FASD – A little or a lot

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. I won’t go into the stats or the diagnostics or the myriad of other issues surrounding this, this, this THING that has affected so many children and adults. This beast has silently filled our lives with a trauma that cannot be defined or fully understood.

Children do not have to be subjected to neglect or bad home lives to be affected. It doesn’t happen only to poor people or alcoholics. The effects are often likened to traumatic brain injuries because fetal alcohol exposure can cause a trauma to the brain and prevent or stunt development. Fetal alcohol exposure can behave like a traumatic brain injury, causing strange behaviours, delayed social, physical, or emotional skills, sometimes health problems, mental illness, and the list goes on. The symptoms may appear at birth or may be delayed and rear up in adolescence.

All of my adoptive children were affected by prenatal alcohol exposure and neglect. All of my adoptive children have shown some effects of prenatal alcohol exposure, from the minor to the obvious, and all behavioural.

Our family travels as part of our lifestyle – we enjoy world travel, performing acts service or charity, and worldschooling, something akin to homeschooling across the world. I would love to say this has helped my children overcome some of the challenges they face. It may have, but I won’t say it, because I don’t really know what my kids would be like if we had a stationary,average life. I interact with other parents of FASD affected children and some of their experiences are so much more extreme, with behaviour issues and mental illnesses that interfere with everyday living. That isn’t our experience, but it could happen – I just don’t know. So, I will explain some of my children’s challenges, which we are very open about, to give people a little insight to FASD – a little or a lot. ( Oh, and please feel free to laugh a little! This isn’t meant to be an essay on our life of horrors, but more of a let me help others understand, or an explanation as to why “thangs get a little different around here”…)

Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm, Sweden

I have 3 children who will avoid doing things at all costs. I mean all things, playing, working, socializing, ALL THINGS. They will stand for hours rather than do anything, even if they might enjoy it. Why? I don’t know and neither do they, and I have asked. Sometimes I will say go find something to do, or give options of things to do. They prefer to stand and not do things. Seriously, sometimes for hours. There have been times when one of these children will suddenly stop and just stand. A little overwhelming in a busy airport while on the move to the connecting flight, but we compensate and I am aware. Mind you, I know what this indicates, what brain malfunction could be responsible, and so on. What no one can answer is how to change things for these children. So we try.

All 6 of my adoptive children have honesty challenges (yes, as in “liar, liar, pants on fire”). Some lie more than others, with 2 children, at times, being a bit extreme in their efforts..They are terrible liars, seriously the worst. There is no reason for it, according to most, it’s just a habit, they say. They forge on, expecting that people will just start believing everything that they say, no matter how far fetched. Sometimes caught with evidence (I tell them the frosting all over your face and staining your teeth, or the wrappers stuffed in your pillow case, or the browsing history on your electronic device are all giveaways, but they don’t believe me!), they will still deny, sometimes resorting to hysterical crying and statements of “why don’t you believe me? I’m telling the truth this time!”, and I yet I will remain unmoved and wait for the truth to emerge. It always does. In this, too, we try.

Several of my children have eating issues, including one with an obvious gorging problem. The food issues will likely lessen in intensity, and, for one child, has even been overcome (she still loves to eat super salty and very sweet foods, and will become overindulgent with those). My 10 year old, Seamus, can eat more in one sitting than 4 adult men. I am not exaggerating! He has eaten in one meal more than 8,000 calories – he lives for buffets. Prior to his adoption, while still in public school, the teacher frequently lost him. Yes, they lost my 5 year old! He was always found with enormous amounts of food that he had liberated from the cafeteria trash cans. Once he was found with 24 pieces of toast in his shirt sleeves, with evidence of having already eaten at least the same amount. (I won’t even go into my rage at having 5 year old children left unattended or so poorly looked after that they have time to take 48 pieces of toast from the trash bins, stuff them in their clothes and hide in the janitors closet to eat it for hours on end!) Until recently, I had given Seamus the opportunity to indulge his lust for food within some reasonable limits in hopes it would eventually fade. It hasn’t, but I have had to restrict him to some degree, for, even though he doesn’t gain weight despite the huge intake, it was suggested to me that he may be accumulating fat around his internal organs and may eventually cause some serious health issues. We continue on and we try.

They were caught eating a WHOLE jar of chocolate body scrub because it had the word chocolate in it and they wanted candy.  They experienced NO ill effects!

They were caught eating a WHOLE jar of chocolate body scrub because it had the word chocolate in it and they wanted candy. They experienced NO ill effects!

Along with these food related issues comes the theft and dumpster diving. The theft is almost always surrounding the desire for food. The food itself may be stolen, but the money (usually just change) may be taken to procure the food, which is almost always junk food. ( Like lying, my children are terrible thieves. They always get caught, usually because of someone slipping up in word or deed. They keep on trying, though) My 16 year old son is experiencing some independence and defiance issues right now and despite eating normal meals provided at home, feels that he should be entitled to eat more fast food. That sense of entitlement has led to digging through trash bins at the mall ( or airports or wherever we are) and eating the remains of fast food he finds there. Yes, he knows the dangers. He is of average mental ability and has no reason to do this. He just can, so he does. So we continue on and we try.

I am not bitter about the following statement, but it must be expressed for those without experience to understand. There is a sense of entitlement that children in/from foster care have that is often overlooked or unacknowledged. Their whole world has become only about them. There are many reasons, from the teams of people who exist to monitor their lives to trying to relieve symptoms of the bio-life with interventions and often material things so they don’t feel “different”. This sense of entitlement doesn’t end with adoption. One of my children expressed his disappointment after being adopted because he thought he would get more stuff, do what he wanted and when he wanted and have fewer chores. He was sadly mistaken. We move on and we try.

My children, just because of their existence, have learned to manipulate people. They know that when they do wrong, people will be unlikely to chastise them if they know their background. People often feel sorry for them. Maybe people believe that because they were abandoned or neglected, that they should make up for it. I think people generally mean well. Unfortunately, this has led to my children never experiencing consequences, so now they believe that there are no consequences to their actions. I am a parent to children with brain trauma who feel there are no consequences to their actions. Let that sink in. This is the future of our world. Of course I work hard at counteracting this, I work very hard at it. We continue to try.

I have this idea that we should all be grateful for all that we have, especially our lives. I believe that it is a necessity and directs our paths. I thought this even when I was not Christian. Without gratitude, what reason is there for living? Gratitude is very hard to teach. Teaching it to people with brain trauma is even more difficult. So, we try.

Littles in the statue.  Krakow, Poland

Littles in the statue. Krakow, Poland

The theme of this is FASD, but it’s very different for everyone. There is no guide book for this! I just try to find the humor in the bizarre, when sometimes the only explanation for the oddity du jour is that the sane train derailed. I mess up, the kids mess up, maybe we should do things differently, maybe we should do more, or less. I don’t have all of the answers, except I breathe and I laugh and I pray a lot and when I make a mistake ( I do this ALL THE TIME!) I try to fix it and do better next time. When God blessed me with all of these children, He really had a lot of lessons that He wanted me to learn. I am still learning! While I am learning, we just try. We try to live and be happy. We try to live our lives by our faith. We try to be better. We try to overcome. We just try.

Seamus in Poland.

Seamus in Poland.

Something very important to me to mention is that my kids, ALL of my kids, are the best and coolest people I know! We are honest and forthcoming about their unique challenges and struggles, but that does NOT diminish their importance to me or their value to this world. Nothing I have said was with the intention of demeaning or embarrassing my children and they are completely aware of and supportive of this post to help bring awareness to FASD.
Castle hopping in Budapest!

Castle hopping in Budapest!

Blessings to all~ THE CAVEMAN CLAN

How we came to Europe…

I am currently in Budapest, Hungary, writing this long overdue post.

WHAT?? I know! How did this happen? I will tell you. It is a long story and I have found myself in want of time and words to explain. I have the time now and have made it my goal to be ever more mindful of updating this blog.
In March, we had the opportunity to spend a month on the beach in Baja, Mexico. It was idyllic. The weather was wonderful and we met the most amazing people. I had many experiences and felt a continues calling to full time service and continued travel, specifically to work with refugees and displaced persons. I started researching what that could and would mean and the children were very excited and had more ideas to add to the plan. Things evolved quickly!

The decision was made - going to Europe!

The decision was made – going to Europe!

We were blessed with finding airline tickets for under $85 per person to Stockholm, Sweden and the call to act upon purchasing them. Because the tickets were specially priced for specific dates, we had only 3 weeks to prepare to leave! Our goal was to minimize our lives and live with only what we could individually carry in our backpacks. Another post on downsizing needs to be written regarding minimalist living and how to prep 8 people for long term independent travel!

We realized that we were unable to take our ever faithful and loyal service dog and family member, Mattie Ross, with us. The challenges of transporting her and obtaining the necessary documents for her was difficult enough, without the consideration of the transportation. We were blessed to meet a wonderful man, Doug, and his son Oliver, who fell in love with our girl and gave her a home and new life. I miss her terribly, but have no regrets , as she is so happy and well cared for by one of my dearest friends. God intervened and brought Doug into our lives and I am ever grateful for him!

Doug, Jacquelyn and Mattie Ross

Doug, Jacquelyn and Mattie Ross

We left for Stockholm on April 21, arrived the next day and learned what jet lag really is! For two days, I was almost non-functioning. The tiredness and body aches were unbelievable! Never has anything like that ever happened in my travels in Latin America! As my grandmother would say, “Lawd, have mercy!” .

On the plane to Stockholm, Sweden

On the plane to Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm is all that an organization-loving nut job like me could hope for! It was clean, well designed, a bin for everything – except it was wildly expensive and people very reluctant to engage on any level. After 2 days, we wanted to leave! With few exceptions, we found the overall energy to be very negative. We were scheduled to be there for 5 days.

Something happened to our family while we were in Stockholm. We were overwhelmed by negativity. It was like a cancer, with everyone on edge, arguing and yelling constantly. None of the activities we tried to engage in were fun, the children were angry constantly, and it was just an overall unpleasant experience. I do not blame it on Stockholm, of course, but something happened that shifted the excitement and exuberance of our family to anger and hatefulness.

Finding some love in Warsaw, Poland

Finding some love in Warsaw, Poland

Our intentions in Stockholm were to understand the refugee situation in Sweden up close and personal. It didn’t happen. My inquiries were ignored or swept aside and I could not locate any information on refugee camps. So I left disheartened and with no more knowledge than I had before I arrived.

When we arrived in Warsaw, Poland on Easter Sunday, there was a definite, immediate shift. Attitudes lightened and my family was once more a likeable bunch with smiles and happiness and a sense of excitement.

We loved Warsaw! Arriving on Easter Sunday was a bit of a mistake – there was nowhere to buy food! Every shop, store and restaurant was closed. We were hungry by late afternoon, but through the kindness of strangers walking down the street, we were directed to McDonalds. I have no love for fast food, but was never so happy to find a McD’s in my life!
Warsaw was what we loved – It was inexpensive, people were much more amiable, museums were free or almost and so much to see! I really wanted to stay, but was encouraged to move to Krakow, where we would find it less expensive yet. I also had some direction that I would find contacts who were familiar with Ukrainian refugees in Poland. I left excited that things were coming together.

We left after only two days for Krakow, Poland by bus. Krakow was lovely and had such a history about it. We visited the Schindler Factory museum and many other sites, including Wawel Castle, museums and the Jewish Quarter. We stayed for a week and, while enjoying it in many ways our stay there did not add to our knowledge of the refugee crisis as hoped and intended.

We arrived in Budapest, Hungary and have now been here for a week. It is a beautiful city, the public transportation system is wonderful and inexpensive and the CASTLES! I love the castles! It is less expensive for us as a family than Poland. Food is moderately priced, and with an Aldi’s Grocery around the corner from our apartment, we have fared extremely well.

Castle hopping in Budapest!

Castle hopping in Budapest!

Some of my children are experiencing some challenges in different ways than ever and unexpectedly so – two of my children are struggling with some issues that are having an effect on their opportunities to learn and grow. I know that teens express themselves differently and struggles are common amongst teenagers, but these things are little bit outside the norm and are likely relative to Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, which may be at the center of many challenges my children face. I will address these things in more detail and often, as this is everyday life for us.

Tomorrow, we leave for Belgrade, Serbia by train. We will be there for several days. I am still hopeful that, as we get closer to the areas affected most by the influx of refugees, we will be able to engage more and find more information relative to our intentions than we have so far. My next post will continue on about our intentions in more detail.
We appreciate the continued prayers for success and direction, as well as health and safety!
Blessings to all~ THE CAVEMAN CLAN