*Warning: This is LONG!
We have been home from our Colorado journey for almost two weeks. I have wanted to write this post many times, but I feel it is better to write it now that we have been home for a bit. I have needed time to process and reflect on what to share.
The prayer support we received on this journey was incredible. We received emails, FB messages and texts each day from friends and family around the country who were praying for us. It was an incredible, surreal, and humbling feeling to be so supported by the Body of Christ! Thank you all for joining us in prayer and for continuing to lift up our family. We need each prayer and we treasure your kind words as well.
There were many blessings during our time in CO. Our kids don't get carsick. They love snacks. The were in awe of us actually offering DVD's to watch. They loved "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" which was a surprise new DVD for them. They loved all the special $1 toys that they got to play with and the "Water Wow" books. We barely stopped while traveling which makes the almost 40 hours in the car feel a bit faster. Stops are defiantly in the "bad" section of the blog post so I won't mention them here :)
Dr. Tinker is brilliant. He truly knows what he is doing. Oh how I wish we lived in Colorado Springs so we could continue to visit his office weekly for a year or more. Dr. Tinker shared so many helpful tools with us as we parent M. He showed us how to navigate through the credentials of EMDR Dr's in our area. There is quite a difference in training and we now know what to look for. He also met with T one day and determined quickly that she is functioning like a typical 2 year old! Her issues are largely and nearly fully a secondary response to what she experiences from M. Heartbreaking, but hopeful as this means that if we can navigate the healing road with M, T's issues will sort of disappear.
Dr. Tinker validated us as parents daily. It was so refreshing and encouraging to hear words of sincere encouragement from someone at the top of his field. While things might be hard and we might look like we are clueless and look like we are parenting in the most crazy backward way, we are actually doing the right things. He validated our connection based parenting approach.
Dr. Tinker validated M's trauma. When someone who has worked with hard kids for decades talks with you about the intensity of your child's trauma it sobers you to the reality of the yuck, but it also empowers you as a parent because you realize that your child is in a league of his own. I have realized that I can't compare my son to typical kids, but talking with Dr. Tinker has helped me to realize that I can't compare my son to most trauma kids either. The roots and truck of his "trauma tree" are so badly wounded that the intensity of the care and time needed for his brain to heal will be long and hard. Notice I said "will be" because I am a mama with hope!
Colorado Springs is beautiful! Seriously, so thankful that Dr. Tinker just happens to be located in an incredibly beautiful city! We saw Pike's Peak each day. We visited Garden of the Gods and marveled at the beautiful red rocks. We visited friends who lived in the Mts and were in awe of the smell of Christmas that surrounded us. We are so thankful for this beautiful place and many times stood in awe of God's creation and creativity.
We had some fun vacation moments. In the midst of therapy we did manage to check out a few tourist things. We stuck to things that were totally free so we could bail out if needed and not feel like we wasted money. Again, CO Springs is a great place to do this. We visited Focus on the Family Institute. They have an incredible play area with fun slides and activities for kids of all ages. We visited a Fire House museum and the kids got to climb on a real firetruck, watch a movie and see photos of recent forest fires. We did some hiking at Garden of the Gods. So beautiful. We got to tour around the Air Force Academy and see some big planes! M really liked that. We also managed to be at the right place at the right time for a car show. We checked out a few local parks. We watched several trains.
We got a small taste of Ethiopia. We went out to eat one night with Brandon's parents. We went to an Ethiopian/Greek restaurant. It was so fun to see pictures and things from beautiful Ethiopia all over the walls. The food was a good (not quite like Ethiopia though), and the atmosphere was fun. Brandon's parents enjoyed the food and M (who did not care at all for the first food option) loved his chicken and rice (which was much more Greek than Ethiopian) and said the food tasted better to him than the rest of us because he is Ethiopian. Oh how that warmed my heart so much. What a special thing for him to say.
Speaking of Brandon's parents, they were incredible. It was a great blessing to have them join us for the week in touring and eating and laughing and playing. It was a comfort to know that T was being cared for well so that Brandon and I could both be with M for therapy. It was incredibly special to see the way that each of our kids grew in their bonds to Brandon's parents. M woke up early each morning and spent an hour or more with Grandpa Tom. The first couple of days they read books, but then they transitioned to more cuddling and I think they both enjoyed this. T really bonded with Grandma Judy during our times at therapy. Because we live so far apart and because most of our visits are short and full of activity this extended time together was such a surprise gift.
Another great gift was our lodging and our hosts! We stayed with a wonderful couple. We learned shortly after we arrived that they had recently moved from ND and that we had much in common. They have a lovely home and we had more room and comfort than we ever could have imagined. We were able to cook in their kitchen and share many meals with them. We left feeling as though we had gained some great friends. H and N even helped us in caring for and entertaining our kids. I can not imagine a better set up for our family. What a treasure and beautiful example of hospitality.
We also got to spend two different times with our friends from ND (the daughter of our hosts H and N). It was special to connect/reconnect with them and their growing family. Our kids loved, loved, loved their kids and they just beamed when we were around them. M enjoys playing with older children and enjoys adventure. He had plenty of each with this sweet family. Brandon and I were blessed beyond measure by the heartfelt conversations we shared with G and A and their children. They ministered to us deeply in our time with them. They were also great examples to our family of hospitality and the beauty of the Body of Christ.
We even had a surprise meeting with a couple who is interested in adopting. I am sure our trauma stories were not the typical feel good adoption story they wanted to hear, but it was a blessing for us to be able to share about the realities of adoption with them.
Sadly, when my mind thinks about our time in CO it quickly goes to this section. Oh how we longed for a breakthrough. We longed for a miracle. We hoped for even just one area, one issue where there would he some sort of significant healing. Leaving knowing that this didn't happen and that things felt much worse than before was horrible and a huge part of my delay in writing. Thankfully, time has helped with perspective!
Car stops/lunch breaks with a very busy two year old and a trauma filled four year old are pretty brutal. Because of food allergies we have to bring food and heat it up. Just the heating up and dishing up and lugging supplies all over is a bit of a bother, but then when your children are trying to grab food off gas station shelves, knock things over etc it just ups the stress. So glad we didn't have to do much stopping!
Hotels are HARD. By God's grace we didn't get kicked out of either hotel! The extreme dysregulation that M was experiencing there made for some pretty intense words and actions. He doesn't have much volume control and he was able to figure out how to get out of the room. Whew, it was hard. We need to find ways to avoid staying in hotels!
Elevation in CO is VERY different than here. Wow! Not really sure if this was "bad" or more funny/frustrating. I do quite a bit of walking here, but just going up the steps in CO left me winded.
Therapy was overall unsuccessful. M would be totally oppositional most of the time we were there. He would track with Dr. Tinker only a few minutes of each session which was frustrating and stressful. I will explain more about the sessions in the details.
We totally rocked our kids routine taking them across the country to a new place and then trying to do intense therapy. In our logical adult minds the good that Dr. Tinker could do outweighed with negative that the routine rocking would do. Oh how silly we were. Throughout our time there M slept less and less and less. Bedtime and naptime and sleep were brutal. The kids were both eating and sleeping poorly by the time we got home. Their attitudes were off the charts and there was very little regulation happening. Once home the intense dysregulation continued and honestly I would say two weeks home we are still way behind where we were before travel. The exact opposite of what we hoped to have happen, but as we reflect, we should have known.
While in CO we did one to two hours of therapy each day. During the therapy Dr. Tinker would use bilateral stimulation while talking to our son. He started out trying to use tappers that go in shoes. M did not like them so Dr. Tinker did hand claps, knee claps, finger taps, shoulder taps, and toe taps during our time with him. He had us talk through some claiming narratives with M. They would start with "If I had been there the day you were born..." and would describe how we would have done things to keep him safe, warm, fed, loved etc. We talked a lot about emotions. M would tell about a time he was mad, sad, or happy. He would show how mad, sad, or happy he was. We talked a lot about verbal and physical violence towards T. Those were the main focus areas. We were given tools to continue many of the techniques on our own with Dr. Tinker's blessing and encouragement. We fully believe in the power of bilateral stimulation and the techniques of EMDR.
Was it worth it?
I have asked myself this question countless times. I think for the "good" above the answer is yes! I think we had to go and see and try. If we had not gone we would have always wondered if it would help and we would not have the tools needed to find an expert in our area. We gained a lot from our time there. Honestly, it was far more relaxing than our Smoky Mt. Vacation which was anything but relaxing.
Where do we from here?
Just like the little toy clown reminded the dolls and toys as they waited for the right engine in "The Little Engine That Could," we know that EMDR with Dr. Tinker is not the only tool to heal M or the only hope we have! There are many other tools and techniques that we can try. We "think we can" have healing! We realize that we need to navigate both slowly and swiftly. While we don't want to be idle in our search for the next step, we also want to give M a little break from waiting rooms and trauma rehash.
We have contacted the trauma center at our local Children's hospital. We hope to meet with a Dr. there in the coming weeks. There is some paperwork back and forth that happens before they allow you to schedule an appointment. We are not sure what the details of that meeting will be, but it is an obvious avenue that we have not tried and is basically free since we have long ago met our deductible.
We hope to talk with the experts at Children's and use the list of Dr's that Dr. Tinker gave us to find the best therapist in our area for kids with trauma. We hope to find someone that we can meet with weekly on a continuing basis.
We have also contacted the early intervention program with the local public school district. This road might be slow going right now as many staff are not working in the summer. I know this may come as a surprise to many of you. We love Classical Conversations. We do hope to try it again. We just are not there yet. M is unable to focus or stay regulated at home or at school (co-op). This program is designed to ready children for school (or for homeschool). It focuses on life skills. It focuses on behaviors. It has OT, PT, Speech and other therapy options. It is small and has an incredible reputation. Because of M's severe trauma we are quite hopeful that he will be accepted. We have been so encouraged by the support we have felt from our friends and family as we share this news with them. M's tutor for CC and the area director were incredibly supportive which was such a blessing.
We are hoping to gain great healing for M in the areas of separation anxiety and clingy behaviors. M can't separate from me at all... not even a tiny bit right now. This was not always the case. About a year after T came home M slowly started to be able to separate. He slept on his own, he had baby sitters, he went to Sunday School etc. After T came home he has not been able to part from me. Dr. Tinker believes this is secondary trauma and because of this it might be an easier area to attain some healing in. We imagine the first few weeks of school will be painful and brutal and worse rather than better. We may question ourselves many times, but we do believe that over time it will bring healing as every single day we will be there when he is done and this will work to reprogram his mind to know that parents come back!!!
We are also hoping that the few mornings a week that M isn't at home will bring great healing for T. This will be a wonderful time for T and I to connect and get to know each other better. We will be able to have adventures and share special things that we have not been able to do with the needs that M has. This will also provide a time of safely for T, a time when she can really relax and know that she will be OK. We also hope that as M has some breaks from T that he will be more able to accept her when they are together.
We continue to have Great Hope in our Great God. He is Healer! We can trust Him. We have seen Him sustain and protect M for M's entire life. We know that M is here on earth and here in our family for a very important purpose. We trust that God will be faithful. We know that He is more than enough. The battles we face are real and hard and these last sentences are not trite or petty. These are the words I must claim and speak to myself and over our home each day. It is so easy to become weary. It is easy to get sucked into the hopeless and helpless feelings that fill our home, BUT God is Able and we can trust Him. So the biggest thing moving forward is to continue to trust God. We continue to count the blessings and treasure the good moments. We continue to treasure each prayer and thought and word of encouragement from dear friends.
The story isn't over and God is with us in this journey!