One Leg Shorter Than the Other Leg is an analogy that I used as I was cooking supper. G was asking me if I knew of a tattoo cream that could fade unwanted tattoos. I said yes, but I doubted if they worked. Most people get them lasered off and that is WAY more painful (so I’ve heard) than actually getting the tattoo. Then she proceeded to tell me ALL the tattoos she was planning. I sat, listened, and cooked. She talked some more.
I am not against tattoos…I have 3 and I’m planning a 4th. My first tattoo is my life verse. Isaiah 61:3. My second is a daisy that my kids each drew a petal and they colored it in with their favorite color. Bart’s initial is on the bottom. My third tattoo is Ruth 1:16 in Hebrew because that was the verse that came to me during one of the most difficult times in my marriage.
I always say, by looking at this, it remembers me to stay married LOL. My fourth will be the symbol for faith, hope, and love with a semicolon. I put A LOT of time, though, and design into anything I’m going to put on my body. Flippant is something I am not. I was over 40 when I got my first one…..so I’m not against them.
Lack of Wisdom in Choices
What I am against is just randomly choosing odd things that have no meaning, no purpose, not even a good design or misspelled words….G wants barbed wire around her wrist. Barbed Wire. There are some other insanely ridiculous things she wants. I have no doubt she will, one day, rather spend her money on a tattoo than food or shelter. That is just how her brain works. She also does not feel pain, at all….not even when she cut her toe-off. She does not feel it.
Good and Bad Choices
I took the opportunity to try to talk to her about choices and her decision-making skills. This was a hard conversation because I did not want to cause her to have bad memories, which yields bad behaviors. I did not want her to think I have given up on her because I have not. It is just tough.
I found this website The Lifelong Effects of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Good Parenting Is Not Enough that was written by Deborah Hage. I scanned through this document, all the while nodding my head. Then, I asked G to get some paper and a pencil. She read the article and wrote down what her thoughts were. Next, she listed what were similar characteristics that she had. She did what I asked, though 1/2 through, she said she really did not understand what she was reading. That did not surprise me, so I sat down with her and I broke it down for her.
Normal Legs versus Abnormal Legs
I drew her a stick figure of a person with normal legs…then I drew a stick picture of a person with one normal leg and one that was about 3 inches shorter than the other leg. I explained to her that I had 2 legs and she had 2 legs. We could both walk…one walks evenly and one walks sort of wonky. This is where I drew her brain. I showed her pictures of brains that were affected with FASD. They are both brains. They both function. One brain is regular size and one brain is smaller. That is due to things that happened that were out of her control.
How am I Walking?
This is where the stick figures come into play. When she starts thinking about something (walking wonky), ie a boy that shows interest in her (just an example)….all she sees is he loves me he loves me he loves me. What I see (walking with 2 normal legs) is that he SAYS in love with her, but he is daily beating her, doing drugs, cheating, drinking, etc. She doesn’t see the bad, she hyper focuses on “he loves me he loves me he loves me.” That made sense to her.
We talked about her love of tattoos. She hyper-focuses on the fact that she wants to be seen, be noticeable….so she wants all this art all over her person. What she doesn’t see is the fact that something is misspelled or the tattoo artist is using dirty needles and she ends up getting sick. This is how the brain of an FASD person works.
Chronological Age Versus Mental Age
We talked about the things on that list, I linked to above…..how she is physically 16, but she does not think like a 16 yr old and she doesn’t “feel” 16. She realizes she is immature for her age. Sadly, she does not have a phone or access to electronics (for a reason). Also, she does not have her license (per her request). There are days when she feels more like 13 in some areas. When she is emotional, that age drops down to about 8. Then, when she is escalated we are in the 3-4 yr old range in her reactions. This is typical.
Kids from hard places are normally chronologically an age (16), but mentally they are 1/2 that (8), and when things are bad they are 1/2 the 1/2 (4) that age. I drew that out and we talked about real experiences she had that supported that. She wants to be “normal”. She has a desire to do and reacting like a normal 16 yr old you. Again, back to the stick figures.
Yes, she will ALWAYS have “one leg shorter than the other” and that will never change BUT she can adapt. She can make concessions….she can put a “lift” in her shoe. She can ask questions, privately if it is too embarrassing, and have me explain things in a way that she can understand and she can get have a normal response because, together, we come up with that normal response.
I believe a brain can be retracked. I believe that the train in her brain goes in one direction, right now, but with the proper “lifts” in her shoes and her asking questions, that train track can be slightly alternated. There will be things that we have to do a bit differently. She needs to be monitored more when she does have a phone (and she will) and when she does have access to the internet (as all my electronic devices have parental controls). There will be some school subjects where she will be required to read the material, research out what she finds interest in, but have no tests. She will not get above pre-algebra in math.
She will never take the ACT, but she will get a trade. The subjects she excels in (reading, writing, history) she will go above and beyond and then some. She has no desire to get her license but she can get her permit if she so chooses. She can’t hold a “real” job but she can work for us. We can leave her alone here for a couple of hours and pay her to watch her little brothers. This is not something I have ever done for my older kids but this is something that I will do for her because she needs to learn the value of money. That she needs to work hard, have a bank account, be responsible and make money decisions wisely.
Raising Special Needs Kids
FASD is no joke. I have 2 kids with it. One kid, it affects one way and the other kid it affects completely differently. I do parent them differently because I have too but I will not say “well, you can’t do this because you have brain damage.” Heck no. I encourage all my children to try. If they try 1000 and fail then to never try at all. Once my kids were officially diagnosed with this, my brain track shifted. I eased up on myself and I altered my expectations. We have had very open conversations.
Before military school and diagnosis, she would have a response. It was bad, she would escalate HUGELY. I would escalate and it got ugly. More times than not, I am able to control my responses. In my head I am thinking “brain damage, she is not 16, she is 8 or 4. How would I respond to Hunter (he is 3)?” I simply look at her and say (sometimes through clenched teeth and REALLY close to her face) “Do you need a lift in your shoe?”
She immediately looks at me…usually stops in her tracks…and she listens. Then, she will go to her room and do her exercises which always cools her jets off. Finally, she will step outside, I will send her and an older child for a walk. I will go and wash my face or go to my room. Within about 15-20, she comes back, apologizes and we talk things out or she is at a place where she will listen to me.
I can’t say this will always be the case, but for now, that is all I have to say.
God is good…..even in the short-legged moments.