Why I hate fun.

I used to love fun. It used to be fun.

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Image: flickr user Anders Sandberg (2008)

But then we adopted two children with early life trauma, and now fun is, well, not so fun!

Yesterday our church held a family fun day. We spent a lot of time preparing the boys for it, explaining what would happen and when. They were already familiar with the people running it, and the venue. We made sure that I didn’t have any responsibilities on the day, and my husband only had half an hour bouncy castle duty. We didn’t go early to set up as we would normally have done. We were all set.

The boys loved it! We had so much fun! We discovered Spiderboy has an aptitude for archery, and Batboy for Splat-the-Rat(!) We let them lead our activities so they felt comfortable and enjoyed themselves. We stayed close so they could see, and touch if needed, us at all times. We even split up for some of the time and both boys got some one-to-one time so that they knew their needs were being met, and that they were constantly being thought of.

When it was time to go, Batboy said “well that was fun.” and Spiderboy said “when can we go back?” It had all gone so well and the boys were so calm that my husband decided to stay and help clear away for a little bit. I drove the boys home and they chattered about everything they had done.

Sounds fun, right?

Woohoo for fun!

Except, the moment we stepped back into our house, BAM! Meltdown Central. I quickly rang husband to come home too. And then, with occasional, short breaks, Spiderboy screamed, shouted, spat, raged, punched, kicked (no biting – small victory!) for four hours. We took turns to hold him and reassure him, we took turns to lose our tempers, we took turns to try and keep Batboy calm (only one short meltdown there!)

The thing is, when children experience, trauma, neglect or abuse in their early years, their little brains flood with cortisol (stress hormone). This activates survival mode, sometimes called fight or flight. The amygdala is the part of the brain linked to our emotions. An infant has not yet learnt to regulate their emotions, and so in those early years the amygdala is more vulnerable. While most infants are taught to regulate their feelings from birth by parents cuddling, rocking, soothing; children who are abused or neglected in those early years don’t learn this skill. And so instead of their amygdala learning, it is constantly being flooded with cortisol. This overstimulation leads to the amygdala becoming overactive, which leads to hypervigilance whereby anything and everything should be considered a threat.

I’m not a scientist, so feel free to correct any of my attempt at a scientific explanation. but what I am an expert in is my children. So let me explain what this looks like:

We went to a familiar place with familiar people. But it isn’t our safe home, and it isn’t just our safe family. And so Spiderboy is already overstimulated and hypervigilant. His amygdala is activated and his brain is flooded with cortisol. In other words, his brain is in panic mode.

There are people and things that are not normally there. We do things we don’t normally do. Cortisol level increasing. Now Spiderboy is able to enjoy the day seemingly like any other child. But even when he feels happy or excited, his brain is still pumping out cortisol. Remember, he wasn’t taught as an infant that he can control his emotions, and so his brain responds to any and every feeling with – PANIC!

And so over the two hours we spend there, his amygdala is working away up there. New smells, new sounds, new sights. All of these things could be dangerous, and why wouldn’t they be? Everything needs to be checked, assessed and then held in mind in order for Spiderboy to keep himself safe. Amazingly, he manages to do this, participate in all the activities, and remember most of his social graces at the same time.

Now by the time we get home, Spiderboy’s brain has been switched to panic mode for two hours. He is exhausted from assessing all potential dangers. And so as he steps through the door into his safe place, he no longer holds all of that inside his little body. The anxiety and the excitement burst out in fists, and kicks and shouts – how else is it supposed to get out?

And so for two hours of fun, we had four hours of rage, and then fallout into the next day too. Now let me ask you this – is fun really so fun anymore?

So please excuse me if I no longer say “Woohoo for fun!” But instead grit my teeth, don my body armour and try to be as boring as possible.

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Image: flickr user jon hayes (2007)

 

Our Father in Heaven

The Bible says that God is a Father. But not just any Father. The Bible says that God is an Adoptive Father.

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, Abba, Father.’
Galatians 4:4-6

I was very blessed to have wonderful parents who I knew loved me. My Dad always used to tell me that God loved me even me than he did! I couldn’t quite understand it because how could anyone love me more than my parents did?! But the description of God as a Father was very helpful to me. For children whose first experience of a father or parent is very negative, this could be a hard thing to accept.

Since becoming an adoptive parent, I’ve learnt more about what it means to call God Father. You see, the Bible says that God chose His children, just as I chose my boys. I chose to bring them into my home, to care for and love them for the rest of their lives. But they didn’t have much say.

Now of course, the Social Workers thought very seriously before deciding adoption was the right move for our boys. And we thought very seriously about if we could give these two boys the home they needed. The decision was made for their good. But they didn’t see it like that at first. Yes, they were excited to have a new bedroom, and lots of attention and cuddles. But when they were tired, or ill, or in trouble they started to realise they weren’t going back to the foster carers they’d lived with for 2 years.

As the boys dealt with their Big Feelings, we would every so often (and sometimes still do) have a big meltdown on our hands, where the boys would become overwhelmed with the anger or grief of what they’ve been through. At these times, we soon  discovered the only thing we could do was to hold them gently and safely and let them rage. We kept them and ourselves safe, stayed close and spoke truth to them until it passed. We tell them over and over, “you are safe.” “I l love you.” “I won’t ever leave you.” “You are special to me.”

15578992897_952eec4a48_o.jpgIn return, the boys would punch, kick and bite whilst screaming, “I don’t love you.” “I don’t want you.” “I don’t live here.” “You’re not my Mummy.” It hurts a lot. But it doesn’t change the fact that I am their Mummy. Forever. And I love them. Forever.

In those moments, when I hold my little men close and try somehow to absorb all their pain away from them; I get a glimpse of what it was like for God to adopt me. The Bible says that all people turned away from God, it’s in our genes. I did not love Him. I did not want Him. And yet God chose me. By His Spirit and through His Son, He made me His daughter.

IMAGE: RENE ADAMOS (2014)