Tornado Max: Embracing the storm

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I wake each day wondering what the weather will be like in our house.  We have a particular little person who is the weather man in our house.  For reasons beyond our predictability, he will wake angry at everything and everyone, defying EVERY single request, or he may wake peaceful.  Even he doesn’t know why the weather is the way it is. But, one thing is for sure, the second you know it’s a stormy day with a chance of tornados, you have to embrace yourself, put on your armor of God, yes, but also equip yourselves with your storm gear, or else the tornado will whip through the house leaving nothing but debris and emotionally exhausted people.  I try and stand strong but sometimes I get swept up in the tornado and spat out once it’s done.

When I write it down, the reality of the intensity of our day to day life living with an emotionally unstable and intense kiddo is apparent.  The hard part is, when the storm is raging and the tornados are coming, I know this isn’t my kid.  The anger, aggression and defiance is not the child I gave birth to.  This is the extremely frustrating part. It’s devistating. I don’t get the super calm, chilled, summer vacation kind of weather in our home often, but when I do, it’s divine.  It makes me teary because I get to see a glimpse of my actual son. Unfortunately it only comes a few times every three months or so.

There are a few things that I’m doing to try and help him with some success which I’d like to share in hope they might also give anyone experiencing our challenges with some tools to use:

Detox that stuff out 

Straight to a hot bath with Epsom Salts.  I put on some candles, an audio book and leave him be for about 30mins.  Goodness, maybe I should lock myself in the bathroom and give myself a calming bath too.  How good would that be?! With 5 kids, it’s something I can only dream of doing.

Supplements

We have started working with a Biomed doctor. She has really helped so far.  He is definitely slowly improving with her help. Citrate Mag and Zinc helps his farm to be more calm.

Emotional control

We use the Zones of Regulation for our son.  It’s a wonderful tool to teach children to recognise their emotions and how to get them to their calm, happy place.  They learn what each zone is like (ie, in the Red Zone my body is angry. My hands get sweaty, my words are loud).  They then decide on a few activities they can do to get out of that zone back into their calm and happy Green Zone.  This tool has been really helpful, especially in my husband and I having a common language to use with our son, and pre established activities that can be used when he is struggling in the red zone (the chart is on his wall for quick reference). I highly recommend this.

Diet

Histamines are his ANGRY foods.  Especially Cocoa, bananas, anything with starters like yoghurt or cheese, probiotics and tomatoes turn him into a beast. We have to watch his diet very carefully.

Exercise

Being out in nature without any boundaries or expectations help because to add to the fun, when the storm is about, oppostional defiance accompanies it.

Hugs

During the storm, aggressiveness and impulsivity kindly join us alongside the ODD.  We have a ‘no excuse for abuse’ rule in our house.  Whether it be a verbal or physical abuse incident, its consequence is timeout and making amends.  It’s important that he takes responsibility for his actions, even if he didn’t mean to.  But, there are some days he is struggling so much that when he is in the midst of a tornado, when asked ‘do you need a hug?’, it is usually met with a ‘yes’ and sob from both of us. We usually spend some time in prayer together at this point too.

It’s our heartbreaking reality.  I keep praying for my calm, happy guy to hang around more consistently. Our Biomed doc is giving me hope this may just be around the corner. I sure hope so, as it’s this kind of hope that keeps me going.


Happy New Year: Pressing stop and restarting the year.

I don’t normally write the title first, but as I was reaching for my IPad to write this post, I couldn’t help but feel excited about the year ahead.  It indeed feels like a new year.

The past 18mths has been the hardest yet of my expat adventures.  I thought leaving behind Jerusalem was a brilliant idea.  It was.  Living in Jordan has been like a vacation in terms of the change of countries.  We definitely left behind intensity, insecurity and uncertainty in our day to day living, for a place of peace and hospitality.  But I also left behind some very dear friends who I miss so much.  I didn’t really take into account having to make new friendships and a new life.  Not sure why I didn’t, but I didn’t.  With a hardworking husband travelling most of this year for work, it has left me utterly burnt out.  Trying to homeschool an extremely defiant, aggressive kid whilst taming my awesome toddler and other two lads, whilst pregnant, had drained my inner being.  What’s worst? I haven’t made a close nit group of friends.  To be honest, trying to homeschool and just survive, I haven’t had a huge opportunity to get out there and make friends.  This made me feel pretty lonely and down at some points and resentful of husband at times, even if he was going out for work dinners.  I wanted in too!

It’s nice being able to type this in reflective mode, knowing that a massive change is coming through, hence the beginning of a new year, or new season.  I feel light, enthusiastic and happy.  My homeschooler has gotten a place in our top school of choice.  He is sooo happy there, in fact, thriving.  Homeschooling him was an important time.  It was a time of growth for him, particularly in his love for learning, and confidence as a learner.  It’s nice to be able to send him back off into the world knowing that he is thriving.   Considering school used to be a high stress point for him. This homeschooling time wasn’t light and fluffy though, oh no, no, it wasn’t.  Trying to teach a defiant child was sometimes like hell.  I had many inward and outward tantrums, many of which I’m not proud of.  But, some of the battles he put up were beyond ridiculous!  Homeschooling really did put a strain on our relationship.  We needed the space from each other, it was way too intense. School is the perfect breath of fresh air that we needed.

Anyway, we have a newborn in the house again.  Three kids have started back at school and a toddler at home. The world is my oyster, so they say.  I’ve started arranging play dates, Bible Study, and in a few months will begin playing sport again.  I’m thrilled to have a piece of me back that was missing for so long.  Not to mention, my hardworking husband has got a new position which has barely any travel too.  See why I call this a new year?  It sure feels like it. It’s time to thrive rather than barely survive.  It’s time to laugh and smile again, rather than frown and cry.  It’s time to press ‘go’, moving forward to a place of joy and contentment with where we are and where we are going in God’s grand plan.

Juggling

My navigation of life continues to be a juggle in the Hasmite Kingdom.  A juggle of spending quality time with all kids, homeschooling my intense and sometimes aggressive little man, attending play dates where I barely understand what is being said, enduring constant illnesses as our little one gets used to the new bugs, raising our kids alone most days while Joel also juggles his hectic work life.  Why am I here again? Yep, the honeymoon period of the expat has come to an end.  It’s never nice when it does.  Thought it would also be fun to throw in some low iron, low vitamin D and lazy thyroid, why not?  I must admit though, life is tough enough without that level of exhaustion, but throw in those extra things and I was EXHAUSTED!  It’s nice now that the fog has lifted and I have some bounce in my stride.

Another thing that eats away at me, or keeps me humble really, is the fact of having a kid with extra needs thrown into the mix.  Even though my head knows these kids need different approaches when it comes to teaching, guiding and disciplining them, I still can’t help but feel like a failure.  It’s an unhealthy way to be, I know, but a perfectionist can’t help it.  When you have a kid with oppositional defiance tendencies, you can’t help but think maybe this is happening because Im not being strict or consistent enough.  These thoughts smash me everyday.  Thank goodness for God’s grace and strategies.  After a LONG time, I’ve come back to His feet, smashed and humble, but ready to be carried.  Nothing like the ouchiness of humility, but the freedom and strength in God is so refreshing.  As I type this, I can say all my kids have taught me SO much about love, grace, patience and humility.  I’ve also learnt so far, so much about parenting a child with extra needs, so I know one day I will be able to hopefully help others that have children with special needs on a more personal level.  Hmmm, I guess this is the thing I lack too.  We have a diagnosis and some medication waved in our face, but then left to our own devices.  I’m madly reading most days trying to work out how to teach our kid the executive function skills he is missing, not really having a clue of what I’m doing.  Anyway, I’m sure God will use all of this that I’m learning now for my own family but others too.  

Jordan can be a challenging place to break into and make friends with the locals.  The locals have big families which consume most of their social life.  One of the ways for my kids to feel at home is of course by making friends.  So, I decided to invite the mothers and kids from my son’s class (in a local Arabic school) over to play.  Play dates are not something they do a lot of here, so the mothers were super excited by the idea.  We had about 8 come and all up about 20 kids.  It was awesome.  A challenge for me with my little bit of Arabic that I have, and hosting in a respectful way (they have lots of customs I had to remember),  but it was fun.  The mothers liked it so much that we’ve started a Whatsapp play date group for my son’s class. This is great.  We meet often to play.  Tick!

My heart continues to break for our neighbours across the bridge in Palestine (and the nice Israelis who want peace).  It’s sad to see this place in so much trouble but inevitable if you continue to try and solve problems by killing people or oppressing people even more, and not allowing some mothers access to attend their childrens funerals.  How inhumane can you be?!

Anyway, my life continues to be full, hectic, reflective and enjoyable in a funny kind of way.  

It takes a village to raise a child: But where has the village gone?

 

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I’m constantly amazed at the size of the families here in the Middle East.  I don’t know the average, but I can confidently say each family would have at least 6-8 kids.  At times, I wonder why I feel overwhelmed with four kids, ‘how on earth do they do it?’  As any mum does, these insecurities cause me to observe and compare what our family does differently.

By observing these amazing families, I’ve come up with some thoughts, some of which are making me feel more at peace with my feelings of inadequacy.

Gaps between kids

While working out in the gym, I once met a Jewish mother of ten kids, yes TEN! Once I had regained my breath from what she had just told me, I asked her how she did it.  She quickly went onto explain that she had five close together, then she had a break, then had five more.  She did it this way so the older kids could help out.  Village theory no 1 – a village in amongst the immediate family. 

Families live with each other

It’s very common in the Middle East (well, from what I’ve seen in Jerusalem and Jordan), for families to live in the same apartment building.  My address in Jerusalem was the name of the family whose building I was living in.  I would simply instruct the taxi driver or home delivery person to come to the house of Smith (I’ve changed names obviously to protect the privacy of the family where I lived).  Half the time you can tell when a family have an unmarried child living with them, because there are foundations on the roof ready for an extension to be built for when a son marries and his new wife moves in. There’s an expectation that the family will stay together. I guess you could say families are close in this country, as they all live together and spend a lot of the time in each other’s apartments.  It was inevitable when I’d visit a neighbour, the house was often filled with sisters, sister-in-laws, and cousins, all there having a cuppa, or Grandma had a pile of grandkids playing together at her house.  It is really special and unique, but I guess it would be tough if you couldn’t stand being around your family.  Village theory No.2 – the village lives together.

Families live life together

Families do live together, but they also do life outside the house together.  If you visit the doctor, mum will be there with her daughter.  Visit the shopping center, it’s rare to see a woman on her own.  They support each other taking turns in carrying the baby, they do most things together.  This togetherness starts from birth.  Aunty, Grandma, Uncle, cousins, Grandad, they are ALWAYS there, physically there, feeding baby, pacing with baby.  I used to watch my neighbour, a Grandma, pacing for hours with a baby or standing outside watching the toddler play.  This family is a village. Village theory no.3 – the village does life together EVERYDAY.

This entry is not written by someone who doesn’t feel supported, I absolutely do.  My parents and In-laws are wonderful grandparents and loving aunts and uncles to my kids. But, I did have the wonderful experience of my parents staying with us for the first two weeks of Laila’s life.  It was an amazing blessing and gave me a glimpse of what parenting was like living amongst a village.  It gave me a chance to heal, establish feeding, go on outings leaving baby with a loving grandparent, something I could do last minute with very little organising.  It was amazing and I cried big tears when they had to go.  Having the opportunity to experience this way of bringing up kids and being a family was insightful. It sure does take a village to raise a child.

So my question is, where are the villages in the western world?  Our idea of village involves fences and lives that are seperate to each other.  Our families do our best at making a loving, supportive village, but it is very different to the Middle Eastern village.  Whose village is better? Are you happy with your kind of village? If not, what is needed?  I wonder if incidences of postnatal depression are lower in the Middle East.  Is the western kind of village enough for child rearing? I don’t know if I can even make that call seeing I’m living over the other side of the world, far away from my village.  Think I might be doomed. I’m missing my village!

Ramblings of a hectic life in a more peaceful place.  Does that title even make sense?

The emotions continue to roll me over the coaster while I try to be mindful of them, acknowledging them, accepting them, and moving onto the next one, something I’ve learnt to do that is incredibly important for my sanity and mental health.  It’s soo nice to be free of Postnatal depression this time around.  It’s so liberating, but all the same, I’m incredibly careful, making sure I’m getting lots of sunlight through the eyes and talking, talking…

Life is pretty busy here.  I have more balance in life since finding a babysitter.  I can now actually meet people and go on date nights with my handsome husband.  Thank goodness!  We are also having play dates at least once a week so all has improved in the area of friends.  I still continue to feel like I’m on holidays in this place.  Jordan is SO relaxed.  It’s really nice to be freed from the tension, political uncertainties and constant security threats in Jerusalem.  It’s nice to not feel vulnerable to that level, and generally feel more peaceful.  It was time for this change.

I’m feeling excited for the new phase of schooling to start at the end of the month, but a little grieved because I feel like I’ve been a grumpy, stressed mumma these past few weeks.  With the above mentioned handsome husband busily doing amazing at his new job, wowing his new employer, it does mean a fair bit of single parenting at home.  I know this phase will settle, but it does take its toll.  I feel fairly burnt out.  I’m also trying to workout what’s happening with my food allergies, which make me so exhausted everyday, making me feel like I have a constant sinus infection and glandular fever.  I think I have a Histamine Intolerance.  I’m busily looking into modifying my diet to help sort this issue out a bit, but it is very hard when I can’t get the supplements that I need here, nor the right kind of foods.  I keep running into walls with this stuff.  I’m also incredibly impatient, so the whole idea of adding a teaspoon or so of something per day is incredibly tedious.  I’ve been doing some research and feel pretty inspired by The Low Histamine Chef’s recent books and articles.  I’m hoping to see a difference soon.  I’m seeing a difference in Laila’s tolerance levels of foods.  She hasn’t been waking every 1.5-2hrs at night for a little while now.  This gives me hope!!  I’ve been feeding her a lot of foods that use some GAPS-style stock.  She still has hives on her face, but do you know what, she is otherwise really happy, so I’m not going to worry for now.  I think it might be eggs, but don’t know for sure.

In all my busyness of late, I’m still really hungry to learn.  I’m looking forward to school starting back so I can have space to learn Arabic and keep up with my kids who will now be going into full immersion of Arabic.  Nothing like the desire to be one step ahead of my kids with the Arabic swear words and playground Arabic language to inspire me to learn FAST!  Wish me luck.

Shout it from the rooftops, the introvert is lonely!!!

Interestingly, I haven’t been too phased by the relocation.  I guess in many ways, it is fun.  Exploring a new place, trying new foods and setting up home are fun and stimulating to all the senses.  It’s the day to day stuff I’m finding very tough.  The everyday walk with four small kids, special needs thrown in there, homeschooling to help us through the summer, much single parenting, increase of food intolerances, fairly housebound working around baby naps to ensure we don’t have horrible nights,  and to be honest, bitter, bitter loneliness.  You know it’s a problem when the introvert screams out, I’M LONELY, I need people.  That’s a problem.  A problem that I know isn’t going to last long, it’s a season, I know.  But like being in the middle of a bitter cold winter, aknowledgement helps in knowing why you are cold, but it doesn’t make the cold go away, or make it bearable.  I’m trying to find a casual babysitter to help out and give me some respite, but I haven’t got one yet.  I do know I will sort out this problem soon and this will help somewhat, but having a break will mean me going off by myself in a different location.  Hmmm, not solving the loneliness problem here.

As I sat to write I had so many things to write, including a huge desire to share, but there’s  a massive brain fog in the way.  My food intolerances to Amines and Salicylates have been at their worse since Laila’s birth, getting lots of tummy upsets and other physiological things happening.  Laila is also very sensitive which has meant many a night has been spent having her wake 1-2hrly.  Trying to cope with this on top of the other stuff made life extra tricky and grumpy… Something had to change…

I read about the GAPS diet, particularly the GAPS intro diet as a way of healing the gut and helping it to be able to handle foods again.  Great idea right? In theory, yes. Being the impatient person I am, I jumped in and decided to give it a shot.  I should’ve read more before starting that’s for sure.  It’s basically only having easily digestible foods.  For the first few days, stocks and soup and if you are awesome at that, you can add an egg yolk. Yipppeeee, freakin yippee.  So, if you imagine, I’ve got all the stuff happening that I explained above, but put a mum and Bub in picture on a detox diet.  Lack of sleep and desperation makes us do interesting things.  The good news is, while on this diet, I’ve learnt I’m way more intolerant to Amines than I first originally thought and this is the cause of my chronic sinusitis.  I’ve been trying to be super careful seeing I’m breastfeeding, keeping up my nutrients, but it’s super hard when you can’t have a lot of foods allowed in this diet.  More healing has to take place first.  That’s all good and well, but I have a cranky baby covered in detox rash, and a mum trying not to, but losing weight too quickly (hello, premarriage weight, seriously!), and coping with a detox brain, fatigue and emotions.  It’s no wonder two weeks in, I cracked and had pizza with the kids last night.  I’ve realised, I was expecting too much from myself and now was not the right time to do this diet (it’s soo hard working out what Bub is reacting to when they are eating solids and breastfeeding, way too hard!).  I’m not enjoying the reversal stomach cramps and sinusitis that has come back 6hrs later and I’m not sure yet what’s in store for Laila, but it was all just too much!! 

This little burnt out and lonely introvert must soldier on, find some more time to pray (I’m very thankful we’ve found a great church and look forward to the interactions every week), and try to sleep (thank you sinuses for sleeplessness at 4am, I haven’t missed you!), knowing that next month we have a holiday coming up. I can’t wait and I wish it could come sooner.

Navigating the hurdles 

We are settling in and loving this place, Amman.  It amuses me everyday.  There is so much chaos on the roads, but it works.  Most roads there aren’t lines to mark the lanes, but it doesn’t seem to matter.  They make their own lanes and rules, and somehow it works.  

Life is easy so far.  We are happy in our house.  There is something about it that just feels like home.  It helps we have space and the kids intensity levels have dropped heaps. We are going on daily adventures exploring our surroundings and getting to know the friendliest people on the planet.  People are just so friendly in Jordan.  Always happy to help or share a smile. And the amount of times people want selfies with or want to kiss Laila is impressive.

Our only hurdle now is schooling.  The international schools charge a fortune for so little. When asked if they offer financial assistance for families, they respond with ‘of course, you can pay the fees in three payments!’.  So can everybody else, how is that a discount? and you want to teach my child..I don’t think so, not until you’ve improved your maths skills. The other hurtful thing is having your child knocked back from a school because of their learning difficulty, when on the scheme of things is incredibly mild (I used to teach a class of 12 kids with needs that were way more challenging than that.  You can adapt things for one, surely!). Anyway, at this stage I may have to homeschool Maxi, which would suit him perfectly.  The other two have a space at school that we really like.  School isn’t the right place for Max, especially the academic/textbook style of teaching.  Navigating the school system is certainly a challenge.  It will be nice when we have successfully navigated the system and have a plan.

Until then, we shall continue to spend our days exploring the parks and classes.  The only problem is, I’m just a little bit over having to use a map everywhere we go, without a navigator and four loud kids in the back.  Needless to say, I’m exhausted by the end of the day, everyday.