  I started to see his stubborn streak and his need for control.  I did understand why.  In my head, I got that these kids feel so out of control that they have to get control in any way possible.  I had experienced it with William.  But dealing with a need for control in a William and a bitter 12 year old; now, that's why they invented the cliche "apples and oranges."

One of my favorite examples is this.  We got in the van.  Everyone buckled up, except for Patrick.  Brian casually asked him to buckle up.  He casually ignored him.  I asked him with a jokey voice that was full of eggshells and he sighed, but didn't buckle.  It took at least two more requests before he finally gave in.  Ridiculous, really.  We're trying to make sure you arrive safely at our destination and this is what you are going to fight us on?  I didn't think too much of it, at the time, because, well, I didn't want to.  I wanted everything to be rosy and easy.  But, obviously, that's not possible.

The first few days passed and we quickly departed the official honeymoon phase.  Actually, I think we left that after the first night, if lying down in a restaurant was any evidence.  And, although, he was pleasant to me, said please when asking for food, didn't kick holes in the wall, or shave my eyebrows in my sleep; it wasn't going as well as I hoped.

It was clear, pretty quickly, that he just plain had no idea how to behave in a family environment.  He had no immediate sense of loyalty to William, Antwan, and Lizzie.  And, really, it just seemed like he found them annoying.  Lizzie won him over, first.  Because, well, she's Lizzie and even the grumpiest pre-teen can't resist her for long. ;)   But, I found myself in a situation where I was referee-ing all the time.  He seemed to think I was favoring my kids, no matter how hard I tried to stay neutral.  He didn't (or said that he didn't) like anything that they liked and got sick joy out of telling them so.  One of his favorites was criticizing Batman.  Now, hold on there, we love Batman.  We watch the cartoon together and enjoy it as a family.  So, it kind of stung.  Besides, what's wrong with you, man?? Batman is super cool! ;) 

In a way, it felt like he had always been here.  If he had, the bickering and arguing would've been natural.  What 12 year old doesn't find his little brothers annoying?  But, he hadn't and it didn't make sense to me why he was blowing this chance to bond.  I quickly realized my romanticized, sweet family reunion was apparently not going to happen.  I could accept that because this whole thing wasn't about me.  But, the problem was what was happening.  William was getting hurt.  You see, William, like me, built this up in his head.  On top of that, William is desperate for a loving big brother.  But, what he got was a brother who had very little patience for his random questions and basically everything else he did.  I could see that it was hurting him and it was awful to watch. 

So, I could deal with the constant talking, the constant eating, and the constant antagonizing.  But, my children were getting hurt.  That was not ok. 

When we enthusiastically agreed to a visit, Brian and I talked about it, over and over. The big thing that we agreed on was that our three came first. We had to make sure that nothing would harm them. At the time, I couldn't imagine how any harm could come to them. But, I learned.

When you think about it, we combined an emotionally damaged 12 year old who had an unstable past and turns out, has trouble with relationships with 3 happy-go-lucky kids who have been taught about courtesy and the importance of being considerate of people's feelings.   And, oh yeah, and one of those three happy-go-lucky kids is William who despite being happy-go-lucky is insecure and gets his feelings hurt easily.   So, I guess I shouldn't be surprised.   But, I still was.

I was counting the days.  I had no idea how I could make it.  My friend came over and I literally cred in her arms because I felt so lost and defeated.  I mean, it wasn't all bad.  He was polite, funny, and helped cook dinner (whether I wanted him to or not.).  And, I felt like we were bonding.  But, it was not, in any way, how it was supposed to be. 

I knew that I had to get through it.  Despite it being tempting, I knew that I couldn't send him back early.  I could not and would not do that to him.  I would not add to his rejections.  So, I gave William lots of extra hugs, got lots of hugs from Brian for myself, felt super jealous when he left for work, and started a new day.  Over and over. 

So, at this point, if this was a tv mini-series which, quite frankly, it is in my head.  (Jennifer Garner plays me, by the way.)  You'd now see some intriguing scenes of me losing it in a grocery store and getting my first silent treatment from him.   But, there are also a couple of touching heart-to-hearts. ;)  So, please come back for part 2!