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Aaron’s a mystery.

Apparently, he has no real medical diagnosis for his developmental delay.

I’m looking forward, sort of, to learning all about autism, neurological disorders, and what he has been assessed and evaluated for.  I guess it’s sort of a feeling like “Well, I’ll solve the problem! I’ll figure out what’s wrong with him!”  Never mind the myriad experts he’s seen in the past.

Realistically, I should just focus on his day-t0-day parenting.  For that, I’m relying a lot on Lisa, his former foster mom.  We’ve talked on the phone some more, and she is very helpful.  Luckily, she’s also a lot like me in terms of how she parents.

Unfortunately, it seems Aaron is not going to be as independent as I would expect most of my kids to be, including foster kids we’ve had in the past.

So far, I’ve learned he doesn’t really know how to pee in the toilet well (getting it other places besides the bowl, including his pants) and he has trouble with bowel movements, accidents and soiling.  He also forgets to wash his hands.  Ewwwwwwww.

Last night at dinner, we learned he doesn’t really know how to use a fork or knife that well.  He does try, but often holds them the wrong way and moves them in the wrong motion.  Given his way, it seems he would just shovel it all in with his hands.  Again, ewwwwwwww.  There was a lot of food on the floor last night.  And his hands….wow.  Did I mention he doesn’t notice when he needs to wash his hands?

Finally, there’s that trying too hard thing and the need for repetitive instruction.  One thing I really want someone to tell me is if it does any good when I, ahem, raise my voice.  Obviously, I’m not screaming at him, but if it’s third time in 30 seconds I’ve asked him to put away his book, does it help him if I say it more sternly?  It certainly doesn’t really help me, so if I can know that staying calm is more effective than revealing my feelings, I’ll try the staying calm route.  You know, because some kids do respond better if they realize the parent is frustrated.  Aaron doesn’t externally seem like that, but there is enough of a spark in his eyes that I wonder.

So, Lord, grant me some patience in the coming weeks.  I believe this placement could be a real joy in my life, as long as I can keep some perspective and remember I can’t fix everything.

I’ve been altering and reposting some of Mark and Nikki’s story to be more anonymous, and rereading old posts is sure an eye-opener.

I’m disappointed in myself at how much my attitude towards them has changed.  In the very beginning, I was a lot more sympathetic.  Now that they’ve been here 10 months, should I not be as maternal?  They are still missing their parents, although they do feel a lot more secure here.  I’m going to continue contemplating this.

Also, Mark has made huge strides in his eating habits!  I’d forgotten how many issues we used to have with food.  Today, for example, I told him he’d really need to eat a healthy dinner with lots of veggies and he cheerfully agreed.  (This was, of course, after his request to have some fast food lunch with a friend, and also in response to the food he consumed with Mom and Dad yesterday, which was 4 doughnuts, McD’s hamburger, fries and a shake.)

Mark can actually tell the difference between Koolaid I make using 7/8 cups of sugar and Koolaid made with 3/4 cups of sugar.  And of course he refuses to drink the 3/4 cup batch.

I’m both impressed by his distinguishing palette and annoyed to all getout at him being so picky.

Mark still showed some residual signs of anger yesterday, but it seems he did all right at school at least.  BUT we did have another showdown at dinner, mostly centered on a small cube of potato that he refused to eat because he cut it in half.

(His argument:  “I can’t eat a piece that’s too big, but I also can’t eat a piece that’s been cut.”  AMAZING.  He should be a lawyer.)

So towards the end of the showdown, when all the other kids had left the table and it was just him and Husband, he had an ‘accident’.  The smelly kind.

Now, most of the time, his accidents do seem accidental.  They’re small, almost just streaks.  But a few other times, the timing and manner really suggests a vengeance poop.  And this was one of those times!  So I had him go upstairs, get new clothes, come back down to the downstairs bathroom, and clean himself up.  I meant to make him carry the poopy clothes back upstairs to be washed, but I forgot, so he’ll just have to do that today after school.

So really, it’s no skin off my back if he poops himself.  And Husband later told me he admired my patience when Mark does that.  Apparently, it really bugs Husband.

Anyway, Mark had to sit back at the table after that and finish his dinner, and about 20 minutes later, he did.  No theatrics or announcements, he just swallowed the potato, gulped down some milk, and left the table.   (I was spying on him.)

I’m glad he came through, because I was starting to doubt my decision.  He’d already had a rough day, and I don’t ever want to push a kid so far he enters emotional extremes/behavioral instability.  But now I know what he can do.  In fact, he even told Husband (about the potato): “I faced my fear!”

Today’s school day seemed to be another good one for Mark, but I sure wouldn’t have guessed that based on this morning.  He was crabby when he woke up, but things really got bad when I told him to change into his clothes in his room, and not the bathroom.  We only have one bathroom upstairs, so we place priority on those needing to use the toilet.  He didn’t like that, and after some arguing with me, started crying at the top of his lungs.  While all the other kids got dressed and went downstairs to eat breakfast, he stood in his room and cried.  This slowed everyone’s morning down, and we barely got out the door on time.  (I feel for you now, Foster Ima.)  I don’t even remember how I got him to get dressed; I think I told him he wouldn’t have time to eat breakfast or something.

(As a side note, when Mark has one of his crying fits, he cries like a tw0 year old!  The best way to describe it is really just crying at the top of his lungs – it’s quite amazing really – and loud.)

Then at dinner, we had soup and salad.  As usual, Mark refused to eat any of it – this time, it was because there were green beans in the soup.  I pointed out that Daughter, who refuses green beans because they give her goose bumps, was slurping her soup down, so the green beans couldn’t be that bad.  (Ever helpful, she enthusiastically agreed.)

As usual, everyone ate their fill, including Nikki, who by now hardly refuses anything.  Mark and I just sat there, in a stand-off (sit-off?) – he told me he would have to sleep in his chair, and I said I would too.  The thing that gets me is how forlorn he is in his refusals.  He’s not trying to be defiant;  it’s like he’s resigned to his fate of not eating anything I serve and nothing can save him.

Through the course of our negotiating, he came under the impression that if he didn’t eat his soup (we narrowed it down to three green beans and two pieces of potato), he wouldn’t get to talk to his mom.  I didn’t actually say that, I said something like “After you eat your soup, you can call Mama.”  And I didn’t bother to correct his assumption.  I thought it would give him a big incentive to eat the freakin’ three bites of food and get it over with.  WRONG!  It actually caused him to burst into another crying-at-the-top-of-his-lungs spiel.  After a few minutes of that at the table, I asked him to go up to his room until he could calm down and stop the screaming, so he stood in his room and screamed/cried for another 15 minutes.  Finally, he calmed down enough to come down, and he sat back in his chair, and sobbed out things like:

“I broke my Mama’s promise!”

“I’m so mean to my Mama!”

“I’m not Mama’s special boy anymore!”

WHOA, buckaroo.  Where’d that come from?  So then I realized he had all those thoughts pegged to his phone call with Mom.  I assured him he would still get to call his Mom, as I had been assuring him through the whole fit (he would respond with “But I can’t finish my soup!”)  That’s nuts!  The poor kid had that much emotion invested in his phone call to Mom, and he STILL couldn’t just finish those bites.  WOW.

Finally, I had to admit my plan wasn’t working, so I suggested calling Mom first, and finishing the soup after.  We did, and of course, no one answered.  But over the next ten minutes, as Mark sat in his chair, and I kept dialing, he did it.  He ate the part I asked him to finish.  He was very proud of himself – I pretended to fall down on the floor I was so surprised, and he really liked that.  But we never could get a hold of Mom this evening.  Mark took it better than I thought.  I guess two crying fits are enough for one day.

So it’s the day before Christmas, and Nikki and Mark have been here a week (tonight).  I think they’ve settled in well, especially considering how different our rules and culture are from theirs.

We’re still wrestling with the food: last night, I made a ham, a side of beets, side of green beans, and side of cauliflower.  (Not just plain, but each with some sort of seasoning/roasting/ dressing, etc.  I don’t even like cauliflower, and I thought it was pretty good.)  To his credit, Mark tried a teeny bit of each side dish – sort of licking it- but he couldn’t manage to actually eat any of it.  Nikki flat out refused it all.  She tried to eat the salad, but didn’t want any dressing – see what I mean?  Their food refusals don’t make any sense.  Anyway, she didn’t get a second serving of the ham, and left the table in tears.  Not big dramatic tears, but quiet ones that I had to run after her to notice.  She told me she missed her mama, so I held her for a few minutes, and then we called her mom.

They’ve talked with her at least once a day since Monday, and the calls are very good.  The kids are happy and Mom seems happy (with mixed-in sadness at missing them.)  Mom thanked me a bunch for taking care of her kids and she told me she was so glad I was nice.  She seems capable enough of getting clean and working her plan.  She told me all about how normal their lives were, and I believe her, until a few years ago, she and their dad sort of slid into drugs.  But Mom’s been clean for a few months, so she’s got a good start.  There aren’t many other options available for Mark and Nikki; I hope she can make it.

Their relatives gave Marge two big bags of Christmas presents for the kids – great!! That helps a lot.  I’m cynical enough though that I’m unwrapping each one to check for appropriateness and smoke smells (the clothes she brought smelled like smoke, and so far, I’ll be setting aside one way-too realistic looking machine gun until Mark goes back.)  And then rewrapping it, of course.

So it seems like we’ll have a plentiful, and snowy, Christmas.  Praise God!

Since Thursday night, when Mark and Nikki arrived, we’ve had lots going on – local concerts, family holiday parties, settling them in, etc. – so dinners have been not their usual balanced selves.

I made pizza the first night, to make them more comfortable (that’s my trick – what kid doesn’t like pizza?)  Next night was, unfortunately, hot dogs and green beans.  Next night was a party with mostly meat and various kinds of dip.  But even the miniscule amount of vegetables they’ve been asked to eat so far has sent them both into fits of refusal and near-choking.

I’m serious.  They’ve both told me they don’t like vegetables, they don’t eat vegetables and their family never serves them vegetables.  Luke has almost thrown up while swallowing the few bites that’ve made it into his mouth – I think because he’s trying to swallow them whole.  He says chewing makes the vegetable juice go in his mouth.  The rest of the time, he sits there with his fork in his hand, staring at it like it’s a forkful of fish heads.  He just can’t bring himself to put it in his mouth!

Last night’s dinner made it crystal-clear the magnitude of the problem.  I made chicken pot-pie, with generous amounts of cut-up carrots and peas in the pie.  I figured those two are the most benign of the real veggies (I’m not counting potatoes or corn, but Mark said he doesn’t eat potatoes anyway, unless they’re potato chips.)  Plus, they’re covered in cream of chicken soup.  But no, they were too recognizable.  Both kids refused to eat any.  They wouldn’t even eat the biscuit part!

So I think the problem is recognizing the food.  It seems to be most severe with veggies, but other foods that look strange too are rejected.  I asked Mark what his family gave them, and here’s the list: chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, fried chicken, hamburgers, lasagna.  Nikki added mostaciolli and pizza.  I think I’m going to cry.

Actually, those foods are not that bad.  I make all of them (except for mac and cheese) for dinner a lot.  But I make them with veggie sides, and if Mark and Nikki don’t eat those, I’m doing them a disservice.  Nikki is already at the 90th percentile in weight-for-age charts, and Mark is at 75th.  They are both around 40th for height.  You can print CDC growth charts to use – we were tracking Daughter’s height for a while and I find the charts sometimes handy – although I don’t need a chart to tell me Nikki and Mark are overweight.  They’re not really flabby (yet) but their eating habits plus their body size leave me very concerned. (Although they are okay with fruit – Mark at a whole apple the other night after refusing to eat a bowl of steamed peas.)

So I’m desperate enough to get out the cookbook I swore I’d never use – Deceptively Delicious, the one by Jerry Seinfeld’s wife.  First, I really don’t like the concept.  Hiding vegetables so kids don’t learn to actually enjoy them for what they are? Please.  (Although to be fair, she really emphasizes serving vegetables normally mostly.)   BUT I’ve never had kids who refused every single non-fatty meat I’ve set in front of them.  Second, I’ve only ever tried one recipe from it (mozzarella sticks with cauliflower) and it sucked, so I just put it away.

Anyway, I’m thinking of using it now.  Most of the time, our kids get served a little of everything, and they have to eat all of it before they get more of any one thing.  I tell them they don’t have to eat it, but they can’t have more otherwise.  I’ve tried that with Mark and Nikki; Nikki just shrugs it off and doesn’t eat anything, but Mark really gets upset.  Last night, he was even crying.  I REALLY don’t want that to happen.  I DON’T want to turn meals/food into a battleground.  I treasure mealtime as a family time, and I don’t want to ruin that for Mark.  I don’t want him to view healthy foods as the enemy, as something that causes him pain.

But I also don’t want to let him eat only what he wants.

I feel really stuck.