Wednesday, October 20, 2010

pick me up if i stumble over words i cannot speak*

*taken from Ellis Paul's song: Words


i am at work yesterday, pounding out a 12.5 hour shift, when my cell rings in my pocket around 4:30. imagine my angst when i recognized the number: E's after school facility. calling to inform me- that though all the kids in her class know they must ask permission to use the scissors- apparently my daughter got hold of them and began pruning off pieces of her hair (thankfully, the damage was very minimal). and while i realize this can be typical "kid" behavior, and i've actually wondered when it would happen, it isn't really typical "E" behavior. she's smart as hell and frankly, she knows better. not to mention that she really loves her hair :O) how she responded (tears, inability to verbalize) once the teacher stopped her is more an indication of the problem than actually slicing away in the vicinity of her eyes to give her bangs a new flare. and just as i suspected, this wasn't her only issue on tuesday. my phone rang again, 2 hours later (this time the call from Baba) informing me that she had her first time out at public school and that she was hysterically laughing and putting sand down her pants, wood chips in her hair and shirt- when he arrived for pick up at the end of the day. (??). now the alarm bells are going off.

and lo and behold, Baba tells me that Ms.S, her regular (and much favored) teacher was not in school today (where she had her first time out). ding!ding!ding! as soon as E's routine in any way is altered, especially without lots of preparation (as in, if we had known as well that the teacher in training would be running her class yesterday), i am certain a time out for "not following direction" would never have been necessary. because when E gets scared, and she doesn't have the security of a person she is attached to within reach, she has tremendous difficulty focusing (and this girl has an attention span that lasts hours) and becomes quiet, unresponsive and a bit "scattered" or almost hyper (sign of her anxiety). more often, and this came after the scissoring incident, she withdraws and internalizes what she is feeling and shuts down, usually in a puddle of tears. but in neither situation has she ever mastered verbalizing what is going on inside of her. and while i expect her to endure consequences for her misbehavior, i also realize that in this case, she no doubt felt she was being punished for how she felt rather than what she was doing (not listening/following direction).

so. i made a call to her teacher Ms. S. and she promptly returned my call, shocked that E was capable of having anything other than a fantastic day (because yes, we went from consistent "great day!"s to "time out" after a year, without an "okay" or "bad" day in between, without any forewarning). we talked at length about her specific and unique set of circumstances: new culture, new language, adoption, prior life in China, and the particular challenges E faces in light of those facts. we agreed that the change in teacher was the trigger (without a doubt) and that we both needed to be proactive in teaching her to express her feelings.

apparently, Ms. S. has been using flash cards in school to help her. And Ms. S. is a stellar educator- she let me know she'd taken the liberty to research the adoption of Chinese daughters and what their emotional/mental challenges can entail after being thrust into a new life, far from their origins. yes, on her own, without any prompting from me, because in her words: "E is a girl that has wiggled her way into my heart, and I want both of us to do everything we can to empower her to face these challenges. I know she will thrive and ultimately be okay, K, but I think her greatest challenge is this- how she copes with change and how she internalizes her feelings- and it will never be about her physical abilities".

i asked if she could be her teacher until she graduated high school :) of course, that would never be good for E, but i'm thinking it'd be great for mom. i can only hope we are as lucky year after year, engaged with teachers that recognize her unique background and who are so willing to guide my daughter to her highest potential.

i came home last night and we didn't talk about her day. she'd shed enough tears with baba when he reminded her that no matter what- scissors, misbehaving- we would always love her. i am certain she understood she had misbehaved, and no doubt felt badly about it herself. so mom and E snuggled up for a bedtime story with lots of cuddling before and after and in between, rather than rehashing the details of her first really bad day since coming to this new home.

this afternoon i will stay after class with E and Ms S to discuss the ways we can help my daughter. i'll teach her about time-ins, she can teach me about flash cards and hopefully give me tips on how to help E verbalize her emotions when she goes to that place where she can't find the words.

and all the while, as she searches for her own phrasing, and stumbles- finding it impossible to speak, we'll just keep holding her and loving her through... until she can. validating that it's okay to feel whatever it is she feels. that we will always love her. and that we'll sit with her in that silence until the words come. and if they don't, we move on. we move forward. keeping her past close as our compass.


  1. Ah grim all round.

    Our school phone me first thing in the morning if there's going to be a major change to LF's day. Doesn't give me long to prepare her but at least she isn't going in totally unknowing - don't know if yours could do that too?

    Liking the flashcards idea. We've had picture cards with emotions on them - is this the same or something different? Angry face, sad face, confused face, happy face, all that kind of thing. So then you can pick out the one which best fits, even if you don't have the words at that point in time.

    I'm still learning just how scared LF gets by a change of routine. Tears this afternoon because we're going out as a family this evening - nowhere bad, nothing awful, but not staying inside and going quietly to bed. She'll enjoy it when she gets there - but meantime, world falling apart because it isn't what she was expecting.

  2. Goodness, yes you are an amazing Mama ...& Baba too. And what an amazing teacher she has...I actually teared up when i read about how your little E has wriggled her way into her heart. It doesn't surprise me one bit.


  3. It is so hard for our children to process any change, even when we think that everything is going just fine. Glad she has you and Garth.

  4. It's so hard to watch our children go through these things. If you want my opinion, I think you went home and handled it exactly right.
    I let out a sigh and relief of gratitude knowing that E has such a rare and beautiful teacher.
    I hope that she can find the words she needs for these times, if not, I know that she will have the love she needs to see her through to the other side.

    I still have to work with Ev on these sorts of issues. We talk about emotions off and on all of the time. One thing that I do is look at her when she's mad and I KNOW she's mad and I say "ok you are mad right now that's what it feels like to be mad". "Love doesn't stop but the mad gets so big it's all that you can hear or feel". We have recently started talking about feelings of loss and this is huge and scary. Ev has a trigger phrase that she uses when she is feeling loss, she talks about her Gpa D, who passed away before she ever met him and the two cats we had that died 3 years ago. She was 3 when the last kitty died and I think she barely understood the "mechanics" but she did understand the loss. She will talk about these things as she cries, it's usually when she is trying to listen to Chinese Lullabies- coincidence? I don't think so.
    I know that our children will live their lives with the pain of the losses they have known. So K, when you speak of moving ahead and forward and keeping their past close, that's it exactly.
    Please give E one extra hug for me ok?

  5. I am glad her teacher is as great as her Mama and Baba.
    Yup changes are not going well here if a certain someone is not prepared long before.

  6. Sorry to hear about the bad day. But it sounds like you have a great support network around E when you can't be there. I pulled A from the developmental pre school the one I work in because I was not happy with the way she was treated and the lack of understanding of what we are going through medicaly and physically. It is really hard I have to work with this teacher. Now my boss the directer of Sped Ed is involved we have an IEP in 2 weeks I am just sick about it. But I want her in a place that looks at her emotional needs as well as her physical ones. There is a lot more going on inside of our girls then teachers want to look into. So glad you have a teacher that is trying to understand.

  7. I am so sorry for E's bad day...but...what blessings abound in all of this!! YOU, GARTH, Ms. S, and of course, E herself!!

    You rock, my friend, & I am so glad to hear what awesome teachers E has right now...and that includes you & Garth! ;)

  8. My heart breaks a little for your girl....many of our girls....who have been thruogh so much with so little ability to express all that is inside.

    Sounds like the teacher is wonderful and I am so happy to know that. You and Baba are clearly amazing parents. You "get" her, and when you don't you are clearly committed to finding your way to understanding. Your love is so clear.

  9. While I know that E is the true blessing to you... I have to say that YOU and G are awesome parents and Miss E is blessed to have you too! :0) And.. thank you for sharing. You have such a way with words. Are you sure you are in the right profession??? LOL.. maybe you should have been a writer :0)

  10. What a fantastic sounding teacher - I'm glad you have her to help with all this. So sorry E had such a hard day and was feeling so 'messy' inside.

    Hannah also used to find change very difficult at school - she went thru a phase last year of biting her class mates when there was some disruption going on with the teacher. I have something similar to the flash cards (since that time): I have a sheet of A4 paper with 6-7 photos of H pulling a happy face, scared, very upset, silly etc. and when she can't express how she is feeling she can go point to the photo. As she got used to it she would also be able to to point to how I might feel etc. which has been very helpful too. This worked better for us than commercial flash cards because it is permanently on the wall of our living room (so always within reach in an emotional melt down; no hunting for cards) and H got to participate in putting it together and think about her own feelings (what makes her happy, sad etc.) as we were making it. Also some of the commercial flash cards (line and circle drawings) were not so good for us to work with as she didn't really 'get' in the beginning what the faces always represented - it wasn't her sad face so she didn't seem to identify with it when emotionally upsetm (positive emotions she never had a problem identifying, only the sad, upset etc. when she was feeling that way and heading for meltdown). Identifying how you are feeling is hugely hard for a child of E's age, especially when your feelings are mixed up or you simply don't have words to put to the feelings - puppets also helped me and Hannah cos we could role play stuff and we would revisit things (as she raised them) this way. The emotional distance of upsetting things happening to the puppet rather than her, helped Hannah talk about how the puppet might feel. Best wishes.

  11. We know that place with the missing words here too. Blessings to you and her teacher. Mostly to E.

  12. Just curious, does she have any opportunity to speak Mandarin or whichever her native Chinese dialect is? Faced with uncertainty, children do indeed cling to their most basic instincts. Perhaps a friend or counselor in her native language can help. Just my $0.02 worth ;-)

  13. Serline- E has been home over a year and lost her Chinese within a matter of months. This is common. We hope to get her started in Mandarin classes (all of us) soon. Our town doesn't have much to offer.

    Robin- that was my DREAM, from high school!!

  14. You are a fantastic mom. I learn so much from you.

    How blessed you both are to have a teacher so personally invested. That's awesome!

  15. ouch. it's always good to have a point of reference, a 'constant one', when learning to navigate in the world of words and emotions. Glad she has that.

  16. You're such a great mama.

    Bella has struggled from day one with her emotions. As an almost 3 year old who was incredibly neglected, she has never shown appropriate expressions/emotions for any given situation. When she attended the school for the deaf, she had a therapist that worked solely on emotions and helping her understand what emotion is, how to recognize it in others, and how to express herself. Although it helped tremendously, she still, to this day, has so much bottled up inside and it hurts me to see her struggle.

    Enjoy all those snuggles. They're the best medicine!

  17. Oops....forgot to change my profile to "Daisy Dreams" before I left the previous comment!

  18. Wonderful to have such a great teacher, mama, and baba. So nice to be seen and heard.

  19. I totally get it and I think what you all did was great. :) My Lil M also has a tough time verbalizing when she's upset. We're working on it...

    Big Hugs,
    Mama M.