Sunday, October 16, 2005

Emotional Exhaustion



I used to plant Thunbergia (black-eyes Susan vine) each year after growing it in the house from seed in early spring. I used to do that also with Rudbeckia, Sweet William, Nicotiana and Four O'Clocks until I finally noticed that they reseeded themselves constantly. My Thunbergia is clambering all over the chicken coop and Vanessa went out to take a picture of it but, instead, wandered around taking pictures of the trees and the skies.

She and Paloma also found a cucumber plant that had grown up out of the compost and climbed high upside a Wisteria vine so we're eating cucumbers in October.

But I was thinking this morning as I drink my coffee about my kid's emotional exhaustion. When kids first move in they are hyper-vigilant and overly alert. They seem to be happily playing but I notice their eyes darting around constantly as they attempt to pick up on social cues and to figure out the rules. They are on guard, asking questions and openly fearing the end of this placement. Surely they'll again be moved as it has always happened to them.

They appear to be nervous rabbits and the stress of this much noncommittal reserve often results in an emotional explosion. The meltdown then gives them an 'out', a reason for the tears instead of just breaking down and crying. They seem to feel that they must pick a fight so to speak, get their behavior corrected and then, they feel, it is OK to cry.

When they start to feel safe and secure then they begin to sleep through the night. The first few months they are awake at sunrise after thrashing around all night, fretting. Of course in older kids this pattern stretches out longer as they've been in so many more places. Sleep issues are pervasive. I even had one child sleep in her glasses as she wanted to be able to see who entered her room. Her former foster father had molested her. I have spent a couple of decades putting safety plans into effect and ensuring the emotional security of my children.

In my two youngest children, now almost 3 and already 4, I see evidence of night terrors. Adopted children come not with instructions but with boxes full of files of papers. These reports document all the events that lead to a child protective services and foster care, then details their life while in care. My last four children slept in seemingly hundreds of places while their birth mom left them here and there as she rarely, if ever, had an apartment.

My bedroom has my king size bed plus a crib, a toddler bed and 2 futons as, often, this signifies the safest place for my children to crave as security. The downside is, at age 51, I often wake up. I hear the kids thrashing and crying in their sleep and it breaks my heart. Eneurisis is common and out of 39 kids, I'd say nearly half were afflicted at one time, or closer to reality...often.

Now that my newest placement is in its 8th month, the two youngest, while still having obvious nightmares in the night, are now beinning to sleep hard enough to leave a dent in the bed. In a big family children play hard and this also contributes to sleeping better. Yesterday they rode bikes, scooters and played ball in the meadow until dark. It was taco night which really fills their bellies, everyone had a shower and my house was quiet by 9 pm. Edgar had had an out-of-town cross country track meet and Miriam also had played volleyball all day in a tournament so, on a Saturday night, they were exhausted and in bed.

Tabby and Nando will sleep from 8 pm to 8 am and wake up smiling, cuddly and happy. The relief when they awake, at seeing the same family, is written on their faces each morning. They both demand a rundown of today's plans and they question me during the day to make sure I stay on target and do what I said I'd do. Consistency is the rule.

In my experience this emotional exhaustion lasts for years especially in my failure-to-thrive children. My kids need more sleep than other kids as their emotions run sky high and deplete their bodies of energy. My grown kids have often remarked on the fact that I always made sure they had enough sleep growing up. There is no TV on school nights and we always eat a huge dinner. Sometimes they are so keyed up that they talk in bed to each other until they fall asleep but as I walk down the halls turning off lights I hear snoring, grunting and tossing around, but my house gets quiet and then I lie awake thinking about what all we have to do the next day. And I wonder why my dumb roosters crow from sunup until nearly midnight. Have they also picked up on the emotional difficulties within our family?

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