Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Mea culpa

This is my open and blanket apology to all my friends and correspondents to whom I have not been in contact with or replied to.

I'm sorry.

You should see my inbox and answering machine messages; things are really piling up. I've been rotten at reaching out and replying and pretty much anything else which requires me to leave me little introverted and overwhelmed bubble. I feel pretty darn guilty about it all, but evidently not guilty enough to hit reply on an email or message or to pick up the phone.

I wish I could tell you what is up... because then I would know, too. I think it's a variety of factors. Still adjusting to our two new girls, adjusting to more of my children getting older and becoming adults, J.'s job change, the stress of contemplating moving, the stress of actually doing something about moving, missing good friends who have moved away, cold weather in springtime, too many unknowns, etc., etc. It all makes me want to curl up in bed with a stack of books and hibernate. I'm just not myself.

I tell you this because I really do mean to call or write or reply. Really. And then the day goes by and it's 11pm and it's too late to call and I'm too tired to write. And another day of guilt for not getting in touch with people I care about piles up. Please don't take it personally.

So there you go. The sad and pathetic story of the woman with no emotional margin at the moment. I'll get back to you all, really I will. I want to. Maybe it would help if I just had a card printed up that said something along the lines of:

  • Yes, we're moving to the far western suburbs.
  • No, we don't know when we're moving or exactly where.
  • Yes, it will be hard because we've lived in our big ugly house for 16 years and in this area in J.'s case, his entire life or in E.'s case, over 30 years.
  • Yes, our children are both excited and nervous.
  • No, the house isn't on the market yet, we hope in another couple of weeks.
  • Yes, it will be fairly horrible to have a house on the market with 10 children at home.
  • No, I don't know how you do it, either.
  • Yes, it's a special house, which means we will need to wait for a special buyer.
  • No, the 1 1/2 hour commute is not fun or enjoyable.
  • Yes, this is a huge change, and we will miss everyone here.
  • No, there is not the diversity out there that we have become used to.
  • Yes, we still need to find J. a different car.
  • No, I can't plan a single thing because I just don't know what we're going to be doing.
This about sums up nearly every conversation I've had in the past couple of months. I guess I'm just tired of talking about it. I'm tired of saying out loud how up in the air our lives feel at that moment. It might be different if we had any sort of time line or details. 

Thank you for joining my virtual pity party. I'll just crawl back into my little bubble now.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

More brain and trauma stuff

I just finished reading The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk. Boy, talk about a fascinating book. I might actually break down and buy myself a copy just to have as a reference.

Perhaps one of the most difficult things for people to wrap their heads around is how systemic the affects of trauma can be. Even for those of us who live with people affected by trauma, we can sometimes forget or not understand what is really going on inside our child. From the outside looking in, it seems like a simple problem. Yes, what you experienced in the past was horrible and rotten. But now you are in a good place, with people who love and care about you and will be sure that your needs are met. You are now safe and secure. That should do it, let's move on. It can feel frustrating when the person affected by trauma doesn't seem to want to get on that particular train.

What recent brain science is learning, though, is exactly why it is so very difficult for a person who experienced trauma to move on. The trauma has changed everything about them. It has rewired their brain, their nervous system, and even their cells. One of the most interesting studies that Dr. van der Kolk discusses is the fMRI (functional MRI) tests that were performed on a couple, both of whom were suffering from PTSD as a result of being in a horrific car accident. The couple both survived, but couldn't move on. In the MRI, each individual was read a scripted scenario which they each had written as to what it was like to be in that car crash. As a result, each person began to experience flashbacks to the accident. What the doctor's discovered was that in the midst of the flashback, the brain was reliving the experience as if it were happening right then. There were not brain functions visible that would indicate it was a memory, those parts of the brain had essentially shut down. Our children cannot just 'get over it', because their brain is constantly telling them that the trauma is happening RIGHT NOW, whenever any sort of memory associated with it is triggered.

It this one little bit of information alone doesn't convince you to read it, here are some other little excerpts that I marked as I was reading it.

"When something reminds traumatized people of the past, their right brain reacts as if the traumatic event were happening in the present. But because their left brain is not working very well, they may not be aware that they are experiencing and reenacting the past -- they are just furious, terrified, enraged, ashamed, or frozen. After the emotional storm passes, they may look for something or somebody to blame for it. They behaved that way because you burned the potatoes, or because you 'never listen to me.' Of course, most of us have done this from time to time, but when we cool down, we hopefully can admit our mistake. Trauma interferes with this kind of awareness..." (p. 45)

Connection and felt safety are crucial to moving out of this pattern.

"One thing is certain: Yelling at someone who is already out of control can only lead to further dysregulation. Just as your dog cowers if you shout and wags his tail when you speak in a high singsong, we humans respond to harsh voices with fear, anger, or shutdown and to playful tones by opening up relaxing. We simply cannot help but respond to these indicators of safety and danger.

Sadly, our educational system, as well as many methods that profess to treat trauma, tend to bypass this emotional-engagement system and focus instead on recruiting the cognitive capacities of the mind. Despite the well-documented effects of anger, fear, and anxiety on the ability to reason, many programs continue to ignore the need to engage the safety system of the brain before trying to promote new ways of thinking. The last things that should be cut from school schedules are chorus, physical education, recess, and anything else involving movement, play, and joyful engagement. When children are oppositional, defensive, numbed out, or enraged, it's also important to recognize that such 'bad behavior' may repeat action patterns that were established to survive serious threats, even if they are intensely upsetting or off-putting." (pp. 85-86)

And finally, for those of us who have noticed how terribly out-of-touch some of our children can be with what is happening inside of them.

"However, traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies. The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from their selves.

The more people try to push away and ignore internal warning signs, the more likely they are to take over and leave them bewildered, confused, and ashamed. People who cannot comfortably notice what is going on inside become vulnerable to respond to any sensory shift either by shutting down or by going into a panic -- they develop fear of fear itself.

We now know that panic symptoms are maintained largely because the individual develops a fear of the bodily sensations associated with panic attacks. The attack may be triggered by something he or she knows is irrational, but fear of the sensations keeps them escalating into a full-body emergency. 'Scared stiff' and 'frozen in fear' (collapsing and going numb) describe precisely what terror and trauma feel like. They are its visceral foundation. The experience of fear derives from primitive responses to threat where escape is thwarted in some way. People's lives will be held hostage to fear until that visceral experience changes." (pp. 96-97)

Obviously, there is a lot to digest in this book. But it is ultimately extremely hopeful in regards to the future of people affected by trauma with new discoveries in regard to how trauma affects the body and what treatment is ultimately helpful. Highly recommended.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The further adventures with boxes and cats

J. finished painting The Folly this weekend and it looks great. I want to paint an unfinished wood bookcase that was in it before I show it to you, though, so you'll just have to wait another few days to see the final product. In the meantime, I have more cat pictures for you.

Here is a picture of the recycling piled in the mud room. I had some things to add to the pile, so did what any person would do, threw it into the empty box.

The empty box which then meowed in an annoyed tone of voice.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

My to do list in pictures

Just a typical Saturday around here. I taught piano lessons while J. wrangled children and made pancakes. Not much cleaning has happened, but we've done some other things.

The folly is all primed and ready for its real coat of paint.

We have a new mailbox all ready to put up, to replace the hideous (and breaking) plastic one that I have detested from the moment I saw it 16 years ago. (Nothing like taking care of little things right away, huh?)

I got to the library, because (oh, the horror), I was out of any fiction that I wanted to read.

I also made it to the grocery store so we have food for tonight and the rest of the week. That always makes my children happy.

This is going to be turned into dinner.

While I was at the store, J. took the younger six to the park. It sounds as though it was a more exhausting trip than usual. I think I got the better end of the bargain this time.

D. also made his weekly bread and it is cooling on the kitchen table.

Thus, we have nearly made it to the end of the day. It was a close call there for a bit. The combination of having 70+ degree weather one day and 40-something degree weather with drizzly rain the next, is not making the masses terribly happy.

Now, to go and try to keep myself away from that stack of library books, and instead tackle the enormous laundry pile in the basement. If one was placing bets, it would probably be even odds as to which activity wins out.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Friday bullets, March 24, 2017

This will be quick, I have a lot of painting to get to.

  • J. is enjoying his new job, though much of the it feels as though he is drinking from a fire hose, as far as trying to learn everything he needs to learn. Yesterday was a momentous day, and possibly a turning point, when J. mentioned that only two people started their conversations with him by saying, "So, is it true that you really do have 12 children?"
  • The internet is not always a bad thing. Yesterday, we were reading our teatime book, and one passage had one of the children wandering around her house reciting Ophelia's mad scene from Hamlet. Not wanting to waste an educational moment, I paused and asked the assembled children where the quoted lines were from. D. made an educated guess and said, "Shakespeare." I then asked which play. TM then chimes and and says, "Hamlet. Is it that part where she goes crazy?" We all pause and look at him a moment, and P. asks, "How did you know that?" TM replies, "Oh, I watched it on YouTube." 
  • Part of cleaning out The Folly meant that I found a one foot stack of financial documents which were well past their expiration date. Some of the middle girls have sat endlessly feeding these documents through our shredder. I would pass through the kitchen and I would see Y. and H. sitting with chins propped on hands, slowly feeding through the paper. Clearly, Dante missed a level of his inferno. And then the shredder decided, it, too, was done, and stopped working. They then started ripping, but now R. was able to join in. There is nothing she likes better than to be given a pair of scissors and cut paper into very small bits. She can do this endlessly. For obvious reasons, we don't always indulge this desire, but yesterday she was happy to get to help and to cut paper into little, tiny bits. 
  • I found yet one more school binder of A.'s, and in going through it, she discovered many stories and magazines she had created at about the same age that my younger crew are now. This has created a positive frenzy of writing amongst them. Each child has been carrying around a notebook and diligently writing... and writing and writing. Even K., for whom writing has never been a whole lot of fun, has filled a minimum of 4 pages of densely packed writing. When I announced today that it was going to be warm and possibly 70 degrees, he asked me to pause, got out his book, and recorded the fact in it. 
  • This writing frenzy has had its funny bits, too. Well, funny if you know what is being written. One of my children, one who is still figuring out English sounds... 'th' still comes out as 's' sometimes and 'a' and 'e' sound interchangeable to her... is also writing. Most of it is discernible. J. did come down and warn me about one particular spelling, though, and I'm glad he did. Y. wanted to write 'thanks'. Now, stop and think how this might be spelled if you are still working on the above sounds. Also stop and realize that 'nks' sounds a lot like 'x'. This is why when you read any words written s-e-x, you need to pronounce them 'thanks'. 
  • We never know what L.'s imagination is going to come up with next. Last night, L. had conscripted K. into being a stretcher bearer and we see the two of them carrying Blue Teddy (L.'s precious stuffed animal) down the stairs on a long under bed bin lid . L. then announces that Blue Teddy is very sick. "His heart went from 33 to 12 to 2. That's not good." She then wanted someone to do something about it. J. dug out something from the kitchen that could (very) vaguely pass as a defibrillator, and shocked Blue Teddy's heart back into working again, and told her he would be find, he just needed to rest. So L. and K. cart Blue Teddy up the stairs again to go rest in the hospital. As we were getting everyone tucked in, L. repeatedly informed me I was being too loud because Blue Teddy was trying to sleep. You'll be relieved to hear that Blue Teddy made it through the night, and K. and Y. have now become the designated doctors. It has been touch and go all morning, with L. coming to me to report Blue Teddy's heart numbers. This is a tricky thing, you realize. Before uttering the appropriate remark, you must first determine if these numbers are good news or bad news, otherwise you run afoul of the game... and L.'s annoyance. So far Blue Teddy is still with us, mainly because I told K. that death wasn't an option.
  • Finally, because every post with an animal picture seems to be far more popular than the ones without, a Kenzie story. Kenzie does not like thunder. He is terrified of it. He will either cower under my legs if I am sitting at my desk, or hide in the basement, or sometimes we will find him sitting and shivering in the pantry. He is definitely a storm early warning system, as he will know a storm is coming long before we have any idea. This is why sometimes one of us will open up the pantry door to find this.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A work in progress

I don't think I've ever shown you one of the really, truly, ugly parts of the house. It's that room I've been talking about, which we've called 'The Folly' ever since we moved in. It earned its nickname because it is the room above the little garage which was (mistakenly, in my opinion) added on to the side of the house sometime in the 1920's. Wanna see?

The entrance to The Folly is through the living room. Here's the doorway. We're pretty sure this doorway used to go out to a lovely wrap-around porch which was taken off to make room for the ugly garage.

You go in and have to go up a short flight of stairs.

Here's the view of the room from the bottom of the stairs.

Oh, don't forget to look up to see the snazzy ceiling. This particular covering was also on the roof of my former kitchen when we first moved in. I don't miss it.

The room itself, before we pulled up the carpet. Yes, the fireplace works, but there is no flue covering and the insulation is an attempt to keep the cold air out.

The other side.

And continuing around the room. That doorway is at the top of the stairs.

Don't forget to overlook the paint job. I find it particularly mystifying why these colors were chosen to go with the brown carpet and the peach walls.

And the stripes around the ceiling. What you missed seeing were the orange and green plaid curtains that were in this room when we moved it. It was enough to make ones eyes bleed.

Here is the view out the windows to the front.

And the view out to the back. It really is just stuck on the side.

I had some helpers this morning. A ninja (G.)

and Superman (L.)

So we pulled up the carpet.

Because nothing can be simple or easy in this house, we discovered that the radiator was installed ON TOP of the carpet. We still need to cut it out.

The paint prep is nearly done thanks to my helpers.

I'm hoping we can start slapping carefully applying paint tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Lesser of two decorating evils

I posted this on my Facebook page, but thought you'd all like to play along, too. TM and I have been working all day up in the folly to make it look just a little more attractive. (It was... and is... the worst room in the entire house.) We have it all empty now, which was no small feat, and are moving on to slapping artfully applying paint to the walls. Like everything else in the house, we have chosen a lovely beige, the color which delights realtors and house buyers everywhere. That leaves us with the floor. The room has vaguely shag-like carpet laid down (not actually installed) on brown industrial-like tile. You know, the kind that was found in your school cafeteria. The whole packages is... not so attractive. Here's my question, which is worse? Leaving the carpet, which makes the room feel a little warmer and cozier, or taking up the carpet and showing the tile, and maybe finding a throw rug to put on it.

Ready? Head to the comments to vote. I honestly don't know which one is worse, as they are both pretty bad.

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